The recent posts by my fellow blogger Simon Dennerly regarding Anglo-Catholics’ discomfort in the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) reminded me of how much self-emptying and renunciation —accompanied by suffering—was required by our individuals and communities as we made the journey into the Catholic Church.
So my heart goes out to the clergy and people in ACNA who feel uncomfortable where they are and are discerning where they might find a new home. And while I would love it if they would join us in the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, the individual journey into the Catholic Church is not always an easy one. It was not easy for us, especially for our clergy who had to put both their very identity as priests and, in many instances, their very livelihood on the altar, not knowing if they would ever even be considered for ordination at Catholic priests.
But isn’t the Christian life like that? At some point in our lives, sooner or later, we must choose to totally surrender to God’s will, and ideally, we will re-confirm this surrender for ever-deeper conversion or remain lukewarm, double-minded Christians.
Cardinal Sarah’s book God or Nothing comes to mind.
One of our priests has participated from time to time in a prayer group composed of both Catholic and evangelicals who are committed to praying for Christian unity, through the power of the Holy Spirit to bring this unity about, rather than a focus on theological discussions.
I remember him reminding those present of the cost of unity—that it will cost you everything, even if you think you have already surrendered to God, there’s a lot more left to surrender.
So, for those Anglo-Catholic priests and bishops of ACNA —those who are automatically ineligible for ordination in the Catholic Church due to having left the Catholic priesthood, or who have left the Catholic Church as adults to become Anglicans, or are divorced and remarried—becoming Catholic means renouncing their ministry. We had a number of our former clergy who decided, yes, they would do that, after shepherding their people into the Ordinariate.
We had others who said, no, this is asking too much, and they split from us, taking people with them.
We had parishioners who were divorced and remarried and felt unwilling or unable to go through the tribunal process to determine the validity of their first union.
For others, the fact we had to sign a statement that we believed everything the Catholic Church reveals as true and had to undertake a lengthy catechesis before doing so, exposed areas they had trouble accepting. Even prior to undertaking the catechesis, some of our people said, no, this is asking too much.
What I recall is the tremendous spiritual warfare that preceded our coming into the Catholic Church, particularly as it affected me.
I went through a period as if I had strange glasses on that magnified every possible flaw in the institutional Catholic Church. At one point, I had to ask for Our Lady to intercede for me. “Is believing the Catholic Church and surrendering to her the same thing as surrendering to Christ? Because I’m not seeing it. I want to totally surrender to Christ, but I need a supernatural sign.”
She gave me three. The most visible was the decision by our then Bishop (now Msgr.) Peter Wilkinson, to bring us all into the Catholic Church with no conditions, nothing. “Yes, we want to be received at Easter.”
Not one of our clergy had even a nulla osta, never mind a rescript. When the bishop made this decision, the rest of the clergy tipped in the same direction like a flock of birds following the lead. Suddenly, the spiritual attack causing anguish, confusion, spiritual distress lifted. Just like that. The decision was made; we followed our bishops and clergy; we sat under the teaching of the Catholic Church for several months with the help of our mentor priest, a canon lawyer, and what a joyful day it was six years ago to become Catholic.
God or nothing. Surrender to His will, even if great cost is involved. This is the secret of the Christian life and the key to all the fruits of the Spirit.