Wednesday 10 February 2016
Our Lady of Walsingham, Houston
The Scriptures are full of God’s ‘J’ shaped people. Many of them have names beginning with the letter ‘J’, e.g. Jacob, Joshua, Joseph, Jonah, Jeremiah, Joel, John the Baptist and of course Jesus himself.
Some of these characters were not particularly good or likeable individuals, but they are ‘J’ shaped because, when they were put down by life, they often protested to God, but like the letter ‘J’, were rescued by him and turned the corner. They were weak men who were made strong, emptied of their self-focus so that they could serve others, They were men of passion who always seemed to be out of their depth, involved in and undergoing strange, painful experiences without going under. Because of their faithfulness and perseverance, the upturn occurs – hence their ‘J’ shape.
Every year on Ash Wednesday the Church draws our attention to one of our ‘J’ shaped people – Joel.
What triggered his call to his people was a locust plague that had afflicted the land. It had caused total and absolute devastation. Joel calls upon his people to fast and repent. He called on the spiritual authorities to offer leadership because he did not consider the plague to be the end, but a sign of the end. Joel said it provided them with an opportunity to reflect, to review their relationship with God, to rend their hearts and not their garments, to repent and return to him. His call is like that of a later ‘J’ shaped person, John the Baptist, who also called on his people to “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
To repent doesn’t simply mean being sorry, it means changing direction. It means doing something other than grovelling before God. Joel promised that those who turn to God and commit themselves to his path of salvation would share an intimate relationship with him. This call to embrace God’s message of salvation is the mission the Church received at Pentecost. The promise of salvation will be fulfilled when God’s victory over evil is total.
Lent is a season of review. We are challenged to review our personal spiritual life and like Joel, to reflect on where God might be leading us both individually and as an n Ordinariate. We believe that through the ultimate J shaped person, Jesus, the victory over evil has been won. Salvation is assured for those who embrace the way of God. In this sense the world is like a battlefield where the enemy has been defeated, but it is also like a guerrilla war in which evil still fights on.
Joel and many others in the life of the Church have seen catastrophes that surrounded them as an opportunity to take a deeper look at what God might be doing.
In our own day, the light of Christianity is being turned out in the Western world. The Church is being weakened internally because the influence of Christians who deny the faith that the Church has always believed is gaining strength. These people no longer assent to the Creeds. They say that Jesus is no more than a good man, so God cannot be a Trinity of three consubstantial persons. They say there is no connection between the Mass and the salvation Jesus won for us on the Cross-so the Mass is nothing more than a fellowship meal at which we gather together to recall that Jesus told us to love each other.
Because of the moral and spiritual failings of many Christians, it has become easier for atheists and secularists to persecute the Church and drive it out of the public square, tolerating it only if it supports the agenda of the politically correct. This scenario has made it easier for non-Christian world religions to tighten their grip in the Western world unchallenged.
We are in crisis. Our faith is being wiped out as surely as the locusts devastated the land in Joel’s time. The locusts created a literal desert; we are living in a religious desert.
Into this situation the Ordinariates have been called into being. We bring our charism, our patrimony, our liturgy and our experience of how Christian churches crumble when the faithful are no longer faithful and living the faith becomes an optional extra rather than being life defining.
Joel cried out for his people to, “Rend your hearts and not your garments,” Let your repentance be real and not merely tokenism. So I urge you to use this Lent as a time of listening to God, review where you are, personally as well as a church, and respond. I urge you to be people who are full of hope and courage, willing to take risks and intent on not letting personal issues or concerns frustrate what may well be God’s will. We may be down, but we are not out. Do not simply believe the faith, live it. This is the way to turn the corner of the J shape and once again bring water and new life into desert places.
The time is now; the place is here, so with George Herbert, let us say
“Welcome dear feast of Lent:
who loves not thee, He loves not Temperance, or Authority,
But is composed of passion.”
Monsignor Entwistle is the first Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross. Educated at St Chad's Theological College, he was ordained a priest in the Church of England Diocese of Blackburn in 1964. After reception into the Roman Catholic Church, he was ordained to the priesthood in St Mary's Cathedral, Perth on 15 June 2012.