Turning Religious Opium Into Dynamite
Sra,—What is an Encyclical? This question was put to me by a girl student at a recent study week-end, the aim and object of which was to propound one of these Papal documents.
The pity of it is that she is not alone. I do not think that it is exaggerating to say that perhaps only one Catholic in a hundred knows what an encyclical is, and only a small proportion of that elite realises that the Church has a constructive social programme. it is this that is turning many Catholics into Communists, precisely in the measure that they are Catholics, and realise the crying injustice of that " unusual poverty (which) has resulted from the unfair distribution of the goods of this world."
Redemptoris). In company with the Communists who delude them with false promises, they imagine that the Church, far from doing anything to remedy this state of affairs, is in league with the capitalist oppressors of the poor.
This belief is rooted in ignorance, and nothing is being done to dispel that ignorance. Our Holy Father writes Encyclicals, the capitalist press misrepresents them, the faithful do not read them.
Saint Thomas teaches that ignorance of things touching our faith is culpable when it bears on things which one can and ought to know. From this point of view, the state of mind of the faithful is to a great extent culpable. But culpability is at its height in deliberate ignorance, in the decision to close one's eyes firmly to all unpleasant truths. It is well known that it was through such wilful ignorance that vested interests in Spain kept the priests from the workers and thus produced the Asturian miners. It is not unknown that this same deliberate sin on the part of Catholic vested interests in England has kept the encyclicals from the people. What tragedy this action will produce remains to he seen.
However that may be, apart from the admirable C.T.S. pamphlets, a few of which one finds in most Churches, it is a fact that one cannot, today, walk into any Catholic bookshop and immediately obtain any
Papal document. Even the recent pronouncements of the reigning Pope are few and far between. I know one shop where, on hearing the world " encyclical," they show as much enlightenment as if they had been asked for a Dinosaur or a Jabberwock.
That is the state of affairs. What are we going to do about it?
The Catholic press, the Catholic Herald in particular, is making a splendid effort, in publishing each authoritative pronouncement as soon as it is made. But, alas, as Editors know to their cost, everyone does not take the Catholic press. Every " practising " Catholic, however, goes to Mass at least once on Sunday. Far be it from me to criticise the clergy, who are doubtless up against countless and unknown difficulties. Would it not, however, be possible to have a short five-minute instruction at every mass on Sunday? This is done most successfully in Switzerland, without appreciably lengthening the duration of each mass. Encyclicals could be briefly expounded as they appeared.
Later, when they were available in sufficient quantities in the form of C.T.S. pamphlets, the faithful could be urged, during each five-minute address, to buy them. This could go on for, say a month or six weeks, to cover absences due to illness or other legitimate causes. Thus, it would be mathematically impossible for any one, man, woman, or child, to be able to say that they did not know what an Encyclical was, or continue to wallow in complacent ignorance of Catholic Social doctrine. Action of the most vigorous kind would need to follow hot on the heels of this knowledge—personal sanctification first and foremost.
Thus, and thus alone can religion escape the reproach of being " the opium of the people," and become what Father Hilary Carpenter. 0.P., so magnificently calls " the dynamite of the people."
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