Dear Donagh…. Can you tell me what the Catholic Church’s attitude is to politics, war, ecology, and other religions? …. I'd like to know what the inside story is about the Church and these subjects…. How much are we being told, what's the bottom line? So what do you say? …. Raymond G.M.
Dear Raymond, You will be surprised, I suppose, to see your letter cut down to the above! It was a long list of questions rather than one question, and in an email to you I've tried to sketch in a few lines on each of them. For this site I picked out a single theme that seemed to run through your long letter: the question of inside/outside. Who has the inside story of our Faith? Who are the ‘insiders’ in our Church, and who are the outsiders?
First we might ask: what is the inside or the centre of the Faith? Let me give you a remarkable quote from St Thomas Aquinas: “As Aristotle says, 'It is plain that each thing can be identified with its predominant characteristic.' Now it is the grace of the Holy Spirit, given through faith in Christ that is predominant in the law of the New Covenant, and in that its whole power consists. So before all else the New Law is the very grace of the Holy Spirit, given to those who believe in Christ." (Summa Theologiae, 1-2, 106, 1). It follows that anyone who has the grace of the Holy Spirit working in him or her is living in the very heart of the Faith, and consequently of the Church. No office in the Church carries any guarantee of actual grace in the person who holds that office. If you are more responsive to the Holy Spirit than the Pope is, you are more an ‘insider’ than he is. Then you will know the real inside story yourself, and the bottom line!
It strikes me that we live in an inside-out world now. The private details of people’s lives are scattered around the street, so to speak - in the media. And meanwhile the life of the street has invaded people’s homes by way of TV: robberies, car-chases, murder…. This is a very radical change in consciousness. Popular culture hardly believes in any interiority at all. We have come to suspect any kind of inner life: it must be guilty if it is secret, we think. This wrecks a basic structure of human life: the right relationship of inner and outer.
This affects the way we think about everything: even the spiritual life. What is faith if we see it only as the hidden ideology of a power-group? We need to experience things more deeply. Think about these and about the gospel passages that go with them. Take a look too at the article in 'Jacob's Well'. When we talk about the Faith or the Church, I feel it is very important that we talk about them in a way that lets them be what they are.
The Faith is not an ideology: the pagan centurion in the gospel had no religious ideology at all, yet Jesus said of him, “In no one in Israel have I found such faith” (Matthew 8:10). The Church is not just another political structure, it is the Body of Christ: “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Cor. 12:27). If you can get hold of a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church you would find it very useful, I think. Or you can find it on the internet.
I hope this, along with the email, will be of some small assistance to you, Raymond. Keep the questions coming! A question is an opening, and through an opening something can come in. God bless the work!