OPTIMISM FOR THE 0111111IST1AN
By Michael de la Bedoyere
1952 IS going to begin at a moment when all thoughtful people and especially thoughtful Catholics must take a very poor view of the general state of the world. Yet this is going to be a very optimistic New Year article because it hopes to be a Catholic article.
One of the great differences between Catholics (and other true believers in God) and the world generally is that whereas there seems to be no solution to many of the world's temporary problems, there always is an immediate solution to spiritual problems and anxieties.
Though it is always true that with God all things are possible, God has clearly indicated that in spiritual matters all things are possible in a different and much more immediate sense than in temporal matters. God could suddenly remove our stubborn and apparently insoluble political and economic troubles. Indeed God has done just this kind of miracle.
Those who are familiar with the Old Testament and the history of the Israelites cannot doubt that God did in fact intervene in the current of temporal history to save time and again His chosen people. This is a matter of sheer historical record. But in the new dispensation with its immense insistence on the personality and freedom of the individual and its message of Eternal Life for every person who freely turns to God, God's normal intervention appears to have changed.
GOD seems to leave history to work itself out in accordance with the manifold factors which naturally shape it. Of these the spiritual and moral quality of the individual human will is all-important, but many other factors enter in. Technical questions have to be solved in technical terms, and may he more or less satisfactorily solved. Even more important, human ignorance and the differences between human beings, and between the individual and a society of individuals. lead to immense and apparently insoluble difficulties from which only a Divine miracle could rescue us.
But in the spiritual order things are very different. There what counts is not how much we pull off by our resources and ingenuity, but how much and how rightly we intend. In other words, if we do our spiritual best—and this means not only an effort of will, but making sure that we are doing all we can to think straight and make use of all our resources rightly— then God's own power and love raise our efforts to a plane of infinite value and ensure spiritual success. This is the only success that in the long run matters to
men whose final end in life is to know, love and serve God.
wE must apologise for this very obvious explanation of how matters are for those who are
members of Christ's Mystical Body; but while the principle is known, we are sometimes very
slow in realising its consequences.
At the beginning of any New Year we really can feel absolutely certain that it lies in our power
to ensure a good New Year, whatever may or may not happen in the realm of temporal affairs, for God's grace will not fail us. On the contrary, that grace only waits for our cooperation with it.
But this truth should not be interpreted in a mere individual, indeed selfish, fashion, as we are sometimes inclined to do.
Whereas it is we, individually. who turn to God, God turns not to us only individually, but to the whole world which He created and in which His Spirit dwells. He turns to us, as members of one another, as members of His Church. as members of our fam ily, of our country, of the world within which the order or pattern of His will is being accomplished well or ill, according to man's free cooperation. We cannot dissociate ourselves from all this without ruining our own effort to turn to God.
That is why our spiritual life cannot be cut off from our fellow men, nor from the history and fate of mankind which are rooted, as we are, in the natural order and called to the supernatural.
THUS when we look forward at the beginning of a New Year, we have, as it were, two assur
ances. We have the assurance that, if we really try to play our spiritual parts properly, we shall be surely moving towards Eternal Life. which is the knowledge of the one true God and Jesus Christ whom He sent; and we have the assurance that in doing this we are inevitably doing the very best we can to solve the problems of society and our fellow men.
This is true, not only because our spiritual contribution is the -normal channel for God's action on the world, but also because we cannot possibly make that spiritual contribution properly unless we are also doing all we can by our love, by our minds, by our actions, to help the world and our fellow-men.
Assurances like these clearly make our way plain and are a source of the deepest consolation more especially perhaps when the turn of year takes place, as it has done so often in the lives of this generation, in times of special perplexity and peril. It it such assurances which absolutely divide the Christian from the rest of the world. They must make Christians who understand what Christianity involves absolute optimists—not
of course in the superficial sense of imagining that everything in the future will be rosy. but in the deepest sense that whatever may happen to the world and to ourselves individually in the temporal order, all can yet be well in the order that really matters.
And in addition to that note of final optimism, there is the optimism engendered here and now by the realisation that the true Christian effort is worth even to our world and ourselves in the temporal order far more than any mere temporal effort can be with the utter uncertainty of value and success which are invitable in all such merely temporal efforts.
NONE of this, of course, means that things will be easy for us, either spiritually or temporally.
The true spiritual effort, while fundamentally absolutely simple, in practice demands all that we have. It is not a question of just negative sacrifice, as one might sometimes deduce from certain devotional books. The sacrifice demanded is a positive one: the self-discipline and self-sacrifice of trying to order and use everything that God has given us for the true end, namely the knowledge, love and service of God, and the realisation of God's Kingdom.
Such a positive spiritual ideal, with its wonderful final hope, if we really do our best, and with its enormous interest and excitement in using talents, opportunities, vocation within the world and for the world because it eases God's action on the world and ourselves, is surely one that must greatly attract our generation conscious of so many frustrations if the world's way is followed.
Too often, we feel, the spiritual life is taught as being something remote from the world, something introverted and described in sentimental and not very attractive terms, something which at best would only suit a few rare souls, something hard for hardness' sake. Understood in that way, it forces most of us to lead double lives, a wordling life and a devotional life.
But if once we see that it all hangs together, that the love, knowledge and service of God is both an assurance, through God's love, of the true end of all life, and an assurance of being in the van of those who can truly move towards the achievement of what alt desire, a better world, then we can overcome our too habitual distastes, a distaste for a world which today seems to offer so little worth having and that too frequent distaste for spiritual and moral duties that seem somehow unreal and distant and not quite human.
To ponder on such matters, to get our values a little clearer, to grasp more fully what Christianity really is, these perhaps will give us special help when we look forward to the New Year tasks and experiences which await us.