Robin Farrow is a former Anglican priest. After further study, including an MA in Catholic theology from Heythrop College London, his interest in the Catholic Church deepened. Robin is currently a seminarian at St John’s, Wonersh and is looking forward to ordination into the Catholic priesthood in the near future. He lives in Hove with his wife and their four young children.
Although I was vaguely aware of Cardinal Ratzinger at the CDF it was only really when I did my MA in Catholic theology at Heythrop that I began to read his theological writing and found in him a clear beautiful and orthodox theology. His election to the Papacy coincided with my studies there and I was really glad to see that he was elected. At a time when the Church of England seemed to be unravelling theologically and proving itself willing to drift further and further away from the tradition the election of Benedict XVI was a clear sign that the oft expressed opinion in the Church of England that ‘the next Pope’ would change everything and help the Catholic Church catch up with the ‘progressive’ Church of England was simply wishful thinking on the hope of some.
The first volume of his Jesus of Nazareth (2007) was a great gift to the Church, and I was especially moved by the introduction in which he described his approach to the scriptures and encouraged us to use the insights of biblical criticism but in harmony with an inter-canonical reading of the scriptures that did not separate us from the insights of the Fathers.
When he issued Anglicanorum Coetibus it felt like a very personal call to come home. Here was a Pope who understood the longing that many Anglo-catholics felt for unity with the Catholic Church, and who saw clearly that the dream of working towards ecclesial unity which allowed us to remain within the Church of England could no longer be accomplished in the way we had hoped. It was a moment of clarity, and a challenge. What do you really believe?
The papal visit was extremely poignant, occurring only a week after I had announced my resignation as an Anglican priest and intention to convert to Catholicism. For most of my life as an Anglican, Newman had been an inspiration to me, but very much Newman during his time as an Anglican. Reading his Apologia Pro Vita Sua and beginning to discover the Catholic Newman had been one of the many steps in my journey towards becoming a Catholic. It is no doubt, the Holy Father’s own appreciation of Newman which led to his understanding of those Anglo Catholics within the Church of England who saw themselves as spiritual disciples of Newman that enabled him to reach out to us with such a generous heart. To be there at Cofton Park for the beatification Mass at this point in my own conversion was a particular gift, made even more moving, by the Pope’s physical presence.
His example as a teacher and a man of Holiness has sustained and encouraged me in my own journey of faith into the Church and, I have no doubt, made it easier for me to see and appreciate the truth of the Church at that difficult moment of leaving my home in the Church of England and subsequently as a lay catholic and now a seminarian.
I trust his judgment, but it is for me a personal sadness that the Pope who helped me to come home to the Catholic Church will not be there as the Holy Father when, God willing, I am ordained later this year. He remains very much in my prayers with love and gratitude.