Page 4, 25th August 1961

25th August 1961
Page 4
Page 4, 25th August 1961 — Marching Orders

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Organisations: Catholic Church


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Marching Orders

BERNANOS, the author of the great book, "The Diary of a Country Priest", wrote: "The Church is in effect a movement, a force in motion, even though many of the devout have the appearance of believing. pretend to believe. that it is only a shelter, a kind of spiritual inn through whose windows one can enjoy watching the passers-by, the people on the outside, those who do not dwell in the inn, trudging through the mud."

Pere Conger O.P. quoting the above, writes: "The Church is not simply the inn of the Good Samaritan for a wounded world, it is the Good Samaritan himself in the act of picking up the injured man from the ground and carrying him on his back."

THESE quotations have some relevance to our leading article last week entitled "Worries About Christian Unity." That article has been criticised on the grounds that it was a betrayal of "the glorious inheritance of the Faith in these islands." It is obviously impossible in short articles on large subjects to use every desirable qualifying adjective, hut, we thought we had made it clear that the history of the Catholic Church in this country has been a glorious one, "a history lit up," as we wrote, "by the haloes of our martyrs."

The Faith of our Fathers preserved Catholicism in this country at the cost of blood, tears and every sort of persecution. But to do this it had to live and work in a "State of Siege." Its inevitable tactic was one of rigid defence of the religion and piety of our forefathers and one of counter-attack against its Protestant enemies, supported by the whole power and influence of the State.

This, we contended, has tended to leave us with a tradition of individualist observance and piety, with a deep suspicion of the Protestantism that came near at one point to extinguishing the Church in Britain, and with a sense that Mgr. Talbot, Cardinal Manning's friend, was well justified in holding that the layman's province was to lead his secular and Sunday Catholic life without any interest or meddling in ecclesiastical affairs.

Certainly, no Catholic with the slightest knowledge of the story of Catholicism in this country could conceivably criticise the state of seige spirituality, discipline and obedience of our forebears, particularly the poor. Nor could any Catholic do other than thank God for the wonderful fidelity of the great army of immigrants, chiefly from Ireland, to whom in large measure we owe today our Catholic millions.

BUT times have changed—and this, of course, was our point. Not only have times changed, but we have received from the Holy See during this century, and especially from the last two pontificates, the strongest exhortations to realise that the state of the world has greatly changed.

Today, the enemy of the Catholic Church is not aggressive Protestantism. Indeed, there is a sense in which we can say today that the Church no longer has any enemies, except for the political Godless ideology of Communism.

It is much truer to say that the barque of Peter is today riding the storm of religious and spiritual indifferentism, and the sea around us is filled with men and women (often of personal goodwill) drifting in a spiritually purposeless manner because they have lost the sense of religious meaning and direction. Or to use the simile, quoted above, the Church is the Good Samaritan seeking to pick up the spiritually maimed rather than a spiritual inn whose people are kept immunised from the tainted passers-by.

The question which we, therefore, raised has nothing to do with the courage and piety of our forebears; but it has much to do with the witness of Catholics before the spiritually shipwrecked world of today.

The question is whether that apostolic witness of ours is sufficient—whether, in other words, the traditions we have inherited from an earlier and very different age are the right ones for the very different problems of the present times.

In other words, is it enough for us to endeavour to be individually devout and observant (however necessary this, of course, is)? We know the high figures of lapsation—those who have allowed themselves to slip away from the barque of Peter through weakness of faith and the lure of the world. Many of these had good parents and sound Catholic upbringing.

BUT, in fact, it is to the Church that we must look for guidance in these times. The Church has for fifty years and more been preparing for these times by the studies of its scholars who have, as it were, expressed Catholic tradition and teaching in such a way as to make these potent antidotes to the secularist heresies and shining guides for the Catholic apostolate. The Church has returned to its sources in the early ages when the state of the pagan world in many ways resembled the state of affairs today.

Our present Pope, in particular, founding himself on the mind and work of his predecessors, has expressed the marching orders of Catholics in terms of Christian Unity, which means the salvation of the nations through the healing of that prime cause of Christian scandal: the divisions of those who invoke the name of Christ.

The road to Unity lies through the great liturgical revival. This revival is not just a question of new rubrics; it is the means of a fresh corporate Catholic witness before the whole world to the Catholic faith and the answers it has to give to a spiritually lost generation. There is no clash between personal devotion and public witness. On the contrary. But today the Church calls for both in the certainty that the role of the Good Samaritan is the surest way towards to the complete Christian dedication which our world so badly needs.

Inevitably, these changes take time. The Church is not totalitarian despite what its critics may sometimes say. Neither, of course, is it democratic. The great movements and reforms of the Church are quietly and gently worked out under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and the Popes look for co-operation to the body of the Church in every country — to all of us within the degree of our responsibility, be it great or tiny. The generosity, intelligence and zeal which we individually show in furthering what the Church proposes and teaches must determine, in large measure, the time and extent of the apostolic endeavour for which the Pope today is so evidently calling.

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