(I) By Paul McGuire
THE nature of Catholic Action is still widely misunderstood. Catholic Action is not any Catholic action which we happen to .approve. It has its precise definition, its own special
structure. 1 am writing here only of a method by which we may fit ourselves for Catholic Action. Obviously, the structure and machinery of Catholic Action is so much useless litter unless we have men and women fit to work it. A period of preparation, of formation, is essential. My articles are concerned with the very first beginnings, Catholic Action is a layman's affair. To all those people who ask, " What can I do?" the answer is, " Form yourselves." If they ask, " How?" I should answer in the terms of these articles, for they have this excuse, that they are all written from experience.
Catholic Action is social action, social in the fullest meaning of the word. It is
not political and economic agitation. It may have political and economic effects, but they can only be effects. A right order in politics and economics can only follow a right order in morals. We arc concerned with the whole disease, not with local symptoms. We must restore all things in Christ.
Catholic Action is social action. It is social in two senses, We act on society, and we act in social formations, that is in groups, in associations with our fellowCatholics. We can begin to fit and form ourselves at once: but because the Catholic Action for which we prepare is social action, we should not begin alone. Two or three or four or more should begin together.
A group can come together almost anywhere. Catholic Action, when it arrives, has a structure both parochial and vocational: e.g., a Jocist unit consists of the young industrial workers in a particular parish. A group is nurtured in the spiritual life of the parish, it uses its strength in the world, in its milieu, the daily environment of its members. It is useful then, even in our preliminary training groups, if these conditions can be observed. But that is not always possible. One may find, at first, that even in a large city only half-a-dozen people can be attracted in the first instance.
I believe now, however, that people are sufficiently interested to be drawn in larger numbers, and if the groups can observe a vocational and parochial basis, either or both, so much the better. But the first problem is to attract, interest people : and if we get the right people, we need not be too precise in our limits.
We are not yet, remember,-Catholic Action. We are only laymen who want to fit ourselves spiritually. mentally, and socially for Catholic Action. Spiritually, mentally, socially.
Restore Community Sense Social formation means this : we must learn to pray, to study, to act together.
Our problem is largely to restore a sense of community.
We must reach out to one another, like cells that grow together in organic life. We are life, new life in the Mystical Body, and we belong to its organic functionings.
In this age, there is a tendency to think of everything in terms of mechanics, of plans, of machinery. But we must think of ourselves as life, life growing from small beginnings. It is useless to look for anything to that machinery of Catholic Action which the Hierarchy can give us from above, unless we are growing up to use it.
Mlle de Hemptinne is fond of quoting a New Zealand priest who says that Catholic Action is like a growing plant. The Hierarchy can give us a stick up which we may be trained, but unless the plant is growing, the stick is obviously a mere redundance in a landscape already grey with dead timber.
The social dynamic is always with small groups. It is the life of these groups growing up, growing towards one another, which will be the life of Catholic Action. Catholic Action comes within the province of the possible when we have Catholics already active,
socially. Whatever is to come later, we must first have the social energy, the social experience which we develop in the small, active groups.
It is interesting that Mr. Aldous Huxley should also see the one hope for the world in the action of small, vigorous groups: thus, in Ends and Means: "Jesus had only twelve apostles . . . the Benedictines were divided into groups of ten under a deal .. ten is the number of individuals constituting a Communist cell."
How Groups Grow
As groups grow, they will form affiliations with other groups and societies. according to their needs: but in these articles I am thinking only of the first steps, when four or five or a dozen, people have come together with some impulse to fit themselves for their job. Groups of this sort should be springing up everywhere. If they are not, it is because we are still unmoved by a real sense of the nature of Catholic Action and of the need of our time : for the vital need of our time is to restore the community.
We begin to restore community by forming a little community. And we should make our first common act at the altar.
Let the three or four or dozen of us go together to Holy Communion, go with a deep sense of our togetherness, of our membership. one with another, in Christ.
The vice of individualism has eaten deep, we are shy of public gestures, but we must realise our unity in the Mystical Body, con firm it by positive social acts. We can learn of community at the altar-rails, and I do not know where else in the modern world we can learn it.
We must pray, think, act together. It may not be easy to acquire this social habit, but in my experience people usually respond in an astonishing way.
Most of us, whether we realise it or not, are horribly alone in our desocialised world. The old social life (the life of a medieval guildsman, e.g.) which once sustained us is gone, and the individual is exposed, economically and morally and mentally. But we were made to live in fellowship (so the young go whoring after strange collectivist gods), and as we restore a fellowship, life expands in a most exciting way. Fascism and Communism succeed where they feed a starved social sense. We must feed it, too, though our fellowship is of another sort. It is fellowship in the Mystical Body. Early in the career of our group, we should ask a priest to explain the doctrine of the Mystical Body. He will, perhaps, be startled, but at least he may suggest a book.
If we are to restore all things in Christ, we must preserve and propagate the Faith. To propagate it, to preserve it, we must know it. Do we? The test is simple: if a non-Catholic asked us why we are Catholics, could we give him a reasonable answer? if not, we must discover the reasons. The group must use its minds.
Words like study and reading strike some people with cold horror, but it is really quite amusing to use one's mind, after the first uneasy, rusty creaks. And it happens that we have, in this generation, a most entertaining and lively Catholic literature, and I should emphatically recommend it, in the first stages, rather than textbooks of the duller sort. There is not room here for a reading list, but Mr. F. J. Sheed has written a Ground Plan for Catholic Reading which seems to me excellent (and I have sweated a lot over reading-lists for Catholic-groups). It costs 6d.
First read for the general view, of the Faith, its history, and its place in the world. We can specialise later (in social studies, e.g., when we shall reach out to the Catholic Social Guild), but first get a clear notion of what the Faith is and why we hold it.
On To Fundamentals We must understand the fundamentals before we can understand, properly, the social teachings of the Church: and as the apostolate develops, we are forced back, again and again, on our fundamentals.
It is frequently true that our one approach to the interest of people is through our social teachings (Pierre Bayart, author of L'Action Catholique Specialises, believes it the only approach to the industrialised masses), but that does not make it less important to get our own minds cleared and ordered.
It has been my own experience, again and again, talking to non-Catholic audiences. to begin with Quadragesimo, and end on the Divinity of Christ. It may be said that I should stick to my thesis, but Christ is our thesis. If Christ is not risen, our preaching is vain. The nonCatholic senses that. and once his interest has been engaged by our social principles, he will always tend to force us back on our fundamentals.
The group then, however it is assembled, whether from a few people in the same boarding-house, the same parish, the same office, the same factory, the same pub, will try to develop some devotional life as a group. And it will set itself some reading, and in its studies, too, it will develop the corporate life.
It should meet regularly, its reading should be planned, the plan should be fol lowed, systematically. Desultory, casual work and conversation is utterly useless.
In the next article I shall give an agenda which will sufficiently indicate a method for these first stages. The actual plan of work will depend, of course, on the present knowledge of a group. Here, I am thinking of people who (like most of us) have little general Catholic knowledge and no habit of systematic reading.
Field-Work But Catholic Action is action. Devotions and studies should find immediate effect in practical work, even in these preliminary stages of formation, because we learn best how to work in the experience of work itself. We must work in our milieu, in our
immediate environment. Begin then, by looking at the environment, What Catholic work is going forward in your parish at this moment, what is lagging, what is needed?
How many societies exist, what do they do, what is their membership?
How many Catholics are there in the parish?
How many Catholics of your own personal acquaintance have drifted away? Why?
Is there anything you could do to bring them back? (Jocist method is invaluable at this stage: and the Liverpool Board of Catholic Action is shortly to publish, I believe, a translation of J.O.C.'s first texthook for groups.) Each group must always have some fieldwork in hand. In spite of people who plaintively ask, " What I can do?" there is no shortage of jobs. Go to the parish priest (you must let him know what you are up to, anyhow). and ask if he has a job for you. Or join an existing Catholic society and help it. Your group should strengthen, not rival, existing work.
Distribute papers and pamphlets. Leave them in 'buses and trams. And plan some work which you can do together. With each job you do together the sense of community will grow in you, and you will presently find yourself capable of things you would hardly have dreamed of in the respectable private mouseholes you have left.
Pray together, study together, act together . . . and amuse yourselves together. In Australia, we encourage groups to dance together, swim together, go to the cinema together, drink (if their tastes lie that way) beer together. Grow together.
We must restore the community, the living community which is informed by moral values. We must start with ourselves, in our own immediate neighbourhood, amongst our own immediate friends, for we are the people who already have a consensus on fundamental things. But we shall grow, the new vines of Christ which will bind the drifting sands of all the world.
Life, not machinery.
We cannot put Humpty-Dumpty together again. We must grow H-D 2 (I make my bow to the Zeitgeist).
Wherever two or three arc gathered together ...