PARTNERSHIP WITH GOD
An Address by
The Most Reverend Aloisius J. Muench, D.D.
Bishop of Fargo
Rural Worker' Section
Ninth National Eucharistic Congress
St. Paul, Minnesota
June 24, 1941
". . . their life is a laborious one; and they have in the
culture of the soil, a school of virtue and sobriety, and follow
that art which God introduced before all others into our life."
(St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Statutes, XIX, 2)
The National Catholic Rural Life Conference
4625 Beaver Avenue
Des Moines, IA 50310-2199
CHRIST GLORIFIED IN THE SACRIFICE OF THE FARMER
(Address given by The Most Rev. Aloisius J. Muench, D.D.,
Bishop of Fargo, at the Sectional Meeting for Farmers, Ninth
National Eucharistic Congress, St. Paul, Tuesday, June 24,
AMONG all classes of society the farmer especially may hold himself
to have been honored by Our Lord. Beginning His beautiful parable of the
vine and the branches He does not deem it to lower the exalted dignity of
His Father to call Him a farmer: "Pater meus agricola est--My Father is a
farmer." His teachings abound with references to and illustrations taken
from farm life. He compared His kingdom to a vineyard, in the interest of
which the manager went out to hire laborers. Again He compares it to a
sheepfold of which He Himself is the good shepherd. A Christian's life,
dying to the things of this earth, is like a grain of wheat, the grain is
placed into the ground to die, and "if it die it brings forth much
fruit." The world is a vast field of grain ripe for the harvest; but,
alas, "the harvest is abundant but the laborers are few." Thus, there is
reference after reference to things of the farm to illustrate some point
of His teaching.
But above all things the Lord used the product of wheat and of
grapes, bread and wine, for the institution of the august sacrament of the
Holy Eucharist. Bread and wine are the substances changed into the
substance of the body and blood of our Blessed Savior. Their sense
appearances are the carriers of the most precious gifts of Our Lord's love
to us. In the consecrated elements of bread and wine Jesus Christ makes
Himself present to be the spiritual food of men. He is the bread that has
come down from heaven, of which if men eat they shall not die. With good
reason, then, has Christian tradition used the sheaf of wheat and the vine
with grapes, these precious products of the toil of a farmer, as
symbols of the Holy Eucharist. Both adorn tabernacle and altar as symbols
to give vivid expression to this great and loving mystery of our Catholic
Faith; both play their part in beautifying Christian art and architecture,
both enrich hymns and canticles composed to give honor to Our Lord in the
Holy Eucharist. As he kneels in prayer before the tabernacle the farmer
particularly has reason to glory in all this and to give profound thanks
to His Lord and Master for having honored his calling in so exalted a
manner. The regard shown him for his work on the land ought to give him
Respect for his calling had not always been accorded the farmer. The
pride and bombast of cities looked down with disdain upon his work. In the
face of this "rural life became conscious of itself only to become ashamed
of itself. The small farmer became apologetic. Rural living was something
only to be endured." With derisive sneer, snobbish urbanites spoke of the
farmer as a hick, a hayseed, a honyack. They knew not whereof they spoke.
The farmer's calling is a sacred calling. True, he does not wear a
white collar as he goes out to his work; his face is begrimed by dirt as
caressing winds press in on him while he follows the plow; his hard-horned
hands give proof of the toilsome labor that is his on the farmstead. But,
what a tremendous fallacy has laid hold of the minds of men that they have
come to think that fine clothes, powdered faces, and dainty hands measure
the true worth of man's calling. The sacredness of the farmer's calling
rests on something more substantial than such external things.
His is a sacred calling because he is collaborator with God in
continuing the work of His creation. In partnership with God he becomes to
men a provider of the food, fiber, and shelter they need. Let the farmer,
then, no longer depreciate himself in his own eyes. His calling is among
the noblest in all the world. The Lord considered it so, and the farmer
must think of it in the same terms. With God he lives and works in the
vast realms of His bountiful and beautiful nature. He is not one of the
millions who in thick formations swarm through freedom-destroying factory
gates. He is a freeman as he strides through his fields following a plow,
or sowing his seed, or harvesting his crop. He breathes God's free air
uncontaminated by the dust and smoke of a factory town. He may lack some
of the material things of city life. What does it matter? "There can be
culture without comfort, beauty without luxury, machines without enslaving
factories, science without worship of matter. Gigantic factories, office
buildings rising to the sky, inhuman cities, industrial morals, faith in
mass production, are not indispensable to civilization."
Let the farmer, then, think twice before he casts longing eyes
cityward as though he could work out his salvation there in better fashion
as a slave of some machine or as a white-collared serf working under some
master in a bank, store, or office. No, indeed; as the farmer stands
before his door after the day's work is done and surveys all that is his,
he has reason to give praise to God for the independence and liberty
granted him by and through the soil he calls his own. When hard times come
and city dwellers, with harassed minds and dejected hearts, take their
places in a bread-line, beggars who must eke out a pitiable existence on
the few crumbs that fall from the tables of the rich or that are doled out
by well-paid relief officials of the state, the farmer can go to his
well-stocked larder for bread, and meat, and other good things which a
provident, home-making farm wife has stored away. In such days
particularly the farmer has reason to regard himself with a high sense of
self-respect--self-respect based upon the independence and freedom that is
his. In dark days when all the world is clutched by material distress he
may give thanks to God in deep humility of heart for the noble calling
that has come to him. He is not a hapless white- collared worker who with
his job has lost his personality, he is not a rebellious factory hand who
has become an insignificant nobody in the great multitude of jobless,
propertyless, landless, homeless proletarians. In such an hour the farmer
has reason indeed to give thanks to God that he was called to till the
soil, reason to offer up to his Eucharistic Lord the many sacrifices he
must make on account of long hours of work, the loneliness of isolation,
the lack of material comforts, or even of near-by facilities to practice
In truth, the farmer's calling is one that must command great
respect. Much knowledge and much skill are required to manage well a
farmstead with its land and fences, barns and granaries, tools and
machinery. Farming is among the greatest of human arts. The farmer must be
an artisan and a craftsman; a capitalist, financier, manager, and worker;
a producer and seller. He must know soil and seed, poultry and cattle; he
must know when to till the soil, cultivate his fields, and harvest his
crops; he must know how best to combine and utilize his capital and his
labor; he must know markets, when to buy and when to sell. Few occupations
require such a combination of knowledge, skill, and experience as
farming. The varied functions of a farmer require not merely a man of
brawn but also a man of brain. Certainly it is not a calling for every
In the presence of his Lord the farmer should recall all this, not in
senseless vain-glory or in sinful pride, but in grateful appreciation of
the calling that God gave him as a tiller of the soil. Praise and
thanksgiving should rise in his heart as he reflects on the high regard
the Lord showered on him and his work.
But other pious and fruitful thoughts come to his mind as he kneels
in the presence of his Eucharistic Lord. The Holy Eucharist is a
superabundant source of life. It is life in and through Christ, who is
life, who came upon earth in order that men might have life and have it
abundantly, who shares His life generously with those who abide in Him.
Through the Holy Eucharist our membership in the Mystical Body of Christ
becomes a living and fruitful membership so that with St. Paul we may cry
out: "I live, now not I, but Christ liveth in me." Our Blessed Lord
thought of our living with Him as an organic union with Him. "I am the
vine, you are the branches," He said, "He who abides in Me, and I in him,
he bears much fruit." Organic life-that is the law of all life in nature
No one better than the farmer understands the meaning of organic
life. Every day he sees it burgeoning, and blossoming, and bearing fruit.
Organic life is all around him. He sees it in the blade of grass in his
meadow, as well as in the stalk of wheat or corn that raises itself in
gratitude to God to offer Him its precious, golden fruit. He sees organic
life in the cattle peacefully browsing on rich green pastures, in the
poultry as it forages about, now with lazy ease, now with greedy haste, to
find its daily food; in the bees as they fly busily and industrially from
flower to flower to gather from them sweet nectar on which to feed during
long winter months. Everywhere nature teems with life, organic life. The
very soil on which the farmer trods is filled with myriad forms of organic
life, all called by their Creator to be about their respective tasks to
help the farmer win from nature's storehouse the things needed for the
life of men.
With the three young men who sang their canticle of praise in honor
of God the Creator of the visible and invisible world the farmer, too has
cause to raise his voice in praise of Him who placed all this beauty and
all this wealth of organic life round about him; indeed, put it into his
hands to care for it as His manager and to draw from it life for himself
and his fellowmen. The farmer works with organic life, not with lifeless,
soul-deadening machines. Machines have routed organic life. Machines have
killed its soul. We live in a mechanistic age. Machines are found on every
side- -clanging and clicking, stamping and groaning, whirling and whirring
machines--noisome, infernal machines, busy all day with their soul-killing
routine. Men call them a product of civilization, yes, even of culture,
despite the fact that they have created a slave civilization in which
millions of workers are chained to the levers of machines.
It would be stupid, of course, to say that machines have not added to
man's creature comforts, to ease and enjoyment of life. Indeed, they have,
but let it be added at once that, while on the one hand they have given to
large numbers of workers freedom from drudgery and freedom from hard and
long labor, they have on the other hand brought little less than slavish
dependence and certainly much insecurity to tens of thousands of other
industrial workers. Worse still products of man's ingenuity, they are used
for purposes of destruction of what is finest and best in civilization.
They have become purveyors of death; they hurtle it from the sky, shoot it
forth from gigantic guns, send it racing through the waters from out of
the ocean's depths. They have become the symbols of mechanistic nihilism,
destroying not only precious human lives but also precious things of art
accumulated through long ages out of the sweat, and toil, and ingenuity of
the labor of man.
Hardly any one better than the farmer senses the folly, yes, the
crime of war. Instinctively he shrinks back from its terrible horrors
because he has learned to know the real meaning of life. Daily he
companions with life, with plants and animals, with insects and birds,
with microbes and weeds, with organisms at their best and at their worst.
In his daily work he becomes appreciative of the organic endowment and
organic power of life. As the cavalcade of life passes daily before his
eyes, even though he does not know how to express it in words,
he senses the sacredness of life. Will it always be so? Will the
machine invade the farmsteads of our countryside with its processes of
mass production and its slavery of commercialized human activity? Will it
bend the farmer low with debt and stamp his mind with the mentality of
sellers and speculators on the markets of the world? Will it rob him of
his contentment, all the while it brings him greater ease in his work, and
rob him too of the sacred tradition of his forebears to work, produce, and
live first for his family household and then out of his surpluses for the
demands of the markets of the world? Will it make a grinding job of his
daily task, shackle him with greed for more land, and make of him a
landless worker in Rural America? The machine will not destroy his soul if
the farmer ever remembers that he must remain its master and never allow
himself to become its slave. if ever he remembers that God gave him the
sacred calling of being the custodian of the life of His nature.
Such reflections will come to him as he hears again the voice from
the tabernacle: "I am the life. I am the vine you are the branches. I am
the source of all organic life, its author, its creator. You, my beloved
son, are its custodian. I have placed it into your hands. Keep it and
guard it as a sacred trust."
Christ's life in the Church is an organic life. Our Lord Himself
taught that when he compared Himself to the vine and us to the branches.
We are all united in Christ. Indeed, we all who are baptized in Christ
"are one body in Christ, but severally members one of another." In other
words we belong to the Mystical Body of Christ. The Eucharistic Bread
gives symbolic expression to this important and vital truth, for St. Paul
writes: "Because the bread is one, we though many, are one body, all of us
who partake of the one bread." Catholic tradition expanded this idea by
showing how the Eucharistic Bread has been made from many grains of wheat
and the Eucharistic Wine from many grapes of the vine; so we also, being
many form one bread, one body in Christ.
Supernatural life, then, is organic even as is natural life. All the
life we see in nature is made of tiny living organisms, called cells. Each
has its special function, but all combine to form a living being. Billions
of such cells form the body of man; all are required for his well-being.
Both nature and supernature furnish the pattern for the farmer's social
and economic life. He must not stand alone, he must not live his life in
isolation from his neighbors. He must combine with his fellow farmers for
purposes of cooperation. In the field of his material interests these
undertakings of cooperation are cooperatives. While cooperatives serve
material and earthly interests they must be carried by ideals of religion,
particularly the ideals of social charity. Social charity inculcates
brotherly love in social relations, and inspires to mutual service and
helpfulness. Without the spirit of social charity cooperatives will fail,
because social charity is "the soul of the social order," to quote the
meaningful words of Pius XI. Social charity is nothing else than Christian
charity applied to the social relations of man. It teaches cooperators how
to apply Christ's new commandment to their cooperative enterprises. "A new
commandment I give to you, that you love one another; that as I have loved
you, you also love one another." In the spirit of this love cooperators
will respect one another's opinions, seek to get along with each other,
bear up under criticism, subdue jealousies, stop petty bickerings, in
short, will be kind, respectful, and helpful one toward another. This
service concept of social charity goes far beyond the relief or alms
concept of social charity, as precious and salutary as this concept is
under certain circumstances. Social charity is a bigger charity; it meets
the great needs of fraternal fellowship in all social and economic, civic
and political relations of men.
Viewed in this light, cooperatives do more than build up the material
fortunes of cooperators. They build men. Because of this high ideal of
cooperation the Antigonish Movement has been eminently successful. Its
chief leader, the inspiration of the whole movement, Father J. J.
Tompkins, has preached the doctrine in season and out of season: "We are
not building cooperatives, we are building men."
For the proper functioning of social charity devotion, generosity,
and self-sacrifice are required. Where can a Catholic farmer learn that
better than before the Eucharistic Tabernacle. There in the Sacrament of
Love dwells the Divine Cooperator who thinks not of Himself but of us, Who
expends His love on us with superabundant devotion, Who laid down His life
for us because He loved us and loved us to the end. No greater love has
any man ever shown for his friends than Our Blessed Savior showed for us
poor sinners. He continues to show that love for us.
Bound together by His golden bonds of love we meet together at this
Eucharistic Congress deeply conscious of the great truth expressed by the
incomparable St. Augustine fifteen centuries ago when he exclaimed in
praise of the Holy Eucharist: "O sacrament of love! O sign of unity! O
bond of charity!" In truth, the Holy Eucharist is all that but especially
the Sacrament of charity. It contains Him who is Divine Charity; it
symbolizes charity; it effects charity.
As the farmer reflects on all that the Holy Eucharist means for him
in his work he will feel himself richly compensated for all the sacrifices
he must make as tiller of God's land. He will give praise to the Lord for
having called him to be the custodian and manager of the riches of His
nature. He will labor with Him to enrich his own life and that of his
fellows in society with the precious things that are found in the vast and
inexhaustible storehouses of the world which God created for the use and
enjoyment of men. To our Eucharistic Lord, who is immortal, invisible, the
one only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
1. John 15, 1.
2. John 12, 25.
3. Matthew 9, 37.
4. Boyle, "Democracy's Second Chance," p. 8.
5. Carrel, "Man the Unknown," p. 296.
6. Gal. 2, 20.
7. John 15, 5.
8. Rom. 12, 5.
9. I Cor. 10, 17
10. John 13, 34.
11. Boyle, cf. cit. p. 146.