The theme for this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is “You Are Witnesses of These Things” (Luke 24:48). Coinciding with the Scottish centennial celebration of the World Mission Conference at Edinburgh, widely acknowledged as an ecumenical milestone, the theme strikes at the soul of collaboration between churches: what we memorialize together, what we work on, what we anticipate through God’s grace. Whether we speak in a prophetic voice, like the Paul Wattsons of a prior generation, there is always a call to set aside a passive stance and move.
Action of some sort never negates a stillness of mind and heart, but flows from it. Achieving that quietude comes from asking ourselves sometimes difficult questions: What do I believe? To whom shall I turn? Who am I? What is impressive about the path Fr. Wattson took is not so much his rather spectacular conversion or the issues attendant upon it, as much as the authenticity of its genesis, together with its manifold fruits. Roman Catholics cannot ignore the abiding fealty Fr. Wattson had toward the purest elements of the Anglican spirit, since part of that is its desire toward the vocation of unity. In an era of ordinariates, Roman Catholics will do well to observe how a new injection of Anglican culture into their midst will serve to heal and make whole again a body broken for too long.
In speaking of ordinariates today, canon lawyers refer to “extra-territorial” sees or “non-territorial particular churches,” which serve as instruments for service to the people of God that have, for purposes of identification, no visible boundaries but a clear governance structure that is necessarily flexible to meet extraordinary circumstances. One reason for the recent Anglicanorum Coetibus, the apostolic constitution of Pope Benedict XVI establishing personal ordinariates for those Anglicans entering a new relation with the Roman Catholic Church, is to supply a flexible response to legalistic questions. Both communions will do well to study whether the ecclesiological principles articulated in the constitution will be in service to the great challenge of ecumenism in our time, particularly as it conforms or departs from the legacy of visionaries like Fr.Wattson.
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