Yesterday morning I was visited by a French journalist from Pèlerin, a weekly Catholic magazine. I wasn’t expecting the visit, but Gwénola de Coutard (@gdecoutard), the journaliste, is in the UK to write a feature on women clergy in the Church of England and she wanted the view of someone who had become a Catholic as a result of such developments within Anglicanism.
Two alarms bells rang in my mind – first, do I really want to get into the ins and outs of becoming a Catholic again, just to have things skewed into a frenzy of words like ‘bigot’, ‘misogynist’, and ‘defector’ and, secondly, do I really want to speak to a Catholic magazine that wants to write a feature on women priests. But all of these concerns were laid aside when we started talking, and I realised very quickly that actually what was wanted was an apologetic defence of the Church’s teaching on the Priesthood, and an explanation that the ordination of women was not – is not – in itself a reason to become a Catholic, but rather represents a symptom of a wider question of authority outside the Catholic Church. So we talked.
When I was preparing to be received into the full communion of the Catholic Church just last year, I knew that it would be exhilarating to be in communion with well over a billion people. I knew that visible communion with the Successor of St Peter, with the bishops, and with those great figures of sanctity whose writings had lined my walls for years, would be immense. And I have not been disappointed. But beyond that I have experienced a profound and genuine sense of peace – a peace which comes from letting-go of individual opinion and debate, and resting in the safe assurance of the Church’s teaching.
After the election of Pope Benedict XVI, Jeremy Paxman interviewed Cristina Odone and the-then-Fr Patrick Burke on Newsnight. In the interview Mgr Burke, who was a student of Cardinal Ratzinger and now works in the CDF, paraphrased a line that is often quoted from Ratzinger’s own writings – “The Truth of Jesus Christ is not measured by public opinion”.
For those of us used to tackling the biannual wave of General Synod votes, such a line rings very true. But, more than that, it reminds us that it is not our individual decisions to assent or dissent from Church teaching – in relation to the nature of the Eucharist, or the Priesthood, or Marriage, or any other area of faith, morals, and doctrine – that makes something true or false. Rather, that relates to our own relationship with the Church. And if we believe that Christ is truly present in the Church, that the Church is the Body of Christ on earth, then those decisions impact on our relationship with the Lord also.
We can’t hold the faith in isolation, not just because we need and desire communion with the Church, but because an individualistic faith where we decide on the rights and wrongs of doctrine, isn’t one which is Holy, Catholic or Apostolic. We don’t claim to be guardians of ‘natural religious instincts’ loosely basing our lives on a man-made moral code (see Fr Stephen Wang’s post on this here), but the mystical body of Christ, living and witnessing to his truth in a world where man-made moral codes come, change, and disappear to suit the age.
I’ll be interested to see what Gwénola writes. I know she’s hoping to speak to the Bishop of Ebbsfleet too, but if I’m honest it won’t keep me up at night worrying, because if there’s one thing I’ve grown to know and appreciate more than anything else, it’s that there’s no ‘I’ in Catholic.