by Elliot Milco
The following notes were composed while reading Jean Ousset’s classic book Action: A Manual for the Reconstruction of Christendom. Action is available from IHS Press in both digital and paper editions. We recommend it enthusiastically to those looking for ways to make their lives more effective for the conversion of sinners and the sanctification of society. —The Editors
1. The first responsibility of every person is to look after the salvation of his own soul. “Seek first the reign of God and his justice, and everything else will be added. . .” (Matt 6:33)
2. The reign of God, or kingdom of God, is two things: broadly speaking, it is the condition of things insofar as they are acting in accord with the divine will; narrowly speaking, it is the company of the saints and angels in glory, who are perfectly united with God.
3. The command to seek God’s reign therefore has two dimensions. Primarily, we must seek perfect union with God in heaven. But this perfect union comes about through the conformity of our lives (intellect and will . . . imagination, intention, action) to the justice, the righteousness of God.
4. Christian life should be thought of as the journey of a pilgrim soldier. Our destination is heaven, but it is a long way off. We cannot stop on the road, satisfied that the road leads to heaven, because this sort of complacency would guarantee that we will never get there. Enemies gather around us like dogs, and if we stop they will drag us from the road. It is the tendency toward heaven that assures us of our salvation.
5. This tendency toward heaven is a participation in the life shared by the blessed—now. It is practical action here in the vale of tears, animated by the theological virtues, which makes the reign of God present among us. (Luke 17:21)
6. Christian hope, our desire for heaven, is active, militant, and progressive. It is never satisfied with the present degree of conformity to the will of God, never rests in its present understanding of the truths of faith, never ceases to convict itself of the faults which still hold it back from greater progress toward the goal of heaven.
7. Practical action is the sign of living faith (James 2:18). What sort of practical action? Action taken to conform the present life to the life of the blessed. What do the blessed do?
8. They understand. To be in heaven is to see God as He is. (1 John 3:2) Therefore we should also strive to understand, to know the revealed truths of the Catholic faith fully, to plumb the depths of tradition and master the intricacies of authentic philosophy.
9. They adore. The understanding of the saints in heaven is inseparable from their perpetual act of adoration, by which they behold and unite themselves perfectly to God. Perhaps most practical thing we can do to make progress in the present life is to adore God.
10. They desire. The desires of the blessed are perfectly harmonized with each other, and with the will of God. They are informed by the truth, and grasp it partially, so that the saints and angels make up a great hierarchy of voices singing “Yes!” particularly and universally to whatever each has been assigned to know and love by God.
11. This act of desiring is the participation of the blessed in Divine Providence, which is the source of the order and government of the universe. If we want to conform ourselves to God as those in heaven do, then we need to take up our assigned place within the order of the world, by seeing to the protection and welfare of those in our care and in our communities.
12. Protection and welfare? What form does this take? At this point, our practical action becomes recursive: we seek for others what we first sought for ourselves, because we recognize that God, willing the salvation of all men, would have us act for their salvation as much as we act for our own.
13. Consequently, just as the two first things we should see to for our own benefit are sound formation in faith and devotion to God expressed in adoration, the first two things we should do for others are to instruct them when they are ignorant, and to encourage them in devotion. Note, of course, that we cannot give what we do not possess ourselves.
14. Beyond this, we should give advice where it is needed when we’re able, and admonish people when they stray. We should be patient with others as we are patient with ourselves in our own faults, and be ready to forgive, encourage, and assist in conversion.
15. Note that Christ commands us to look after our neighbors. The practical action of the Catholic is not first of all ordered to the salvation of the whole world, but to the salvation of those around us. Pride would tell us that the love of neighbor should first of all take the form of mass action and large-scale political organization. In reality, it needs to happen first in our families, parishes, offices, clubs, and the places we are already directly present.
16. Besides the primary goals of sanctification through faith and devotion, we are also given charge of material goods, and these too require our attention if they’re to be set in order properly. The corporal works of mercy deal with the actions proper to material goods.
17. None of these actions, spiritual or corporal, should be restricted in such a way that they are purely private or mystically detached from ordinary life. Life itself is for the sake of these things, since they are the perfection of human life. Everything we do should be suffused with them, and all our practical action should be ordered in such a way as to participate in this conformation of what we do, who we are, to God.
18. Just as the order given to the universe by God is visible in everything, and drives everything in its natural pursuit of peace and perfection, so our participation in that order should be visible in everything we do. Real Catholic action is nothing other than a developed, organized, communal expression of these ideas, which begin with the formation of oneself seeking the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness, and end up infecting everything: our families, our work, our professional aspirations, and our friendships, until we become instruments by which God sanctifies and converts everything around us.
19. If Christendom is to be restored, this is the true path. But note: it is not a clever scheme or political maneuver. It is nothing other than the practical application of Christian life, so that nothing remains untouched by it, so that in the end there is no separation between the saeculum and the Church, because the Church has filled it completely.
20. Matthew 13:33. “He told them another parable. ‘The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.’ “