Important Appointment to Fulfil Direct Wish of Holy Father
Ecclesiastical Assistant, National Secretariat of Catholic Action.
By VERY REV. W. P. HACKETT, SJ.
THE appointment of the Rev. C. Mayne, S.J., to a newly-established Chair of Catholic Action at Corpus Christi Seminary, Werribee, Victoria, is 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.
The words, “It is your chief duty, Venerable Brethren, and that of your clergy to seek diligently, to select prudently and to train fittingly lay ajJbstles . . .,” might not at once attract the full attention of the casual reader. In fact,-they open whole new worlds of activity and influence for the average priest.
Since the beginning of official Catholic Action in Australia, the lay leaders have set themselves to gain the confidence of the priests and work in the most complete co-operation” with them. The manner in which this co-operation is to be exercised, of course, was not clear at the beginning. While there are certain fundamental principles that hold true in all cases, the exact amount of direction which the priest will need to give in a lay movement depends, to a great extent, on the type of movement as well as on the age, sex and degree of education of the members. Nevertheless, this work has been undertaken with the greatest good-will on both sides.
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” then 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 these 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 las a member of an official Catholic Action movement set up by the Bishop.”
CANNOT BE TAKEN UP IN FIVE MINUTES
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 societies—much 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 leaders.
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 people, 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.
BURDEN UPON PRIESTS
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 an 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.”‘
Catholic Action does place in the hands of the priest its members to a very high degree. It says to him, in effect:
“Here are the pick of the people in the parish. You, as our Ecclesiastical Assistant, are, to some extent, a Master of Novices. It is for you to mould these people in the way of perfection,, to guide them so that they may have not only a Catholic mind, but a more intense knowledge and love of Our Lord, a vivid sense of their important apostolate, and a clear idea of how to make that apostolate a practical reality.” One cannot do better than quote Cardinal Pizzardo: “Given the nature of Catholic Action, it is.clear that the priest, in the exercise of his normal function as Assistant, is and really must be, the soul of his association, the inspiration of good enterprises, the source of zeal and the fashioner of consciences.”
The effects of such close association between the priest and the best elements of 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 leaders 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 priest.
PREPARATIONS FOR FUTURE
All this, however, as we have said, cannot be achieved easily or without special preparation. For the priest of the future it is part of his normal functions to be a chaplain to Catholic Action movements. Already in many of the seminaries in Australia groups of students in their senior years have been meeting in order to prepare themselves for this new and difficult role. Groups of young priests have been coming together to discuss the problems of spiritual formation for their lay collaboration. They have been writing and publishing their own special bulletins for this purpose. Yet even more than this is required.
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 experience of three decades of Catholic Action in Europe and America is available to us in Australia. There is a wealth of splendid literature on the whole great question of the means by which the priest may set alight the fire of apostolic enthusiasm in the hearts of Catholic men and women. It will now be possible to tap these rich resources more fully.
The new professor, Rev. 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. He comes to his new position with already practical experience in the running of groups of leaders and of movements, and is thus thoroughly aware of the actual problems which young priests will have to encounter in this field.
VERY REV. W. P. HACKETT, S.J., Ecclesiastical Assistant, National Secretariat of Catholic Action
Chair of Catholic Action at Corpus Christi (Advocate (Melbourne, Vic. : 1868 – 1954), Thursday 2 April 1942, page 17) (Trove)