PENANCE IS THE CHRISTIAN REVOLUTION AND THE CHRISTIAN REVOLUTION IS PENANCE
[The. Editor wishes it to be understood that the views expressed in these articles are purely personal and have not necessarily been adopted by the Catholic Herald.]
GOD preserve us from an "economic interpretation " of the
gospels. The economic evil is only a consequence of our real evil. It was this evil that Christ attacked. Leave your interpretation of His attack at the level of an attack on the economically privileged classes and you ex chide the heights and the depths. His attack was against the spiritually privileged classes.
Wherever there is a spiritually privileged class there is the judgment of Christ. There is his scourge, to be wielded by whom? By the neighbour the Levite passed on the road.
Priests or clergy as such are not a spiritually privileged class. By the sacrament of orders the priest is spokesman of the poor before God the Father. A spiritually privileged class is a class of people bound together by a common claim to the deference of Christ which is founded on anything whatever other than the grace of Christ.
The Sour Grapes
There is far too much of sour grapes in the rejection of the world by people who have never learned to pray for their post man. Christ died for the world, His enemy. It is never enough to be an enemy of the enemies of Christ.
His friends hid themselves for fear His grace might be lost. They would not believe His resurrection until He left to doubt not one inch of a loophole. Consequently they obeyed the Holy Ghost as straws obeys the fire. They were founded on Christ and not on drum-thumping.
Count up, and weep, the hysterical divisions for and against anything in the world but Christ crucified which are used by Catholic publicists to bring some pressure to bear on that dead dog the English Catholic conscience. (And for what ends!) We are more anxious to discover some generalisation to confirm or condemn an attitude towards bourgeois economics or the Communist menace than
to receive the grace to give our lives for the bourgeois and the Marxist.
Do we really suppose that we shall save the world for Christ in the role of amateur economists?
It is said of the economic chaos, "Must we hold a day of intercession in order to mend the drains?" We shall not mend the drains without mending the architect and the bricklayer and the boy who carries tea for the bricklayer's assistant.
The Marxist proposes to destroy the architect but hopes that he will leave behind blue-prints of his mechanical technique.
Nevertheless how many of those whose reliance is on Christ do not also rely on 4 per cent.? And how many will admit to what extent their spiritual decisions are preconditioned by the circumstances of their material comfort? Though Christ died for His enemies (we say truly that He died for ourselves) it was precisely His death which invalidated their claim to spiritual privilege.
This law is absolute: it' there is one from whom I have withheld the love of Christ in order myself to enjoy the profession of the love of Christ, then my approach to Christ is through this person's forgiveness and by no other way. If there is one from whose ears I have withheld or delayed the words of justice in order to retain undisturbed the profession of more than justice, then my recovery of grace is through this person's forgiveness and no other way.
Just as the person of the poor man is the representative of Christ, in. so far as Christ Himself has said that He is fed and clothed and sheltered by the charity of those who love Him in their neighbour, so is the person of those upon whom weighs the spiritual privilege of our comfortable worship the representative of Christ and
the dispenser of His mercy. For where else should we turn for mercy? "As long as you did it not to one of these least, neither did you do it to Me." The consideration that the poor might refuse a forgiveness which Christ in His own Person would grant does not dispense us from the rudiments of spiritual good man
ners. The measure of Christian revolution is the measure of the penance which
accompanies it. Is there any other mea sure?
Certainly there is no other beginning. Preserve us from the impudence of those who would save us from the wrath of God with an issue of credit tickets. As if to say, " We have become so comfortable that we can think of nothing else to do but distribute a largesse of the same kind of comfort." Spiritual rottenness is the mark of our predominantly suburban civilisation. Spiritual rottenness of such a type that it is possible to conceive of a general body of Catholics who could use this statement as a condemnation of others.
The pronouncements of the Pope on economics retain integral continuity with the spiritual tradition of the Church. Compare La Salette (the words of the Mother of God to the two shepherd witnesses: " If my people will not submit I shall be forced to let go the arm of my Son . . For how long a time do I suffer for you If 1 would not have my Son abandon you I am forced to pray to Him without ceasing.") with the repeated insistence of the Pope on the first need of penance before social or economic order can be restored. Without it all economic planning is futile. (Quadragesimo Anno, pp. 57-8 in the C.T.S. translation).
We have to repair not a misplaced cog in an economic system but an aversion God of the whole of society in obedience to which not only the economic framework but every human act is misplaced. Just as our claim to the mercy of Christ is founded on the death of Christ and upon nothing else, so our hope of the restoration of society depends firstly and absolutely upon the removal of its reproach before God.
The responsibility of those to whom grace is given is to those for whom grace is needed. If I have withheld the love of Christ from the proletarian or the bourgeois then I am guilty of the oppression with which the bourgeois weighs down the proletarian, and I am guilty (wantonly in my case but not in his) of the excess of vengeance with which the proletarian seeks to destroy the bourgeois. If we do not tremble at our profession of the revelation of Christ we shall tremble at the
wrath of Christ's poor against us and we shall tremble under the persecution of Christ's enemies. Not every professing Christian executed by the mob can claim the palm of martyrdom. There are some whose profession is a witness to Christ, some whose profession of Christ is itself a witness to social privilege.
Not by one hair's breadth is the infallibility of the Church's teaching deflected by the cowardice of those who profess it. Not by one feather's weight is the responsibility removed from those who have received the challenge of the grace of Christ and have rejected it in comfort. But the truth of Christ is a sword through the bowels of those who cry Lord, Lord, It is the plain fact that men will allow no primacy or even recognition to the demands of grace until everything else is struck away by violence. We may choose between the violence of grace which, in the promise of Christ, will carry the gates of heaven, and the violence of those to whom our repose in the privileges of the Church is a stumbling block and an exasperation.
Penance is the Christian revolution and the Christian revolution is penance. The one difficulty is the word " Reflect."