Edward Bouverie Pusey
1 Peter 2:19-23/Psalm 106:1-5/Matthew 13:44-52
“…the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age.”
For a French cook, the only bad fish is a dead fish. That is, one that’s already dead when you catch it. Otherwise, most fish actually are good for something. Bouillabaisse, a garlic and saffron perfumed fish stew from the south of France is a celebration of this concept. Just about any kind of fish can go into it, either to fortify the broth or to be served as the main event. The variety contributes to the wonderful complexity and subtlety of the dish. Oily and strongly flavored fish might be better in some other context, but they’re still good for something.
Today we commemorate Edward Bouverie Pusey, whose thoughts on fish stew are not well-known. Pusey (1800-1882) is remembered as one of the chief architects of the Oxford Movement, the “catholic revival” in the Church of England. The impetus for the catholic revival was a sense that the Church of England had become more about being English than about being Church. And, so, Anglicans began looking to churches with wider perspectives, mainly the Roman Catholic Church, and, to a lesser extent, to the Orthodox churches of the East. “Catholic” perspectives, “catholic” theologies and ceremonial began to be incorporated into the English Church. Sometimes uncritically, but the net result was, indeed, a revitalization of the Anglican ethos. A catholic revival.
We see the fruits of this catholic revival in the Episcopal Church in the restoration of the Eucharist to its central place in Christian life and worship. And also in a more poetic understanding of church liturgy. The sense that liturgy is not so much lecture or the dissemination of ideas, but a celebration of mystery. The SSJE, of course, grew out of the catholic revival in England, and, to a large degree, has been responsible for bringing catholic sensibilities to the Episcopal Church.
What might a catholic revival look like today? Well, I think it would look like what we are seeing. I believe we are in the midst of another catholic revival. The catholic impulse is very much alive and well today. “Catholic”, by the way, means universal, pertaining to the whole, pertaining to all humankind. The church’s impulse toward catholicity, toward universality, toward inclusivity, is alive and well.
This catholic impulse is alive in the inclusion of all sorts and conditions of people, of course. But also inclusivity in the realm of ideas and concerns. The people of God have brought into the church an enormously wide range of perspectives and concerns. Scientific thought, for example, is comfortably embraced by the mainstream of the church. There are, indeed, many scientists in the church today; and we Episcopalians elected a scientist as Presiding Bishop. The arts and humanities are increasingly seen as rightful endeavors for the people of God. As are the social sciences.
It wasn’t always so. There lingers even today a mistrust of “worldly” knowledge in some circles: the “don’t confuse me with the facts; I’ve made up my mind” sort of thing. But the mainstream increasingly embraces all branches of knowledge as integral to the human enterprise. The people of God are increasingly “catholic” in the scope of their concerns.
There seems to be a shift away from thinking of church as having to do mainly with individual salvation and toward seeing the church as agent of global transformation. Transformation of the economy, transformation of political systems, transformation of the environment. Even evangelicals appear to be moving in this direction in their very recent engaging of ecological concerns. The church is embracing a global, comprehensive perspective, which is to say, a catholic perspective.
We see this impulse alive and well in the energy for ecumenical and interfaith relations. Although it’s hard to see how Christian truth claims can be reconciled with those of other world religions, there is, generally speaking, a curiosity about “the other”, a growing generosity of spirit toward those who understand God differently, a growing willingness to engage in conversation. A growing desire to collaborate in works of justice and compassion. A growing concern for the whole.
This is the catholic impulse and it is alive and well. It is so much a part of the texture of life in the church today that we’re apt to overlook it. We’ve gone far beyond “what must I do to be saved?”—which is well and good—to “how can we work with God to establish the Kingdom on earth?”
Fish of every kind are being gathered in the church’s nets. And the parable reminds us that we don’t need to sort it out—angels will do that at the end of time. Our job is to be the bouillabaisse. And to realize and appreciate that the delightful complexity and subtlety of the stew depends on a wide variety of fish—fish like us, and fish not like us.
I’ll close with one of the most catholic verses of the Bible, the first verse of this evening’s Psalm [106:1]
Hallelujah! Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endures for ever.
Hallelujah. Hodu l’adonai qi tov, qi l’olam chasedo.
Translating closely: give thanks to the Lord for he is good; his loving-kindness is always and everywhere. The loving-kindness, the chesed of God, is l’olam, that is, always and everywhere. “Always and everywhere” is as catholic as it gets.
God’s vision is expansive. God’s loving-kindness expansive. The net is cast wide to catch fish of every kind. We come to celebrate God’s infinitely expansive catholicity, the wide-reaching embrace of his love. It’s a mystery! And, here we all are, in the midst of this most savory, this most delectable stew.
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