Friday, 30 October 2009

Old Familiar Places

You can't escape the Minster. Down alleyways, over roofs, through cafe windows, it is always there. For nine years it was very familiar to me when I was Vicar of Hessle, especially as the place where successive curates were ordained. So during a three-day breather, I went there to Mass on the morning of SS Simon & Jude, in the lovely Zouche Chapel. Canon Glyn Webster, whom I'd known as a young priest in those distant days, celebrated. An even older friend, Fr Philip Cousins, was in the congregation. We had been contemporaries at Cuddesdon (where there was once a Theological College, until it was taken over by Ripon Hall) and he has retired to York.
After Mass, Philip and I spoke of the Pope's initiative in proposing Ordinariates for former Anglicans. The very idea seemed strange to Philip; and even stranger that I should be so enthusiastic about it. Yet once we would both have been regular in our prayer for Christian Unity, and looked forward to a time when the Church of England would no longer be a separated part of Catholic Christendom.
To me, the Holy Father's initiative is an answer to prayer. At first there may be relatively few of us. Once people come to understand that this is no strange beast but quite genuinely a manifestation of the Church in England, many more will be attracted to it. Little by little the shrinking of the Established Church will make it impossible for anyone to pretend that it alone is 'The Church Of England'. As dioceses are united and extinguished, and buildings closed, it will look more and more like the Church in Ireland. Once Killalough, Kilfenora, Clonfert and Kilmacduagh were all separate dioceses - then in 1976 even those four together could no longer pretend to be a diocese and they were united with Limerick, Ardfert, Aghadoe and Emly. When something like that has happened in England, we might eventually realise that we all need one another.
And still the Minster will be there, perhaps serving all Christians in York, not just those who chose to obey Henry VIII. Young's Hotel, where Jane and I spent part of our Honeymoon, is now called the Guy Fawkes. He had been born in that building. Today his remembrance has all but disappeared, overtaken by an Americanised "Hallowe'en".

The traditions and histories of separated Christian groups need somehow to come together, so that all of us can hallow the memories of the Saints, reclaim for our nation Catholic and Protestant martyrs alike, together admit that it is our own sinfulness which separates us. In 1843 Newman's final sermon at Littlemore was called "The Parting of Friends". As his canonisation approaches, we can perhaps thank his prayers for the Reuniting of Friends. There could be no greater miracle than this, to prove his sanctity.

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