Our peculiar gift for approaching the 20th eentury with a 19th century view
BY FR. JOHN FOSTER
"T AKE my advice. young man. change the title of your organisation and you'll get much more support."
It is a commonplace that in Catholic circles the word " work or workers " is the greatest obstacle to accepting a movement officially adopted by the Church (the Young Christian
Workers) as her main means of
educating, serving and representing the working youth of the world, and bringing them to their full development as mature Christians.
But the existence of this attitude explains much more than a suspicion of one particular apostolate of the Church. Even by itself it throws much more light on the present state of English Catholicism than all the returns giving statistics of conversions, child baptisms and Easter Communions. Indeed it tells us all we need to know about Catholicism in this country.
Quite simply. it shows that we have not begun to grasp the real meaning of the catholicity of the Church. And not to have discovered this is the ma'n reason why so many good Catholics remain in state of perpetual Peter Panhood or spiritual paralysis and prevent the Church from becoming in actual reality the vital principle of human society.
Out of date
R. Thomas Merton suggests that the great tragedy of our time is the Godlessness of so many Christians whose religion is a mere matter of conformism or expediency.
Papal and other teaching continually stresses that the one cure for our present troubles is the mature Christian in the ranks of
the laity. The missionary role of every baptised Christian is everyday seen more and more as the norm of Christian living.
The difficulty and delay in accepting and facing up to the implications of all this is more acute for English Catholics, it we may dare say so, because we have a peculiar gift for approaching the 20th century and the special challenge it offers the Church with the point of view of the 19th century.
For us the Church is still seen as pre-eminently an organisation or an ideology. We take most pride in the fact that the Church's efficiency rating is higher than that of the Standard Oil Company. We never doubt that eventually Catholicism will conquer Communism. How much we misrepresent the Church by clinging to 19th century standards !
It has led us to define the catholicity of the Church as chiefly her extension in time and place. or her right to he so extended. When. for example. we Ourselves ceased to he a missionary territory in the last century. we stopped thinking of the Church as by nature missionary. It was the logical thing to do, granted our notion of catholicity was a geographical one.I ogical. too. was to push the foreign missionary apostolate in the background. not to worry if there was a lack of concern or conscience among our people for the foreign missions.
No wonder then if very few realised or realise yet that in throwing away a foreign mission conscience. we were throwing off the only life-line which would have brought us back to an awareness of the Church as more than an organisation or an ideology, as something organically present in the world and claiming to be the one vital principle of human society.
Lost our way?
WHY, then. should we be surprised to find that today all the motives prompting our herculean efforts in the matter of schools are quite secondary? Or that most of our Catholic organisations and societies (born in the 19th century) greatly impede genuine lay action in the present
century ? Or that, faced with the apostascy of the masses, we retire still further into our Hum oty Dumptydoin and appear paralysed with a dogmatism of defence more adamant than before, only emerging at times to take some short cut to keep ourselves in the picture of contemporary life ?
Have we lost our way in modern
society ? Are we in danger of becoming like the\ famous Duke of Wellington " who regained his prestige by living to an old age in a country where one becomes accepted as an institution provided one keeps on doing the same thing long enough ?"
IN yet another translation, this time from the French of Bishop Suenens of Malines (and how much these translations of books on the Church and the modern lay apostolatc draw attention to the poverty of thought among our own theologians and seminaries when it is a matter of the burning question of the daythe begetting of the mature Christian) we certainly find much that is of the utmost importance in re-thinking accepted solutions that are now outworn.
Nonetheless, Mgr. Suenens (if we do not judge him wrongly) has, in championing a direct religious apostolate against a purely social one, brought a certain confuson to the main issue of the day and could quite easily retard what has already been gained in this vital field of the Church's mission to the world.
Are we really solving the problem of the lapsation of Catholics when by the direct approach we succeed in getting them hack to Mass-going and the reception of the sacraments ? Is is quite so simple as all that ?
Does the young boy who gave up his " faith " when he left school regain more than that " faith 's when he returns 10 years later ? That "faith " failed first because it was inadequate to interpret the adult world into which he moved, and the commercial, competitive culture which de-personalised him.
Sometimes one wonders whether the rallying cry of the past, " It is the Mass that matters," has turned into " It is Mass-going that matters."
In removing the causes of lapsation, much more is at stake. Vital is the rediscovery of the very meaning of the Sabbath in its new context of the 'world of total work.
Urgent is the human person's rediscovery of the meaning of leisure as the basis of culture and freedom.
It is not so much the law of Mass-going that matters as something that people like Plato and Proudhon sensed as vital if men were to stand erect and upright " in festive companionship with the gods " and to remain free.
Again, is the married soldier of 18 years who still keeps a girl friend to take to dances and allows his wife to be the concubine of the rest of the family going to change his ways by being reminded of the law of God and the divine origin of marriage ?
How can he behave differently or better when the whole educational. social, industrialised structure of society makes it wellnigh impossible for him to grow in those personal qualities without which Christian courtship and marriage are impossible ?
He has no opportunity of even beginning to face up to the claims of a human nature made by God, and must inevitably take refuge in the refusal of despair. if for example, on leaving school he is thrown into some job for which he is unsuited, in which he cannot develop as a person. and foe which he received no vocational guidance.
IF we are, with Christian leader-a ship, to combat the great
superstition of our times—the belief that the security of mankind rests entirely on ever
mounting material productivity— and slow down the present proletarianisation of the human race. born of the new modern notion of total work which would fetter the human person to the process of work and the principle of "work for work's sake." then we must see that the main issue is not between a direct religious apostolate and a social one.
The days have gone, at least in this country. when vital issues were full employment, freedom from poverty, conditions of working environment, workers' just rights. slums or the maldistribution of wealth.
Today it is more a matter of bringing back a divine meaning and interpretation to the actuality of our sham, escapist, commercial culture : more a matter of curing invalids than converting sinners.
I HAVE been reading with much interest 2.nd edification further accounts of recent conversions in the February Month. What strikes me particularly in them is the spirit of charity, for we may be certain that love is the key to conversion. Thus Mr. Thornton Trapp writes : "Perhaps any who chance to read these lines would spare a prayer, not only for the writer. but also for those many good Anglicans whose sincerity and fervour would do so much to make the Catholic Church what she was for a thousand years, the true Church of England." And Mr. P. J. H. Carpenter: " For myself. I can feel nothing but gratitude to many Anglo-Catholics without whose teaching and example I might never have known a sufficient part of the Truth to want the whole. They have a vision of the Catholic Religion to which they are faithful. some amid great difficulties, and if argument seems useless, and understanding difficult, we can find a bond of charity in the prayer that all may he one in the
fold of Christ's Church." Mr. Trapp also appositely says: " It seems to me that the bitterness of some ex-Anglican converts shows a lack of spiritual perception; it is also enormously discouraging to potential converts."
That 'almost '
ANOTHER interesting point that ANOTHER is the Anglican love of liturgy. in the best sense of the word. Thus Mr. Trapp writes: " We seemed to have all that Rome could offer, and even more. More, because the Anglican has a love of liturgy and a chance of joining in liturgical worship which is not yet shared by. or granted to all, or even most, Catholics. This is an undoubted factor in the relative fewness of Anglo-Catholic conversions." Mr. Peter Hacker roundly says: " Many 'Anglican papalists' are much better liturgists than many Catholics! " He also pays his tribute to "the very great kindness and sympathy which I have received from almost all those whom I have left, and almost all those whom 1 have joined." I could wish that the two 'almosts' had not been necessary. Charity and liturgy-much of the answer may lie in these.
SUPPOSE the advice given to the young worker leader above was heeded. What would it mean ? It would lead above all to a denial of the very nature of the Church, arising from a denial of catholicity as a property of her very being, the very capacity of her principles of unity to assimilate, fulfil and raise to God, in oneness with Him, every man, the whole of man and every human value.
The Church is catholic or missionary because she brings to the world a transcendent divine
unity. Only through her qualitative catholicity can she become the unifying. fulfilling, enriching living principle of human society at each and every moment in human history.
Secondly, it would mean that the Church through her members had repeated but this time with more fatal consequences — the mistake her officials had made, but with much more excuse. at the time of the Chartist Movement of the last century. She would have failed to have sized up the exact situation of the contemporary scene and would allow that situation to proceed with the Church, if not on the outside looking in, then alongside appearing to impose herself as something alien, and not the one sufficient spiritual impetus modern universal humanism is seeking.
IN the last century the Church allowed the working-class masses to slip from her maternal love.
Today it could happen that contemporary life vt ith the whole of humanity flowed on to still greater material achievements without the Church. But only one condition — that the Church, through her laity still spiritually immature, failed to recognise that it whole new meaning of human existence is fast displacing the Christian theological notion of the divine origin and dignity of the human person, as a logical consequence of the new modern notion of total work which is destroying 19th century distinctions of class and status, based on wealth and the distance one was from the raw materials, forming a new classless society. and insisting that outside the actual process of work and production there is no significance, human or divine.