In the run-up to our becoming Catholic on Divine Mercy Sunday 2012, I recall the Primate of the Traditional Anglican Communion Archbishop John Hepworth saying our greatest difficulty would be to learn to stop saying, “This is what I think,” and to instead ask, “What does the Church say?”
To think with the Church—that was key— Archbishop Hepworth said. We had to lay down the habit of being “our own Pope.”
He predicted it would be a hard practice to give up.
Thinking with the Church and not being my own Pope was not all that difficult for me under Pope Benedict XVI. I had been in search of an Apostolic Faith since the mid 1990s when I discovered it was important to have one, that believing the Truth as handed down from the Apostles was key to my freedom in Christ. I trusted him and had been a fan since the late 1990s when, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Our little parish rooted for him in the 2005 Conclave, despite all the predictions of the mainstream media that he was too old, and an unlikely candidate.
What was supremely difficult for me was the matter of trust in other aspects of the hierarchy, of being able to see the indefectible Holy Catholic Church, the Bride of Christ, when I seemed to have suddenly acquired strange glasses that magnified every blemish, every flaw in the sinful and imperfect people who made up the outward, worldly institution of the Catholic Church. I was overwhelmed by the “tares” and so overfocused on them I had trouble seeing the wheat. To say it was an anguishing time is an understatement.
How could I trust when the authority in the Church was misused? When people I knew were being treated unjustly?
What helped was that I also got to know people in even higher authority in the Church who exhibited supernatural love, and all the other fruits of the Spirit that made the Church attractive, men whose fatherly encouragement helped me to stay on course.
However, the clincher was the beautiful faith and trust exemplified by our clergy who faced even more uncertainty than I did. Their very identities as priests had to be offered up, along with their livelihoods. My livelihood and identity as a journalist was not at stake.
I had to give up the “What if?” bad scenarios. I had to put off worry that Anglicanorum Coetibus was a “bait and switch,” that our coming into the Catholic Church would become a steamroller over everything I regarded as precious in our little fragile community’s faith life; that the process would disintegrate us and we would end up coming in as individuals with no home left except the local Roman Catholic parishes.
I had to “Trust and Obey” as the old hymn goes. Or obey and trust. Thankfully, our clergy showed beautiful leadership on this front, so I trusted and obeyed them in their obedience and trust.
Once the decision was made by then Bishop Peter Wilkinson and the rest of our clergy loyal to him to come into the Catholic Church with no conditions (not even a nulla osta among them) and those docile members of our parishes followed suit like a flock of birds all tipping at the change in direction of a lead bird, all the anguish lifted and I came to see it was a form of spiritual attack to dissuade us from unity. Then the last four or so months before our reception into the Church become a time of peace and trust. The awful glasses had fallen off my face.
Pretty much everything we had hoped for and dreamed of has come true for us in the Ordinariates.
So—in a nutshell, I had to put off doubt, distrust, an overfocus on evil and problems and the carnal side of human nature operating in the Church hierarchy and realize whatever barriers or opposition we were experiencing, somehow God was allowing it for our purification and sanctification.
Those lessons I have found have had to be relearned. So as a Catholic, I have to be on guard against “fretting,” against frustration, against falling prey to a critical spirit, a doubtful spirit, a divisive spirit. When I would bring my fretting to my spiritual director, instead of engaging me on the frustrations and doubts I was airing, he would ask, “How’s your prayer life?”
So, these days, when tempted to lose the peace of Christ, I remember Our Lady promised, “In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph,” and if I have trouble seeing the purity and indefectibility of the Catholic Church, I turn my gaze on her, and on the fruit of her womb, Jesus.