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20th Cent. | Germany | World War I
20th Cent. | Belgium | World War I
Cardinal Mercier, Pastorals, Letters, Allocutions 1914-1917 Patriotism and Endurance, V. The Voice of God
First Sunday of the Month of the Holy Rosary, 1916

Introduction: The Trial is long

Yes, the trial is long. (I hear you repeat this from day to day, and I think there can be none who do not share your feeling.)
And when will it end?
One day when our divine Saviour had been speaking to His Apostles of the calamities which will herald the approaching end of the world - wars, pestilence, famine, earthwuakes, atmospheric disturbances - His hearers aked Him: "When shall these things be?"
And our divine Redeemer answered: "Of that day and that hour knoweth no man ... not even the Son of Man"; (1) in other words, it did not enter into the earthly mission of the Son of God to reveal it to humanity. The great thing for you is, indeed, not to know whether the world (p.126) will last a thousand years, ten thousand years, or ten million years longer; it signifies not whether you die in youth, in maturity, or in extreme old age; one thing alone is of consequence, that you sace your souls, and that you be docile instruments in the almighty hands of the Master of events, for the sanctification of His Holy Name, the establishment of His Kingdom, and the fulfilment of His Will.

[Parts I, pp.126-131, and II, pp.131-136, are omitted here]

Part III (p.136)

Take an active part in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass; worship the purposes of God therein; and further, expiate, give thanks, and pray.
Come to Mass, my Brethren, to revive your religious life. Come every day, if you can, but at least never miss the onligatory Sunday Mass. (p.137)
I have of late encountered youths and maidens of the people, who would no longer venture to show themselves in church, because they have nothing but sabots to put on their feet. My children, I understand and sympathize with your humiliation. But believe that our divine Redeemer is not like the parvenus whose glances you dread. He became poor of His own free will, to draw you to Him more closely; the nearer you are in destitution, the more you resemble Him, and the more He loves you.
Oh! my Brethren, honor the poor. And you, my dear colleagues of the priesthood, give them the first place in our esteem and solitude. I should wish to see them in the front rank in the temple of Jesus of Bethlehem and Nazareth. Before God and before His Church, they are greater and worthier than you and I. If they accept their condition cheerfully and with faith, they do more for the salvation of humanity than those whose wealth and success sometimes dazzle you.
And you, Ladies, if you flaunt your abundance when your sisters have only wooden shoes and shabby garments, know that you will be offending against God, your country, and the dignity of the poor.
Come then, one and all, to Mass. Come modestly attired. You need not blush to come, however poor your garments, if they are clean. (p.138) Come mainly for the primary intention of the sacrifice, that of worshipping God. To worship God is to proclaim that God is God, that He is the Master to whom you owe obedience, that all He does is well done. Unite with the priest at the altar, not only in repeating prayers more or less similar to his; but also in the sacerdotal act. For you too are priests. You have heard how the Apostle St. John tells you in the Apocalypse that the blood of our Saviour Jesus Christ has made you all kings and priests; priests of God and of Christ, he says elsewhere (2). St. Peter expresses the same thought: Christ is the living stone upon which the whole Church is built, he says: "Ye also, as living stones are built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by 
Jesus Christ. Et ipsi tamquam lapides vivi super-aedificamini, domus spiritualis, sacerdotium sanctum, offerre spirituales hostias, acceptabilis Deo per Jesus Christum" (3).
To the priest officially intrusted with public ministry in the Church, the bishop gives the following admonition: "Understand what you are doing; seek inspiration in your acts, from the mystery you touch with your hands; and since at the altar you renew the mystery of the Death of our Lord, mortify also in your members your (p.139) vicious instincts and evil desires. Agnoscite quod agitis; imitamini quod tractatis; quatenus mortis Dominicae mysterium celebrantes, mortificare membra vestra a vitiis et concupiscentiis omnibus procuretis" (4).
And since you are priests, that is to say, sacrificers, be, moreover, yourselves the victims. "I beseech you, brethren, by the mercies of God", writes St. Paul to the Romans, "present your bodies a living sacrificw, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. Obsecro itaque vos fratres, per misericordiam Dei, ut exhibeatis corpora vestra hostiam viventem, sanctam, Deo placentem, rationabile obsequium vestrum" (5).
Make your individual sufferings and your national sufferings, as well as every act of your life, the material of your sacrifice.
And this is not enough. Sacrifice your life itself in anticipation as a free-will offering to the glory of God. Death is but a violent rupture which we must inevitably undergo; it is an act with which the Christian soul should associate itself actively, the restitution to the sovereign Master of a possession He has confided to us for His glory; this restitution is a sacerdotal act which the Christian accomplishes in union with the supreme dissolution of our Lord Jesus Christ. And when all of us, familiarizing ourselves with (p.140) this Christian and ennobling conception of death, shall, in concert with our sons and brothers who fall on the field of honor, offer this spiritual sacrifice of our earthly lives, a magnificent homage will rise from the soil of our Belgian fatherland to the throne of divine Majesty, and will come down to us again in blessings. Our sacrifice will be an act of worship and of expiation. During these two months, of the Holy Rosary, and of the Dead, in union with the sorrowful and immaculate heart of Mary, kneel diligently in prayer at the Calvary, be assiduous in your attendance at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, asking pardon for the living, and mercy for the souls of our beloved dead.
Also, show gratitude to God. Bless Him for having preserved to our affection our King, the pride of the Belgian nation; our strong and gentle Queen, and the royal children; thank Him for having given us patience to endure, without flinching or murmuring, our long, hard ordeal; for having granted us the first benediction of our Holy Father Pope Benedict XV., and for having inspired him to say that his warmest paternal feeling is for Belgium, for having filled the hearts of foreign nations with respect for our misfortunes. After the war we ought to raise a monument of gratitude to them; let us even now give them a place of honor in our grateful piety.
Finally, until we have reached the end of our (p.141) Calvary, let our participation in the Mass be a constant prayer for our beloved country, for those present and those absent, our brave prisoners and interned compatriots, our dear refugees.
The longer the war lasts, the more ardent does my pity become for all those energetic men who were eager to spend themselves on our behalf, and who are now tortured by their inaction.
Our refugees! England, France, Holland, and Switzerland leave nothing undone to alleviate their lot, but exile is exile, none the less. We sometimes hear bitter things said of them. I do not deny that there may have been among them certain weaknesses, perhaps remembered with sorrow now by those who yielded to them; but how many among those you judge too hastily, reluctantly obey some delicate sentiment of defence, or filial or paternal affection, of devotion to a sick person, of solicitude for a son at the front, of material necessity. According to those who are in close contact with them, our absent ones rival their compatriots in occupied Belgium in patience, self-denial, and apostolic spirit. We shall receive them with open arms when they return to us, and they must not doubt that they will find here friends and brothers who will have invariably remained faithful to them.
We cannot exclude any from our prayers, even our enemies; but Christian theology teaches us to graduate our affections. Give your best affections (p.142), says St. Thomas Aquinas, to your relatives, your compatriots, those who do good with you (6).
Pray them above all for our dear soldiers, who are so close to our hearts by the ties of blood, perhaps, by patriotism, by their devotion to us. Associate with them their wives and mothers, those silent heroines of the great European drama. Pray for our armies which, in the west, the east, and the south, are fighting with so much valor and tenacity for our common cause. May their guardian angels be with them in action, and keep them chaste and devout in their hours of rest. Let me also specially commend to you our priests, military chaplains or stretcher-bearers; may their ministry be fruitful; may they pass through dangers unspotted, and come back to us strong and pious.
Suffering has made us more compassionate. In days gone by we heard without much emotion of the massacres of the poor Armenians. Mussulman fanaticism has vaused the death of thousands upon thousands of these unhappy people in the course of the present war, and has carried off their women and their young girls into slavery. Have pity on them; pray for them.
Poland, noble Poland, always faithful to her creed and her vows, who has never embarked on any war of conquest, but has always fought for the liberty of nations and for European civilization (p.143) has suffered more than we have done; her sons are scattered in Russian, Austrian and German battalions; her soil has been torn and ravaged by the ebb and flood of armies; America cannot feed her; pray for her, my Brethren, and ask God to 
grant that at least one of the happy results of this horrible war may be the definitive recognition of the independence of Poland.
Finally, here also, in occupied Belgium, let us pray for one another, and love one another. May our affection be sincere and active. The history of Belgian charity during the war will furnish pages worthy to figure beside those in which the heroism of our soldiers will be recorded. Let there be no stain on our national record! Let us all collaborate to the utmost in our union and our mutual help. Let those who are wealthy give liberally to those who are in want, to the infirm and the weak. Refrain from enriching to ourselves - this would be hateful indeed - at the expense of the suffering of others.
And let us all remain patient and endyring to the end. Lift up your hearts! Let us redouble our confidence. Let us cry to God, in the words of the holy Liturgy: "O God, come to my aid! O Lord, make haste to help me! Deys, in adjutorium meum intende. Domine, ad adjuvandum me festina!" Meanwhile, be calm and courageous; murmur not. Let us apply to our patriotic endurance what our blessed Saviour (p.144) says of the work of our eternal 
salvation: "He that endureth to the end shall be saved. Qui autem perseveravit usque in finem hic salvus erit" (7).

My beloved Brethren, all and every one of you, Belgians of occupied Belgium and absent compatriots, receive my episcopal and paternal blessing.

D.J. Card. Mercier
Archbishop of Malines

(1) Matthew xxiv. 3; Mark xiii.32 (back)

(2) Apocalypse xx.6 (back)

(3) I Peter ii.5 (back)

(4) Pont. Rom. de Ord. Presbyteri. (back)

(5) Romans xii.1 (back)

(6) "Summa Theol.", 2,2 q.26, a.7 (back)

(7) Matthew I.22 (back)

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Source: Rev. Joseph Stillemans (biographer, editor and translator), Cardinal Mercier, Pastorals, Letters, Allocutions 1914-1917, New York: P.J. Kenedy & Sons 1917, pp. 125-144

GM & AG (digitale Umsetzung) für psm-data; cfr. also: Belgium in World War I, from WHKMLA