By Fr. THOMAS CORBISHLEY, S.J.
LAST week. as we were preparing for Christmas. our thoughts were turned to the two poles round which our life as Catholics should revolve —what we may term the Rome-Bethlehem Axis. Today, as we look forward to a new year, wondering in our hearts what it may bring, it seems not unnatural to redraw the diagram and to see a new pattern. As the leaders of the N.A.T.O. countries assembled for their deliberations in the Palais de Chaillot at Paris. we knew that their plans were dictated by the need to counter the threat created by another group of men, in another palace — the
Kremlin in Moscow.
From these two centres of strategic and military planning. our
turn o a turn o a
thoughts naturally third place, the Vatican. Rome, the eternal, has seen so many empires rise and fall, has survived the ,onslaught of so many enemies from the days of Lars Porsena to the days of Napoleon.
THIS SIGN . . .
WHEN the. Holy Father recently went in person to the new Vatican radio transmitting station, he passed close to the site of the battle of the Milvian Bridge, where Constantine conquered, trusting in the sign of the Cross. At the time. being a Constantine was far from convinced Christian. far from appreciating the profound significance of the symbol he chose for his ensign.
m Arc we in uch better case?
H convinced How profoundly are we conced of the abiding truth of what Constantine saw in his dream: in hoc signo vinces? Victory under the banner of Christ. That is the such a promise made to us all. At s moment we need to deepen our grasp of what it means.
What then does it mean?
First of all, it does not mean that we Christians are not to take a real, personal and sympathetic interest in the activities of those to whom the affairs of the world are entrusted. It is a false kind of detachment which adopts a superior attitude to " politics". The whole mystery of the Incarnation supposes the involvement of God Himself, in His human experience, in the political and social situation of his time. He was, it is true, no politician. He insisted as we must insist on the inadequacy of mere politicsas co containing the complete answer to life's problem. "Not by breadta alone." But man does need brea. And Our Lord, for all His clear vision of the truth that He could not accept the gift of the " kingdoms of the world " from the devil's hands, could yet weep over His own dear city. He would not have been human had He not so wept.
OUR CONCERN S°in our common humanity, must be intensely concerned with the fortunes of our fellow-men, must follow with the closest attention the efforts that are being made to save the world from the disastrous consequences of human ambition and human folly.rt Just as it is an important part that
of our service of God we
shall use His creation aright, shall develop its resources to the full, shall draw from its treasury the almost boundless wealth put at our disposal, so is it equally our duty to seek to safeguard from destruction the great heritage of our common civilisation. It is traditional in the Church to pray for the Emperor or the King. Today, when the world's rulers are faced with problems more gigantic than ever before. it is even more incumbent on us to prayers. B assist them with our praut that is by no means all. Again it is a part of our duty as Christians, and not merely as citizens, to give all thepractical help we can. practical actical can we be? Let us turn aside for a moment to reflect on one of the most remarkable achievements of the year that is soon to end—the launching by the Russians of the two satelites which are still encircling our planet. How was this great achievement wa brought about? It s brought about because, under the Soviet system, it is possible to apply all the resources of the State, singlemindedly and wholeheartedly, to the realisation of a desired aim.
r possible, if you like,
because Russia is in effect a tyranny. The sad fact is that countries which believe in a democratic way of life seem incapable of sinking their differences — their petty personal ambitions, their party politics, their class-consciousness in the pursuit m im de of a common a. except under some dire threat. In Russia, it is true, the necessary threats are, so to say. built into the system. Is there no hope of a better solution for us? There is. And it is. quite literally, the Hope of the World. The powers banded together under the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation are dedicated to the defence of certain countries in which, however imperfectly, the basic human liberties are preserved and respected, and the Christian Faith, if not actively encouraged, is at least more than tolerated. It is a far cry from the days when John Sobieski, before doing battle with the Turk, hcard Mass in the morning. It would be empty rhetoric to talk in terms of a modern Crusade. But the sober fact is that, on any human reckoning, the freedom of the Church is bound up with the survival of the NATO Powers as a force in the world.
Immensely important as is the growth of the Church in Asia and Africa, these vast mission-fields are still largely dependent on the
devoted work missionaries from Europe. North America and Australia. The emphasis put by recent Popes on the need to develop a native clergy and hierarchy in the onbearing s mission-fields is bteady fruit. In the next century, the balance of bala power in the Church flay change dramatically. But, in themeantime, human prudence es that we give every support to the defence of the bases from which the missionary effort is maintained.
S Christians, then, and as Catholics, we cannot but be deeply anxious about the success of NATO. It is no more than a coincidence; but we may remind ourselves that, in its Latin form, Nato means " For the Son." We Christians are dedicated to e the Son; w spend our lives for the Son. It is in His Spirit that we may hope to conquer. This is, of course, part of the stock-in-trade of the preacher and may be no
the Christian writer. It
more than a platitude. Whether it becomes anything more than
that depends on ourselves. What can we do—simply as individuals?
Well. in the first place. we can try to appreciate the clear importance in the Christian scheme of political activity. Man, formed by God to find his fulfilment and happiness in society, has through out history found himself combining to form ever larger and larger social units. From the family and the clan he moved on to an organisation in a tribe, then in a city-state and later in some national grouping. The modern nationstates have established Empires. The British Commonwealth has come into existence as part of the same process of evolution. Now it is becoming clear that the next stage will be some measure of surrender of national sovereignty. The process is as natural and inevitable as the growth of the an has established kinship which man in the arts and sciences. By a curious and surely significant association, it was as a contribution to the International Geophysical Year ed
that Russia launch her satelites.
But if this enlargement of political entities is to be of permanent and prolotmd value it can only be so if, side by side, goes a deepen,ing of the sense of underlying unity. Stich a sense must be not the outcome of fear—the spirit in which criminals organise themselves into gangs the better to outwit the police—but of a true sense of kinship.
Now it is here, it would seem, that the contribution of the Christian Faith can be all-important and o
could be dramatic. All to often political gatherings "break down" because they arc held in an atmosphere of suspicion or jealousy or petty-mindedness. Here the contribution of ordinary men and women can be or the first importance. If our leaders assemble with the feeling that they have behind them not merely the good wishes but the solid support of all the peoples whom they represent; if they feel that there is a widespread readiness to sink differences in a genuine spirit of sacrifice for the common good; if, for example, party bickering at home could be, if not suspended, at least nutted for the time, then there would be much more hope of lasting friendship and of the strength which comes from solid unity.
AS an example of the sort of petty-mindedness that cannot fail to do damage, it will be worth while quoting the cornmcnt which the " New Statesman " made on the eve of the NATO conference. The editor described it as " a gathering of the aged like Adenauer and Macmillan, the sick, like Eisenhower, the bigot, like Salazar. and the impotent, like Gaillard ". It is not entirely irrelevant that Mr. Kingsley Martin never bothers to conceal his contempt for Christianity. Let us by all means be realistic. Let us recognise that the world will not be saved by pious platitudes or by mere sentiment. Let us accept the fact that the first satelite was launched by a confessedly God-less state, and let us acknowledge the greatness of that scientific achievement.
But. whilst we think of those two man-made globes tirelessly journeyround the earth, let us remember the Star which shone over the house where the Magi found the Child. Men may hitch their wagon to a Sputnik and find themselves for ever returning to the same place:' they may hitch it to the Star and find Peace.