Bishop Kevin Vann received a group of Anglican faithful into the Catholic Church for the forthcoming Personal Ordinariate in the United States on Saturday 25 September 2011 in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Fort Worth. Here is his homily:
Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Lord,
As I awoke this morning reflecting on the new day “that the Lord has made” and furthermore on his command to “rejoice and be glad in it”, I was struck by the beauty of the sunrise. From the porch of the Cathedral rectory I could see just beyond the Texas and Pacific Building to the rose hues announcing the sun for the new day. As the sun rose I could see light reflecting on the clouds in the sky and all around. The scene was both bright and soft. It seemed to me that at the beginning of this new day the Lord was also calling us to rejoice in Him and walk in his light today and always.
In preparation for this mass, I wanted to reflect on an image that would bring together several aspects of Faith. In doing so I was led back to my father, who in his earlier years would often keep a jigsaw puzzle going at home. He would work on it a little at a time. We [the kids] would often try and help him, and I remember the hours and hours we spent trying to put the pieces together to see what would fit. We wondered how long it would take to get this done and at least early on, what the picture dad was actually working on. Gradually, a little at a time, the pieces would fit together and I would notice how each piece, when it went into place, would “fit” perfectly with the piece next to it, and in fact, hold it into place. These endeavors took a lot of patience, time and effort, yet I also knew that I was not the one coordinating the work. It was my Dad. When would it be done, I would ask, and what is it going to look like? And, when it was finally done, well we would step back and see the colorful picture or work that had been created. Several of these we would save and frame.
And so I offer that image to all of you here since, although you are not a puzzle, the step you are taking today, along with your profession, ultimately fits together to form a portrait of this journey of Faith. It is a portrait that is being put together one piece at a time, each piece being part of the work of God, each piece supporting the other, just as you each have supported each other and will continue to do so in the days and weeks ahead. Ultimately, it is not us who are putting the pieces together, but the Lord Himself, the same one who in the Gospel of St. John prayed that His disciples “might all be one.”!
To carry the images of a sunrise and my dad’s puzzle even further, it would be worth asking, “What are each of the pieces of the picture that we are looking at today, the Lord’s day?” I would answer that the work on this portrait of yours began years ago, when in God’s providence someone who loved you, led you to the baptismal font to and to the life and light of Christ. For many of you here, today, this was the baptismal font of the Anglican churches where you grew up and knew the Lord. The portrait of your life began there, at that moment, with the hand of God. For those of you who are returning to the Catholic Church, it was the font of baptism in your local parish where you parents worshipped. And for others still, it was a decision you made as an adult. Whatever the case may be, your baptism formed the foundational part of the picture that we now build on today, without which none of this would be possible. We give thanks for that gift of grace and for the multifaceted relationship between the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth and the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, which is marked by a shared geographic, spiritual and ecclesial closeness. These are certainly parts of the portrait that fit together in the hand of God!
As you grew in Faith, another part of this portrait, which certainly fits together with the above, is the example of Faith that inspired you as you matured into adulthood, along with the working of the Holy Spirit in those individuals who led you into full communion with the Church. This truly reflects, I believe, what are said to be the words of St. Francis, present in this House of God today [in one of the windows and in his statue at the back of the Church], “Preach the Gospel, and if necessary use words.” This is fitting because for many years early on in the last century it was the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement and the Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement, who in England and this country, worked and prayer for Christian Unity.
Another part to complete the portrait being formed is the reality of the Communion of Saints both here and in eternity: those who have been praying for you today, and among those who, as in the Book of Revelation, sing the praises of the Lamb of God. They surround us today in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Each of those parts have something to teach you because as you stand here at the Chair of the Diocese, in union with the Chair of Peter, their prayer lead you before the throne of God. Many of those saints, whether they be St. Francis, St. Clare, St. Margaret Mary, St. Pius X (who began the Liturgical restoration and First Holy Communion) or St. Oliver Plunkett (who died a martyrs death in Ireland), seem to come alive in the light of this day and are now part of the hand of God. They are part of your story and your journey of Faith.
In communion with the Church we have Sacred Scripture – the Word of God – which is proclaimed in the same manner throughout the world. And again, providentially, we can find that this Sunday’s readings speak directly to us. They touch upon the mystery and reality of conversion, a change of heart, which does not always happen when we would want it, or in the manner in which we would wish it. Conversion doesn’t always happen immediately but it always happens with the providential hand of God. St. Paul for example, in his Letter to the Philippians, urges the people of Philippi – and us – to be united in one mind and one heart in Christ, and to encourage one another. You certainly have been doing this and will continue to do so in union with the work of the Holy Spirit to foster unity in the Church. This is how Anglicanorum coetibus has unfolded before us. You are a part of that unfolding and this portrait, as it were!
This unfolding, which is the mystery of the communion of the Church, continues to take shape. It seems to me that the vision of Anglicanorum Coetibus is a visible expression of unity and communion that all of the dialogue and prayer in recent years has brought us to. For that, especially we thank Pope Benedict XVI, and the foundation laid by his predecessor Blessed John Paul II and the Pastoral Provision, and all who came before. In the words of Fr. Perkins, who has cared for you these months and who is being received this day: “We, too, who walk by faith in Christ have entered into God’s kingdom. By our baptism we have been made citizens. Within the life of the Church, which is the Mystical Body of Christ, we are called to be intimately joined with the purpose of Jesus Christ to make known His Kingdom, to live as servants of the King. This joining with Christ is the result of our having repented, turning from our seemingly innate selfishness to live our lives for Him; and we find that this living for and in Him leads to a profound unity among us. This is the unity into which those being received into the full communion of the Church are being more deeply drawn. It is the unity noted in the first mark of the Church. “We believe in one Church.”
Can we not say that this day – and what lies ahead – reflects the process of conversion, even in the various and sometimes halting stages? And that the uncertainty through which we must first go (as did the first brother in today’s Gospel) reflects the lived reality of the words of St. Paul today? “Complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking of one thing…” That continues to be your call in the days ahead in full communion with the Catholic Church, and thus the See of Peter.
St. Paul continues his letter by saying to look not for one’s own interests, but that of others. Does not that lead us directly to the life of Blessed John Henry Newman, whose life not only laid the foundation for the Oxford movement and then for this day in history, but as well laid a foundation for pastoral ministry and care for those entrusted to him, as your pastors had for you, and as you and your community now do for one another and those who are leading you? Pope Benedict XVI said, “He lived out his profoundly human vision of priestly ministry in his devoted care for the people of Birmingham during the years that he spent at the Oratory he founded, visiting the sick and the poor, comforting the bereaved, caring for those in prison….What better way to express the joy of this moment that turning to our heavenly Father in heartfelt thanksgiving, praying in the words that Blessed John Henry Newman placed on the lips of the choirs of angels in heaven:
“Praise to the Holiest in the height
And in the depth be praise;
In all his words most wonderful
Most sure in all his ways!
That may be the last piece of this portrait for the moment, but there is indeed more to come. We can now see the first rendering of this work of divine art, just as the Vann children would get a glimpse of Dad’s completed jigsaw puzzles. But more followed and this certainly is the case here. The next rendering may have a similar theme, but it will be more complete, more beautiful and for that reason we will be more in awe. May we, as history under the providential guidance of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, continue to unfold as God beckons us to follow just as the opening prayer says, “hurry toward the eternal life you promise and come to share the joys of your kingdom.”!