In our contemporary society there exists an unhealthy distinction between law and charity. In current political debates we see this in relation to the question of immigration. And even in the Church we have, not least in recent months, seen it in relation to the question of the reception of Holy Communion by those who have been divorced and taken up a second union. Yet at the heart of this morning’s gospel we discover anew the fundamental connection between law and charity, to the end that we can say: when a false distinction is drawn between them, each is reduced in its essential importance and particular value. Indeed, with the Psalmist we affirm: “Mercy and truth and met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Psalm 85: 10).
Over the past two weeks the news has been understandably filled with the events of the third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, a gathering in Rome to discuss the ‘The pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization’. With intensive media coverage of what this bishop or that cardinal has said, I think it is fair to say that a great deal of confusion has been the result, often through an attempt to speak of complex theological issues in overly simplistic language. However at the heart of the debate there has been (and continues, to some extent, to be) an unparalleled scrutiny of the Church’s teaching and her pastoral practice.
These two areas of the Church’s life are not entirely new to those of us who have entered the full communion of the Catholic Church by means of the personal ordinariates. Nevertheless, the weight given to both doctrine and law in the Catholic Church, and the absolute definition of Church teaching and pastoral practice, is new. As Catholics we rejoice that we can turn to two particular documents to help us understand these important concepts. First, the Catechism of the Catholic Church which is ‘the authoritative expression of the Catholic faith professed by members of the Ordinariate’ (AC I §5), and secondly the Code of Canon Law which is ‘an indispensable instrument to ensure order both in individual and social life, and also in the Church’s activity itself’ (SDL).
This homily was given at the Sung Mass on the XVII Sunday after Pentecost at Old Saint Mary’s church in Chinatown, Washington, D.C:
In the opening of his masterful Encyclical Letter on Christian love, Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI referred to today’s gospel scene, commenting, ‘Jesus united into a single precept this commandment of love for God and the commandment of love for neighbour found in the Book of Leviticus […] Since God has first loved us (cf. 1 Jn 4:10), love is now no longer a mere “command”; it is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us’ (§1).
This is both a strong and a beautiful instruction in the Christian life. Strong, because it reveals to us the somewhat uncomfortable truth that the extent to which we love our neighbour is a reflection of the extent to which we love God. And beautiful, because it calls us to a more profound relationship with God, through the bonds of charity which we share with our brothers and sisters – those who share in Christ’s dignity, simply because he has chosen to take on our human nature and redeem it. As Pope Benedict points out, there is an intrinsic connection between our love and service of God, and our recognition of him in our fellow man. In and through the miracle of the incarnation – the enfleshment of God himself – Christ’s divine nature and human nature are fused together for all eternity and we certainly cannot separate them out and still profess an authentically Christian worship of God.
I am grateful to the Marylebone Ordinariate Group for reminding me of this moving and impassioned speech – Our Present Duty – by Frank Weston, sometime Anglican bishop of Zanzibar, who made these remarks at the close of one of the great Anglo-Catholic congresses (1923, in fact) which were held in the Royal Albert Hall. Here is a video from the 1922 congress.
Anglo-Catholic attempts to bring about more obviously Catholic devotions within the Church of England were met with much discontent by the establishment and many Anglicans in the early years, but by this time the Movement was beginning to hold its’ own. This is why there is the reference ‘…you have begun to get your tabernacles’.
Whilst the situation of the Catholic Church is very different, these words apply equally; not least if we consider the liturgical reforms of the last few years. Thank God for Pope Benedict XVI and his profound love for and of the sacred liturgy. But the lex orandi – the beautiful and worthy celebration of Holy Mass – must always be a catalyst and fuel for the life of Christ to be seen in us, and in his Church.
Here’s the famous bit:
. . I say to you, and I say it with all the earnestness that I have, if you are prepared to fight for the right of adoring Jesus in His Blessed Sacrament, then, when you come out from before your tabernacles, you must walk with Christ, mystically present in you, through the streets of this country, and find the same Christ in the peoples of your cities and villages. You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the tabernacle if you do not pity Jesus in the slum. . . . It is folly, it is madness, to suppose that you can worship Jesus in the Sacrament and Jesus on the throne of glory, when you are sweating Him in the bodies and souls of His children. . . . You have your Mass, you have your altars, you have begun to get your tabernacles. Now go out into the highways and hedges, and look for Jesus in the ragged and the naked, in the oppressed and the sweated, in those who have lost hope, and in those who are struggling to make good. Look for Jesus in them, and, when you have found Him, gird yourself with His towel of fellowship and wash His feet in the person of his brethren.
The complete speech is available here.