In the Pastoral Letter read in the Archdiocese of Westminster today, Archbishop Nichols picks up on one of the Holy Father’s comments, and makes the entirely valid point that the use of such greetings as ‘God Bless you’, and the more frequent – and visible – use of the sign of the cross are a valuable way of emphasising the Catholic Faith in an increasingly secular society.
It goes without saying that presumptuous as it is of me to say so, I entirely agree : because I actually have a passionate belief that the more any and all Catholics can do to direct the attention of others to their Catholic Faith, the greater the chance – in the long term – that we shall have of drawing the world back to the Church.
Let me, however, make a number of other comments.
First, it is one of my delights that the young Dominicans in particular make a point of fulfilling all their religious obligations properly habited; which includes doing their duties to their Priories fully clad . . . and indeed in general they undertake such social activities as are appropriate in the habit as well.
I have always regretted it when I meet clergy about their clerical business but not wearing their cassocks . . . indeed I have to say that the only person I know who is never seen in his parish other than in a cassock is an Anglican . . . because I believe that wearing the cassock (and appropriate headgear : galero or biretta) in public is a valuable act of witness.
So, I would hope and pray that this simple witness to the Faith might expand; and I do hope that any of my readers who are priests, or who are otherwise entitled to wear the cassock or a habit, may try to do so as often as possible, rather than ‘only when it’s unavoidable’ !
Similarly – and this applies to all of us – if we eat in public (and many of us do quite frequently), although I’m not suggesting that we should declaim lengthy Graces, it must be apparent that it is not only useful, but also appropriate, for us to mutter a brief thanksgiving to God, and make the sign of the Cross at least before we begin to eat; if not also when we finish . . . which are valuable and informative acts of witness to our Faith, and to God’s love for His people.
Might I also encourage the saying of the Angelus – this by everyone, of course, not just by the clergy and religious ?
Obviously it would be nice if all churches with bells could arrange for the Angelus to be rung; but it’s not hard for any of us to arrange to say the Angelus at the appointed times (06:00, 12:00, and 18:00 – and, I suppose, midnight if you are awake !), and although I’m not suggesting proclaiming it aloud, the brief pause from other activities, just for a moment or so, and the three signs of the cross which naturally accompany it, are a small but effective witness to the Faith which we proclaim.
Because, as the Holy Father rightly commended, and Archbishop Nichols more precisely defines, every clear and visible example of the Faith in practice is a precious reminder to the secular world . . . and a small missionary act which is not beyond any of us.