THE Holy Father did not attempt in his Christmas Eve allocution to follow the example of his predecessor in giving to the world a theological and mystical exposition of Catholic doctrine related to the special secular troubles of the times. Instead. Pope John graciously and humbly devoted much of his discourse to recalling the many Christmas allocutions of Pope Pius. as though feeling himself unworthy of doing more.
Yet, as so often happens in the simple and homely approach of a saintly and experienced man, Pope John uttered words which when we come to analyse them must be seen to go to the heart of the matter and to Possess revolutionary significance.
HIS simple and clear words unveiled the real trouble of the world today when he said, in effect, that the peace and unity of that world depended on Christian unity. In other words, it is for Christians who claim to possess the revelation of the Prince of Peace, born in Bethlehem, to come together and teach that divided secular world the spiritual peace revealed in the Gospels which is the only basis for the peace of the nations.
"The birth of the Lord," said the Pope, "is an announcement of unity and peace in all the world. It is a pledge, ever renewed, of good will put at the service of order, of justice, of brotherhood among all Christian peoples hastening together in a common desire to understand and deeply to respect that sacred liberty inherent in life-together, within the three orders. religious, civic and social."
The Pope's discourse in fact contrasted two aspects of the world today. The first was the bad-will —in many cases, alas, the bitter persecution — manifested in so many parts of the world to the true religious source of unity and peace that should be found among men who are God's friends. The second—and it is this which is particularly addressed to us—is the challenge to those men who claim to be God's friends to do all that is in their power to manifest in their lives and actions the principles of peace and unity which are contained in the divine revelation.
Pope John, recalling his diplomatic experiences. seemed to go out of his way to choose for his example an experience that took place outside the Church in communion with Peter. He referred to the efforts made some ten years ago within the Orthodox Churches in the Near East for reaching agreement between confessions of diverse rite and history as the basis for greater national unity. He called those involved in this question "our dear separated brothers who also carry on their forehead the name of Christ, who read the holy and blessed Gospels, and
are not untouched by the inspirations of religious piety and goodly and blessed charity".
Thus it seems clear that in the mind of Pope John XXIII the problems and the work of Christian unity are not to be considered as just one further interest and intention, specially recalled at certain periods of the year, in our Christian life; Christian unity is basic to any outlook which can truly be called Christian and Catholic.
It is basic not only because it is, in the final analysis, the same as the Christian apostolate based on the Christian revelation and the words of Christ before the Last Supper; it is basic because in the Pope's estimation it is the key to the reconciliation of the nations, to international understanding, to the healing of differences between conflicting ideologies and to the removal from our world of the threat of war.
IF we are right in our interpre tation of the Holy Father's discourse, we.are being given at the very start of his pontificate a special call: the call to work for world peace by first seeking peace within Christianity today and, as a condition of this and means to it, by manifesting the fruits of peace among ourselves.
This may well seem startling to us, yet of course it has been the message of the Popes of this century, not least that of Benedict XV. The seeking of peace by every means at our disposal, which certainly includes a love, overcoming mere nationalism and ideological differences, among Catholics of different nations and different political and social views, is a primary Catholic duty for God's sake and for the world's sake.
Yet how rarely do we advert to it! How automatically do we as Catholics take sides in national and ideological differences, forgetting altogether that we possess the secret of reconciliation and peace! In the middle of next month the octave for Christian unity will be observed. It will be no bad New Year resolution on our part to see to it that Christian unity governs our prayers and behaviour not just during that octave but throughout the year.