Maritain on Catholic Action, part 1

Maritain on Catholic Action, part 1

Maritain envisioned a level of action, where “the spiritual is considered as joined to the temporal.” Here the action of  the Christian belongs  also to the apostolate, “but to the apostolate as touching things of  earth; I mean so far as it has for its purpose to infuse evangelical vitality into the temporal life.”

He made a series of four remarks about Catholic Action.

First, Maritain says that those who engage in Catholic Action must be rooted in prayer. In deed, Catholic Action springs from prayer. He said: “I have always insist that all souls are called in some degree to the contemplation of the saints, which, because it is a contemplation of love, abounds in action. But now, and as corresponding to this call of God deep in our hearts, we are to meditate on another call, the call to action, apostolic action, which the Church addresses in some degree to all the faithful.” But Catholic action depends upon contemplation. As an apostolic work, by its very nature, Catholic action must  “proceed from a superabundance of contemplation.” It may not be contemplation in its “typical and sublime form,” but at least “masked contemplation.” It is the Holy Spirit who must form Catholic action.

Maritain has a very eloquent and important statement about the spirit of Catholic Action:

Behold of  what spirit they are, who enter the lists for Catholic action. This spirit requires them to turn first toward wisdom and contemplation. This spirit is by definition an evangelical spirit. It does not ask us to train troops so as to execute orders at beck and call, disregarding or denying the ‘interior man’ and his conscience in order to act, to speak, to write or vote as the journal of  a party prescribes; it asks us to prepare human persons to understand in the depths of  their conscience the word of  the Church herself and to discern the meaning of  it.

Although Catholic Action in the 1930s and 40s was more of an organization spreading across many nations, Maritain understood the importance of personal initiative. It was not to be a party spirit that animates it.

The last line indicates the great function of Catholic education if evangelization is to be an outcome for the process: “To prepare human persons to understand in the depths of  their conscience the word of  the Church herself and to discern the meaning of  it.” The prayer is based on contemplation and love of God. The prayer allows the person to seek God and discern the depth of conscience, that “herald of God.”.

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