Homily: The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
The charity of Christ urges us.
There is nothing about my personality and temperament which predisposes me to give a hoot about Christian Unity. I love a theological barroom fight and at best Christian Unity is a hook and jab useful from time to time, especially because the other guy does not see it coming. My father was a priest who was above all things nice, a broad churchman back in the days, when that did not necessarily mean he did not believe in anything but that he was tolerant to a fault. Of course that meant that I had to be different from him. It also caused him to make sure I experienced the full range of Anglican diversity. He gloried in places like Old St. Mary’s, Kansas City, and St. Mary the Virgin, New York City because they proved the good manners and common decency of Anglicanism. Little did he know that he was sowing the seeds of his own son’s intolerance.
My father’s tame and mainstream Anglicanism did not stand much of a chance against these more exotic and strange statue-filled, incense-laden, biretta-headed places. If I was to have any sort of religion, this is what it would have to be like. Throughout all the usual detours, Marxism, the silly sixties, atheism, moral dissolution, and so forth, the conviction remained: this was the best that religion, however wrong-headed, had to offer.
The other mistake that my father made was to fill his library with books by men like Dom Gregory Dix and E. L. Mascall. It turned out that the Victorian palaces had substantial intellectual foundations. It was the devil’s mistake to let me read myself back into the Christian religion. But it may be that our ancient enemy knew quite rightly that the whole thing was about to fall apart and he had little to fear.
In any case along with Mass, Mary and Confession came this annoying business about Christian Unity, not on the grounds of being nice but on the grounds of being Catholic. It should not have been much of a surprise because so much else about the Catholic religion is disagreeable to our natural inclinations.
There is nothing about our current circumstances which encourages a passion for the Unity of the Church. Our friends in the Ordinariate assure us that the ecumenical imperative of the day, the answer to all our prayers, and the hopes of ARCIC are now dead and over. With Pope Francis have come new divisions within the Roman Church itself, which we have wrongly assumed to be impervious to disunity. Anglicans are busy as bees trying to construct new and ever more insurmountable obstacles to their own unity and unity with Rome and the Orthodox. Conservatives as well as liberals are intent on sectarian navel-gazing as they try to figure out what Anglicanism is. The Church of England is doing its best to drive Catholic Anglicans to extinction. ACNA and GAFCON are reviving the old factions of the Reformation and the 39 Articles.
But for now and for a variety of reasons there are still a few Catholic Anglicans to be found. In some cases it is purely personal reasons that keep priests and their people within the Anglican fold: family considerations, responsibility for parishes, lethargy, old age, each having his own, take it as you like, excuses or prudence.
If God has anything at all to do with why we remain, it is surely because He wants us to irritate our c0-religionists with His Son’s prayer ut omnes sint: “that they all may be one”. If there are no Anglicans of the Catholic tradition around, then it is doubtful that this prayer will be made at all. We are pitiful and poor watchmen standing on the ruble of the ruins.
It is, I fear, characteristic of Anglican arrogance, that the Ordinariate is viewed as the only answer to Christian Unity. What about all the other Christians in the world? I regularly teach in an ecumenical School of Spirituality where it is possible for me to present the Catholic Faith to Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians and so on. They will listen to me, where they would never listen to a Roman Catholic priest. These folks come to me for spiritual direction, when they would never go to a Roman priest.
None of this is to pat ourselves on the back, but to remind ourselves that it is our primary vocation, not just part of our vocation, to witness to something bigger than Anglicanism. This has always been the vocation of the Catholic Movement: to insist that Anglicanism can only be important to the degree that it belongs to and longs for something much bigger than Anglicanism.
The chances that Anglican Catholics will survive let alone triumph are slim. But T.S. Eliot said this about that: “If we take the widest and wisest view of a Cause, there is no such thing as a Lost Cause, because there is no such thing as a Gained Cause. We fight for lost causes because we know that our defeat and dismay may be the preface to our successors’ victory, though that victory itself will be temporary; we fight rather to keep something alive than in the expectation that it will triumph.”
We will not be successful but success has nothing to do with it. We pray not because we expect that the results of our prayers will be quickly seen or realized but because caritas Christi urget nos – the love of Christ urges us on.
This homily is mostly recycled from earlier comments on this blog.