This morning after Lauds we farewelled the former Anglican bishops and now new Catholics Keith Newton, John Broadhurst and Andrew Burnham after they spent a few days of retreat here at Douai Abbey to prepare for their ordination as deacons today, and priests on Saturday. I was given the happy duty of giving them some input.
As it turned out our meetings became more like workshops as we discussed elements of Catholic life and teaching that are of relevance or interest to them. In particular they were keen to be up to speed on confession and the identity and character of the priest. It ensured that I was up to speed as well!
Several things became clear during their stay at Douai. All three men have a wealth of pastoral experience and insight that will be a great blessing to such a new body as the Ordinariate. They bring with them a particularly Anglo-Catholic approach to pastoral care that can only enrich the wider Church. That approach combines a very gentle touch with a full consideration of the Church’s teaching on relevant issues. While always striving never to crush the bruised reed their pastoral approach neither ignores, downplays or over-emphasizes orthodox teaching but at the same time accepts that some people will take more time and accompaniment to integrate it into their lives fully and honestly. It seems eminently sensible. Moreover, for married men, they seem to have been able to devote a great deal of time to their flocks in the past, which were marginalised within the Anglican communion and so in need of special care. I would not be surprised if some non-Ordinariate Catholics find their way to Ordinariate churches to hear some wise, orthodox and gentle words of advice and encouragement.
It also became clear that these men, and those that will be following them, are no mere refugees from the chaotic theology and morality of the Anglican communion. They have been for a long time ad-liminal Catholics, we might say – standing at the threshold of the Church waiting for the definitive call of the Lord to enter, for the acceptable time. They have a thorough knowledge of Catholic teaching and liturgy, and have been living by both for years. Their reception into the Church is but the logical fruition of the progress of their faith and experience. Indeed they, and the Ordinariate at large, represent the blooming of authentic ecumenism, which is never about dialogue for its own sake, but dialogue aimed at bringing home the sheep outside the fold. They are a sign that ecumenism is maturing, and indeed that it has come of age.
These men also fall far short of the caricatures that some who are unhappy with the Ordinariate provision might peddle. They are happily married men, and no misogynists. They are anything but gin-and-lace types. They all have an open, frank and approachable style of interaction with people and do not stand on ceremony or their own dignity. They will make wonderful pastors within the Catholic Church.
Lastly, it became clear, more by reading between the lines than anything they explicitly said, that their move into full communion with the Church will involve great sacrifice, as it has already. Indeed all the Anglican clergy who come to Rome will be making a great sacrifice, for some especially a great sacrifice to be sure. They will move from the familiar to what is unfamiliar in many of its details. Those with families have had financial security within the Anglican communion, and similar security is by no means obvious with the Church. There is also the upset, confusion and sometimes even bitterness of their former brethren who cannot make the move across to Rome with them. And by no means least important is the happy, rewarding and fruitful ministry they have been accustomed to and gave a strong sense of purpose to their lives, which now they leave behind.
So it behooves the wider Church to ensure that they and their families, and the Ordinariate, in general find a joyful welcome in the Church, and the support they need, be it material, personal or spiritual. They bring with them a true and valuable patrimony, not least liturgical sensitivity and pastoral wisdom. It should be our prayer that the Ordinariate enables as many Anglicans as possible to enter the fold of the Church, and that their presence within the wider Church will enrich us and encourage us in our own Catholic lives.
Shortly Keith, John and Andrew will ordained deacons, and on Saturday, priests. May they bear much fruit to God’s glory. Ad multos annos!
May Blessed John Henry Newman pray for them, and may they be able to make his words their own:
From the time that I became a Catholic, of course I have no further history of my religious opinions to narrate. In saying this, I do not mean to say that my mind has been idle, or that I have given up thinking on theological subjects; but that I have had no variations to record, and have had no anxiety of heart whatever. I have been in perfect peace and contentment; I never have had one doubt. I was not conscious to myself, on my conversion, of any change, intellectual or moral, wrought in my mind. I was not conscious of firmer faith in the fundamental truths of Revelation, or of more self-command; I had not more fervour; but it was like coming into port after a rough sea; and my happiness on that score remains to this day without interruption.
Apologia pro Vita Sua, Chapter 5