Archbishop James McGuigan at St. David’s School in Toronto in 1939. Photo courtesy Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto

The Register Archive: Catholics on edge of war pray for ‘fortitude’

  • September 11, 2018

When Britain declared war on Germany on Sept. 3, 1939, it was just a formality that Canada would follow suit, which it did a week later. As the war clouds darkened and Canadian troops prepared for the Second World War, Archbishop of Toronto James McGuigan issued a pastoral letter, published in The Register on Sept.  7, 1939:

Dearly beloved in Christ:

Peace is the sublime gift for which humanity has long been praying. It consists in that tranquility and beauty of order which are the fruit of spiritual ideals. Despite our prayers and all the efforts of our Holy Father the Pope and of peace-minded statesmen, the insatiable desire for power, for domination and ambitious display on the part of a few men imbued with a materialistic concept of life and devoid of belief in the spiritual destiny of man, the world has been plunged into the awful welter of war.

Canada will take her place calmly and steadfastly side by side with Great Britain, primarily to defend her shores and our own Canadian homes. We have been forced to meet the challenge of a principle which, if it prevailed, would enslave the human soul, would destroy the freedom and dignity of the human personality and our fundamental belief in immortality and our eternal destiny. For the freedom of the individual and true democratic principles of government have their roots in the Christian concept of the immortal spirituality of the human soul and the consequent responsibility we bear to God.

During the days that lie ahead we need above all else the cardinal virtue of fortitude. We must comply cheerfully and co-operate willingly with all reasonable demands and direction of our government during this critical period. As our prime minister stated in his broadcast to the nation on Sunday afternoon: “There is no home in Canada, no family, no individual whose fortunes and freedom are not bound up in the present struggle.” 

The virtue of fortitude is essentially the virtue of the soldier. It does not make him insensible to the dangers of war, but it raises his courage above insensibility. If fortitude is essential to the soldier, it likewise is necessary to the home. It is not only the heroism of the men who volunteer for their country’s defence which must truly defend the nation.

The quiet, constant, uncomplaining endurance of those at home and of all who co-operate with national directions and ideals is not less the necessary sustenance of the nation’s valour and the nation’s honour.

It is our urgent duty to pray with all earnestness for the great and powerful grace of fortitude. It is likewise our urgent duty to pray for peace. Let us individually and as parish groups beseech God through the intercession of His Blessed Mother whom we invoke as “The Queen of Peace,” and of St. Michael, our patron and Heavenly warrior, to strengthen the soldier and to hearten the civilian that neither may yield to fear or grief but, looking up to God, our strength and consolation, we may all be able to face, without murmuring and with magnanimity, whatever lies before us.

It is likewise our duty to fervently pray for the gift of peace. We must constantly raise our minds and our hearts to the Heavenly Father, beseeching Him that His divine grace and blessing may descend upon the world which He has redeemed by the shredding of the Precious Blood of His Divine Son, that it placate dissension, reconcile hearts and bring to the whole human family the inestimable blessing of peace founded upon justice and charity. To this end I direct as follows:

1. That the prayer for peace “Pro Pace” be recited in every Mass as long as the war continues. 

2. That parents and teachers lead their children in prayer for peace through the pious and dignified recitation of the Rosary or other simple, suitable invocations.

3. That the Holy Hour service be held on Sunday afternoon or evening in all parish churches for the sublime blessing of peace.

Invoking the guidance of the Holy Spirit of God upon you during these trying hours, I am,

Yours very cordially in Christ,

James C. McGuigan

Archbishop of Toronto

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