Alice Heans is a member of the Beckenham Ordinariate which is lead by her father who is an Ordinariate priest. She is currently studying for an MA in Christian Spirituality at Heythrop College.
‘Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction’
Deus Caritas Est
I first read these beautiful words whilst I was studying theology on my ERASMUS year in Malta. I was required to read Deus Caritas Est for one of my courses there and having never read a papal encyclical before I didn’t know what to expect. Whatever I was expecting I could not have been prepared for the beauty and clarity with which Pope Benedict writes. In signature Benedict style he begins by placing the person of Jesus Christ before our eyes. Christianity isn’t a philosophy, he says, it is an encounter! Moreover this encounter is going to change your life- it gives, ‘a new horizon and decisive direction’. As someone who was seeking to deepen their faith these words were what I longed to hear. Those outside of the Catholic Church sometimes criticise her for not placing enough emphasis on the personal encounter with Jesus Christ however, I would say the defining characteristic of Benedict’s pontificate has been the way he has consistently focused attention away from himself to the person of Jesus. This was true especially in his abdication as he, in his own words, entrusted ‘the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ.’
This is also what has made Benedict such a perfect pope for ecumenical dialogue. His focus on the Incarnation as the central mystery of the Faith means that all Christians instantly recognise in him someone who, like them, has encountered the Lord. Only a pope with his Christ-like humility and meekness could have established the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham and still maintain bonds of friendship with those remaining within the Anglican Church.
For me, the creation of the Ordinariate has changed my life and the life of my whole family. Although I was received into the Church separately from my family, because I was studying in Malta at the time, the Pope’s offer was the open hand that invited me to take the final step in my journey into full communion with the Catholic Church. I can honestly say that that Easter vigil was the best night of my life as I experienced that personal encounter with the Lord that Benedict writes so eloquently about. My joy in being able to receive Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament was added to by the fact that I knew my family had been embraced by the Church a month before and that my father was soon to be ordained. The next time I saw my parents and sisters after my reception was at my sister’s wedding in Poland! My sister, soon to be married, had been received in Poland that year and my other sister had entered the Church whilst at university in Durham some years previously so this was our first meeting altogether as Roman Catholics! We had all entered the church through different “doors” but were finally able to go together to receive the Eucharist as one family in flesh and spirit.