YEAR of HOPE
By Fr. NIGEL LARN (Director of the Catholic Enquiry Centre)
EVERYBODY welcomes the New Year with hope. For 1961 Christian hope is centred on unity. The old year saw the meeting of Pope John 23rd and Dr. Fisher. The New Year will bring round once again the octave of prayer for unity, observed by Christians of all denominations.
No Christian can doubt that a very frank and personal exchange of views between the Pope and other religious leaders must do good. It certainly will contribute to the breakdown of prejudice, bigotry and misunderstanding. Catholics have not always been less guilty of these sins than others.
There are many ways in which Catholics can co-operate with other Christians without abandoning any of the principles which they hold inviolate. Catholics can certainly co-operate, for example, precisely in order to eliminate religious bigotry.
ALL Christians can effectively unite in protest against swastika daubing on synagogues. They can unite in
protest against insults to the religious conscinec of any particular
church or sect They can cooperate in affirming the brotherhood of all mankind.
They can oppose racial apartheid wherever it occurs and under what ever auspices it may occur. They can unite in a resolute stand against the forces of materialistic Communism. Christians can unite, and have united, in attempts to solve the refugee problem,
There are many other matters on which Christians rola cooperate. Unfortunately this is not always possible because of certain divergencies of belief which are of recent growth. Only a century go much more co-operation between Christian bodies would have been possible on the basis of the natural law.
ONE of the most effective ways of demonstrating Christian solidarity to the unbelieving world would be to unite in opposition to such evils as divorce and birth prevention.
Unfortunately not all Christians are agreed on these ethical questions. Such co-operation seems nowadays unrealisable. Yet even here they may have something in common. for example. social and housing reforms which may diminish the temptation to divorce and birth prevention.
The natural law, however, remains the only right foundation for a united front on moral issues.
What sal': hopes are there for the reunion of Christendom? The most dramatic and far-reaching form of re-union is that known as corporate re-union. The personal interest of Pope John 23rd in the schismatic Eastern churches has already been well publicised. The fact that these Eastern churches possess a true episcopate and priesthood and valid sacraments forges a link with the Catholic Church straightaway. It also makes for a closer mutual understanding of one another's devotions. though historically these have developed along very different lines.
THE first requirement for a corporate re union is that both bodies to be corporately re-united should be really integral bodies. capable of carrying out a unanimous, or nearly unanimous, decision to unite.
The obstacle in the way of cor porate rc-union is often not any unwillingness on the part of the Catholic Church to accept leunion with a particular dissident body. It is the fact that the dissident body is itself not sufficiently united to be able to take such a far-reaching decision, at the present time.
Would it ever be capable of this in the future?
This brings me to a crucial point. Unity never exists without authority
Unity, for example, does not exist in families without sonic sort of authority. Juvenile crime and the break-up of family life in certain places is a very clear proof of this. Unity does not exist among nation without some form of authority. We have only to look at recent examples of nations coming to independence to see this. However earnest the desire for national unity may be on the part of everyone concerned. this national unity is in fact never achieved without authority.
International relations have long foundered on the stumbling block of the lack of a generally recognised supra-national authority. If the need for authority exists in every other sphere, it does also in the sphere of religion. Without authority there can be no real unity.
WE should consider carefully the kind of unity that we envisage for Christendom. Is it to be a merely man-made unity? Is it something t.p be forged by merely human Wort? Is it something to be painstaking achieved by inter-denominational diplomacy?
If it is. it may well have all the improbable stability of a peace treaty. This would be a tragic conclusion to the earnest and prayerful efforts of so many devout Christians of all denominations.
As Catholics. wc,believe that the unity of the Church is something divine. It has been given to the Church by Christ Himself. Wherever there is true and lawful authority. there is real unity and there is Christ.
We must admit in the same
breath that Catholics must make more thorough-going efforts to enable the world at large to see the Catholic Church for what it really is: To present the Catholic Church to the world as the real source of unity, and in our personal lives to live that ideal.
Because Catholics have not always done this, schisms have occurred and schisms have hardened. Any Catholic historian today will admit a degree of responsibility on the part of Catholics for the sad divisions that occurred in the sixteenth century.
IT is because we do believe that the Christian world has already been given a defined unity by Christ that we are not afraid to encourage individual conversions. We do not fear that these militate against a more widespread re-union of Christendom. Rather they are the first feeble, faltering and isolated steps towards it.
As Director of the Catholic Enquiry Centre. this is very much a personal problem to me. We get letters every day from devout Christians who say that they earnestly desire the re-union of Christendom. and I know that they do. Perhaps their contact with the Catholic Enquiry Centre will help them to take some step in the direction of unity Before anyone can believe the Catholic Faith, he must first of all see that the Catholic Church exists, There are many people in our country on whom the Catholic Church. certainly before the advent of television, has made little or no impact By placing advertisements in the daily papers we remind the world at large that the Catholic Church really does exist. This is 1960 and some people are still Roman Catholics!
BUT not only must the Church be seen, it must also he understood We are all aware of how pathetically Catholic doctrines are sometimes misunderstood. We should be very careful not to blame those who misunderstand them. Often it has been our fault — our fault as priests and our fault as laymen. We have not often enough told people what we really hold dear.
I remember a doctor who was introduced unexpectedly to a Catholic priest. He spoke his mind straightaway "I have a complaint to make" he said, "I've been taking that postal course from the Catholic Enquiry Centre . And you people believe all that . And you never tell us " Needless to say the doctor did find his way into the Catholic Church.
He is only one' of over 6,000 people who have taken our postal course. and whom we know to have been received into the Church, during seven years of the Enquiry Centre's existence. Through the course they have been told for the first time in their lives what Catholics really believe.
This Autumn the response to our advertisements in some papers has been far greater than ever before. With the growing surge of interest in Catholicism, which is almost daily evidenced in our news columns, we are sure that many more enquirers yet will write
to its And again. many times more, those first faltering steps will be taken towards the re-union of Christendom.