Do you ever get the feeling that you’re being gently mocked? During his homily at my first Mass, Fr Stephen quoted a little phrase I’d used to describe the journey from Anglicanism to the full communion of the Catholic Church. When I preached on the Ordinariate during my first few weeks in the parish, I described it as ‘moving from the gatehouse to the manor house’. I know…
However – despite the ribbing – I do think it’s a pretty decent analogy: moving into the fullness of Catholic Communion, away from the fringes and the partiality of that unique bond between the baptised and the Church, and coming into the full splendour of the unbroken Catholic tradition, with all the rich cultural, liturgical and theological patrimony which that involves.
Last week the Catholic League published the complete special edition of the Messenger, a journal which was released to celebrate the announcement and development of the Personal Ordinariate. It is full of great articles, all of which can now be read freely here. Copies are free to a good home, so if you want a hard copy you can still get them from the Catholic League directly.
Amongst the excellent pieces (some critical, some full of hope – this was before January 2011), is the sermon given by a good friend and mentor on the occasion of the 125th anniversary of the foundation of Pusey House, Oxford. The title of the sermon is The Sinews of Behemoth, taken from Job 40:17 (The sinews of Behemoth’s testicles are tightly constricted), and I apologise to anyone who’s already familiar with the content.
With his typical amusing tone and wit (“Which leads me inexorably back to Behemoth’s testicles…”) the preacher negotiates the history of the Anglo-Catholic movement which found space to flourish to fantastically in many of those Oxford institutions: St Stephen’s House, Pusey House, the Cowley Dads, the All Saints’ Sisters of the Poor, and Fairacres.
Read the whole piece. It is, though, the rather stark challenge of the final paragraph which I tentatively reproduce here – as much to confirm my own sense of what the whole Ordinariate-Project is about, as challenge those who might be reading from another shore:
Pope S. Gregory the Great in his great commentary on the book of Job known to us as the Moralia, took this verse [Ed: The sinews of Behemoth’s testicles are tightly constricted] as a type of the perplexed conscience – the constriction of the sinews being the sign of the entangled nature of the moral choices which confront us. You do not need me to tell you that Catholic Anglicans are in a place of acute perplexity at this time. Our mission, the mission of this House and of all those who have served the Movement since its inception, is founded on a confidence that we have an authentic ecclesial mandate grounded in Scripture and Tradition, and sacramental assurance in the ministrations which arise from that mandate. We must be frank when we admit that the great majority of the Churches who name themselves catholic in faith, order and practice have always seen this in us as more a matter of assertion than fact. But for us it has not seemed to be a house built on sand. S. Gregory tells us that if we are hemmed in and held captive, then the best rule is to jump off where the wall is lowest – the shortest fall makes for the softest landing. If we are not to be entirely strangled by our perplexity we are going to have to learn to jump, because the basis on which we have carried out our mission in recent years – the doctrine of a Church of England with two integrities – is coming to an end. Blessed Pius IX told Dr Pusey that he was like a bell summoning people to church but never entering it himself; might we not hope for a better future in a larger room for Pusey House?
Might we not hope for a better future for the whole Anglo-Catholic project? Is not the wall at an unprecedented low point? Is not the landing as soft as we could ever, really, hope? I believe so. Pope Pius IX’s analogy of Pusey is as sad as it is amusing – do we truly want that for ourselves? I suspect not. As someone said just before I was received – the future’s bright; the future’s yellow and white.