Thursday, October 22, 2009

Deep Waters

The Pope has opened the doors to disaffected Anglicans, and I find myself curiously unmoved.

Ever since finding a home in Rome, I have fervently hoped that the orthodox Anglican brothers and sisters I love would follow me there--not on the strength of my example or persuasiveness of my arguments but because I hoped they would see what I have seen. It is a curious thing that, a whopping four years into my journey as a Catholic, I can feel that I will never understand the depths of Catholic faith and feel “really” Catholic at the very same time that I cannot really remember being anything else. This is one of those moments.

That is not to diminish the road that led me to Rome, nor is it to say that I do not value what I learned on it. It is merely a reflection of the fact that the part has been replaced by the whole, and being now used to completeness, I find it hard to remember anything less.

There’s great agitation on the Catholic blogosphere about what this acknowledgment by Pope Benedict XVI of Ordinariates for Anglicans really means. There are far more learned folk than I holding forth, but here’s my prediction: At least in the short term, it won’t mean much. In the Unites States, don’t look for wholesale--or even retail--defection of the Episcopal orthodox to Rome.

There have been more than enough reasons over the last six years to move orthodox Anglicans across the Tiber. If the ordination of a divorced, gay, living-in-relationship bishop, blessing of same sex unions, proposed re-writing the prayer book to remove such gender offensive terms as "Father", and persecution in the church and in the courts of the remaining traditionalists in the church aren’t enough to move one to Rome, an ecclesial door opened wider will make no difference. The orthodox who remain have made a committed decision to do so; those who have fled have established their own splinter communions in the hope that what happened to TEC couldn’t possibly happen to them now that the liberals have been weeded out. Splinter traditionalists remain in their own enclaves, dozens of them at last count and still growing.

I have polled my Anglo-Catholic friends to determine why they stay. They all say that they believe what Rome teaches, but....

...they can’t handle the dreadful Catholic liturgy.
....the music in Catholic worship is so bad.
....there isn’t enough preaching.
....the Church has homosexual priests so it’s no better.
....after all, “we’re already Catholic.”

Apropos the last one, with all due respect: I don’t think so, even though I once did.

Catholic is not just a liturgical style of worshipping, and it doesn’t just mean that a denomination has entry into some universal and invisible church. Catholic (Rome gets to define that word since Rome used it first...) means universal and that means unified at least in some basic, dogmatic and doctrinal sense. And it means submitting to the authority of the Pope, not as the first among equals but as the Vicar of Christ.

Anglicans are Anglicans and Catholics are Catholics and despite the Pope’s gesture, a great gulf remains. And it is the same gulf that separates all Protestants from the fullness of the faith: obedience to Rome. Get right down to it, and most Anglicans treasure their independence, their right to make decisions themselves about the contours of what faith really is and what it requires and permits. How else could a denomination contain polar opposite and mutually exclusive theologies and claim to be in communion with each other, let alone Rome?

A friend who is a vestryman of his TEC parish put it this way: “I have no duty to be obedient to any Bishop except my own, and him only when he’s right.”

Ultimately, swimming the Tiber means recognizing the duty of obedience. It means putting down the reins of life and giving them over in faith to a long Apostolic tradition, and the men who keep it whole and relevant on behalf of Him who established it.

I long ago realized that there is much I cannot do in my Christian life. I’m not cut out to be a missionary. I’m too cowardly to be a martyr. I passed up the chance to raise a passel of Christian children. I just don’t possess heroic virtue of any sort.

But what I can be is present in the Church that Christ established, and by logic alone, that cannot be the Episcopal church, or the Baptist, or the Presbyterian or some invisible entity--it must be the Catholic Church. Be there I can, and there I will work out the remaining details of my life under her guidance and inspiration. But to dive into those waters, I had to give up on the idea that I retain any voice in determining what is true in the theological sphere. I had to trust my Pope, my bishops, my pastor to lead me to even greater appreciation of Christ, the Truth He is and the Truth He preached, His Church and my own vocation. I had to sacrifice the most essential parts of my hard-headed, stubborn self to swim that river. I had to trust Christ and what He promised for His Church ans His folowers.

Seems like I have heard that somewhere before.

1 comment:

  1. So true -
    yet hopefully those few still living on this earth who remember how it was, and know the history, will now feel at peace.
    And maybe the 'cradle Catholics' will realize that frustration involved in accepting the Pope yet not being accepted in return ... and maybe they'll realize why their children have left the church to seek Biblical training ... and for those who are no longer on this earth, maybe they'll be able to RIP in the knowledge that their fight was not in vain.