Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Sermon on the Occasion For Founding the Bl. John Henry Newman Society

James 1:2-8; 16-18
Luke 12:13-21

Sermon for Easter 6 (5th Sun after Easter) (May 29, 2011) – On the Occasion For Founding the Bl. John Henry Newman Society, Orange County

by Fr. Andrew Bartus

“Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.”

+In the Name of God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost

Here we are! Today has finally arrived. Today is the first day of the rest of our lives. Lives that, for many of us, will include coming into the Church which Christ himself established and the Holy Spirit has guided since Pentecost itself! Lives that, for others who are already in the Church, will worship again according to their Anglican roots and heritage. Lives that, for still others who are already Catholic and who respect and cherish the Anglican approach to liturgy, want to worship God in this very deeply dignified manner, to honor God and worship him with our very best. Today is the day we not only head towards uniting all of us from these places in our lives, but also begin to unify ourselves as whole with the fullness of the Catholic Church.

Today is the day we can also begin to call our other Anglican and Protestant – and even non-Christian! – friends and family into unity with the Church, and with us. Today is huge, because today is the day we begin to undue the damage caused by the Protestant Reformation here in Orange County. Thanks to you all, who believe in unity so much that you’re willing to take risks, today we are having the very first service of the Blessed John Henry Newman Society – formerly vaguely known as the Anglican Use Society of Orange County. We aren’t just meeting to talk about the possibility of doing something. We aren’t just meeting to have an ecumenical dialog or worship service. We aren’t just meeting to even pray about it: we are actually doing it!

Folks, I don’t know about you, but this is exciting and I’m deeply honored to be a part of it! This is history in the making! I don’t know about you all, but I’m still rather blown away by all this: by the way things have come together so quickly and so organically, by the way everyone is so enthusiastically and generously participating in building this group, and most importantly by the strange way in which our needs are being met, even when we aren’t even aware of them at first. If the speed in which this has all come together, and the firm foundation upon which all of this is based upon, is any indication of anything, it is that this is the work of God among us! Trying to capture the excitement about this and our future together is nearly impossible to do. Some of you have told me you’ve been waiting for this day for years now! Well, here we are. It is today. Today is the beginning of something new, something holy, something unheard of even a few years ago. Our Holy Father, when in England for Cardinal Newman’s beatification, called Anglicanorum coetibus “prophetic,” and all of us here in this room know exactly why he said that!

Those of you who were at the meeting to gather committment to this initiative may remember the plan was simply to call this the Anglican Use Society of Orange County. For the lack of a better name, that was a practical designation. Well, it was always designed to be temporary, but I didn’t realize it would be this temporary! The name, Blessed John Henry Newman, was chosen for our group because of two reasons: 1) we are in the process of forming a corporation and needed a name and the attorney wanted to know what we’d end up naming our new church when the day came, and 2) we need a patron and we need to go into the Ordinariate with the patron’s name. The Ordinary – if it pleases him and it pleases God presumably – will actually erect parishes of the Ordinariate and the sooner we are lined up for this, the sooner we can become a proper parish church.

I don’t know if you realize this, but if we continue with the momentum we’ve started out with, we just might be the world’s first Blessed (or hopefully soon, Saint!) John Henry Newman Catholic Church! As far as I know, there is one geographical parish in England named after him which has four churches, none of which are named after him. There are schools and of course university chaplaincies named after him, but so far, not one actual church! But why Newman? Certainly we could’ve chosen a shorter name, right? Why him? Simply put: he’s ours. It is due to him that all of this is going on. He not only paved the way in his writings and personal sacrifice, but also in his intercession for us. He is the Anglo-Catholic’s Anglo-Catholic. But he has also lived through what many in this room have lived through to get to this point – though probably much worse than most of us here. I’d like to read you a little from his biography by Richard Hutton:

“For four months after his conversion he continued to reside generally at Littlemore, visiting Oscott at Cardinal Wiseman's invitation in November 1845, only to be confirmed, and not leaving Littlemore and the University of Oxford fully till February 1846. It was a great wrench to him to separate himself from the University to which he had always been warmly attached, and where he had pleased himself by thinking that he should live and die. And it was all the greater wrench that his course was at this time so gravely misunderstood and so widely misrepresented amongst his old friends and former colleagues. Indeed it was twenty years after his conversion before he got the opportunity of persuading the world that he had acted only on conviction, and on conviction very slowly formed, very anxiously reviewed, and indeed for a considerable time deliberately suspended in order that he might adequately test its force. For many years after his conversion ‘the Protestant tradition,’ […] treated his conversion as a sort of conspiracy deliberately devised for the subversion of the truth.”

I would venture to say that this resonates with most of us in this room on a very deep and personal level. Most of us are from Protestant and Anglican backgrounds, and most of us have had – at best – lightly strained relationships with family and friends over converting to the Catholic Church; I would bet that some of you – like myself – have lost good friends and family relationships over the matter and have gone through hellish times which have not only tested your faith but the very fiber of your being. After all, anti-Catholicism is one of the last socially acceptable forms of bigotry and with secular humanism only increasing in popularity, it will become increasingly more so. But we have an advocate to Christ on our behalf: Blessed John Henry Newman among so many others. He has paved the way for this glorious day and for this reason we are honoring him!

“Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.”

Every good gift is from above. Keep this in mind as we worship God, very shortly, in the form of the Blessed Sacrament. Today is a gift of God, our path that we forge ahead together is a gift of God, and our future in his Church together is a gift of God. God, the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change! Some of you know John Henry Newman’s motto he chose for his grave: Out of shadows and phantasms into truth. We are blessed, because on this day, we are choosing to walk together in seeking that perfect unity with God himself, out of shadows and phantasms into truth: the same God with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change! Anglicans have longed for a corporate way in which to do this. Today is the day we begin to walk that unchanging road of truth, reflected by beauty and unity.

Unity, the chief aim of our endeavors, is only found in unity with the Successor of St. Peter, the rock on which Christ built his Church. This same unity is expressed in one of the titles of our Lady. Besides Our Lady of Walsingham, which is familiar to all of an Anglican heritage, another uniquely Anglican title for her – and American Anglican at that! – is Our Lady of the Atonement. The very first Anglican Use church in the Catholic Church was named this. Atonement – or, at-one-ment – is about Mary’s unique role in the redemption of the world, effecting unity between God and men.

“The Rosary League of Our Lady of the Atonement was formed in 1901 with the purpose ‘to pray and work for the restoration of Mary's Dowry, England, to our Virgin Queen, the Holy Mother of God.’ Later, the object of the league became more extensive and included not only the conversion of England but the entire world. The league was formed by Father Paul Wattson and Mother Lurana Mary Francis White, members of the Anglican Communion until they, with fifteen others, were received into the Catholic church in 1909. The little community grew, and is now known as the Franciscan friars and sisters of Graymoor. In 1919, Pope Benedict XV gave his approval and apostolic recognition to the title of Our Lady of the Atonement.” There must be something about the Popes named Benedict!

Unity is our theme, and it is God’s. It is an integral part of holiness. To become holy – to become saints ourselves – is the goal of our lives here on earth. It reflects our chief aim, to glorify God! But in order to become saints ourselves, we must give our all to do what God requires of us. And those of us here today know that God is calling us into unity with his Church, with his own body here on earth. Today is the day when we turn our backs on sinful excuses for the continual separation from the Body of Christ. Today is the day when yet another aspect of our lives is beginning to be healed. Today is the day when the process begins whereby families of separated Christians – even within marriages themselves – can be healed. Today is the day when we can realistically look forward to being truly and fully at one altar before the One God. Today is the first day of the rest of our lives: lives that will be bonded together in the Catholic Church according to the Anglican Use. Today we set in motion a future that is full of possibilities of growing as a new parish family to raise our children and grandchildren in the tradition that formed us, but which is better than we can possibly image!

I envision a future where we take the best of our Anglican heritage and use it enthusiastically to help save the world in our own little way: the Anglican choral and musical tradition, the Anglican educational tradition, the Anglican liturgical tradition, the Anglican evangelistic model, and the Anglican spiritual tradition: all grounded upon the Rock of Peter in Christ’s ONE holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. I look forward to looking back on this day ten years in the future, when we’ve begun starting a church school of our own, founded upon the greats, with a vibrant and expanding music program, where we can give the best of who we are to the Church, while at the same time, she nourishes us as a loving mother, ever bringing us closer into union with Our Lord Jesus Christ.

A few have blazed this trail before, and are ready to give aid and direction to us as we follow in their steps. Are you ready to take many more leaps of faith? Are you ready to follow the Lord in whatever he has for us in the future? It won’t be easy, but it will be right. But as long we continue to focus on him, on his mother – our mother – Mary, and on the saints interceding for us, we too will help shape the future and help participate in the redemption of our own souls and the souls of those around us here in Orange County. Today is the day this all begins, and I’m truly honored and humbled to be here with you. We have now moved beyond talking, to doing. Today, we are doing it. Today, God brought us here.

“Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.”

Our Lady of Walsingham: pray for us. Our Lady of the Atonement: pray for us. Blessed John Paul II: pray for us. Blessed John Henry Newman: pray for us.

+In the Name of God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost