Monday, 24 October 2011

Full in the Panting Heart of Rome

In the last few days before we were each received into the Catholic Church, each of us had the feeling that something momentous was about to happen.  The nearest parallel we could find was that it was comparable, in some ways, to the feelings in the days leading up to getting married, or to becoming a parent.  It was a "life event", as they say.  It was a significant occasion with significant meaning.  By the same token, people seem to regard us as more serious (or perhaps, these days, more dangerous) Christians than before : there is something about becoming and being a Catholic that conveys serious intent and conviction even to people who have little or no interest in religion or Christianity. 

To the wider world, even the most eloquent explanation of Anglo-Catholic branch theories could not stir up that sentiment.  It is something that takes a bit of getting used to.  Instead of saying “You don’t really believe all that, do you?” as non-believing friends did in our Church of England days (it being the default presumption of English society that nobody in the Church of England really does), they now look in amazement and say “I can’t understand how it is that you believe all that”.   That might not sound like progress, but it most definitely is: friends and colleagues are not instantly converted of course, but people suddenly realise that yes, we are serious about this. 

We are a constant reminder to people we encounter that there is this thing called Christianity and there is this thing called the Catholic Church.   Coming into the full communion of the Catholic Church was not just a selfish process of sorting our own position out, but was also automatically an act of witness.  The effect is not on the same level as Blessed John Henry Newman’s conversion, which sent shockwaves around society at the time, but on our own scale, what has happened most definitely registers in some small way with all around us.

Some of our ordinariate group attended the birthday party of a mutual friend at the weekend.  There on one of the shelves of his endless bookshelves, placed quite by hazard, was the Order of Service from our Reception Mass.  It was just slightly too far away across the furniture for people to read, but even from a distance, one could quite easily see the smiling portrait of the Holy Father that also graces the right hand sidebar of this blog (and which is reproduced below).  Quite possibly no-one noticed that photo but us, but perhaps some did, and perhaps in the two seconds that they thought about the picture they had seen of the Pope, they came into closer contact with the Church than they had done in years, or perhaps than they had ever done.

To our now separated brethren, to our friends who remain in the Church of England, we stand as a reminder that there is another way.   Another way, one that reaches out to them with welcoming arms.  Another way, one that doesn’t see them as an awkward group of trouble-makers that needs to be contained, but cherishes them as brothers and sisters in the Faith, who, if they wish, will be welcomed into the Catholic Church. Another way, one that doesn’t find their beliefs in the Saints, in the Real Presence, in the Sacraments and in the “Faith once delivered to the Apostles” to be an embarrassment, but that rejoices in a shared Patrimony.

Last week, I made a quip about having resisted the “pull” of becoming a Calvinist during my trip to Geneva, and said that for certain types of Anglicans, a trip to Rome might pose a few questions of a rather more compelling kind.  The beauty and majesty of Rome, its ancient yet permanent nature, these are a constant reminder too, just as much, and indeed more so than anything that any of us might say or do.  This is enthusiastically expressed in the Cardinal Wiseman hymn “Full in the panting heart of Rome”, much loved of course by excited new Catholics (and by Anglo-Papalists in the old days), but no less a fine expression of very sound sentiments for that.  Even the title of the hymn seems shocking to the modern ear, expressing enthusiasm, excitement even and religious faith, in the context of support for the Petrine ministry and the universality of the Catholic Church.  What a powerful and truly Catholic hymn it is

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