Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!


Waiting for the Ordinariate
June 11, 2010, 6:50 am
Filed under: Opinion | Tags: , , ,

In a recent sermon, I spoke of the difficulty we have in waiting patiently for the Lord’s Coming. It is just as difficult, it seems to me, to wait patiently for concrete news about the Ordinariate! Those who know something are not saying, and those who say things almost certainly do not know! However, there is certainly something we can all do while waiting, and that is to pray fervently and constantly for the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Some people will already have decided, in their own minds, that they will apply to join the Ordinariate as soon as it is set up. Others, although still uncertain how they will fit in, are certainly in favour of the Ordinariate and will support it in one way or another. Yet others are not sure what to think.

What we should pray for, in the first instance, for ourselves and for others, is the gift of discernment. “O God, you have taught the hearts of the faithful by the light of the Holy Spirit: grant that by the same Spirit we may have a right judgement in all things, and ever rejoice in his consolation.” What we wish to discern is simply the will of Christ, for the Church in general and for ourselves in particular.

What is the will of Christ for his Church? Certainly that it should be faithful, hopeful and loving. Equally certainly, that it should be united, at one with itself and with him. It is never suggested in the New Testament that the Church should or could be divided into separate bodies differing in faith and unwilling to work and pray together. The Spirit is given precisely in order to prevent this happening, so where it does occur it can only be from a failure to heed the Spirit. It cannot be that the Holy Spirit fails to guide.

The Church is the Body of Christ. Just as he has only one physical body, so he has only one Mystical Body. We enter this Body through Baptism, in virtue of which all Christians have a certain degree of unity. But the Lord wishes for more than this! If Christians are to witness to him, and by their witness bring others into a living relationship with him, they must show by the way they live that they are animated by his Spirit. This applies not just to individuals, but to communities. At the local level, the community that gathers for Mass around their priest should not be riven by disputes and unloving behaviour. Within a wider area, all such local communities should be in communion with one another, under their bishops. And surely all the bishops should be in communion with one another, world-wide! Those who carry out such unifying ministries do so not in their own name, but as the authorised representatives of the Lord. They do not select themselves, nor are they simply selected by the people. They are “sent” by the Lord, they have an “apostolic” ministry committed to them not simply in unbroken succession from the first apostles, but in a real way by direct commission from the Lord. This is the meaning of the Sacrament of Orders. When the bishop lays his hands, it is Christ who ordains.

Can we imagine that, while the Lord instituted the apostolic ministry to maintain the unity of his Church, he failed to foresee or provide for the possibility that this ministry, borne as it would be by frail human beings, might become divided? Did he not give a special ministry to Peter, to strengthen his brethren and to feed and guide his whole flock? And if he intended the ministry of the apostles to continue through the ages to come, can we suppose that he intended the ministry of Peter to end with Peter’s death?

If we look for the ministry of Peter, a ministry that claims to be universal in its responsibility, there are no contenders other than the Bishops of Rome. Other bishops, even those with the widest ranging responsibilities (such as the Patriarchs of the Eastern Churches), disclaim a universal mission. Recent difficulties in the Anglican Communion show that while there is a desire for unity and a recognition that it is the Lord’s will, there is no ministry or structure capable of ensuring this. The principle of local (national or provincial) autonomy trumps the requirement of world-wide unity. While there are sincerely meant appeals for charity, charity is undirected where there is disunity in faith: by which I do not mean a general wish to be faithful to the Lord, but a common understanding of what his will is.

One of the points we must each question ourselves about is, to what extent do we really believe in the Lord’s will for the unity of his Church? Is our talk of “ecumenism” no more than talk? Are we serious? Or do we simply want a comfortable life, carrying on as we always have done. Events within the Church of England are forcing us, willy-nilly, out of our comfort zones and into uncharted waters.

It may be taken as certain that new structures (the Ordinariates, world-wide) will be set up in the near future. Those who are in a position to know have assured us of this at least. Some will see this as the fulfilment of a long-held desire, preserving a familiar and valued religious heritage within a greater unity. Some simply do not see how a greater unity can be anything but a threat to that same religious heritage. No-one can decide for anyone else. That is why we all need to pray for discernment, and also for patience and understanding with those who, having prayed, have come to a different conclusion. When Newman composed his hymn, “Lead, kindly light,” he was still far from the conclusion he would eventually come to. In fact, he still had work to do within the Church of England, work from which we and many others have benefited. There may still be work for some to do within the Church of England, and we should wish well to those who feel, after prayer, that they are called to do it. Their charity may be tested to the limit!

But I am happy to be counted among those who definitely desire the Ordinariates to be a success, and I believe this is an opportunity being offered to us by the Lord himself. I still have much to pray about and for: not least courage and perseverance in difficult times ahead. But I hope all of you who have expressed interest in the “John Henry Newman Group of Bristol” will also pray, and will help others to think seriously about the issues we face.

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