Sunday, August 15, 2021

An evangelical on what it means to be Catholic?!

Last Thursday evening the third NZ Anglo-Catholic Hui began, in St Michael's and All Angels church here in central Christchurch. It was my privilege to preach the sermon at the opening mass. I give the text here. The Hui was a lovely event and featured Fr Richard Peers, Christ Church Oxford, as main speaker (via electronic delivery), two Bible studies by the Very Reverend Tony Curtis and a series of much appreciated workshops.

My text:

Anglo-Catholic Hui Opening Mass Sermon

Bible: Genesis 28:10-17; Mark 6:30-44 Theme of Hui: Food for the Journey


“July 29th, 1921. Church Times

THE twelve hundred priests who met last week for the Oxford Convention have now returned to their homes, and probably many of them this week have been reviewing their very remarkable experience and questioning themselves concerning the possible effects of those three crowded days.

 . .. There are differences in the Catholic party, and these were bound to appear. Indeed, it was desirable that they should. It is never any good pretending that there is more unity than really exists. 

Such unreality is always paid for later. Rude awakenings come, and some of them are coming now to the bishops who met at Lambeth last year. They were inclined, as we can all see now, though in the glamour of the moment it escaped attention, to slur over essential and fundamental differences. 

Differences can never be hidden by a formula, as the history of the Thirty-Nine Articles might teach us. 

Therefore, we need not regret that differences showed themselves at the Convention. If they exist it is better to drag them to the light and discuss them. But the exhibition of differences was not accompanied by any bitterness. 

There was a careful avoidance of acrimonious language. Practically all the speakers who joined in the discussions were applauded, though in several cases very few members of the Convention could have agreed with what was said. 

All this is, we think, to the good; both that disagreements should be exhibited, and that controversy should be frank and friendly. 

Sooner or later, we must face certain questions. There must be certain definite things for which we stand — where disagreement excludes from our ranks. 

If we are to use the word Catholic, it must mean something — not what anyone chooses to make it mean.”

What does the word “Catholic” mean? 

Tonight, I will not attempt to give you my definition. 

You might hear that as a case of “what anyone chooses it to mean”! 

Rather I will offer some reflections from our passages in relationship to our conference theme, Food for the journey.


Genesis 28:10-17 

I love this passage because Jacob encounters Yahweh in a vivid dream involving heaven and earth and angels and a ladder in between. He wakes and says memorable words,

“Surely the Lord is in this place – and I did not know it!”

“How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God and this is the gate of heaven.”


Imagine every worship service ending with the congregation excitedly saying to one another, 

“This is none other than the house of God and this is the gate of heaven.”

An aspiration for all worship is that the experience of liturgy is a lifting of our hearts to heaven. 

A distinctive Catholic aspiration within this general aspiration is that through word and image, with symbolic action and symbolic dress, with incense, through literally all our senses, we the congregation of God are lifted up to God in heaven via multiple sensory modes of access to the divine life.

Within the dream of Jacob, there is a specific Catholic dimension which relates to Catholic meaning universal or (as in a variation of the creed in my recent hearing, worldwide), we find Jacob is commissioned to be the spreader of offspring through all the world: 

to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south.

And not only a spreader of offspring, but also of the blessing of God on the world:

“and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and your offspring.”

There is no mention of food in this story, but if there is no “food for the journey” here, there is “food for thought”: 

are we Christians – as spiritual descendants of Jacob - a blessing to the world?

The outworking of Catholic worship is always Catholic mission – the work in the world to which we are sent out at the end of the Mass. 

And that work is simple, to be God’s blessing in the world.

Mark 6:30-44

Food is definitely mentioned in this story of five thousand being fed through a miraculous multiplication of a few buns and a couple of fish at the taking, thanking, breaking, distributing hands of our Lord.

There are a lot of things to say about this story, about the significance of food for Christian worship and fellowship, about the connection between eucharist and miracle, and so forth.

Let’s assume those things and say a few things about being Catholic and about food for the journey.

First, at the heart of the story’s opening is the fact of a “great crowd” 

and what are Jesus and the disciples going to do with them when their willingness to listen to Jesus’ teaching becomes a crisis over hungry tummies.

The disciples want Jesus to send them away to look after themselves.

Jesus has compassion on them, he understands they are sheep without a shepherd when he begins to teach them, and they are now hungry stomachs without a cook or a pantry at hand.

He will feed them. All are welcome at the lunch he is preparing via the unwitting, ungenerous disciples.

If to be Catholic according to Genesis 28 is to have a world vision for God’s blessing and a Catholic Christian’s role in that blessing:- 

then to be Catholic according to Mark 6 is to be able to see the great crowd before us, to discern their need and to share our meagre resources with them, rather than to send them away.

More simply, to be Catholic is to be hospitable.

There is a little more to say, reflecting on our theme of Food for the journey.

The crowd in this story need teaching and broken bread. 

We, God’s crowd of Christians need two kinds of feeding: 

- the nourishment which comes through listening to Jesus, learning from Jesus and feeding on the word of God: as Jesus himself said, humanity does not live by bread alone.

- The nourishment which comes through dining with Jesus and his followers.

A balanced Catholic diet of Food for the journey is feeding from the Word and feeding from the sacrament.

But, to bring back Genesis 28 and the dream of Jacob in which he is told that he and his offspring will be a blessing to the world, 

there is a challenge to us, the spiritual descendants of Jacob, 

to not only focus on “Food for (our) journey” but also the food we will share with others, “Food for (their) journey.”

Called to be a blessing to the world, we must not only seek Food for the journey but also share our Food with others on their journey in life.

We have a gospel task to share the gospel. 

In food terms this has been famously described as one beggar telling another beggar where to find food.


If we are to use the word Catholic, it must mean something — not what anyone chooses to make it mean.”

What does the word “Catholic” mean?

Well these few thoughts are an entrée to how this hui will answer that question for you.

May the Lord feed us on our journey and provoke us to share our food with others.


Father Ron said...

Dear Bishop Peter, as a 'dyed in the wool' Anglo-Catholic reitred (but active) priest in the Diocese of Christchurch' I am constantly impressed by your openness towards those of us in your diocese whose theological 'High Church' background is different from your own and yet - if i may say so - evangelically not opposed! Your presence at our A/C Hui - attended by people from around Aotearoa/NZ was a distinct sign of your deeply Christian desire to 'maintain the unity' of the Body of Christ in your episcopal arena. Thank you for your continuing encouragement and active support,
Agape - (Fr. Ron)

Unknown said...

I sometimes imagine a hui in which capable Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals discuss the matrix for a contemporary and future spirituality. So, reading happily about Bosco's workshop, I wondered what Graham Kings might have said there from his own studies of missionary spirituality and his travels about the Communion.

Why a hui like that? Because, around the Communion and beyond it, most serious Christians have taken up spirituality (thanks to the prophetic insight long ago of Anglo-Catholics like Evelyn Underhill and T S Eliot) but a threadbare fabric keeps many of them from progressing. Secular ideas borrowed to patch the tatters are sometimes helpful, but not for what is distinctly in Christ. And as soon as they understand the point of spiritual direction, they ask, where on earth can I find an *authentic* and *helpful* guide like that?

If our moment has a spiritual pathology of its own, it afflicts those who try to orient themselves toward God with a more or less personal set of animosities. Their spiritual theology or gospel assurance is entirely in knowing what they reject and maybe hate. These especially need some saner and richer matrix for life in faith.

They cannot get that from churches estranged from deep reading of scripture, nor from churches hostile to human subjectivity. But Anglican contemplatives who drink from both of these streams have taken the antidotes and may be more helpful.