By the Rev Msgr Harry Entwistle
Reception of the Faithful in Clearview, South Australia
Sunday 2 October, 2016
Chapel of St George & St Michael, Clearview, Adelaide
Most of us are familiar with the expression, ‘How long is a piece of string?’ It usually means, ‘How much is enough?’ This is the theme that flows through this week’s readings in which the issue of how much faith we need is addressed.
The prophet Habakkuk challenges God about how long he will allow his people to ignore the laws that Moses gave them. God did not answer the question directly, but said that those who live by the laws and try to live morally upright lives are the ones who live by faith and so will be saved. In the Old Testament, the faithful are considered to be those who believed God’s truth and kept his laws.
There is a shift in this understanding in the teaching of Jesus, for he teaches that faith does not only mean believing the truth but also trusting a person. God is not to be seen as simply the dispenser of rules and regulations, but as a person to be trusted and loved by those who are faithful.
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus is heading to Jerusalem to challenge the Jewish authorities. He knew this would be risky and would involve suffering for them as well as for himself. He was trying to prepare his disciples for this so it is not surprising that they asked him to give them more faith. They seemed to think faith was like a tank of spiritual petrol that needs constant filling up, an anti-depressant or perhaps another drug that gives us a high. Jesus told them that the mystery of a mustard seed lies in its smallness because despite its size it contains all it needs to grow into a bush. Faith is like this. No matter how little we think we have, if we trust God we have enough, and as the disciples were still following Jesus, then they had enough.
Jesus underlined his point by asking them that if they were an employer who had servants working all day in their field, would they prepare the servants’ meal for them when they came home from work, or would they expect the servants to make a meal for them? Servants work all day and then make the evening meal. That is their job. There is no limit to service for servants. So it is with disciples. There are no limits to faith for disciples, and trusting God, especially when there seems no logical reason to do so, is full of joy, hope and suffering. Jesus’ piece of string is endless, and it has knots in it.
The story of God’s people is a story of trust and lack of trust. Abraham set off on a journey at God’s command from his homeland without knowing where he was going and he trusted God’s promise that he would have descendants even though he had no son, and when he did, he was prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac.
God’s people trusted that He would lead them out of slavery to the Promised Land, but habitually abandoned that trust when the going got tough. Mary trusted God enough to become mother of his son, even though she was a virgin. And so it goes on. Trust and breaches of trust are the story of God’s people. It is also our story because we too are God’s people. Yet, if his people had not trusted even when they could not see the outcome, God’s plan for our salvation would not have happened as it has.
Ever since the Reformation and the split between the Catholic Church and the Church of England, there have been those in both groups who trusted God that the breach would be healed. There have been numerous attempts over the centuries to do so, but each time new obstacles to that unity have arisen. In 2009, Pope Benedict paved the way, not for the whole Anglican Communion, but for groups of Anglicans with their priests to enter into full Catholic unity while maintaining their distinctiveness. More than that they were invited to bring those elements of their spiritual and pastoral tradition that are consonant with the Catholic faith with them.
This offer was an invitation to embrace Benedict’s prophetic vision, not a document to be negotiated. This offer is an invitation to Anglicans to grasp the vision of real unity and to trust God to lead them on this journey. In the Christian spiritual life, God invites us to trust him and waits until we respond to that before he shows us the first step. Once we have taken that step, he shows us the next, and so on. Those who choose not to respond to Pope Benedict’s invitation have not embraced the vision for unity, but those who have are now being shown the next step and are participating in developing and implementing it as the purpose of the Ordinariate is becoming clearer.
We in the Ordinariate no longer need to defend our claim to be Catholics. Some in the Catholic Church question whether we are, but this is probably because of a lack of understanding of the vision. We are fully Catholic in an independent jurisdiction equivalent to a diocese, in which our English spiritual and pastoral traditions are visible in our liturgy, which is authorised by the Holy See as the third form of the Roman Mass.
Any journey involves readjustment and change, and that isn’t always easy. We in the Ordinariate have committed ourselves to trusting God, but we have also to learn to trust the Catholic Church, and other Catholics must learn to trust us. Any journey into the unknown is scary. Faith is spelt R-I-S-K. The disciples heading for Jerusalem knew that, and that is why they asked Jesus for more faith. The fact that you who have chosen to join us on this journey are here today means that you have sufficient faith. For years you have waited in your camp and held the Catholic faith in its Anglican expression, while praying and preparing for this moment. Now you can break camp, enter into full Catholic communion and journey on with us trusting our God who has called us to this moment.
In today’s epistle reading we learned that his mother and grandmother had taught Timothy the Christian faith. Now he realised that it was his ministry to pass on that faith to others and invite them to come and meet the Lord Jesus and encounter his truth for themselves.
The major shift for the community of St George and Michael is not putting a notice outside that reads, ‘Under New Management.’ It is to rejoice in the Lord and show both Anglican and Catholic communities what real Church unity looks like. It is to rethink what vocation to discipleship means and to grasp the truth that discipleship includes being evangelists. Disciples learn and teach the Faith, evangelists tell others about Jesus and invite them to come and meet him for themselves within this community. This is our ministry together with the wider Catholic Church. But we also have a ministry to the Church and that is to share with our fellow Catholics the treasures of our English Spiritual tradition, its rich and well-ordered liturgy, its pastoral care and sound preaching.
All this will require courage, commitment and perseverance, but if your faith is as big as a mustard seed, you have all the faith you need. It is enough and on behalf of the Catholic Church and the Ordinariate, I welcome you and pray that God will indeed strengthen you faith.