Wednesday, 14 May 2008

St Matthias, Apostle

The memory of the French choir and the joys of Pentecost seem to be fading away into the distance. The feeling of gratefulness for these joys is still very present. To my great annoyance I discovered a fact about a member of the choir which I really wish I knew before they came. I am told that Jean-Claude is a relative of St Therese of Lisieux, the newest Doctor of the Church! If only I knew that in my congregation I had the relative of the Little Flower, I think I would have put him on the altar with the other relics… Roger has already worked out how Jean-Claude is related to this great saint. (Photo of Jean-Claude to the right)

I spent some time on Monday, after planning my sermon for Trinity Sunday, following up what exactly did Cardinal Walter Kasper say to Anglicans. The cardinal did not say this directly to the Archbishop but it seems they were comments to a reporter of the Catholic Herald. Various reports present slightly different versions. What promises to be an engaging piece by Anna Arco (in the Catholic Herald) quickly gives way to the usual speculation and superficiality which sadly seem to show that sensationalism has a firm grip on the Catholic Herald too.
What is the Cardinal (photo below left) saying? He is asking the Anglican Church to take a decision, to stop sitting on the proverbial fence and give up the myth of the Via Media, a myth which has attempted to make a virtue out of comprehensiveness. Cardinal Kasper asks us to decide if we are with the Churches of the first millennium or those of the Reformation. Some have interpreted this, or better still boiled it down to a more headline sounding question: It is time to decide if your Church is Catholic or Protestant?
My, my. Is that a fair question to ask? Looking at the question from where I stand in the Church of England (that part compatible with Roman Catholicism, as Fr Aidan Nicholls OP aptly puts it) I think it is a question we can not answer but only in one way, and I think that even those who are elsewhere in the rainbow of colours that make up the Anglican “comprehensiveness” have no choice but one if they are to remain faithful to their inheritance. The declaration of assent, now even attached on the front of Common Worship, states clearly that the C of E is part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. So at the heart of our existence, if we want to remain what we are, we are Catholic, period. We experience this catholicity in the light of the upheavals of the Reformation where all concepts and definitions were being re-visited. Reformation is in the blood stream of Anglicans, so how can we choose? We are Reformed Catholics at heart, but that state of being has been shaped and informed by 500 years of witness and experience. So is the question related to the basic malaise of our day: relativism? What does the Cardinal mean by the choice of first millennium churches to those of the Reformation? Does he mean standing with the faith we received from the Twelve or marrying the spirit of this passing age? As Catholic Anglicans we do not have a choice but to remain faithful to our inheritance and to continue to receive that historic order of bishops, priests and deacons. Those who in the C of E have numerical advantage must be gracious to us, on our part we need to have the courage to stand fast and secure a structural solution, and as a priest friend of mine once said after that we either swim or sink. Mindful of the promise of Jesus that he will be with us always to the end of time I am more than confident. We need the freedom to bear witness to the Gospel without this mental and emotional burden of our place within the C of E. We can continue to be Catholic Anglicans, we have a lot to contribute to the wider Church. We have a Gospel to proclaim and we are being side tracked to our own peril. How true are those words of Dr Spenser in his introduction to 1604 edition of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity by Hooker. Spenser says: “This unhappy controversy, about the received ceremonies and discipline of the Church of England, which had so long time withdrawn so many of her ministers from their principal work, and employed their studies in contentious oppositions; hath by the unnatural growth and dangerous fruits thereof, made known to the world, that it never received the blessing from the Father of peace. For whose experience doth not find, what confusion of order, and breach of the sacred bond of love, hath sprung from this dissension; how it hath rent the body of the church into divers parts, and divided her people into divers sects; how it hath taught the sheep to despise their pastors, and alienated the pastors from the love of their flocks…So much better were it in these our dwellings of peace, to endure any inconvenience whatsoever in the outward frame, than in desire of alteration, thus to set the whole house on fire.” It seems that this was written yesterday rather than 400 years ago.

Today sees the National Lobby of Parliament at Westminster organised by Pro-Life supporters in the wake of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) Bill. On this one no Christian can sit on the fence, we need to do something now. Pray for this Lobby which takes place today at 12.30pm. Pray and do something about it, do it now! The web sites http://www.passionforlife.org.uk/ and http://www.ccfon.org/ will give you lots of practical ideas.

Back to the Parish, yesterday, feast day of Our Lady of Fatima, we had another in the series of Credo ’08. Canon David Herbert SSC, Vicar of St George’s Bickley, spoke about the passion, death and burial of Jesus. He discussed with us the doctrine of Atonement and its relation to the Incarnation. Many engaged with the speaker in the question and comment time as they found this very stimulating. On our way out a lady said to me how glad she was that she is attending Credo ’08 as she is learning so much about her faith – Laus Deo.

Thanks for your prayers for David, in the next day or so he shall return to Sevenoaks hospital, and that is good news indeed. Please keep praying for the soul of Margaret Griffiths who died last Sunday evening, and also remember her bereaved family. Margaret was a faithful member of this congregation, the smile on her face always brought joy wherever she was, I am sure that the Good Shepherd is now extending to her a warm smile just as she offered to us when she was here on earth.

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