Fr Paul King: Homily, 5th Sunday of Easter 2011

This week in the Diocese of Portsmouth we have celebrated the Feast of the Dedication of the Cathedral. The fact that it is celebrated as a feast throughout the Diocese – and indeed every diocese – shows how important the Mother Church is seen to be. And yet the irony is that the whole thrust of the readings for the feast in that the Church is not about physical buildings; it is about ‘living stones’; it is about people.

Many years ago it was reported to me that Dr Austin Farrer – a name with which I hope a good many of you are familiar – had been invited to preach here in Pusey House, as he often was. On this occasion it was to commemorate some significant anniversary of the building. To the great annoyance of the then Principal, he preached on the text, ‘Not one stone shall be left upon another.’ At the time of that sermon, if I remember aright, the demise of Pusey House looked imminent. In fact it has survived and indeed flourished, and appears to continue to do so.

I have not read Dr Farrer’s sermon; indeed I don’t know whether it is included in the collection of them in print. But, starting from so negative a text, he might well have continued along the lines of the Second Reading for this Sunday from the First Letter of St Peter. St Peter is clearly addressing a congregation who are not yet concerned with the preservation of their architectural patrimony. And if some of them were once concerned with the preservation of the Jerusalem Temple as the only place where God could properly be worshipped, they will have moved on from there – or at least be moving on. ‘Destroy this temple, and I will build it again in three days’ says Jesus. In AD 70 the Romans destroyed the Temple and its sacrificial worship. But, we are told, Jesus was speaking of the Temple of his body. There lies behind today’s reading from St Peter the awareness that the true Temple is now the Body of the risen Christ. He is the great High Priest; he has offered and continues to plead the true sacrifice; we, as a priestly people in communion with our great High Priest, are to be ‘a holy priesthood’ – ‘a holy priesthood that offers the spiritual sacrifices which Jesus Christ has made acceptable to God’; we seek, in union with Christ and his sacrifice on the Cross, to make that offering an offering of our whole lives.

It would not surprise me if that absolutely crucial transition from the stones of the Jerusalem Temple to the Temple of the Body of Christ is one which has come to have a powerful resonance for you as members of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. Some, if not all of you, will have come from regular worship in buildings to which you had a very real attachment, even if you knew, at least intellectually, that the building was not the heart of the matter. There was a hope at one point, but I think always a pretty forlorn one, that when you came into full communion with the Catholic Church you could bring your buildings with you – or at least some of them. But it doesn’t seem to be working out like that. In effect, for you, not one stone has been left upon another. The only Temple to which you can lay claim, so to speak, is the Temple of his Body. It is in fact the true temple, the final temple, the only temple that ultimately matters. By taking the plunge and coming into full communion with the Catholic Church you have not in fact lost anything that is finally of any significance. Rather, you have been built more profoundly and more securely as living stones, chosen and precious, into the Temple which is Christ himself. That is the fact; I hope it has also been confirmed in a significant way by your experience.

I am probably only reinforcing something which you know perfectly well. But I am sure that however wonderful it was to come into full communion with the Catholic Church, this bit of your journey will have its desert moments. You may have already experienced them. The ancient People of God looked back in the desert to the onions and garlic they had enjoyed in Egypt, and indeed life without onions and garlic would be pretty gruesome. We all know that they are not the heart of the matter, but it is only human to miss them.

One of the great words associated with the Ordinariate is ‘patrimony’. It isn’t particularly clear quite what this refers to, apart from buildings, especially in the context of this country. But as I understand it, the point of the Ordinariate is that it is a means by which communities, and not just individuals, can come into full communion with the Church.

If it means that groups of Catholics of a particular stamp are going to keep themselves isolated from the rest in a cosy little community, that is not going to contribute to the richness of the Church as a whole. On the other hand, to be received into the Catholic Church as an individual in the context of an ordinary parish does have a corresponding risk. I may be ‘lost’, so to speak, in what, in some parishes, can be quite a large and relatively anonymous crowd. We don’t know how the Ordinariate will develop in this country. Will it get stronger as more people see that it offers a path to full communion which they can after all risk? Or will it eventually prove to be a transitional stage leading simply to assimilation within the existing local structures of the Catholic Church? We simply don’t know. Whatever happens, people within it need to find enough support in this community for this stage in their journey. It is also important that the gifts you bring are somehow contributed to the wider Church. Those gifts, that patrimony, may be intangible, but that does not mean it does not exist. I found it very interesting that Fr Andrew, experiencing the life of one of the Churches within my parish, sensed that the fact that a former Anglican had been the priest in charge for ten years was noticeable, and as something positive– a former Anglican who had through all those years simply sought to be faithful to the Catholic tradition.

I have personally been extraordinarily fortunate through my 21 years in the Catholic Church and 16 years as a priest – fortunate to have found almost total welcome and acceptance. I have also felt wonderfully at home, and glad to leave behind those conflicts which made it so hard to focus on the heart of the matter. But today’s First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles should warn us against too rosy a view of the Catholic Church, if we ever succumbed to such a thing. It didn’t take long for the Hellenists to be complaining about the unfair treatment of the Hebrews; special treatment for one group with a particular accent or background at the expense of another. There are those who greatly welcome the Ordinariate; there are also those who don’t see why these posh Anglicans can’t just muck in with the rest of us. And there are Catholics who are trying to make the Catholic Church a church of ‘parties’ in the way the Church of England almost inevitably is. That there are different styles and emphases within the Catholic Church is certainly true, but there is an underlying unity of faith which makes ‘party’ talk inappropriate and irrelevant. If you meet it, do not be lured by it! Indeed, as Jesus says to us very firmly in today’s Gospel, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled.’

‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. In my Father’s house are many rooms.’ That is certainly not about ‘parties’. It was Archbishop Temple who pointed out that those ‘many rooms’, are indeed ‘mansions’ in the sense not of grand houses but simply ‘places to stay’ (‘manses’, you might say). Places to stay on a journey, and from which you move on to the next. Pusey House is, as it were, your current mansion, from which you may move on. The Ordinariate too, is a ‘mansion’, and let us hope, with Pope Benedict, that it is indeed a prophetic one.  As we try to look forward, we may perhaps want to echo St Thomas: ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’ It is true; we don’t know the way, and in a sense, not one stone has been left on another. But the one whose Body is the true and abiding Temple is himself the Way, and not only the Way, but also the Truth and the Life. Set yourselves close to him. For he, our risen Lord, says to each one of us, ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life; trust in God still, and trust in me.’

 

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