‘Christian Unity in full communion with the Church Christ founded’

30 01 2012

The Provost of the London Oratory writes:

It is one of the most ancient traditions of the Catholic Church that catechumens are baptized and converts received into full communion at Easter. Lent is the final stage of preparation for a convert’s sacramental initiation into the mystery of Christ. At Easter, as the new life of the resurrection floods into His Mystical Body the Church, more souls are added to that Body, for God’s greater glory, and their own salvation.

In this country, each year, thousands of baptized Christians seek full communion with the Catholic Church. Every soul is unique, and on the human level each individual may have their own personal reasons for coming to such a decision. However, behind and above all human decisions lies the inscrutable wisdom of God’s omniscience, and the unfathomable mercies of our individual predestination (yes, there is a Catholic doctrine of predestination, though often neglected). God never forces a conversion, but generously chooses those to whom He will offer any particular grace at any particular moment in their life. It does seem to be the case that at this time God is offering the grace of seeking full unity with the Apostolic See to more and more individuals. We see this beautifully exemplified in the development of the new Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham established in England and Wales by the Holy Father, for those who were once Anglicans and then became Catholics. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit they have been given the grace to discover the traditional doctrine proclaimed again by the most recent Council of the Church, and reiterated in the most recent Catechism;

The sole Church of Christ which in the Creed we profess to be one, holy, catholic and apostolic,…subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 870)

In the same cause of Christian Unity it is very encouraging that another similar Ordinariate has now been established in the USA. We must pray that more and more souls may be drawn to it. We must also be sure that we understand the grace that is being offered them. In many cases, those who seek full communion with the Holy See have already been devout practising Christians for many years. Does this mean that they have to renounce all the graces that God gave them while they were still outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church? By no means. Again, the Catechism makes the situation clear. The same paragraph just quoted (n. 870) adds: “… many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside its [the Church’s] visible confines.” When God calls someone into full communion with the Church Christ founded, He is offering them in all its fullness what they have already possessed, we would say, partially. God completes, but does not undermine. He does not revoke His earlier call, but perfects it with a new and better call. One of the sermons of Blessed John Henry Newman is apposite here; “… we are not called once only, but many times, all through our life Christ is calling us. He called us first in baptism; but afterwards also; whether we obey His voice or not, He graciously calls us still. Even if we fall from our baptism, He calls us from grace to grace, and from holiness to holiness, while life is given us.”

For so many years now we have been praying for the unity of Christians in England. The fact that it seems to be coming about in a way we might not have envisaged does not mean it is not the work of God. It means that the Father’s ways of achieving all the intentions of the Sacred Heart of Jesus easily surpass our limited imaginations and our imperfect prayers.

Once John Henry Newman had become a Catholic in 1845, his mind was clearer than it had ever been before on this subject. Here is the prayer for Unity which as a Catholic he himself composed and prayed:

O Lord Jesus Christ, who when Thou wast about to suffer didst pray for Thy disciples to the end of time that they might all be one, as Thou art in the Father and the Father in Thee, look down in pity on the manifold divisions among those who profess Thy faith and heal the many wounds which the pride of man and the craft of Satan have inflicted on Thy people.

Break down the walls of separation which divide one party and denomination of Christians from another. Look with compassion on the souls who have been born in one or other of these communions, which not Thou, but man, hath made.

Set free the prisoners from these unauthorised forms of worship, and bring them all to the one communion which Thou didst set up at the beginning – the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Teach all men that the See of Peter, the Holy Church of Rome, is the foundation, centre, and instrument of Unity. Open their hearts to the long forgotten truth that the Holy Father, the Pope, is Thy Vicar and representative; and that in obeying him in matters of religion they are obeying Thee, so that as there is but one company in heaven above, so likewise there may be one communion, confessing and glorifying Thy holy Name, here below. Amen

I am hoping and praying that our present and beloved Holy Father will be granted health and vigour for many long years still to come. Long live the Pope! We need him. But as and when the time does come for him to be taken from the Church Militant to his undoubted reward above (a long time yet, I pray) he will be lovingly remembered for so many good things that he has done and is doing for the Church.

One of the Pope’s far-reaching initiatives is his launching of a much-needed new liturgical movement. Obscurantism and recalcitrance are still doing their best in some (though by no means all) places to resist the Holy Father’s intentions in this area. I pray that the admirable path he has set us upon will lead us to a true “reform of the reform.” In this connexion, I gratefully and wholeheartedly applaud the faithful and intelligent insights that we are sometimes given by H.E. Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, Archbishop of Colombo. Of course, the good things His Eminence says cannot be achieved in a day, alas, and as loyal and traditional Catholics we strenuously avoid anything resembling promiscuous self-will; flouting the Church’s laws never gets us anywhere, even when we wish those laws might be improved. But the clarity of Cardinal Ranjith’s understanding, and the content of what he proposes, all that is to be taken most seriously and has a lot to teach us. How to bring it about? Simple. Prayer and penance are always and always our best and most effective means for making good things happen. Our prayer and our penance are especially potent when we are united together with a shared intention, and a shared understanding of the self-discipline and self-sacrifice that fidelity and loyalty must always entail.

Another of the Holy Father’s outstanding achievements is his inspiring work for Christian Unity in setting-up the Ordinariates for former Anglicans. What a brilliant way of cutting through the plethora of mealy-mouthed verbiage and foggy thinking that has characterized so much ecumenical activity in recent decades, verbiage and fogginess which may indeed have had the very best of intentions, but which nevertheless achieved so little in real terms.

Let us also pray with all our heart and mind and strength that our vitally important ecumenical journey with our Greek and Russian Orthodox brethren will continue apace, that our charitable and respectful dialogue with them will bear much fruit, so that the universal Church might once again breathe with two whole lungs, and so that soon there may be but one flock and one shepherd. Domine, ut sit!