All Catholic eyes this week arc being turned towards the Archdiocese of Liverpool.
In that city, the most Catholic of the great cities of England, the first diocesan Catholic Action Congress in British history has just been held.
That this. Congress has been made possible is due to the energy and spirit with which the Archbishop and his advisers have set in motion the preliminary organisation and machinery upon which Catholic Action must be built. In this Archdiocese, that counts so many Catholics in proportion to its general population and that contains a community so much more closely knit and active than there can exist in the more pagan and sophisticated South, the preparatory work has no doubt been easier to accomplish, but this in no way detracts from the magnificence of the example which has been given to the whole country.
Catholic Action, like all vital ideas, though it has a definite material organisation, is a spirit, a purpose, a force, whose definition is extremely wide: " the collaboration of the laity in the hierarchical apostolate." Its realisation in any given country must inevitably depend upon the peculiar circumstances of that country, and for this reason the essential thing is to make a practical start.
Every step taken means the gaining of that practical experience, that first "informing" of the given material with the soul of Catholic Action, which must quickly result in a veritable renaissance of Catholicism in this country, after the mind of the Holy Father.
This was extraordinarily well illustrated in Liverpool.
Before the Congress anyone in this country might be excused for being far from clear as to the real meaning of Catholic Action. Treatises, texts and speeches were, no doubt, available, but just because they had not been interpreted in the course of action, they seemed unreal and unpractical.
Instinctively this first Congress set itself the practical task of studying the nature of Catholic Action in terms of British conditions, and the very first reward of this practical step was a special letter from the Cardinal Secretary of State to the Archbishop of Liverpool which is tantamount to a short and extremely clear treatise on Catholic Action.
His Eminence, first of all, notes that the Holy Father expressed his pleasure at the evidence that the Congress was something more than a provincial gathering. The presence of other distinguished members of the Hierarchy— unfortunately His Grace of Westminster was unavoidably absent because of his journey to Rome to receive the Red Hat—sounded the note of National Unity. This unity, he says, is of the greatest utility and necessity.
Next, the Cardinal emphasised, as did Mgr. Downey, that Catholic Action was really an infusion of a new spirit into other Catholic activities, not in any sense a federation or a re-organisation of those activities. Its machinery is separate, and calculated to co-ordinate, vitalise and supplement all Catholic activity so that it may effect this " lay collaboration with the hierarchical apostolate " in the way best calculated to restore the Kingdom of Christ in a social fabric corrupted by false outlooks.
To do this, what may be called a modern Catholic conscience must be formed, a conscience that is aware of modern conditions and burning with the apostolic desire of converting what is false into what is true and good. With the " informing " of the raw material by the spirit of Catholic Action, a fresh apostolate claiming and obtaining the allegiance of millions who hitherto have not'participated in action will be created.
As His Grace of Liverpool so lucidly explained, this Catholic Action is only a carrying into action of the doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ, according to which we are not an association or a metaphorical body, but truly and actually one Body, ever the same yet ever adapting itself to the environment in which it lives and grows.
This Body, like all bodies, has many parts, and it is imperative that each part should do the work that is most natural to it and most calculated to promote the good of the whole.
Thus Catholic Action in action will simply be the Mystical Body of Christ living and working in its environment, acting as one being, with every part instinctively carrying out that part of the apostolate most suited to it. This is what Pere Kothen made clear in his speeches when he spoke of the apostolate of like by like.
To set Out, even so roughly as this, the meaning of Catholic Action is to expose the weaknesses and shortcomings of this our persecuted Church set for generations in a hostile environment. But it is also a sign that there is coming to the Church in this land the vision of a mighty future when it will, despite its numerical smallness and lack of material strength, take, please Cod, giant strides towards the conversion of our great people, simply because it is filled with a new zeal, a fresh awareness and a unity of spirit and direction, for all of which it will have to thank our present Holy Father, the Pope of Catholic Action.
In Liverpool this week, we have been privileged to participate, in person or at least in spirit, in the birth of the future England.