NE of the few current criticisms of religion which really seems to have something in it is the one that accuses Christianity of inculcating selfishness.
To say this as baldly, as that sounds almost absurd, since the smallest acquaintance with the Gospels reveals Our Lord's constant insistence on the primacy of charity and the love of our neighbour—a commandment daringly equated with the supreme commandment itself, the love of God, and constantly illustrated in Our Lord's sermons and parables. But the Gospels themselves seem to hint at the very danger which makes the foundation of fact in the criticism to which we refer above. For Our Lord on many occasions pointed to the greater love and charity that characterised those who were not of the true Faith, or of those who were but humble and despised members of it.
Cen tral to the Christian outlook is, of course, the duty and need to ensure the salvation of one's own soul. But that salvation, as the Catechism teaches us on the first page. can only be effected by " knowing, loving and serving God in this world." And the knowledge, love and service of God involves the loving of our neighbour as ourselves.
Yet, in practice, is there not a great danger that our natural selfcentredness should make us far more conscious of the need to ensure the salvation of our souls than of the nature of the full conditions under which that salvation can be ensured ?
We refer to this matter because e cannot but remain amazed at the persistent lack of interest among Catholics generally in their Christian duty to the Church all over the world, to their fellowmembers of Christ's Mystical Body, and to the millions of human beings, their brothers in Christ, in these times of persecution. suffering, and ignorance of the basic truths about God, Man and the World.
Our religion, in point of fact, still largely revolves around ourselves. As Catholics, do we not almost exclusively think of our own salvation in terms of certain prayers, certain duties, certain devotions ? Are we not even tempted to put our own petty scruples about what is religiously comfortable to us before obvious duties in charity to others which do not fit in with our plans for our own peace of mind ? And, how often do we hear or concern ourselves with our position in the universal Church, with our position as one member of everwidening circles of our society of fellow-men? Above all, how rarely do we relate our duty to save our souls by the service of God and the love of our neighbour with the full implications of that service and love ?
Are our New Year resolutions, for example, concerned solely with the improvement of our religious life by certain devotions and certain practices, or have we remembered the duty to make our lives more Christian by centering them in the wider and fuller framework of the Church Militant, of the Missions, of our suffering brethren, of the concerns of the Holy Father, of the ideological crisis in the world at large? Are we conscious of the need to create " a climate of Christianity," to use the words of Cardinal Suhard in his Christmas message, i.e., a habit of thinking and behaving in terms of the immense scope of the Gospel teaching as it relates to all aspects of the life of man, rather than building up spiritual .defences around our precious selves ?
We do not, we hope, mention these matters in any presumptuous, sermonising spirit. Indeed, it is obvious how easy it is for us all to narrow the scope of our religious life to our own immediate needs and concerns, and how difficult it is to remain aware of the wider horizons which cannot, touch us so nearly. Yet the truth is surely that we have been called to live in a time when the excuse for concentrating on ourselves, our friends, our parish, even our country, is at its weakest.
Consider this point. How often does the Holy Father speak these days without calling the attention of the faithful and even of the whole world to the great battle between the supernatural view of the world and the forces of totalitarian materialism, without imploring pity and help for the persecuted and the suffering in their millions. without reminding us of the world's need for a real and just peace ?
We cannot suppose that he does not mean us to attend and to do something about it—to make it all part and parcel of our religious life and outlook.
Some of us may really not be able to do more than pray about it—yet that is the most useful thing anyone can do about it. But most of us can add to our prayers
concrete action. We can help materially through charity : we can neglect no opportunity in our
conversation of making others aware of the real issues ; we can, in our businesses, offices, work, put such weight as we have behind the right direction.
By doing this we shall not only make our religious life more real and less self-centred ; we shall surely also make it more interesting, more impelling, more adult.
It is a point well worth considering at the beginning of a year like 1947.