Skip to comments.Diminished
Posted on 08/18/2005 4:03:22 PM PDT by sionnsar
If I may say, I think it is the case that many traditional religious have had a particular experience of being stripped and diminished. As I have reflected about this anniversary celebration and indeed all that caused the formation of Root and other groups since 1992, it is difficult not to lose heart, to feel diminished; stripped. But not in a gospel sense. Rather with a sense that really this was all unnecessary, so making the journey to liberating trust and the resultant freedom difficult. There has been a diminishment, a terrible diminishment in the Anglican Church, a possibly catastrophic diminishment, as it might be dear brothers and sisters for the future of religious communities in our Church, at least as we currently know them.
The fundamental diminishment in my view has been the loss of the Eucharist. Of course it is celebrated, but it can no longer be celebrated in the way Christ intends it to be together. The loss of the common presbyterate, so emphasized by many of the Fathers (one might even say that referring to a presbyter as distinct from the college is almost meaningless in early writings and ordination rites) matters primarily because it results in the loss of the common meal.
My own ministry as an area bishop means that I encounter many women priests and candidates for ordination. I hold many of them in the highest regard and acknowledge both the sincerity of their sense of call and their gifts. However, I remain convinced that whatever new, even refreshing thing that might be considered to have been brought to our branch of the Church by the ordination of women as priests, has not been worth the loss of the Eucharist as the common place of meeting, as the place of making and unifying the people of God, the place from which we go together in apostolic endeavour. It cannot be worth it, for the Eucharist comes before the priesthood, is more important than the priesthood. If the gift of ordination conveys an ontological reality, it is no less true that the priest is a functionary.
And we know that the Eucharist is not the possession of any local congregation or episcopal jurisdiction. Sadly, no amount of provisions and safeguards, important though they are can ameliorate the wilful decision, for the sake of inclusivity, of making a presbyterate that diminishes the remembrance and proclamation of the most inclusive act in the whole of history the death of our beloved Lord. We have become like Corinth, little groups going ahead with their own meal (1 Cor. 11: 21). Paul wonders whether it can be called the Lords Supper at all!
Division has become normal, as if the Lord intended there to be denominations. I do not believe it. I cannot think that any Anglican or Methodist or Baptist who watched the recent events in the Roman Catholic Church could ever again use the words the Church when referring to itself. If, as some think, including many of our Tractarian forebears, that it is an arrogance for the RC Church to describe itself as the Church, it is perhaps less arrogant than a national church acting as if it is so.
Incidentally, how beautiful, how envy-making it was to see a company of believers of such diverse nationality and ages obedient to the Saviours command to Do this in memory of me. Gathered in St Peters Square doing what Christians do, instinctively. No need for alternative oversight. No concerns about who concelebrates with whom. No wondering if this is an appropriate occasion for a Mass. No one suggesting it might put the visitors off!
Let me return to the context of our gathering today. I simply fail to understand how some of our religious communities have considered the loss of the conventual mass, the beautiful God-given way of expressing and sustaining the common life, the fount of the common joy in the community, to be a sacrifice worth making for the sake of women presiding. Offering an alternative provision is no amelioration of the loss. There are perhaps even some who want, as it were, to shake the dust from their feet and walk away from us, or for us to do the same, but some seem to do so without the tears of Jesus, whose heart broke over Jerusalem.
And we may die out I mean. Almost ten years ago now, at the first Caister retreat, I preached about a text in the letter to the Romans, a liberating text, a hopeful text, a faith-filled text from the apostle who knew about diminishment; he writes, Whether we live or whether we die we are the Lords [Romans 14:8 ], I think it was Theresa of Avila who said, I do not fear death. It will be to fall into the hands of him I love best. Of course I do not believe in dying unnecessarily! We must with love hope for life, work for life, pray for life, change in life enhancing ways, be stripped with joy and for joy. What this might mean for traditional religious Im not sure.
Fr Benson of Cowley, speaks of the call of God as continuous, abiding and progressing. He writes, That same call of God which called us at the first is ever calling us on and we must ever be listening for that voice, yielding ourselves to that voice, obeying that voice, acting in the strength of that voice. This echoes the reason for Pauls confidence, Of this I am confident, that he who has begun a good work in you, will bring it to completion on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Phil. 1: 6) And the bringing to completion has all the sense of God putting the finishing touches on us as we go along, and must we not expect that some of those touches will be wounds?
I cannot remember which bishop of the nineteenth century described the burgeoning religious communities as strange weeds. That people experienced these weeds as true sisters of charity and as mission brothers meant that they won the day, and flowered. But you, my sisters and brothers present today, and those you represent, we can be not so much weeds, if some might regard traditionalist religious that way, but more like seeds falling to the ground and dying. Daily. There will be new fruit though we may not live to see it. And God will bless you for your faithfulness, as we all do this day.
Excerpted from a sermon preached at St Albans, Holborn, on the tenth anniversary Mass for ROOT in May 2005 and taken from New Directions, August 2005, page 12
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