By Fr. J. D.
Editor of 'Liturgy'
LIVING CHRISTIANITY: A Personal Essay, by Michael de la Bedoyere (Burns Oates, I5s.).
vy HAT is religion all about? In a book called How Pagan is England, which published the results of a private enquiry into the religion of the officer-cadet category in the Army, there is a revealing comment by a nonCatholic. Catholic young men were shown to be obviously the best instructed but the commentator remarked that their religion could often better be described as "Churchianity" rather than Christianity.
We know what he meant. There was an attachment, admirable in itself, to the Church as a visible institution, an attachment that was not obviously distinct from secular loyalties to party or cause. But is this enough, does it get down to the roots of religion, and does it even work?
There is enough evidence to show that it doesn't. If you look on the Church as a mere organisation, there will come a time when you will find yourself involved in one sort of difficulty (sr another, you will find the "regulations." thought of as religious bye-laws, irksome, and you will want to revolt.
The clergy will come to he looked on as a special caste whose interest it is to apply the regulations, and so you will get anti-clericalism of one sort or another, with all its attendant diseases.
ON the other hand, is it sufficient to add to this sort of loyalty which seems to be so much less than Divine faith, a little "piety'," external practices that may leave the heart and the moral level of a man's life all but untouched? Isn't it possible for external practices to become a barrier between man and God rather than means leading to the heart of Divine reality?
And in the climate of thought in which these practices live and have their being, there are one or two disturbing features that are found, largely implicit and only half-hinted at. We can sometimes sense a radical defect of understanding about the Incarnation, for instance.
The term of this devotionalism seems sometimes to be the Man Jesus rather than God the Son made man for us, and so you get the ghastly parodies of the Immortal Word in a debased religious art with its effeminate Christs and what Pere Bowyer has somewhat rudely called "Jesuanity" rather than Christianity.
T AM aware that this is to tread on /delicate ground. I know that God in His infinite generosity and boundless pity for man will accept the least gesture of man towards, Him, however gauche, however riddled with human imperfection. I know that everyone is asked to do only what is possible for him,
and no one wants to be or even seem superior about the simple faith of the little ones of Christ's flock.
But is not there a point when we have to say that these things are spiritually debilitating and that a contrary emphasis is required? Such, it would seem, if we read the history of the Church, has ever been the rhythm of the Church's action.
Moreover, the heart of the question is not so much what God will accept but what is incumbent on us,
what is required of us by the very God-given order of things as they are. as they exist in the Divinely indicated order of priorities.
It is to questions like these that Michael de Ia Bedoyere, in his outspoken and stimulating book, has supplied some of the answers, and in my view, the fundamental answers.
WHAT is religion all about? It is all about GOD As the very word indicates, it has to do with the bond between man and God. But it is not just a matter of proving there is a God (and how slickly some can do that to whom God remains apparently a great X); it is not a matter of knowing God in just a notional way. What is the beginning of religion and the heart of religion is making God infinitely real to oneself, to such an extent-as the author finds-that God's existence is more real to oneself than one's own.
It means that by pondering on the content of the faith that we know and possess that we come to catch a glimpse of the majesty, the almightiness, the endless ocean of being that is God.
The saints were saints because they were, so to say, drunk with God, certainly wildly in love with God.
DUT what in effect is this bond //between man and God? Does it in fact exist, in the order of being?
Here we can reverse the terms: the bond between God and man has been made by God Himself, in the Incarnation, which might be described as a bridge, were that not so deadly mechanical a thing. The Incarnation was the point of juncture between God and man-ima summer junguntur-and the whole world of reality, of beauty and loveliness could once more be brought within the orbit of God's redeeming power. For the sin has to be done away and the union, the, reconciliation, was effected by the blood of the Cross which joined Heaven to earth.
It is of all this that the Church is the continuation, no mere organisation but a living, palpitating body, living by the Divine life of its Head.
As the author shows in several contexts, if the truth that the Church is Christ to us now is realised, then all the fundamental difficulties tas, for example, "salvation outside the Church") can at least be seen in their right perspective.
Just as the supreme act of Christ, the Head of the human race, was His redeeming sacrifice, so for the Church the principal thing by which and for which she exists is to make present again to her members, and indeed to all mankind, the power and love of the Cross. This she does in the Mass. the corporate, common act of the Church whereby Sunday by Sunday and day by day God's holy people enter into the redeeming activity of Christ.
Iis no wonder that the author 1 makes an urgent and moving plea for the restoration of the people's part of the Mass to the people, thus echoing the Papal teaching of the past 50 years.
Herein. indeed, here in the parish Mass properly understood and corporately offered is "the perfect fulfilment on earth of that religious aspiration basic in every human soul, the aspiration somehow to see. to focus, to realise the permanent. the eternal, the good, the beautiful, the true, the Divine. whose stamp is in every heart God made, whose very presence is deep down within and under the layers of matter, senses, ego. it is this, because it is the perfect surrender to the Godhead of Christ Man-God of whose Body we have been made integral members and whose sacramental Presence is given to us. And by the same token in the Mass we find the perfect inter-penetrating and union of the individual personal, religious aspiration and of the social, since in Christ we are intimately bound to all, past, present and future, who. in God's sight, have accepted the fruits of the Incarnation" (pp. 115-116).
Surrender to God
S°the argument comes to a point of repose; religion is man's surrender to God (and in seeming to lose his life he finds it) in Christ Jesus; it is the journey of man from himself to God through the incarnation and redeeming Death of the Saviour of whose body we are members. carried by sacraments and Mass into the intimacy of the life of the Trinity.
If these things are seen as the heart of the matter, then all else falls into its place.
Love, marriage and sex, Catholic education, the relations between priest and people, our attitude to those outside the Church, these and a dozen other themes illustrate and develop the author's thesis.
But more than all this, there is, running like a golden thread throughout the book, a concern for a genuine, living Christian life not merely for the clergy or for religious but for every member of the Body of Christ.
Rooted in a conscious faith in the reality of God, lived corporately in the Church, fed by the life of Christ in Mass and sacraments, this life, supported by prayer and issuing into an ever deeper contemplation, finds its outlet in the missionary activity of the Church and the exercise of charity. It embraces the whole of the spiritual life from the humblest strivings of the sinner to the ineffable union of the saints. As St. Thomas and the Fathers before him said, grace is the seed of glory which comes to its full flowering in the beatific vision.
TT is good to see that ancient tradi/linnet teaching restored in a popular hook written by a layman to its central place in the life of the ordinary Christian. If for no other reason, Michael de Ia Bedoyere has done a service to his fellow-Christians in writing this book.
Some may find it a little too outspoken, but the author has an admirable sense of proportion and no one ought to take offence.
What in fact we have here is a balanced appraisal of some of our deeper contemporary ills, written by a layman who, without ever being technical, is theologically articulate and who boldly faces the facts and has set out the fundamental answers to the real problems.