[Condensed from an article by V. Rev. W. B. Hackett, S.J., Ecclesiastical Assistant, National Secretariat of Catholic Action.]
‘THE appointment of the Rev. C. Mayne, S.J., to the newly established Chair of Catholic Action at Corpus Christi Seminary is the subject of an announcement of major importance made recently by the authorities of the college.
It is a matter of keen satisfaction that the College, in making the appointment, is fulfilling the direct wish of the Holy Father that seminaries should provide adequate training for Priests to assist them in their later work as Chaplains of Catholic Action.
When the late Holy Father made his famous appeal to the Priests of the world to encourage and support Catholic Action, he well realised the momentous nature of the work he was confiding to them and the tremendous burden he was placing on their already heavily-laden shoulders.
To most people in this country, Catholic Action is, at their first acquaintance with it, a new and rather bewildering science. Its purpose—the winning of the world to Christ through the activity of lay-folk—is clear enough. It is the questions of technique and of organisation that are, at the beginning, somewhat baffling. For those in charge of such movements a good deal of study and experience is necessary before the full wealth and complexity of a Catholic Action organisation becomes revealed. Pope Pius XI was well aware of the difficulties in the past, and he was constantly asking and praying that he “should be properly understood” when he spoke of Catholic Action. Each of us is in danger of twisting the Pope’s words to suit our own particular views and prejudices. We think of the things we would like to see done and describe those as Catholic Action. Even more often we think of the particular things we want done instead of thinking of the movement which is to do it. Catholic Action is a movement, an institution, an organisation, and one of the simplest definitions of a Catholic Action work is that it is “something done by a person as a member of an official Catholic Action movement set up by the Bishop.”
A Special Work.
At any rate, Catholic Action is definitely not something which one can take up and handle efficiently at five minutes’ notice. This applies to the Priest as well as to the layman. It is a different type of organisation from the older Catholic societiesmuch wider in its scope, using more modern methods and concerned with the penetration of the environment rather than with spasmodic good deeds.” Moreover, each movement of Catholic Action tends to develop its own distinct technique and approach. The things that will interest young girls of seventeen are widely different from those which one must place before farmers or lawyers. Young workers are attracted by ideals which will not appeal directly to groupings of married women. Yet the Parish Priest may have to deal with half a dozen different organisations—giving to the leaders of each a spiritual formation adapted to their own environment, advising them on the most suitable methods, warning them of pitfalls and taking a personal interest in the
It is not only a question of time for a Priest who has already aS much as he can handle, particularly under war conditions. It is not merely that he must give up more of his energy to the training of leaders of organisations which he has not hitherto had to consider. There is the point that the training of leaders, particularly the training of youth leaders, is a special study. , ‘ . , .
He is obliged to go deeply into their daily lives: to discover by patient enquiry the conditions in offices and factories, the popular types of amusement, the views on social affairs. He has to understand thoroughly the psychology of young pebple, to draw out what is best in them with patience and courage, and—instead of merely inculcating general principles —to be rigidly and constantly realist in his approach. The training of youth is a work for experts, and the Priest is asked to make himself expert in half a dozen different directions. This he cannot achieve quickly. . ,, ,
For it should be insisted on that Catholic Action asks more of the Priest than does any .other Catholic body. With a confraternity or sodality, the Priest has merely to attend regularly a general gathering and give ah instruction. On the_ other hand, “Catholic Action,” as Pius XI wrote, “says to each of its Ecclesiastical Assistants in regard to the share entrusted to each, ‘My lot is in Thy hands.'”
Priest and People.
The effect of such close association between the Priest and the best elements in his laity must be of the highest value. In his Sunday sermons he has to appeal to a large and diffused audience and can use only general terms. In his discussions with his lay readers in separate movements he can give them a more precise and practical formation exactly suited to the needs and difficulties of the members. What is even more important, he is able to make direct use of the enthusiasm and ability of his best parishioners and through them extend, to an unprecedented extent, the influence which he can exert in the parish. Through them he can reach corners of the parish which time and other duties normally prevent him from approaching. Each trained lay leader becomes, as it were, a bridge over which the Priest can come to the people and the people can come to the
The Australian Bishops’ Committee on Catholic Action in its recent statement declared, “We have been particularly gratified to notice the attention which has been given in recent years in the Ecclesiastical Seminaries to the instruction of students for the priesthood in the principles of Catholic Action.” Now the appointment of a special Professor of Catholic Action will provide a systematic and permanent means of carrying out the wishes of the Holy Father and of the Bishops. The new professor, Father C. Mayne, S.J., has not only studied deeply the authorities who have spoken and written about this vast subject, but has, himself, been closely in touch for some years with the lay leaders of the various Catholic Action movements throughout Australia.
Chair of Catholic Action at Corpus Christi College (Southern Cross (Adelaide, SA : 1889 – 1954), Friday 10 April 1942, page 13) (Trove)