By the Rev Msgr Harry Entwistle
Sunday 17th June , 2018
Preached at St Ninians & St Chads Parish, Perth
St Paul’s Catholic Church, Mt Lawley
One of the characteristics of a living organism is growth. It is a silent process recognised by looking backwards, and it encompasses emotional, psychological and spiritual aspects of human life. Today’s readings are about the growth of our relationship with God.
Ezekiel addressed those Jews who were in exile in Babylon with words of hope. He assures them that their ruler is God himself and that he will take a tender shoot from the topmost branch of a cedar tree and plant it on the summit of Mount Zion, a holy mountain. The cedar tree is an image of the kingdom of the revered King David, so Ezekiel’s message is that a descendent of David would also grow a kingdom in whose shade and under whose protection, both Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, would live and prosper.
St Mark records Jesus’ parables comparing the growth of the Kingdom of God to a farmer sowing seed and the growth of a mustard bush. The farmer prepares the ground, sows the seed and then trusts that the seed will grow. He doesn’t analyse the rate of growth daily but waits until the harvest when the wheat and the weeds will be separated. The message to his disciples is that in their ministry they should teach the goods news of God’s salvation and trust him to grow his harvest. The mustard seed is not the smallest of seeds, but it does grow into a bush large enough for birds to nest in its branches and shelter in its shade. Once again, the message to the Church is that we must not be disheartened by poor responses to the gospel or when we face trials and persecutions. Our task is to sow the seed and nurture the growth that God produces.
In his long poem, ‘The Waste Land,’ published in 1922, TS Eliot predicts the collapse of Western Culture due to a breakdown of morality and the removal of any spirituality from human relationships, especially sexual ones. He depicts the world filled with stony rubbish and dead trees that give no shade. It is a world that is being dumbed down by atheism, drugs and general laziness because people have given up caring about anything or anyone. Eliot’s prophetic predictions resonate with Arnold Toynbee’s belief that “Civilisations die from suicide, not by murder. They are weakened from the inside out” (Gress, The Marian Option).
The culture founded on the Christian faith may be showing signs of collapse, but Eliot also believes that the Church will survive and be the guardian of that culture in the West through a new monastic movement just as St Benedict created communities in the 5th century when the Roman Empire was collapsing because of the deep imprint of paganism on the Roman mind.
Ironically, it was Pope Benedict XVI who says that out of our crisis a smaller, more faithful Church will emerge. It will be comprised of small groups of committed, well informed, spiritual disciples who are content to live simple uncluttered lives. Belonging to such a creative minority in our era may be an option for some people but not for all. Alongside them and spawning new ones, the reclaiming of Western culture by the Catholic faith must emerge from those who remain in the cut and thrust of the world but who refuse to be tainted by the ways of the world. GK Chesterton points out that this happened at the end of the Dark Ages following the collapse of the Roman Empire. It was the Christian faithful who stood firm, destroyed paganism and enabled a cleansing and renewing of the Western world to occur by presenting it with a new way to understand life and encounter God.
It is perhaps no accident that the Ordinariates were called into being by Pope Benedict. The English Catholic Tradition has a classical richness, balance and spirituality that is pastoral and faithful to the teaching of the Church. As the Church weathers the storm of these current times, the Ordinariates have a significant role to play in being a stake in the ground for those who are seeking to deepen their relationship with God while remaining faithful to the faith handed to us by the Apostles and their successors.
We must not be disheartened by our small numbers at this stage. What matters is our faithfulness.
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.