The following is an Address given to the people of St. Timothy's Ordinariate Catholic Community by Bishop Kevin Vann, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth, on February 26, 2012. This amazing and heart-felt work was prepared, by Bishop Vann, as though it was written by St. Paul the Apostle to the people of St. Timothy's.
You have undertaken a journey of Faith and courage, and I am writing to you to give encouragement, much as the same way I wrote my letters of years ago. Your father in God - Bishop Kevin Vann - spoke to me of you when he recently visited Peter and I in Rome, the city where both of us journeyed as Apostles of the Lord.
The same Lord Jesus whom I met on that road to Damascus many years ago speaks to you today as you begin another journey of Lent of His journey into the desert with the temptations. Yet, this Lent, these 40 days for you, must especially seem like a desert, because you have left one home and are journeying to another which is yet in the distance. Like Jesus himself, you will be surrounded by temptations and struggles at times. You have heard voices which call you to turn around and go back, just like God's people [my ancestors in Faith] in the desert who longed for Egypt. Not unlike I heard - although I may not have written exactly about these, in all of my trials, challenges, imprisonments and shipwrecks and mistreatments by "false brothers." Yet, I could never go back. The same Lord who met me on the road to Damascus also told all of us to go forward always, and put our hand to the plow and not look back. Those same angels who ministered to me and brought me comfort and solace in the desert are ministering now to you to bring you comfort and see you on! As I told Timothy in one my letters "I have kept the Faith and finished the race" (2 Tim. 4) and so must you. Years after my mission was completed, another Bishop by the name of Augustine said of the journey of Faith and life "Sing, then, and keep going." So must you.
In your journey you are surrounded by what I once called a "cloud of witnesses". These are many for you! For example, Bishop Vann has sent in his name catechists and priests to teach and to witness, who are going to assist you and guide you in your journey. This is a great mission of love and dedication that they are giving just for you. They are sent, as I sent Barnabas and Mark, and others for example to teach. In the course of the centuries, in the lived experience of the Anglo-Catholic expression of Faith are many such witnesses. For example, I know Blessed John Henry Newman has been following your journey. He asked me to share these words with you:
"I have my mission . . . I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do work; I shall be an Angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place . . . if I but keep His commandments and serve Him in my calling."
You, my beloved of St. Timothy's are that link in a chain of communion of Faith and life in God's holy people: ecclesial communion, it can be called in your contemporary life of the Church. Another of your "cloud of witnesses" also a presbyter of great importance in your community, in your response to the call for full communion, Fr. George M. Acker, would say this to you:
"If you go through life with a merely casual profession of your religion, doing those things which happen to suit your convenience, your neighbors will think none the less of you. They will like you much better in fact and they will not bother you in the least. Neither will they come to know God through you. There are only two things which are needed for the conversion of this world to the historic church. The first is more love of God among the clergy. The second is more love of God among the laity."
These now "heavenly witnesses" in addition to the "earthly
witnesses" show you how to be the link in the chain of ecclesial life
which will repair the breaks of centuries ago. That love among
yourselves which you now will share with St. Mary's and the Universal
Church will strengthen the bond of Faith in our world. With all who now
journey with you, as I told to Timothy "Pursue righteousness, devotion,
faith, love, patience and gentleness (I Tim 6:11)" in the days ahead.
Those same ministering angels in the Gospel of this Sunday, written by
my companion and friend Mark, will help you do that in all moments, and
in all questions that arise in your journey. They helped me, and I had a
lot of questions! Some of you have questions about marriage. Remember
that I did as well. There are questions about laws of fasting and how to
observe the Law. When you have those questions yet, the Lord in His
teaching and love, showed me the way, and He will for you.
Take, now, these days and months ahead to grow in your faith and into the Family of God that the Lord has given you here, and which extends now to all parts of the earth, to learn the depth and richness of the word "Catholic" in all of its aspects. Like you, I had been given a strong foundation of the Faith I received from my heritage. My companion and friend St. Luke spoke about this in Acts. Yet for me this was just the beginning, just as your foundation in the Catholic faith and tradition is only the beginning. Yet my conversion on the road to Damascus when I, as Saul, met the Lord, meant that he was teaching me again through all of my journeys through all of the middle East then on to Rome. This moment of conversion was a gate to learning from the Lord Himself and His apostles—even when I had disagreements with them as you know. Nonetheless, Peter, as the Vicar of Christ, gave me the handclasp of friendship and sent me on. My life took me as you know from Damascus, Jerusalem, Athens, Antioch and beyond to Rome.
You have only moved a short distance, but yet your journey is taking you miles also, miles in faith, hope and love, to be fully and truly Catholic, to be completely a part of the Body of Christ, of which I spoke so often about. Remember Christ and His Church can never be thought as separate.
Just as I was sent many people to help me, and I in turn sent people to be missionaries, so also you are being sent many people to teach, love you, walk with you and to understand the word Catholic in an entire new light. That is why the prayer that the Bishop will pray for you at the beginning of your Liturgy is called the "Rite of Continuing Conversion."
In your journey which you will walk in the days and months ahead, you will walk just as I walked. And as the likes of Luke, Claudia, Prisca and Aquila walked with me, so I and so many friends of the Lord will walk with you. When you hear my letters each Lord's day from now on, remember me and know of my care, and love for all of the Lord's disciples, of whom you form a special part.
The Lord Be with your Spirit. Grace and peace be with all of you! (2 Tim 4).
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