More on that pesky issue of identity

I wrote about our Catholic and Anglican identities in this post, but I continue to muse on this issue of who we are and how we should see ourselves.

This morning, when doing the Morning Office via phone conference, something about the confession at the beginning struck me:

ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou those who are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.

And then there’s the Penitential Rite in our Divine Worship Mass and the Prayer of Humble Access, the Non Sum Dignus and so on that seem to stress our identity as sinners, as “miserable offenders.”

Mind you, I would not want to change a word of these, but is our identity as sinners the end of the story?

I recall feeling a little annoyed at some of the arguments by more liberal Catholics after Vatican II regarding standing instead of kneeling, such as: “We are a Resurrection People” and thus redeemed and so we should stand.  From what I understand Byzantine Catholics and the Orthodox stand for this reason, so maybe there is something to investigate in the theological underpinnings of standing and kneeling.   And yes, in a sense they are right, we are a Resurrection People.

I prefer our kneeling as a sign of reverence in prayer, but I do think there can be massive problems in our spiritual life if we identify as sinners and not with who we are in Christ, with the new identity He has given us totally by grace through His death on the Cross.

In Christ, we are redeemed, we are washed in His blood, we are forgiven, we are dearly beloved.  If we keep seeing ourselves stuck as sinners, well, we’ll stay stuck!

What annoyed me about the “We are Resurrection people” approach is that while it might be theologically sound, it seemed to me those proclaiming it had somehow emptied the Gospel of its meaning, especially the Crucifixion and the need for repentance.   There seemed a whiff of cheap grace about it.

Yet, I do not believe we can fully come to acknowledge the horror and depth of our sinfulness—to look at ourselves with unflinching honesty—unless we do so secure in the knowledge that God the Father loves us and that Christ’s sacrifice and our baptism really did give us a new nature totally by grace.   Yes, the “old man,” the “carnal self,” the “sin self” keeps trying to do its thing, but secure in the love of the Holy Trinity, one can observe the lies, the subterfuge, the sinfulness, the pride, whatever is there, and repent of the lies, and by the power of the Holy Spirit break their power over us and receive God’s blessings, appropriating into our lives more and more the new nature He has already given us.

I think we need to have more teaching on how to appropriate the promises of Christ, and to believe we truly are the adopted children of the Most High, and that the Holy Trinity is our Family.  We need to do more teaching on what happens when we are transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of Light!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “More on that pesky issue of identity

  1. And yet more on Anglican identity.
    “That Old Anglican, Oxford, Patristic Tone”
    (also available here: https://wordpress.com/view/stbenetoblates.wordpress.com )

    [Attached below is an eight-year-old post by Fr. Hunwicke from his blog that is still worth circulating. It refers to that pithy assessment Manning made about Newman bringing that “old Anglican, patristic, literary, Oxford” tone “into the Church.” (Edmund S. Purcell, Life of Cardinal Manning, Archbishop of Westminster [London; New York: MacMillan and Co., 1896], 323).

    Though I cannot bring myself to share Fr. Hunwicke’s love of the Baroque—acknowledging, however, that perhaps Fr. Hunwicke’s sense of the Baroque is much more in line with its restrained English manifestations than with the exaggerations of Einsiedeln, Melk, and all the marble, marble, marble one sees everywhere in Rome—I immensely appreciate his unearthing and sharing the Manning statement since it succinctly sums up what Fr. Hunwicke and I, at least, regard as the Anglican patrimony.

    The patristic way of doing theology isn’t disquisitional. It is, instead, reflective (reading, marking, learning, and inwardly digesting) and is integrated with liturgy. Patristic mysticism isn’t about extreme kenosis, Dark Nights of the Soul, or methods but everyday fidelity to the transformative power of the liturgy, both the Eucharistic liturgy and the daily Office. Reading the Fathers is to appreciate that writing with an eye and ear attuned to literary style is part of this way of thinking theologically. As for the “Oxford” descriptor, it is probably no longer current, alas. But England’s ancient universities (as well as my alma mater, Durham University, founded in 1832 and not one of the nineteenth-century “Red Brick” universities) played their role in instructing generation after generation of clergymen in this “tone.”

    “Manning was right.” Happily for us, though, Benedict XVI—whether he even knew of Manning’s statement—gave this tone a place in the Catholic Church. But having an apostolic constitution and ecclesiastical structures in place doesn’t mean the work is over. It’s now up to us in the Ordinariates to live and grow according to this old Anglican, patristic, literary, Oxford tone.]

    [Posted 10 September 2009 here]
    “The other day, in Fr Ker’s admirable biography of Mr Newman, I found a diverting error in the Index. Nothing less than a description of Cardinal Manning as Archbishop of Canterbury.

    Ah, the might-have-beens of History. Today, I would remind you of Manning’s bad-tempered criticism of Newman; that with Newman, even after his reception into Full Communion, it was still the same old Anglican, Oxford, Patristic tone. We can do worse than recall this as we approach the beatification of that very great man. This may irritate some readers, but since this is my blog I will say it all the same: the whole point of Newman is that Manning was right; he never ceased to be an Anglican; that is to say, a superb exemplar of all that was best, God-given, grace-given, wholesome, and holy, in the life of the Provinces of Canterbury and York while in separation from the Voice of Peter. When he put off all that was schismatic, separatist, narrow, flawed, partial, heretical, in the ethos he imbibed from the Church of England, he was free to be more perfectly and fully Anglican than ever he had been before.

    Because there is more to say about ‘Anglicanism’ than I said in yesterday’s post. An Anglicanism which purports to be a doctrinally distinctive, even a superior, form of Christianity: yes, it is a diabolical mirage. But in the unhappy centuries of our separation from Peter, grace was not stopped up. A tone emerged; a style, a way of doing theology, of living the Christian life, which in itself is by no means unCatholic; a sober tone, a careful tone, a tone which read deeply and with understanding in the Fathers and looked to Byzantium and beyond as well as to Rome.

    I know I surprised some readers and enraged others not long ago by describing Benedict XVI as the first Anglican Pope. But I believe it is wonderfully providential that it falls to this man to raise his fellow-Anglican John Henry Newman to the Altars of the Church. Have you read the Ordinary Teaching that this pope gives week by week? His sympathetic exposition of the Fathers of East, West, Syria? When you read his own theologising, can you avoid a feeling (I can’t) that you are reading one of the Fathers; that you have picked up a volume of Migne … you aren’t quite sure whether it’s from the PG or the PL, and you’re even less certain which volume it might be, but anyway, that’s the corner of Bodley that you’re sitting in, and out of the window there’s Newman’s Church of S Mary, with his college of Oriel just beyond. And it is very easy to feel that it would be the most natural thing in the world to raise your head from your desk in the Patristics Room and see, in the chair opposite you, the diffident, erudite face of Professor Ratzinger, verifying a reference or two before hitching an ancient MA gown round his shoulders and scuttling through the traffic in the High back to his lodgings in Tom Quad.

    Anglicanism as some self-important separatist codswallop that prides itself in its separation from the Successor of Peter: let’s flush it away fast. But then the cry can go up: “Anglicanism is dead! Long live Anglicanism!”

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  2. The key is that Calvary is NOT the end of the story. We are indeed the people of the Resurrection, of Easter, of glory, who look forward in joyful anticipation to eternal life with our Lord (see, for example, Rev 7:9-17. Baptism is fundamentally about putting aside the ways of sin and death to live in the Holy Spirit (see, for example, Romans 6:1-14).

    From the OP: I recall feeling a little annoyed at some of the arguments by more liberal Catholics after Vatican II regarding standing instead of kneeling, such as: “We are a Resurrection People” and thus redeemed and so we should stand.  From what I understand Byzantine Catholics and the Orthodox stand for this reason, so maybe there is something to investigate in the theological underpinnings of standing and kneeling.   And yes, in a sense they are right, we are a Resurrection People.

    The most ancient tradition is for the congregation to stand for the entire anaphora (prayer of consecration) and communion rite, and the original posture of Christian prayer is that of the orans — that is, standing with arms extended. The practice of kneeling in prayer seems to have entered western Christianity in the medieval era, when peasants knelt before the secular nobility as a mark of subservience. It never gained traction in any other Christian rite.

    Incidentally, the monks of Benedictine monasteries with which I’m familiar also stand for the entire anaphora and communion rite, whether ordained or not. A monk who entered another monastery back in the 1950’s and subsequently transferred his vow of stability to the monastery where I met him once remarked during a lecture that he had no knowledge of how that monastic custom began, but that the monks at the monastery that he entered were standing when he entered that community. This is clearly an immemorial custom in the Benedictine order, and it may well be a custom sui juris (literally, “before the law” — that is, a practice that existed before promulgation of the rubric to kneel that never changed).

    From the OP: I think we need to have more teaching on how to appropriate the promises of Christ, and to believe we truly are the adopted children of the Most High, and that the Holy Trinity is our Family.  We need to do more teaching on what happens when we are transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of Light!

    Amen!

    I would also argue that we need more of a communal expectation of that grace being manifest and realized in the lives of the baptized. There’s a definite tension between the ex opere operatio (that which is done is effective) and the ex opere operantis (that which is done must be lived out) of the sacraments. For far too long, far too many of our number have put too much emphasis on the first and neglected the second. This is one area where evangelical Christians “get it” and many people who self-identify as “Catholic” — including far too many of our clergy — do not.

    There is no such thing as cheap grace. Christian faith demands nothing less than total surrender of our lives to God’s divine will. Absolution of sin depends upon repentance, which entails a sincere desire to stop repeating the same sin over and over and over, backed up with commitment to a meaningful course of action to overcome an area of habitual sin. We have no business going to the confessional before mass seeking absolution from our transgressions week in and week out when we know full well that we are going to do the same thing all over again the following week because we are not doing anything to change our pattern of behavior.

    Norm.

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