Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Eternal Definitions, Reasonable Changes?

For most of our group, the first anniversary of being received into the full communion of the Catholic Church approaches.  Fr Colven included some very kind words on this subject in this week's parish notes at St James's, and went on to offer a little publicity for an event we hope you will all either attend or include in your prayers.
Sunday 2nd September will mark the first anniversary of the reception into full communion of the local group of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. We will pray for them especially during the 10.30am Mass and would want them to know how their presence within the parish community is valued. The secondary patron of the Ordinariate is Blessed John Henry Newman and to celebrate his feast day there will be Solemn Evensong & Benediction here in Saint James’s on Sunday 7th October at 5.30pm. The preacher will be Father Paul Chavasse of the Birmingham Oratory who has long been associated with the cause for Blessed John Henry’s canonisation.
The poster below should help inspire you to clear a space in your diary, and a Facebook Event has been set up in order to help spread the word.  If you are on Facebook, do please "share" the Event.

Longstanding readers of this blog will remember a fondness on our part for hymns sung by the late Frank Patterson (see here for Hail Redeemer, King Divine and here for Bring Flowers of the Rarest).  News of this upcoming Evensong gives us an excuse to share with you this powerful and rather moving performance of Blessed John Henry Newman's Lead, Kindly Light.

A couple of weeks before this special event, there is the no less significant milestone of the Ordinariate's pilgrimage to Walsingham, taking place on Saturday 15 September.   Another Facebook Event has been created for what promises to be an excellent day in England's Nazareth.

Apart from making kind mention of Ordinariate members in the parish notes last Sunday, Fr Colven took the opportunity of the Gospel readings appointed for the day to make an interesting comparison in his homily, one that can indeed be broadened out even further in order to apply to the context that gave rise to the Ordinariate. 

The Gospel reading had told of how some had found the teachings of Jesus too much, too difficult, too demanding. 
This is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it?
Many left Jesus, but the twelve disciples remained faithful.   Our Lord did not respond to this by altering His message to make it more popular: His message was, and still is, His message.   

Certainly it must be presented in ways that our times can understand, but at the heart of any such presentation must always be that same unchanging message of good news, love and redemption.  Where we water down the message in order to be more popular, then what we convey is no longer His message, but rather it is what we think His message ought to be in order to have more followers, as if we were doing no more than marketing a Facebook fanpage.
Jesus was aware that his followers were complaining about it and said, 'Does this disturb you? ............... After this, many of his disciples went away and accompanied him no more.  Then Jesus said to the Twelve, 'What about you, do you want to go away too?' Simon Peter answered, 'Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe; we have come to know that you are the Holy One of God.'
Truth does not depend on popularity, nor indeed on the support of a majority in General Synod.  Fr Colven talked of Blessed John Paul II, who during his long papacy was much appreciated and loved far beyond the Catholic Church and even beyond the realm of Christians, but not everyone who admired this exceptional man wanted to hear the detail of what he had to say.

We might add that the Venerable Fulton Sheen, whose awe-inspiring addresses have featured before on this blog, expressed similar sentiments extremely succinctly and forcefully, as you will see if you scroll down the right-hand side bar of this blog.

Somewhat less succinctly and forcefully, we talked of the same issue in our post Missing the Point, when we explained that joining the Ordinariate is not tantamount to looking at the Catechism and saying "Wow, yes, I would have written exactly that myself," rather it is about accepting what the Catholic Church teaches and the basis of the authority it has to teach.
When you join the Ordinariate, you are not asked to say that if you had the chance to make up your own religion, according to what you felt would represent a popular view in your times of what was good, you would come up with something that was word for word identical to the Catechism. You are not asked to state that there are no hard teachings in the Catechism. You are asked to say that you accept the Catholic Faith as presented in the Catechism. You are asked to say that in Christian obedience you accept that the Church is, using the words of 1 Timothy 3.15, the "...pillar and bulwark of the truth...", and that therefore you accept the teachings of the Church. Specifically, you are asked to declare your faith through the Creed, and to say:
I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God.
You are asked to say nothing more than you have probably sung a hundred times even in your Anglican days, now of course appreciating more completely the meaning of this verse from the hymn (Firmly I believe and truly) drawn from Newman's Dream of Gerontius :
And I hold in veneration
For the love of Him alone
Holy Church as His creation
And her teachings as His own
This has sometimes been criticised as meaning that you must switch your brain off upon becoming a Catholic. That just isn't so. Blessed John Henry Newman explained this point in the Apologia:
From the time that I became a Catholic, of course I have no further history of my religious opinions to narrate. In saying this, I do not mean to say that my mind has been idle, or that I have given up thinking on theological subjects; but that I have had no variations to record, and have had no anxiety of heart whatever. I have been in perfect peace and contentment; I never have had one doubt. I was not conscious to myself, on my conversion, of any change, intellectual or moral, wrought in my mind. I was not conscious of firmer faith in the fundamental truths of Revelation, or of more self-command; I had not more fervour; but it was like coming into port after a rough sea; and my happiness on that score remains to this day without interruption.
He had not changed, he was not a different person. What had happened is that he found himself in a place where what the Church taught was the Truth, however convenient or inconvenient the Truth might be.
That Gospel reading speaks powerfully of a clear message, being the Truth, that is not variable depending upon how popular it is in any generation.  The witness of Blessed John Paul II and of the Venerable Fulton Sheen show the same in two Catholics who lived in our time. 

Those who have left the Church of England to join the Catholic Church are somewhat familiar with the concept, even if on a much less imposing scale.  No-one can say that we have done what we have done in order to be popular.  What we have done is in response to the direct call for Unity expressed in the Gospel, and is, to build on Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor's comments published recently in the Catholic Herald, a step away from the seeming reasonableness of adapting church teaching without reference to Scripture or Tradition towards an understanding of the divinely ordained nature of the Church, its teaching authority, and its guardianship of the deposit of faith.

In the Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum, issued in October 1992 upon the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Blessed John Paul II wrote:
Guarding the deposit of faith is the mission which the Lord has entrusted to his Church and which she fulfils in every age. The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, which was opened 30 years ago by my predecessor Pope John XXIII, of happy memory, had as its intention and purpose to highlight the Church's apostolic and pastoral mission, and by making the truth of the Gospel shine forth, to lead all people to seek and receive Christ's love which surpasses all knowledge (cf. Eph 3:19).

The principal task entrusted to the Council by Pope John XXIII was to guard and present better the precious deposit of Christian doctrine in order to make it more accessible to the Christian faithful and to all people of good will. For this reason the Council was not first of all to condemn the errors of the time, but above all to strive calmly to show the strength and beauty of the doctrine of the faith. "Illumined by the light of this Council", the Pope said, "the Church... will become greater in spiritual riches and, gaining the strength of new energies therefrom, she will look to the future without fear... Our duty is... to dedicate ourselves with an earnest will and without fear to that work which our era demands of us, thus pursuing the path which the Church has followed for 20 centuries."
The message is the message.  We can and must adapt how we present it and explain it, but the message remains unchanged. 

Finally, a brief follow up on a comment received on our recent post A New Direction.  The comment invited us to look at the St Peter's London Docks blog to find out about the latest thinking among Anglo-Catholics still in the Church of England but who used to say that a Code of Practice will not do.

The Peterite blog used to be a very regular read for members of the Marylebone Group, and has been praised in these pages before.  We much admired the continuing efforts of Fr (now also Dr) Jones to teach the Catholic faith in a church whose parish and indeed whose parish clergy have played such an important part in the history of Anglo-Catholicism.  Given our Pusey House connections, we also liked the Ascot Priory link.  However, in the cold light of day, perhaps we might reasonably wonder if our enthusiasm for the Peterite blog was, with absolutely no criticism intended, a reflection of our own views of our then situation as Anglicans associated with a historically Anglo-Catholic parish in the Diocese of London, a parish that, utterly lovely as it is, bears little resemblance to the reality of the rest of the Church of England.  Did we like the blog because it allowed us to imagine that we were a little less congregationalist?

The person who left the comment on our recent post was perhaps referring in part to this, the penultimate paragraph of Fr Jones's recent post.  It encourages a new vision, rather than just pretending that more of the same is possible, and for throwing out this challenge, Fr Jones is much to be admired.  He goes along with Better Together, but he also knows that as a defining vision, it is somewhat limited and risks appearing hollow:
Well, one way or the other, much will be known and decided before Christmas this time, but nothing will be over or ended. There will however be a new paradigm for Anglo-Catholics to grasp. Whatever the House of Bishops offer, whatever Synod decides, Anglo-Catholics in 2013 will need a new way to see and understand their identity, mission and long term role within Anglicanism. A simple overwhelming 'I'm a Roman Catholic paid by the Church of England' will no longer do, not morally, not Spiritually, not Liturgically, not theologically and not practically.
While we might find the first part of the paragraph rather striking in its "We're staying, come what may" approach (and Dr Kirk certainly would), the second part is perhaps a helpful indication of where things are heading.  No longer the claim that Anglo-Catholics are separated from the wider Church solely by accident of Tudor history and misfortune, no, there is now an acknowledged need for frankness and clarity about what is different, and about why it is felt that difference should not only be allowed to persist but should be cherished. 

Those in Affirming Catholicism have for a long time been clear about why they don't agree with Rome, but perhaps Fr Jones is right that the time has come for Anglo-Catholics more broadly to define their position, now that there is no tangible sense of a move towards unity, of a positive trajectory towards reunion, indeed now that in some instances there is an apparent pride in the opposite. 

As Fr Jones says, the approach exemplified by Dr Eric Mascall's famous fictional Ultra-Catholic is no longer possible: there now needs to be an explanation other than procrastination, fence-sitting or anxiety over practicalities for not joining the Catholic Church.  That explanation might perhaps be extremely good (one hopes that it is about more than second order issues), but it has yet to be given. 
I am an Ultra-Catholic -No 'Anglo, I beseeech you!
You'll find no trace of heresy in anything I teach you.
The clergyman across the road has whiskers and a bowler,
But I wear buckles on my shoes and sport a feriola.

My alb is edged with deepest lace, spread over rich black satin;
The Psalms of David I recite in heaven's own native Latin,
And though I don't quite understand those awkward moods and tenses,
My ordo recitandi's strict Westmonasteriensis.

I read the children in my school the Penny Catechism,
Explaining how the C. of E.'s in heresy and schism.
The truths of Trent and Vatican I bate not one iota.
I have not met the Rural Dean. I do not pay my quota.

The Bishop's put me under his 'profoundest disapproval'
And, though he cannot bring about my actual removal,
He will not come and visit me or take my confirmations.
Colonial prelates I employ from far-off mission stations.

The music we perform at Mass is Verdi and Scarlatti.
Assorted females form the choir; I wish they weren't so catty.
Two flutes, a fiddle and a harp assist them in the gallery.
The organist left years ago, and so we save his salary.

We've started a 'Sodality of John of San Fagondez,'
Consisting of five young men who serve High Mass on Sundays;
And though they simply will not come to weekday Mass at seven,
They turn out looking wonderful on Sundays at eleven.

The Holy Father I extol in fervid perorations,
The Cardinals in curia, the Sacred Congregations;
And, though I've not submitted yet, as all my friends expected,
I should have gone last Tuesday week, had not my wife objected.

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