This section is borrowed from John Molony’s 1960 classic “Towards an Apostolic Laity.”
In this section we will deal with what we prefer to call the Gospel Enquiry. Some call it the Gospel Discussion. To us, Gospel Enquiry seems a better name because the Enquiry Technique is applicable to the Gospel just as it is applicable to any other section of the movement method of formation and influence. Much excellent matter has been written on this topic. In the Preliminary Programme Chaplains will find an explanation of the Gospel Enquiry which is satisfactory and which will be useful aids as to its use.
We have said that the purpose of the Enquiry method is to aid the human person to the right choice of action in the whole of his life. Christ, the Son of God, lived here on earth a life in perfect conformity with the Will of His Father; a life in which, if we may speak in this fashion, the right choice was always made. The Christian, in order to be truly that which he is called, must live a life which is Christlike. In a sense he must live again in himself the life lived by Christ. The Gospel is the written record of Christ’s life. By the application of the Enquiry Method to the Gospel itself; by an apprehension of this Good News given to mankind; by a judgment on this life and in particular by an application of it to the varying circumstances of the individual’s own life; and then, through determined resolutions based on the convictions gained as a result of this entering into the life of Christ, the human person will be aided to live a life in conformity with the life of Christ Himself; a life, therefore, in conformity with the Will of the Father.
The Gospel Enquiry used as a means has a threefold aim. It must result in:
a) knowledge of Christ
b) union with Christ
c) action in Christ.
THE METHOD OF GOSPEL ENQUIRY
Before entering into this matter more fully we will give, in outline at least, the most desirable method of doing the Gospel Enquiry. Like any other enquiry it will have three sections, see, judge and act.
It will begin at the meeting itself in that the Gospel passage to be used in the following week will be read. Usually it will be sufficient to read it through; the President will do this, appoint one of the Leaders to see the Chaplain during the week, and leave it at that. Sometimes, however, it will be necessary to clarify for the benefit of the Leaders any difficult point in the passage. This is especially necessary if no explanatory notes are added in the Bulletin after the passage. It is quite useless to have a group of Leaders going away from a meeting faced by the problem of doing a Gospel Enquiry on a passage in which they understand little or nothing. We must remember that the normal lay person, especially the young person, frequently has very hazy notions on the contents of the Gospels. A Chaplain recently remarked in a conversation that at a meeting he was literally amazed to find that a group of young fellows, who had been saying the Hail Mary and probably the Angelus for years, were unable to express themselves at all on the passages from St. Luke’s Gospel treating of the Annunciation. He came to the conclusion that they simply did not understand it. Thus some very simple and brief explanation may be necessary and it is better that it be given now than at the following meeting. This can be done either by the President or the Chaplain. In any case the point to notice is that the explanation given must be brief and simple.
OUTSIDE THE MEETING
The Leaders will be encouraged to find a few minutes each day (five or thereabouts), during which they will think prayerfully on the passage set. Naturally, in the beginning, this will not normally be done. Nevertheless right from the start they must be encouraged to do this. They must be encouraged to take the passage, put themselves in the presence of God, perhaps by saying the movement prayer, by an Our Father or Sign of the Cross, read it through, think about it and write down some of their thoughts. They should be encouraged to make this simple meditation along three lines . . .
1) from this passage what can I learn about Christ?
2) from this passage what can I learn about my own life?
3) from this passage what can I do in order to make my life more like the life of Christ?
For some considerable time it will happen that in a new group the Leaders will come to the meeting the following week having done little or nothing. As a result it will be necessary to attempt then as a group what should have been done as individuals. In other words, the Leaders there and then at the meeting will have to enquire into the Gospel passage. Gradually, however, provide the method is persevered with, provided both the President and Chaplain insist on the Leaders finding those few moments, acquiring notebooks and jotting down their thoughts, progress will be made.
AT THE MEETING
At the meeting itself the President will ask each in turn to read out what he has written down. A brief discussion will follow after all have read out their thoughts, any difficulties will be ironed out, the Chaplain may say a few words, a resolution on a group basis may be formed and the process is complete.
From the above it is clear that in this way a full enquiry will be done. The See section will be done apart from the meeting; the Judge section will be done both apart from the meeting (due precisely to the fact that the judgment bears on the very person of Christ Himself into whose presence the Leader has entered in mental prayer), and at the meeting if and when difficulties arise; the Act section, insofar as both personal and group action is involved will be decided upon during the time of prayer or during the discussion at the meeting; naturally the Action itself will be done outside of the meeting.
The role of the Chaplain is simple. He is there to help, to encourage, to clarify. He must make sure that he does not play a dominant role. He is not called upon to lead the Gospel discussion at the meeting, much less to preach a sermon on it. He will be rarely called upon to eradicate any heretical notions and he will hesitate to clarify points until he finds that the Leaders are unable to do so themselves. In other words, the less he does and says the better. This will require on his part great patience and humility. The role of the Chaplain is to serve his Leaders in the way that Mary serves us; by leading us to Christ. May we remark that in her service Mary does a great deal and says very little!
When seeing one of the Leaders privately regarding the Gospel Enquiry the Chaplain will aim at helping the Leader to a personal discovery of Christ in the Gospel; of Christ in relation to his own life; and of formulating some resolution which must, before all else, be practical. A few words on the Leader’s personal preparation of the Gospel will always be helpful. Encourage him to find the few minutes daily and to use his notebook. Congratulate him warmly if he is doing his best.
THE GOSPEL AS A MEANS TO KNOWLEDGE OF CHRIST
We stated above that this is one of the three main aims of the Gospel Enquiry. No one will deny that a knowledge of doctrine f is essential for progress in religious formation. On the other hand, it cannot be denied that doctrine which is imparted merely as a set of questions and answers in a catechism has provea , unsatisfactory from the aspect both of intellectual apprehension of doctrine itself and of the voluntary application of doctrine to life. The Gospel Enquiry is a means of breaking through to reality, of making doctrine organic, live, realist. The reason is that, through the Gospel Enquiry, doctrine is not apprehended simply as a set of intellectual notions, but as truths upon which, through which, and in which a life is lived. That life is the life of Christ who is the Truth Himself.
It is the person of Christ, in whom the doctrines of the Christian faith are embodied, whom the Leader meets on every page of the Gospel. This Christ is the God-man, the one who in Himself incarnated the spiritual in the temporal. Every truth learnt about Christ is doctrine. It is the knowledge that leads to eternal life. But urging the Leaders to strive towards learning more and more about Christ in the Gospel enquiry must and does always impart a knowledge of doctrine; doctrine which is incarnate. In this way the Leader will eventually gain an organic, living, realistic grasp of Christian truth. Slowly the framework of Christian truth, clothed in flesh, in the person of Christ, will become part of his own mental food. At the same time an effort will be made through the Gospel Enquiry to integrate these truths into the framework of the life of the Leader which will eventually result in doctrine not merely known, but lived. Not only through the meditation on the Gospel which he does away from the meeting, but also through listening to the other Leaders at the meeting and discussing the Gospel passage with them, will each Leader gain a deeper and more co-ordinated grasp of doctrine. The Chaplain will help towards a greater clarification of these truths both in anything he says then and later in his Chaplain’s talk.
THE GOSPEL AS A MEANS TO UNION WITH CHRIST
Here the Gospel Enquiry acts as the means towards contemplation; towards union with Christ in mental prayer. Let it be noted at the outset that in the initial stages, when the Leaders find it difficult to apply themselves to mental prayer even in its most elementary forms, they will benefit nevertheless in this sense simply because their discussion of the Gospel at the meeting will inevitably have an effect on the way they say any prayer, even on the way they assist at Holy Mass and receive the sacraments. They will begin to become aware of Christ as a person rather than as an intellectual concept, or as an historical figure.
The Chaplain will have to help his Leaders in this work of mental prayer. He will have no difficulty in getting them to realise how they are able to become absorbed in the character of another while they read a book, watch a sporting event or sit through a film. He can show them that they become so absorbed in the character or person of another in these circumstances that quite frequently they actually identify their own person with that other; they feel, they suffer, they love and hate with that other.
Now the Gospel, if used as the basis of mental prayer, will result in a far closer bond of union between the Leader and Christ than any form of union achieved through the examples given above. This is so for two reasons: Firstly, Christ is the giver of divine life; He gives us a share in His own life through grace and no other form of union can be other than a shadow of that. Secondly, the medium used. Holy Scripture, is perfect in itself precisely because God Himself is its author.
Chaplains will already know from their own experience that mental prayer can be hard work, that it must be persevered with, that it is frequently the last thing in which one is naturally inclined to engage. At the same time, Chaplains will know that without it there can be no true progress in the spiritual life. For this reason they will strive to introduce it into the lives of their Leaders. Gradually, under the influence of grace, the Leaders will begin to make use of the Gospel Enquiry as a means to mental prayer, as a means to union with Christ.
THE GOSPEL AS A MEANS TO ACTION IN CHRIST
To be truly formative, it is essential that some kind of action should flow from the Gospel Enquiry. Obviously, the knowledge and love of Christ gained through the Gospel Enquiry will have an effect on the judge and act sections of the Social Enquiry. It will likewise have an effect on the relations of the Leader to his Team members; in fact, on his relations with all those into whose company he comes. Nevertheless, it is still necessary that the Leaders be encouraged to make practical resolutions based on the Gospel. This is the act section of the Gospel Enquiry. In order that this action be of real value it must firstly be in Christ and secondly it must be practical.
ACTION IN CHRIST
As has been said in earlier sections, it is the mission of Christ Himself, which has been entrusted for its fulfilment in time to the Church, in which lay apostles collaborate by their work in Catholic Action. In a sense, the mission of Christ cannot be separated from the Person of Christ; He Himself is the Saviour. Thus, collaboration in His mission is truly collaboration with a person, the Person Christ. This sense of collaboration with the Person of Christ must be inculcated in young lay apostles so that it becomes a very part of their lives. They must understand that they do not do things simply for Him; they collaborate, they work with Him. Not only do they work with Him, but through grace they work in Him. There can be no understanding of the doctrine of the Mystical Body while it remains in the abstract. This is especially so for the young. One act done with and in Christ will bring home the meaning of the doctrine far more than ten sermons, no matter how eloquently preached.
Consequently, in the meditation on the Gospel passage the question that must come before the mind of the Leader is not so much “What must I do in the circumstances of my life?” but “What would Christ do in these circumstances?” In this way, a beginning is made towards an understanding of the deep mystery of Christ’s Mystical Body which is His continued incarnation in time through His members. Furthermore, a sense of great confidence is engendered due to the fact that Leaders realise that they are not called upon to act alone; they act in Christ. Sustained by sharing in His life through grace they are confident of their ability to undertake the carrying on of His mission. They begin to understand His words, “My yoke is sweet and My burden light.” They know it is not so much their own burden which they carry, but His burden which He carries with them. Thus, if they resolve to say the Our Father with greater devotion it means that they have resolved to say it with Christ, in Christ. If they have resolved to be more charitable to a certain person it means that Christ, Who loves that person to the shedding of His Blood, will with and in them love that person in the here and now.
This sense of action in Christ can be applied to any resolution, personal or group. In the case of group action, it will strengthen the bonds between the members of the group. They will know that they are acting in and with Christ their Leader. If the Chaplain strives to give them this sense of action, which is grace- laden, by helping them to turn towards the Person of Christ in all their undertakings he will witness a gradual growth in formation which has no limits. It goes without saying that the practical effects of such a development will soon become evident in the lives and environment of the Leaders.
Too often it happens that resolutions made by Leaders are general, vague, even meaningless. Resolutions such as, “I will be a better Leader,” or “I will love God more,” or “I will try to be more charitable,” have little or no meaning unless they are made specific. “How will I be a better Leader?” “Will I prepare my Gospel Enquiry more diligently?” “Will I try to come to the next meeting on time?” “Will I really get facts for the Social Enquiry?” So many little things done well make a good Leader. Again . . . “Will I love God more by avoiding that occasion of sin?” “Will I do it by making a better thanksgiving after Holy Communion?” “Will I do it by saying the Our Father at least once a day with full attention given to the meaning of the prayer?” Then . . . “Will I be more charitable by trying to be pleasant to a certain work mate who annoys me?” “Will I be more charitable by visiting a sick neighbour?” “Will I be more charitable by sometimes dancing with people to whom I am not naturally attracted?”
The Chaplains must encourage the Leaders to make practical resolutions. If they have done the Gospel Enquiry properly they should have looked at their own lives as well as at the life of Christ. They should have seen in what ways they themselves can live more in conformity with God’s will. At the meeting, if a group resolution is being made, the Chaplain, at least in the early stages, must insist that it be practical. In this he would be harming rather than helping the Leaders were he to remain silent and allow them to formulate vague resolutions which will be productive of nothing positive, but could well lead to disillusionment in the long run. Likewise, when he meets any of the Leaders on a private basis, he will do well to refer to this matter by asking how they get on with their resolutions and helping them to a judgment as to whether they are making resolutions that are truly practical.
John Molony, Towards an Apostolic Laity, 1960
Extract from Chapter 6, Catholic Action Technique
Library of Congress / PIcryl