The World Scene of the Christian Apostolate
WHEN an idea takes to itself a body, the result is a revolution.” These striking words of that strange French genius, Charles Peguy, open the introduction of Sheed and Ward’s eagerly-awaited book on Catholic Action, “Restoring All Things,” edited by Rev. Fr. J. Fitzsimons and Australia’s own Paul McGuire. The terms of reference are clear and explicit. “It is not a theoretical treatise; there are already many authoritative works on this subject: the books of Mgr. Civardi, of Mgr. Guerry, of Fr. Lelotte, the collected documents of the Pope . . . and books and pamphlets by the various specialised movements in Europe. Rather is it an invitation to action. To those who wish to do something it says: This is what other people are doing and why they are doing it. Go thou and do likewise.”
The dust cover prepares the reader with a fourfold division of contents:
I. The Governing Elements of Catholic Action:— The Mystical Body, by the Regent of the Dominican House of Studies, Lille. The Liturgy, by Dom Gaspar Lefebvre, O.S.B. The Priest in Catholic Action, by Canon P. Glorieux.
II. National Organisations (Belgium, France, Italy).
III. Group Methods in Four Typical Organisations: Jeunesse Ouvriere Chretienne, L.O.C., Chretienne Bourgeoisie, The Grail.
IV. Formation for Catholic Action, by Paul McGuire.
Inside, however, the original plan has been slightly modified, and a highly informative” and encouraging survey included on “The World Scene of Gatholic Action.” Further, two practical appendices have been added, one on the “Liturgy and Catholic Action,” drawn up by Dom B. McElligott, and approved by Cardinals Pizzardo and Hinsley, and another on “Preparation for Catholic Action in Schools,” as outlined for the Archdiocese of Calcutta.
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The book moves heavily through the first three chapters, then catches fire as the world scene of the new crusade opens out before the reader. The opening chapter, we think, is unfortunate; an excellent study for a theological review, but by no means a treatment of Catholic Action and the Mystical Body suitable for lay formation. The doctrine of the Mystical Body is taken for granted, and Fr. Chenu, O.P., discusses the social aspect of human society, the Mystical Body as the social inspiration of the Christian community, and, finally, Catholic Action. Theologians will read with questioning surprise these words of Fr. Chenu: . . on the whole, one cannot deny the immense benefits of the socialisation of human resources and activity . . . the person finds a greater and more steady opportunity of progress in a more general socialisation of material and spiritual wealth.” Unfortunately, Fr. Chenu does not define his “socialisation.” Suoh statements are certainly dangerous for the untrained youths of Catholic Action groups. One or two paragraphs in this section suffer from bad translation from the French, and are virtually meaningless. However, Fr. Chenu’s contribution is worth while if only for the following criticism of Catholic tactics in the past:
There was once a time when the Christian recoiled before the magnitude of these social phenomena, especially those of the world of labour, wherein machinism had rendered more sensible and more pressing this new collectivism; and so they withdrew into a fearful seclusion. . . . For a long time, far too long, magnificent apostolic zeal was spent in “protecting” the Christian from his milieu, and in creating for him an artificicl milieu, where he could take refuge, and at last live a Christian life, in a closed group far from pagan and perverse influences. At some given moment this was, perhaps, the inevitable last resource, but its strict empiricism would lead us to a Christianity of exiles, cut off from life, from the realities of their daily life, from their status and classes; to a Christianity without grip or audacity, to a Christianity which was disincarnated, that is to say without incarnation, abandoning the condemned and confounded mass of paganised humanity to its misery. This was more than an error of tactics; it was a structural fault, because it was an error of doctrine.
The reason why this attitude was an error of tactics and an error of doctrine is revealed in the following chapter on “Catholic Action and the Liturgy,” by Dom G. Lefebvre. The title is slightly misleading, for this section is really a detailed study of the theological basis of Catholic Action, running to over thirty pages. The author explains the inner life of the Mystical Body and the place of the Sacraments and the Liturgy in the growth of the lay apostolate. In the Christian liturgy the laity participate in the priesthood of Christ through the Hierarchy. In Catholic Action the laity participate in the apostolate of Christ through the Hierarchy. Both are essential manifestations of the same divine life which Christ our – Lord lives on earth in His Mystical Body. This chapter should be carefully explained and elaborated by priest-chaplains for the leaders of Catholic Action groups. Canon Glorieux, of the University of Lille, editor of the “Notes Pastorale Jociste,” official organ of the chaplains of French Catholic Action, contributes the chapter on “The Priest and Catholic Action.” The author quotes the words of the late Holy Father to the Bishops of the Argentine: “Catholic Action, though it is of its very nature the work of the laity, can neither begin nor prosper nor bear any special fruit without the assiduous and diligent activity of the priest.” He then gently indicates several mistakes to be avoided, and explains the function and approach of the priest in the formation of Catholic Actionists.
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Over half the book is a survey of what is actually being done in the field of Catholic Action throughout the world.
Nowhere yet has it achieved its mature forms. It is in process of formation, of development. It is not a piece of machinery which can be erected here, there and anywhere by a process of manufacture, to the design of a blueprint. Catholic Action belongs to life. It is a thing that grows. What is growing is a new community, a new society, a Christian society. . . . In some places and amongst some peoples it is more advanced: it grows faster than amongst others Each country, each milieu, each local group, must modify its methods and ultimately shape its technique and its organisations according to its needs, its native’ temperament and tradition, its human climate.
The world scene of Catholic Action reveals considerable local variations within the official framework, but hardly anywhere has a completed structure as yet appeared. Catholic Action, however, is definitely in being—in Poland, Peru, China, Argentine, Chile, India, Canada, South Africa, Ceylon, Uganda, West Africa, French North Africa, Jugoslavia, Hungary, Switzerland, Roumania (the first example of Byzantine Catholic Action), Germany, the United States, England, Ireland, Spain, Belgium, Italy, France, and Australia (to which twenty lines are devoted by the editors). Special chapters are given to Catholic Action in Italy, Belgium and France, because these countries have developed more mature forms, especially in the sphere of specialisation.
The principle of specialisation . . . is implied in the most elementary forms of Catholic Action. . . . Further, the Holy Father has indicated the need for specialisation according to vocation, when he has said that the apostle to the working man must be the working man, to the employer the employer. This is not an emphasis upon differences in economic and social status. It does not confirm class-divisions. It recognises the fact of these differences and its influence in the work of conversion, and ft recalls to each man his responsibility to those about him. The employer has no familiar understanding of the worker’s milieu, and he has neither the opportunity nor the experience to make a successful apostolate of it. Similarly, the worker is hardly likely to bring Christ to the employers. He is not himself one of them. The underlying principle of specialisation is this: if the world is to be won for Christ, then each one of us must strive to win his own little world, the world of his daily communications and intercourse. . . . So far from this specialised action confirming class distinctions, it is, in fact, the one way to overcome them: for as each class grows in knowledge and understanding of a Faith made common to all classes, so the common obligations are stressed and enforced with common sanctions. Catholic Action is theologically based on the doctrine of the Mystical Body: we are members, one of another. It is only in the realisation of that transcendent fellowship that the true social unity can be achieved. For the diversity of men, diversity of methods; but it is a variety in unity.
The chapter on Italy is a short history of the Catholic Revival, a story of persecution and struggle, of violent opposition and undaunted courage. The reforms of Pius X. and Pius XI. are outlined, and the conflict between the Fascist Government and Catholic Action briefly described. The section concludes with extracts from the statutes of Italian Catholic Action. The chapters on Belgium and France make fascinating reading, and the development of Catholic Action in these lands contains valuable lessons for Australia. Here the rise and growth of the Jocist movement, which the late Pope called authentic Catholic Action and the finished article, is traced to its full flowering in our own day. The spirit and methods of the J.O.C. have been described time and again in the pages of “The Advocate.” But the present book supplies in English a complete history, with a description of the Inquiry Method for the specialised formation of militants in particular environments. The concluding chapter on “Formation Technique,” by Paul McGuire, leaves little to be desired. It is clear, practical and already familiar to Australians who heard Mr. McGuire’s lectures last year, or who have read his articles in “The Advocate.”
There are no real conclusions to be drawn from the foregoing chapters, write the editors, apart from an insistence that movements and organisations have been described to illustrate the forms which Catholic Action may take, and has taken, in different countries. It is of the essence of the lay apostolate that it is supple and flexible, in which nothing vivifies more than the spirit, and nothing is more deadly than ready-made forms. . . . There can be no question of fixing duties and penalties where everything depends on circumstances, but could there be more solemn words, fitting words with which to conclude, than those of our (late) Holy Father, the Pope of Catholic Action: “Catholic Action is a function of the pastoral ministry, and, therefore, so bound up with Christian life that whatever assists it or hinders it is a definite assistance or a violation of the rights of the Church and of souls”?
Sheed and Ward have done a service to the English-speaking world in the publication of this book, and, although it bears traces of hasty assembling, contains many needless repetitions, and is without an index, it will be for long an invaluable handbook for priests and the lay leaders of Catholic Action.
Restoring All Things—A Guide to Catholic Action (Advocate (Melbourne, Vic. : 1868 – 1954), Thursday 6 April 1939, page 11) (Trove)