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

The gift of discernment
July 5, 2010, 9:40 pm
Filed under: Sermons | Tags: , , , ,

A Homily given at a votive Mass of the Holy Spirit for the John Henry Newman Group of Bristol, at All Saints Clifton, Monday 5th July 2010

This Mass, a Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit, has been advertised as being offered for the gift of discernment for those pondering their response to the Ordinariate proposals. Our little “John Henry Newman Group of Bristol” has been formed as a way for those pondering and praying about this matter to support one another.

It is not my intention to suggest any particular response to the situation, only to outline what I believe to be the right way to approach it. We are asking God for a gift, the gift of discernment. That implies that we do not believe that our own unaided human powers are sufficient to the task. We must ask our heavenly Father, from whom all good things come, to give us two things, light and strength.

In April 1833, John Henry Newman was ill with a severe fever in Sicily. On his sickbed, he asked himself whether God was punishing him. “I felt God was fighting against me…Yet I felt and kept saying to myself, I have not sinned against light.” At the same time, he felt sure he was not going to die, that God had work for him to do in England. And so it was, that he returned to England just as Keble preached his famous sermon on National Apostasy, which is taken as the beginning of the Oxford Movement.

On his way home, Newman composed his poem, The Pillar of the Cloud, which we know more familiarly as the hymn, Lead, kindly Light. He acknowledged that the path ahead of him was long and dark, but he was content to go one step at a time. He admitted that in the past he had loved to choose and see his path, but now he was content to go where God led. He was confident that however rough the way- “O’er moor and fen, or crag and torrent-” God would bring him home.

We must have the same confidence in God’s guiding light. We are not choosing our own way, we are trying to discern God’s way for us. Whatever else may be said about the Pope’s offer of Anglican Ordinariates, we must at least admit that a new door has been opened that was not open before. That does not mean that any other doors are closed to us, though we may feel that other doors are closing. Those other doors may remain open, at least enough for those who wish to do so to squeeze through. But the new door must at least be looked at. What does God want of us?

It is very human to want to see more clearly what is on the other side of the door. Well, we can at least see that it brings full communion with the Western Church, and with the Bishop who claims to be the true successor of St Peter, the Leader of the Apostles. That is a great good. But are there perhaps other things, points of belief or of practice that we cannot in conscience accept? It is not enough to say there may be things we do not like: there are plenty of things we do not like in our present situation! We need God’s help to clarify and purify our motivation.

If we decide to go through the door, we know that it will have a cost. We may be misunderstood, even abused, by those who take a different view. That is why we need God’s strength as well as his light. Whether we go or whether we stay, we must ask God to help us from feeling any bitterness or ill-will towards those who take a different view and a different path. As long as we are all seeking to follow Jesus Christ, we must not assume that he is leading us all at the same pace. Newman had much work to do in the Church of England before he reached his decision to leave it. Even afterwards he suffered misunderstanding and frustration from those who saw things in too black-and-white terms.

We must pray for light and for love. A door is open, and a kindly figure in white is extending a friendly hand towards us. It may be right to take that hand; it may not yet be right. Like St Paul on the road to Damascus, we can only pray, “Lord, what do you want me to do?”


1 Comment so far
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Fr Paul – I was interested to learn of this Group and obviously would like to be informed so please include me on your mailing list. My maxim to all is the war time slogan ‘Keep Calm and Carry On!’ But it would be good to join up with others of similar thought.
As always – Peter

Comment by Fr Peter Clarke

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