Today, we continue our reflection with another passage from French Archbishop Emile Guerry’s 1946 article “Spirituality of Catholic Action.”
Archbishop Guerry speaks of “Catholic Action,” by which he clearly means “Specialised Catholic Action,” i.e. Catholic Action based on the jocist method. Although he does not say it explicitly, Guerry clearly envisages the role of Catholic Action leaders as being the promotion of what Cardijn came to call the “lay apostolate,” I.e. the specific apostolate of lay people lived out in the world, in the ordinary circumstances of work, family and community.
Let’s read Archbishop Guerry’s reflections with this in mind.
A sound spirituality is not only the first aim and prerequisite of Catholic Action, it must also be so thoroughly Christian as to further the aims of the apostolate.
We are endebted to Bro. Joseph Stefanelli, S.M., Catholic High School, Hamilton, Ohio, for this translation from the French.
Three general principles, it seems to us, should receive special emphasis in a spirituality of Catholic Action. Apostles of Catholic Action must tend toward perfection:
1. in and through their life in the midst of the world;
2. in and through their duties of state;
3. in and through their apostolic life.
FIRST PRINCIPLE: in and through their life in the midst of the world.
What, basically, is a layman?
We might answer: one who is neither a cleric nor a religious. And that answer, though apparently facetious, is nonetheless canonically exact. But it is purely negative. More positively, we can say: a layman is one who must live in the midst of the world.
A spirituality of Catholic Action should therefore draw its inspiration from Our Lord’s prayer to His Father: “I do not ask you to take them from the world, but to guard them from evil…, sanctify them in truth.” (John, 17:17)
Such a spirituality should form souls which are strong, virile, joyously militant, desirous to gain their environment for Christ, souls able to understand and to love their milieu (as opposed to the spirit of seeking to avoid contact with it), combatting that pessimistic tendency which leads one to shirk human tasks and the obligation of a life in one’s milieu, and to withdraw into an ivory tower or isolate oneself on a mountain, meanwhile casting anathemas of contempt upon a wicked world or, like the sons of Zebedee, asking God to cause fire from Heaven to fall upon the accursed city.
Of course, it is clear that such a spirituality demands a solid asceticism, but it places it where it should be and not in means of perfection which are foreign to the state of life. This spirituality will not conceal the difficulties, the temptations, the obstacles which the soul will find facing it and surrounding it in its attempt to reach perfection. It is indeed important that there be no illusions in this regard and that all things be seen “in truth”; dangers do exist in the midst of the world. There is, moreover, the question of loyalty to souls which are seeking their vocation; it is well understood, too, that we preserve in its fullness the doctrinal tenet of the superiority in itself of a state of life entirely consecrated to God, and not give way at all to the present tendency which minimizes religious life to glorify the lay life. But this spirituality of Catholic Action would teach the laymen who wish to be faithful to their vocation in the world, how to make use of difficulties, how to use temptations as occasions of merit by transforming these obstacles into means of sanctification.
Also, one of the characteristics of this spirituality should be the emphasis on the sanctifying realism of life such as it is in the midst of a materialistic world which wants no more of Christ and in which one must live by the spirit of Christ.1
SECOND PRINCIPLE: In and through their duties of state
The spirituality of Catholic Action puts into the limelight and focuses our attention upon the sanctification of the duties of state considered as the surest manifestation of the will of God.
Once a soul has freely made its decision concerning a state of life, after it has prayed, sought advice, and made use of reason, faith and the virtue of prudence to know the will of God in its regard, all the duties which its state requires are the certain expression of the Divine will: family duties, professional duties and those relating to daily work, and civic duties.
THIRD PRINCIPLE: Sanctification of laymen in and through their apostolic life
Some years ago we had the great pleasure of thanking Dom Chautard, at the Trappist monastery of Sept-Fonds, for the good his little book, SOUL OF THE APOSTOLATE, had done for us, as for so many other young men of our generation.
“Very reverend Father,” we said to him, “you have shown that the interior life is the life of all apostolic work, that without it the apostolate is vain and even runs the risk of being dangerous. We respectfully express the desire that you now write another book recalling the great duty of the apostolate and the development of Catholic Action. “How to reach the perfect life in and through the apostolate.” And the great contemplative answered: “Yes, I believe that today there are in the world mystics of action.”
The spirituality of Catholic Action must in fact define the sanctifying value of this apostolic life. There, too, it is no longer simply a matter of showing how it is possible for souls to perfect themselves by means of the apostolate in the sense that apostolic action implies the exercise of numerous moral virtues which purify self and prepare it for union with God: abnegation, patience, obedience to the Church: nor even in the sense that the apostolic life, causing the apostle to realise his powerlessness when confronted with souls, obliges him to cast himself upon God, placing his trust only in the grace of Christ.
It is there, it seems to us, that the spirituality, distinguishing clearly from the exterior means of the apostolate the very essence of Catholic Action as defined by the Pope (participation of the laity in the apostolate of the hierarchy) will seek to produce in souls a fundamental disposition of the virtue of charity: turning souls from all that is dependence on self and egoism – though it be covered by pretexts of spiritual advancement – it will lead them to the most generous gift of themselves to Christ and to the Church by the love of God and of souls; it will urge them to maintain themselves constantly in an interior state of oblation for the extension of the reign of God, the growth of the Mystical Body, the conquest of souls.
Thus the spirituality of Catholic Action should develop in souls the mind of Christ and of the Church through a joyful and constant submission – springing from the spirit and the heart – to the hierarchy of that Church of which Bossuet says that she was “the permanent incarnation of the Son of God.” Not a servile submission, but one of loving children who, conscious of their heavy responsibility to be in virtue of an authentic mandate the witnesses of Christ, the messengers of the Church in their providential milieu of life, are entitled to count on very special graces, in the development in themselves of the divine life which will intensify their intimate union with the Church, their participation in its own apostolic life, to the degree to which they are effectively faithful to their interior oblation each time that service of others presents itself to then and that Christ calls them to give themselves to Him in souls. Will not Christ intensify His life in the souls which thus give themselves to Him? Will not God give Himself to those who give themselves to Him in others? A most sure sanctification is this charity which associates them in the “activity of the hierarchic apostolate,” as Pius XI says, In this service of devotedness to souls to which the Bishop has vowed himself till death and which is the precise element which makes him the “perfector,” i.e., the one who has the mission and the power to lead souls to perfection.
It is among human beings, human things, human institutions, acts of human life, that the apostle of Catholic Action seeks the kingdom of God and labors for its extension. Moreover, he seeks it in giving himself to his brothers, in cooperating for the common good of the entire Body, in giving to others what he receives, enriching himself with divine life, filling Himself with Christ and giving glory to the Holy Trinity.
In his article, Archbishop Guerry goes on to specify further those various “duties of state” to which he refers in this extract.
Despite the differences in language from Cardijn, his thinking is clearly very close.
And it also anticipates the teaching of the Second Vatican Council document, Lumen Gentium in Chapter IV on The laity.
Emile Guerry, Spirituality of Catholic Action (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)
Lumen Gentium (Vatican.va)