Monday, 1 July 2013

Path to Unity involves Self-emptying

“Who do you say that I am?”

That there were different rumours surrounding Jesus' mission can hardly be surprising given the amazing affect He had upon people; whether it was through His healing, exorcism, or His teaching. It is a tribute to the Hebrew pysche that all these things led them to ask a question about Jesus' being. “Who is He?” not just “What can He do for me?” For they thought He might be “John the Baptist” or “Elijah” or another prophet. That the rumourmongers got it wrong does not take away they were asking the right question.

In our own age I wonder if the rumourmongers would ask that question – I fear that the majority would prefer “What can He do for me?” We live in a technological age where function is regarded above who we truly are. And according to the teaching of Bl Pope John Paul II this reveals a very significant fault-line. For utility is the opposite of love. Utility, or the priority of function over being, opposes real love. For real love is not about using someone. Love is divinely revealed to us most fully in the Incarnation – as St Paul put in his letter to the Philippians, “He did not cling to his equality with God but emptied Himself...” God shows that the epitomy of love is found in self-sacrifice – as our Lord echoed in His teaching that “greater love has no man than this, that he give up his life for his friends”.

And this is the basis, not only of the Incarnation of course, but the life of the persons of the Trinity. The three Persons of the Trinity exist together in unity not through using one another but by emptying themselves in Love. The Father so loves the world that He gives up His only Son. The Son has nothing of Himself but receives everything from the Father. And the Spirit teaches nothing of Himself but passes on all that the Father reveals to Him. This principle of love through self-emptying, being the basis of life in the Holy Trinity, means that it is the principle of love and life for us as well. This is because, human beings are made in the image of God, and now united with Christ, yearn for a life that is a life of self-emptying love – it is the way we are made. Our hearts remain restless until they find their rest in God the Trinity.

In contemplating the nature and vocation of the Ordinariate recently, I have been struck by how often this Trinitarian theme is realised in our life together. The path to real Christian unity, that is, full Communion, has involved us in self-emptying in various ways. We have had to empty ourselves of pride, and launch out into the deep in faith. We have had to leave behind securities and friendships. We have had to face criticism both from old Anglican friends but also some of our new Catholic friends. In receiving the teaching authority of the Catholic Church we have had to accept that, except for Baptism and Holy Matrimony, the sacraments of the Anglican Communion do not possess the fullness that we once thought they did, not least in our Confirmation and Ordination. We have had to accept the newness of the Ordinariate as our new home, that it is not fully formed yet and that many in the Catholic Church do not understand it nor see the excitement of the vision behind it. The very nature of the Ordinariate, alongside Dioceses, also witnesses to unity in diversity, that is based in our Trinitarian Faith. Just as the Persons of the Trinity remain in complete union with each other, they also retain their identity as unique Persons. Our identity as being of the Anglican Tradition has not been obliterated by absorption, so that we gradually lose our Anglican ways because inevitably there is little opportunity to live it out in a diocesan parish. All over the country Catholics that were formerly Anglican have come to Ordinariate worship or other events and said something along the lines, “O at last! How wonderful to be here! We have missed this so much!” Whether it is to do with hymnody, reverent worship, or the seeing of parish life as a community, there are good things missing from life in the Catholic Church that former Anglicans miss.

The origin of the Ordinariates is in the generosity of the then Pope Benedict who recognised that Anglicans had precious treasures which the Catholic Church could benefit from.

But we have realised not so much that we have treasures but that the Catholic Church has many more treasures for us. We have learned that being in the full Communion of the Catholic Church, in full Communion with the successor of Peter, far outweighs any gifts we can bring. That in the light of entering into full Communion we have received greater clarity of our Faith and a fuller reception of grace, than we had ever known before. Not of course that we reject everything we knew before, but in the light of being in full Communion we see more clearly the treasures we had as Anglicans and that sometimes we didn't realise we had them!

No doubt rumours abound about the Ordinariates, not least on the internet. Some might be positive, some negative. But we must not be disturbed by rumours. We must rest in who we are, by God's grace. We are members of the Ordinariate which is of the Holy Spirit. It is something much greater than any of us, or even the sum of us all. In St Paul's words, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” The Ordinariate is, I believe, God's initiative for the recovery of unity so that the Church can be more effective in its witness to the world. Let us then be confident and filled with joy for God has called us together for this work, and though the way of the Cross involves self-sacrifice, we know through experience, that self-emptying bears much more fruit than we can imagine. 
[A sermon preached on 23rd June 2013 - Trinity 4 C - by Fr Ian Hellyer]

DAY NINE (Eve of Pentecost)