A Homily Preached by Msgr. Entwistle
It is a delight to be back in London again and it is an equal delight that Evensong and Benediction continue to be important in the devotional life of the Ordinariates because linked together, they emphasise that in English Spirituality, the liturgy is both Word and Sacrament, Our English tradition insists as, Martin Thornton (English Spirituality, SPCK 1963, p 49) reminds us that “prayer, worship and life itself, are grounded upon dogmatic fact, that in everyday religious experience head and heart are wedded.”
Evensong is an office in which Scripture is prayed, read and reflected upon. Through it, not only is the revealed Word of God encountered, but also through the Holy Spirit we are able to engage with that revealed Word and link our faith story to that of the faith story of God’s people through the ages.
In Benediction, the focus of our devotion is the adoration of the Most Precious Body and Blood of Our Lord which we believe the sacred host to be. In doing so, we must never isolate the sacramental Body of Christ from the Incarnate Body of Christ, nor from the ecclesial Body of Christ of which we are members.
The recognition of the indivisibility of the Body of Christ came to me some years ago as one of those windows that God occasionally opens. At the time I was attending our annual Anglican Prison Chaplains’ retreat held in London Colney. This retreat was conducted by Neville Ward, the most Catholic minded Methodist of the Weslyan tradition I have ever encountered, and while I should imagine that London Colney has changed considerably since, there was a Catholic community of Sisters nearby that I recall was a community of Perpetual Adoration. I was in the convent chapel with several others, including sisters. On the wall behind the altar was a large crucifix. Here was an image of the incarnate Christ, the ultimate sacrament of God, taken, blessed and broken in his passion so that the marriage between heaven and earth might be consummated.
On a hillside and in the Upper Room, Jesus, the incarnate sacrament of God, took bread, gave thanks, broke it and shared it. In the Upper Room he said, “this is my body, this is my blood.” This is me, This is my life that I have power to lay down and take up. Take, eat and drink it in memory of me.”
On the altar of the chapel was the Sacramental presence of Christ’s Body, our food and sustaining drink, the living stream that overcomes death and turns it into the fountain of eternal life. This is our hope and that hope finds its voice in the Church. In that chapel were Catholics, Anglicans and at least one Weslyan Methodist. Here before the image of the broken, crucified Lord and his presence in the Blessed Sacrament, was the fractured ecclesial Body of Christ, born out of his wounds, yet called to be the visible, sacramental sign of His presence in, and Lordship over, the world. The Church, as well as individual disciples has been called, blessed and broken so that Christ’s mission of showing the world who God is, may continue. This mission is hampered by the disunity within God’s faithful, and I don’t think any of us would dispute that not only praying for unity, but demonstrating as we are this evening, in the words of St Peter of Cluny, that “diversity in unity is the principle of Christendom.” The distinctiveness, yet indivisible unity of the differing manifestations of the Body of Christ presents a framework for our mission and ministry.
The Incarnate Christ challenges us, in the words of Pope Francis, to ‘have a passion for mission, and a passionate concern for people in difficult situations” while the sacramental manifestation challenges us to have a committed concern for the settled truths of the Catholic faith. The pastoral application of these truths must be pastoral and not be disconnected from the truth of the faith. Those of us in the Ordinariate have lived through such a progressive disconnection in our previous communion and we are only too aware of where it leads.
This experience thrusts us into a prophetic role within the Catholic Church. The Ordinariates stand on the edge of the Church’s centre, and is the very place that the prophets and Jesus himself stood in God’s community. This prophetic role demands that we share our experience and alert, if not warn our Catholic brothers and sisters, of the consequences of embracing the principle of gradualness where the doctrine of the Church is still upheld, but in the name of compassion and relevance, its application is gradually relaxed to accommodate the secular values of the day.
We who have been called into full Catholic communion have a responsibility to work for the unity for which Our Lord prayed. On the website iBenedictines, Digitalnun, identifies three levels of that unity. We must work for unity within the Church to which we belong, and in the Ordinariate that means being prepared to let go of some of the things that have been so valuable during the time we were holding on to our Catholic identity, and rediscover at a deeper level, some things that a few jettisoned in order to demonstrate that Catholicity. Discovering the treasures of the liturgies authorised for use in the Ordinariate is an obvious example, because while our patrimony is not solely contained in the liturgies, they are a visible manifestation of what our patrimony is. Diversity in unity requires distinctiveness.
While working and praying alongside other Christians and sharing common cause is necessary and good, we must challenge those modern ecumenists who seem to argue that as this is the deepest level of unity we are likely to achieve, this must be the unity that Our Lord intended. With all due respect to those who take this view, it is a form of flat earth policy. The goal of true unity is to reach the mountaintop where there is unity of faith and doctrine with diversity of expression. Without a common faith and doctrine, there cannot be complete unity, and Our Lord would not have prayed for anything less. Because organic union appears to be unrealistic, the response is to flatten the mountain. The fact that we in the Ordinariate have reached the summit is a negation of this view, so our existence tends to be dismissed as a mirage. We are not a mirage, we are here, we are real. We are we what true unity looks like – diversity in unity.
We have a formidable mission ahead of us, and we must be courageous, keeping before us the distinctive unity not only between the persons of the Holy Trinity but also between the differing manifestations of the Body of Christ. As Hebrews (12:1-12) reminds us, “let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfector of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Msgr Harry Entwistle OLSC