ONE of the encouraging aspects of the movement towards Christian unity is the way in which consciousness of it has penetrated to what might be called the "grass roots" of Catholicism. Even ordinary Catholics, who can have little direct interest in the higher flights of the ecumenical dialogue. are modifying their personal attitudes to our separated brethren. The very fact that this positive description of our fellow-Christians is gaining currency rather than the negative "non-Catholics" is evidence of a new approach.
Cardinal Bea last week spoke of the baptised nonCatholic's connection with the Church as a "fundamental belonging". The warmth, humour and generous purpose of the inter-faith gathering at Dowanhill, Glasgow, owes much to the initiative of the Cistercian Abbot of Nunraw. In other words, Catholics are really waking up to the fact that their prime duty to the non-Catholic is to love him. and to see in his outlook, not just the error, but the positive good waiting to be brought to fruition.
It would be short-sighted of us not to realise that something of the same kind is going on in the ranks of Christians of other confessions in our regard. The ecumenical movement has struck deep roots in them as well.
In Britain, we must reflect that the present and past Archbishops of Canterbury and the Moderator of the Church of Scotland have shown a courage and initiative which reflects not only their own personal convictions about the need and opportunity for Christian unity but also the acceptance, however passive, by their communions of this same fact.
The corrollary is that there is in this country at the moment a much more favourable climate towards Catholics than perhaps at any time since the Reformation.
It is not simply that active opposition to Catholicism is now no more. Happily that largely disappeared a century ago. Any remaining traces have been removed by the way in which the Catholic community has identified itself with the country's deepest interests and needs.
There has. too, been a gradual dying-out of the "ghetto mentality" which has restricted Catholics from playing a full part in the nation's life. this has not entirely disappeared and perhaps cannot until the last remaining barriers to Catholics occupying the highest positions in the land are removed.
But this negative persistence of some old attitudes is fading with the emergence of a great new goodwill towards Catholics. The unity movement has. subtly perhaps but nevertheless indisputably, changed the whole climate of opinion towards Catholics as Catholics. Christianity is now seen to be the last barrier to the spread of those materialistic and agnostic movements which will, if not halted, undermine the very basis of our survival as free and civilised nations.
At the same time, the powerful role of the Catholic Church in the ecumenical movement is being widely recognised. The significance of the fact that it was Canterbury and Scotland who went to Rome has not. we can be sure, been lost on our brethren of other Christian confessions.
This should encourage us to throw off our last hesitations on the score of our playing our part as Catholics in the nation's life. Being a Catholic should no longer be a factor to conceal or to he silent about: it is now. in many ways an advantage, and we should regard it as such.
It is up to the individual Catholic to find the most effective outlet for his own efforts. The trade union movement. public life at all levels. social and youth welfare—these are only a few of the fields in which he can take advantage of the new atmosphere of goodwill.
We are not suggesting that Catholics should seize the opportunity for pursuing merely sectional interests. The task is a joint one: the end is unity.
What we can and must do is to make the fullest contribution we can as Catholics to the overall task. Up to now. for various reasons, we may have been hesitant to do so. Now the opportunity is there: it would be tragic to miss it. Finally, the priests' conference at Beaumont reminds us of the vital urgency of building on the Protestant's love of scripture. One formula for this derives from the fact that there is one place, and one place only, where the scriptures actually come to life in dramatic form—and that is on the altar of the Mass. The Catholic's own appreciation of the Mass is all the weaker for his inadequate grasp of holy scripture. This is just another example of how non-Catholic criticism of us can sometimes help Catholics to see their own faith at greater depth—and appreciate it all the more.