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The ordinariate and ecumenical relations PETER CORNWELL

Muck in with the rest of the family

Two weeks ago, former Anglican priest Allen Brent wrote in these pages of his desire to become a Catholic priest within the new Anglican ordinariate. Here another former Anglican, and a Catholic priest for 25 years, explains why he fears that such a group is damaging to Christian unity


y one of those sad pieces of timing, this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity was heralded by the launch of the ordinariate, those spe-

cial arrangements that the Catholic Church is making for some dissident Anglicans. It is a move that has already done damage to the good relations between our Churches. I have said it before and I say it again – yes, welcome unreservedly to all who seek a home in Catholic unity. After all, 25 years ago I knew that welcome and found that home. But, is it really being offered a home if you are invited to set up, with your fellow refugees, in a sort of semi-detached granny flat, with your own special Masses and your own special leader- ship? It is like being invited to a party and then, instead of joining in the fun, slipping off with a few chosen friends to play bridge in an upstairs room. The fact is that these Anglican dissidents

have, for some years, lived rather unhappily on the edges of Church of England life. What surely they now need, for their souls’ health and happiness, is not to be parked on the edge of another Church, but to come into the crowded fug of the living room to muck in with the rest of the family. Although outsiders imagine that Catholics are like a well-drilled army, we are in truth an untidy mixed bunch. As Inspector Morse used to say: “It’s all a bit of a shambles!”

If you do not believe me or imagine that there was once some golden age of sweetness and light, just look around you and then at the first letter of St Paul to the Corinthians. It reveals a hotbed of factionalism – and a good deal worse. But to stay with those factions: “I’m for

Paul,”’ cries one; “I’m for Apollos,” cries another; and “I’m for Cephas,” cries yet another. Yes, strong individual Christians had strong distinctive angles on the Gospel, and they had their followers. Now, as St Paul tells the Corinthians, all this variety is good and valuable: “There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit.” For the Church, like the human body, has not one limb, but many. The Catholic task is

8 | THE TABLET | 29 January 2011

to ensure that the limbs work together so that their variety is creative and not destruc- tive. When Jesus calls his apostles, he does not call the predictably pious or a boring bunch of the like-minded but a spicily varied group. This mixed family is called to hang together in any kind of weather. Yes, it is to seek the truth as we see it but in the bonds of love. For that, as Paul shows the Corinthians in the great thirteenth chapter, is the best way of all. When we accept one another in all our differences and learn to bear with one another in love, then it is that all this variety can enrich us and not destroy us. That, and nothing short of that, is the unity for which we pray.

Of course it means being honest about dif- ferences. But instead of seeing these as reasons to stay apart, we should see them as urgent reasons to come together and stay together.

It is like being invited to a party and then instead of joining in the fun, slipping off with a few chosen friends to play bridge upstairs

That means that we have to take one another as we are. The task is simply evaded if we choose simply to slice off those bits of other Churches that appeal to us. If we do that we fail to receive from one another what we have to offer. Yes, I am all for Anglicans bringing into Catholic unity the riches of their Communion. As Newman wrote, true conversion has to be “ever of a positive not negative character”. And the truth is that there is so much that we Catholics have to learn from Anglicans. It is not just the glorious collects of Cranmer or the King James Bible, but things like the way in which priests and laity have learned to work together and make decisions together, like the way in which the ministry of women

is recognised and honoured. These are things, which the Catholic Church needs; gifts we should covet. In the same way Anglicans have much to learn from us, something about having a firm- ness of faith and order, strong enough to create a framework in which all this lively variety can be held together. The body in its diversity needs bones. The Catholic Church can embrace variety because it sees the need for that ministry of unity which St Peter and his successors exercise, to hold this worldwide, multicultured show together. Here is a game, which needs a referee, an orchestra which needs a conductor.

Of course there are problems and difficul- ties in the practical business of sharing these gifts but, in truth, we need less caution and safety-first and more of that faithful servant in the Gospel who dares to risk his master’s riches. For all this is not for our own sake, as if it were frightened Christians huddling together in the face of a hostile world. It is rather for the sake of that world, a world that too often sees religion as a cause of strife and division. In last Sunday’s Gospel, St Matthew tells us that Jesus left Galilee and settled at Capernaum on the borders of Zebulon and Naphtali. This was an area of mixed faith and cultural diversity, a place, said the prophet Isaiah, where the people lived in darkness and dwelt in the land of the shadow of death. And Jesus came to this place to be the great Light. That is where God has set us down in our age, on the borders, amid outsiders, in the thick of a great mixture, and it is here that the followers of Jesus are called to reflect his light by our unity and love. That they might be one, prays Jesus, so that the world might believe – to live in peace so that all humans should live in peace.

■Fr Peter Cornwell is assistant priest at St John the Evangelist, Bath. This article is adapted from a homily given on Sunday 23 January.

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