To Be A Pilgrim by Cardinal Basil Hume (St Paul Publications, Hardbound £7.50 — Paper £4.25).
CARDINAL HUME'S speeches, addresses, parish homilies and spiritual notes form the basis of this book. Specially written additional material has also been included to give shape and unity to the whole work.
The main concern of the author, as befits a bishop whose responsibility is to teach and guide his flock. is the expounding of Christian doctrine and the theory and practice of the spiritual life.
One is instantly reminded of another bishop who, fifteen hundred years ago in the North African town of Hippo, amidst his routine duties of a bishop prayed, reflected, preached, wrote, acted and influenced the climate of opinion for his contemporaries and for us.
Of course, the preoccupations of the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster today are different from those of St Augustine of Hippo. But the degree of intensity, anxiety and anguish. I believe, is the same.
Our age also requires answers to the same important questions. Does God exist? What is he like? What does he want from us? What is life? What happens after death?
The cardinal grapples with these and many other questions in language that is simple, direct and expressive. The book is thus a personal catechism, a modern apologia, a treatise on the spiritual live in the last quarter of the 20th century.
The recurring theme is God's love for us and our search for God. In fact, it would be fair to say that the whole book is in a way an elaboration of the greatest commandment and the second which is like the first: to love God and neighbour.
Our spiritual lives, the cardinal writes, are not ways of being comfortable, of finding peace and joy for ourselves only. Would you leave a man starving in the street outside your home, while you remain within reading the Bible and praying? The criterion to qualify for the kingdom of God is our treatment of the hungry. the thirsty, the naked, the prisoner and the stranger. The cardinal goes on to say that obeying the command to love our neighbour is, like the command to love God, an instruction on how to function properly as a human being. A keen sense of the bond which our common humanity creates is part of that second commandmant and so the interests and fate of all peoples in some manner are my concern.
What does the cardinal have in mind? He thinks first of much poverty in the world. He has in mind those innumerable wars of this century. He recalls all those people who suffer violence at the hands of others. He reflects too on the madness which has led us to invent nuclear bombs.
But we are not to despair. We must repent and renew our love for God and neighbour. Here there is more than a touch of that serene, sensible Benedictine spirituality to which, of course, the cardinal is no stranger. The expression 'searching for God' (in fact the title of a previous book by the cardinal) is stood on its head in Chestertonian fashion. For it is we who are lost. And it is God who is looking for us.
There is a warning to watch for the coming of God. Sometimes it can be dramatic as in the case of St Paul, or gentle like the angle nudging Elijah in his sleep. So we need to stop, listen and look. That listening and that looking are prayer.
There is also a clear warning to those who would listen to the death-of-God theologians and the myth-of-God-Incarnate preachers. If we have come to think of a world without God as sensible and self-evident, then perhaps we are being as naive about religion as our forefathers were about the structure of the universe. The cardinal reminds us in no uncertain manner that every age needs to be humble about what it does not know, or has forgotten.
Hence the need to rediscover a sense of purpose. Individuals cannot just muddle through life without knowing why; nor can a society survive in peace and serenity without a vision of human existence which recognises the spiritual and the divine, includes a respect for life, defends the dignity of man and ensures the proper use of our material resources.
To act contrary to such a vision is to sin. For the cardinal points out that whenever we harden our hearts to the needs of others we sin.
There then follows an admirable section on the sacraments and on prayer. Of the ten golden rules on prayer let me quote the last one: "Trying to pray is praying. Never give up trying."
All this naturally has to be accomplished in "this vale of tears". We are but pilgrims on this earth which is beautiful and wretched at the same time.
And so we come to the title of the present book and back to Augustine of Hippo. In his City of God Augustine defined the body of believers as a civitas peregrina, perhaps best translated today as a 'transit lounge.' Similarly, Cardinal Hume aptly defines the status of the Christian in the modern world to be a pilgrim.
What is crystallized in Augustine's City of God and Cardinal Hume's To Be A Pilgrim is the Christian's capacity to long for the kingdom of God, to examine the nature of his relationship to the world, and above all to establish his identity by refusing to be engulfed by the unthinking habits of the world.
To Be A Pilgrim, therefore. far from being a book about flight from the world, is a book totally concerned about human dignity, justice and well being.