Insight to the Present and Signposts towards the Future
The deep problems of today are not ‘new’: we can find them in ages past. History shows us that there are no massive surprises in human behavior, merely the same human spirit with its capacity for grace, grandeur and treachery amid the ever-changing winds of time, place and technology. The priest should aspire to form what Winston Churchill described as “historical imagination”: that ability to better understand contemporary events because one can place them alongside similar happenings of the past. For instance it was Churchill’s historical knowledge of dictators that kindled his fiery – and solitary -stand against Hitler through the 1930s. The lens of historical imagination vaccinates the priest against crushing despair: history confirms the Catholic vision of man as fallen man always prone to sin. Hence the priest accepts that history is a never-ending battlefield; with wide-eyed realism free of cynicism and discouragement, a heart ready for compassion and a mind alert to ever-present danger he confronts the events of his day.
The data of history also become an important raw material for understanding the Church. Indeed, unlike any other religion, the Catholic Church is founded on concrete historical facts : the birth of the Savior “in the time of Caesar Augustus”, his life, passion, death and resurrection all attached to place and time. To know who we are as Catholics we are obliged to set out on the roads of history in order to see the Church in her true light: pure and radiant in her greatest members -the saints – even if wounded by the sins of so many other sons and daughters. We Catholics must also have long memories for the evils perpetrated by some of our members ( in order to do all that is possible to avoid them occurring again) but we must also be clear-minded in recognizing that they are not “Catholic” evils. Outrages committed by members of the Church are not outrages of the Church and do not touch her holiness as the Mystical Body of Christ. “Corruption in the Church”, remarked G.K.Chesterton, “Yes, there is corruption in the Church but remember: only a good thing can become corrupted. A corrupt thing cannot become corruptible. And if corruption continues unabated, it destroys what it corrupts. But the Catholic church has lasted 2,000 years.” Moreover no other institution condemns these sins with the same force as does the Church of Jesus Christ!
Historical knowledge will also enable us to notice that much anti-Catholicism is based not only on ignorance but on the fleeting fashions and forms of darkness in each epoch: from here flow the dark rivers of willful blindness to the Church’s truths and hatred of her holiness:
“The curious have remarked”, said Hilaire Belloc, “that one institution alone for now nineteen hundred years has been attacked not by one opposing principle but from every conceivable point. It has been denounced upon all sides and for reasons successively incompatible: it has suffered the contempt, the hatred and the ephemeral triumph of enemies as diverse as the diversity of things could produce. This institution is the Catholic Church.” (Survivals and New Arrivals: The Old and New Enemies of the Catholic Church)