It can be a little too easy sometimes for critics of the Catholic Movement to say that we are backward looking, and always harking after a time gone by; looking back to the church of the past with rose-tinted spectacles and longing for the ‘good old days.’ Even the name we are sometimes forced to use, traditional catholics, suggests a desire to return to the past rather than engage with the future. We of course understand ourselves simply to be catholics. We know that this portrayal of our movement as backward looking is not true, nor has it ever been true of the Catholic Movement. The likes of Fr Lowder and Fr Mackonochie did not look at the church of their day with a desire to return it to some golden age. Rather they looked at the church and they recognized that it was not all that it should be—it was not living out its catholic and apostolic life to the full, and they sought to remedy this. They worked to deepen people’s understanding of the sacraments and the life of the church, as well as to alleviate suffering through acts of mercy. They recognized the transforming power of the catholic faith and set about not only converting individuals, and the communities in which they ministered, but also carrying out that work of calling the whole of the Church of England to deepen its corporate understanding of itself as a catholic church. This remains our task as a movement today, to see how we can call individuals, communities, and the whole Church of England back to an understanding of what it is to be a catholic Christian. We don’t do this alone, of course, we do this with the universal Church as our guide and our companion. Our aim continues to be, as it always was, to seek deeper unity with our brother and sister Christians.
The founders of our movement and the first pioneer priests understood the need to take risks. They saw that the church was not all that it could be and they set about discerning a way to transform it. In the Church of England today we also need to have a bold vision of how we will help churches and the Church of England as a whole rediscover their true catholic identity. We, just like those first priests of the Catholic Movement, understand the power of the sacraments, pastoral care, sound teaching and the power of the liturgy. These four areas are the bedrock of what might be called catholic evangelization. They remain our focus today as we seek to find new ways to engage with the communities in which we serve. We must not believe the claim, often made implicitly rather than explicitly, that it is only evangelical churches that have the answer when it comes to mission and evangelization. There is a danger that the Church of England will slip into a ‘one size fits all’ mentality where it is only large evangelical groups that are entrusted with church planting and evangelism. In order for us to be taken seriously, we must take seriously the work of church planting and grafting, as well as all of the other works of evangelism. Catholic parishes are already developing as resource parishes and there are church plants and new worshipping communities springing up and growing. The priests of the 19th and early 20th centuries were willing to take great risks in order to build the Kingdom of God in their day. They took the chance of starting religious communities, of fighting for adequate housing for their parishioners, in building educational establishments, and not being afraid to challenge authority. We can learn from their zeal but we need to think in a focussed away about what it is the Church of England needs here and now if she is to rediscover that catholic identity and if her catholic witness is to grow and flourish in the years to come. What is clear is that this continues to be our vocation in the Church of England. It is a vocation we must embrace and hold on to as we move forward in faith together.