( Originally Published 1915 )
JUST three weeks since the war started ! The mobilization is now completed. France is ready for the gigantic struggle. At least we are assured that she is ready. All that has been accomplished in these weeks,the absolutely essential preparations to prevent the invader from rushing into the northern and northeastern departments makes one realize what would have happened had the Belgians allowed a free passage to the Kaiser's hordes. The Germans would certainly have been at the gates of Paris today.
The initial successes of the French, the bold dash into Alsace and the occupation of the crests of the Vosges, may have been exaggerated. But they have certainly given confidence to Paris. And then there was the immediate entry of Great Britain into the fray, the unexpected ability of Liege to hold out for ten days, and the neutrality of Italy.
These weeks of mobilization have witnessed a change in public opinion from dismay and dread to exultation and joy and faith. Fortunately, we are finding the mean. Who does not now realize that the war is just beginning, that the enemy is formidable, that a toll of human life will be exacted great enough to make our generation notable,and terrible in history, and that victory will come only by straining every nerve and by being prepared for every sacrifice?
It is fitting, then, that this Sunday should have been a day of prayer and fasting. The scenes at Notre Dame, the Madeleine, St. Etienne-du-Mont, Sainte-Clothilde, ' Saint-Roch, and other parish churches marked a new era in the religious life of France. Some went, perhaps, to mourn the death of the Pope. They were les fidèles, whose feet are habitually turned to the houses of prayer. But the incessant procession in one door and out of the other was largely composed of those who are accustomed to go to church only at Easter and Christmas, or to a wedding or a funeral,and then not to pray.
Today Parisians felt that they had to go to church. They could not help themselves. They went silently. They came away silently. There was silence in the churches. High mass, with choir and organ, had no place in the heart of worshipers. At the altar of every chapel, and at the high altar as well, priests were celebrating in a silence only broken by the acolyte's bell. There is much in common between a Quaker meeting and a low mass of the Catholic church. Men do not always need words or music to worship together in the beauty of holiness,for that is silence, is it not'?
The kneeling multitudes were thinking of loved ones before Namur and Nancy. Conflicting emotions of fear and hope were seeking the relief that comes through renunciation.
one mother beautifully expressed the spirit of Paris at prayer, as she came down the steps of St. Sulpice this morning. In a low, clear voice, slowly but unhesitatingly, she said,
"My boys may come back to me. I do not know. That rests with God. But I can be loyal to my country, l can get peace this day, only if I am willing to give them up. Some must die. If I pray for the safety of mine,that is selfish, and does not lift the burden from my heart. But if I pray for strength for myself to feel proud that I have sons to give for my country, and for strength for them to do their duty in the hour of battle, then I know that the other Mother who gave her Son has heard me, and there is joy even in tears."
Usque ad aras. Since that idea has gained root, will those who hold it fail to endure—and win ?