Working on the Patrimony

After hearing an Anglican critic complain that the Catholic Church will never understand Anglicanism, and therefore the Ordinariates will fail, I was forced to think a bit deeper about what we are trying to preserve in the Ordinariates. In a moment of weakness, I had the thought, “if this Anglican Patrimony thingy is so important, then why does it sound like we still don’t have a clear definition of it even after six and a half years?” And then, in “blinding flash of the obvious”, the light in my head went on. Of course defining Anglican Patrimony is difficult, after all, we are speaking about something that was formed without the moorings of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

I am not trying to state any disagreement with what has been said about Anglican Patrimony in the many posts, conferences, articles, etc. (of which, I am only aware of a small portion) that have shown up over the past few years; especially any of the things said by my own beloved Bishop, Steven Lopes. I have heard many good things, as well as many things that I wish I knew more about so that I could acknowledge the goodness in them as well. For that matter, maybe this has already been said somewhere else, but I believe that it should be stated in these specific terms.
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The Five Wounds and Our Spirituality

I had been called to go to the emergency room to give Last Rites. When I arrived, the nurse came out of the room and warned me; it was a very bad car accident and he was in very bad shape. The doctors had done what they could but he was not going to live long and the family was not going to make it to the hospital before he passed. She was right; it was hard to see. No words can sufficiently describe a serious injury. By the grace of God I was able to enter the room, give him Last Rites and commend his soul to God. Still today, I remember that feeling when I touched his forehead with the holy oil–he was about to leave this world.

Seeing a bad wound makes some people get queasy. I personally have a hard time with needles, but can handle wounds a bit more. Yet, seeing a serious wound always strikes me deeply. The damaging of one’s flesh and bone is a clear reminder of our mortality. “Memento mori”, remember, you are mortal. The same is true of Christ’s wounds. Although none of us can actually see them today (unless granted the wonderful grace of a miraculous vision), seeing them portrayed in art (or cinema, like “The Passion of the Christ”) and pondering each of them for what they are is of great spiritual value. It leads us to a deeper appreciation of what Our Lord went through for our sakes. It was John the Apostle who saw Jesus as a lamb Who looked like He had been slain (cf. Rev 5:6). That is how Jesus showed Himself on His throne. In other words, He was saying to John, “look at my wounds and do not forget them, for they will be visible forever”. Continue reading

Good and Bad Catechesis

“I had six children, and none of them remained Catholic. Father, what did we do wrong?” “We had eight children, raised them all in the Church, and today only one is still Catholic. I guess I’m not much of a parent.” Sadly, I have heard statements like these quite often. If you have not actually said them yourself, you have probably heard someone close to you say it. It is not uncommon, and we all have to admit it. So then, what are we doing wrong?

Why is it so common that children fall away from the faith in this day and age? It is not as though it never happened before, but it is hard to deny that it is more common than it used to be. Sometimes we try to ignore it and assume it is just an anomaly; other times we lament the state of things (and rightly so). Yet, what we cannot do is continue to use the same methods of catechising our children that got us into this situation.

Catechesis; that is the real issue. Yet, catechesis is not just a matter of what we stick in our children’s heads. Most will admit that it is also a matter of HOW we do it. You can catechize in a manner that is detrimental to a child’s faith (and not every parent or catechist thinks about that fact). Just getting children to memorize a few doctrinal details and do a service project does not transmit the faith properly. Furthermore, you can teach the dogmas of the Church in such a way that you bore the children to death with it. If we do not love God’s truth, how can we expect our children to?

Even with that said, however, there is another factor that I believe is missed by most people. That factor is: what else we stick in our children’s heads outside of their formal catechesis. What I speak of here is not merely the right details of education, or the right amount of education; neither quality or quantity is the key. It is a matter of what is destroying that education. One can eat healthy every day of his life, and yet if he ingests poison as well, all the healthy food will not keep him alive. Our ancient English Catholic patrimony is a beautiful thing and it will benefit the Church everywhere for it to be retained. The Anglican heritage is now under the protection of the Roman Catholic Church, and that means that it is safer than it ever was for the previous 500 years. That does not, however, guarantee that it will be passed on properly to the younger generations.

I want my great-grandchildren to enjoy our traditions, but that will not likely be the case unless my children enjoy those traditions today. This means that I cannot just pass on facts to them. I cannot just tell them, “this stuff is great, you should like it too”, because that is not very convincing. Beauty is, of course, beautiful, but that does not mean that our children will automatically see that. They may be “catechized” by the world to think that immorality is more beautiful than the Divine Worship Mass, and this often happens quietly and without notice.

If we think about the past 100 years, there have been radical changes to society. I am not just speaking about technology, but also about the way that we view the Church and its place in the world. Religion as a whole has been steadily marginalized so that it has become nothing more than “a personal opinion”. With the philosophical changes that were occurring in the 20th century and the frenetic pace of technology invading our homes, most families were largely unprepared to deal with it. The saw these changes as merely a neutral issue, and continued to teach their children the same way. Most continued to rely on the Church’s CCD programs, and yet the Church was just as unprepared as were the parents.

We were blindsided both by the entertainment industry (assuming it to be “just entertainment”) as well as the school systems promoting a world devoid of any reference to God. Many parents inadvertently allowed these other sources to gain a heavy influence on children’s moral and spiritual formation. The end result was numerous children who reached maturity and said, “Why should I believe this Church stuff, when there is much more fun available elsewhere?”

Continuing to teach the same things as in years past may be a good thing (truth does not change), but if our methods do not take into consideration the radical changes in society and the means of temptation, then we will steadily become less effective in our catechetical efforts. Parents are supposed to be the “first teachers” and that means that they are supposed to guard against any bad “second teachers” for their children. What other ideas are the children being taught that contradict the faith of our fathers? How do we pass on the truths of our Anglican patrimony that Anglicanorum Coetibus commissions us to do? It cannot be just a matter of transmitting information, we must go deeper than that.

We must consider the broader context of a world that is against us, and the evil one who wants us to fail. We must realize that catechesis happens at Church, at school, and at home; but it also happens in the music we listen to, the shows we watch, and web pages we visit and the character of any teachers that we hire to educate our children. Parents, protect your children’s hearts and minds, for they are the ones who will take this patrimony and hand it on when we have “gone to be with the Lord.”

Thanks

When I was a Baptist and switched to become a Presbyterian, I was the only one doing so. None of my Baptist friends were heading in the same direction, and they all thought I was nuts. When I was a Presbyterian and switched to become Anglican, none of my Presbyterian friends were heading in the same direction, and they all thought I was nuts. Some even refused to speak to me again. When I was an Anglican and I made the final switch to become Catholic, something different happened. There were many other Anglicans who were making the same switch. In addition, it was not just a “switch” this time. It was the culmination of a journey.

Having been through various trials in my previous “switches” and having felt so alone, there were times when I thought to myself, “am I and my family the only ones thinking this way?” and it left me uncertain more than once. I believed that I was heading in the right direction and trusted that God would help me to find the truth (whether I liked that truth or not!). Yet I felt down deep inside that there must be others who saw the need for communion with the Church Jesus started.

When a Catholic friend (who had formerly been one of my parishioners when I was a Presbyterian pastor) told me about some Anglicans who wanted to become Catholic, things changed. I started reading about this online, and talking to people on the phone who were thinking the same way that I was. I spoke to a couple of Pastoral Provision priests who had travelled the same journey that I had, and they were encouraging to me in numerous ways. I realized that I was not the only one who thought like this. I realized that the work that God was doing on my heart was going on in other’s hearts as well.

And that is what comes to mind this year on our American celebration of Thanksgiving. I am thankful for those others who travelled on that same path that I did. I am thankful for all those who sought full communion like I did. I am thankful for those scattered brothers and sisters who eventually became members of the Ordinariates. I think of you this year, and greatly appreciate the encouragement that you are to me. I rejoice in knowing that you are all “out there” and that the Church is bigger than this little corner that I live in. So this year, I give thanks to God for all of you; for your journeys have helped to sustain my journey. May God bless you richly.

Not to us, O Lord, not to us . . .

When a priest is counseling a parishioner, he will often work to discover the root of the problem in question. In doing so, he is trying to find out the cause, so as better to engage a proper solution. In dealing with problems, it is often helpful to examine what “got us to this point” in order to figure out how to “get past this point”. As an Ordinariate priest, I am, of course, committed to the principle of the Mass being the foundation of our spirituality, and therefore the degree of reverence we have in the Mass is proportionate to the degree of our devotion to God. Or, as someone else once said, “save the liturgy, save the world”.

Therefore, I ask the question, how did we get here to this point? I am referring to “the point” where the self is more important than God; the point where people (even many Catholics) view the Mass as being “all about them” and for their personal entertainment. A visitor to one of my parishes recently encouraged me to change something about the way that I celebrate the Mass. In our lengthy discussion, I found that the reason that he wanted this was because it was “what he liked”; nothing more, nothing less. Even if we are choosing something that is genuinely holy and good (like, for instance, a particular chant to sing in the Mass), if we are choosing it firstly because we “like it” then we must examine our motivations. For, none of the Mass is supposed to be for the sake of entertainment (even “holy” entertainment).

This problem with liturgical decision-making was made most clear to me many years ago as a protestant when I was speaking with a few other protestant pastors. Each one was explaining the way he likes to “do” worship. One liked this kind of music, another that kind. They all had a rationale for what they did (and a couple of them had split from each other over differences in what they “liked” in their worship service). None of them, however, said they made their choices based on what was pleasing to God. This is not to say that they were unconcerned with this issue, just that it was not mentioned. Although each would answer the question of what is pleasing to God in a somewhat different way, none expressed using that factor as a criterion at all.

It is my practice to critique my behavior by asking, am I doing this merely because I enjoy it, or because God enjoys it? And if the answer is because I enjoy it, then I have to ask, does it displease God (because not everything that is done for personal enjoyment will necessarily displease God). That is a great divide that exists in this world: things done for our own sake, and things done for God’s sake. So, when we think about the beauty of the Divine Worship Mass, we have to ask that scary question: why am I doing this? I will be honest and say that “I like it” is one of the answers for me.

Now, let me be clear: it is not wrong to enjoy the Mass. In fact, the Lord wants us to take delight in the liturgy; not merely for our own pleasure, but rather for the sake of ultimately enjoying God Himself more. You see, we do not have to be in a modernist or contemporary liturgy in order to focus on self and our own pleasure (we in Ordinariate parishes are not immune from this!). We are talented and sneaky people who can accomplish self-aggrandizement in any setting — even in front of Almighty God. Yet, what God calls us to is to enjoy Him. He points this out in many ways, but one of my favorite passages of Scripture that speaks to this issue is:

Trust in the LORD, and do good; so you will dwell in the land, and enjoy security. Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:3-4).

The way many people behave today, you would think that there is a maxim somewhere which says “take delight in yourself, and you will get the desires of your heart”, which is the exact opposite of what is being said in the Psalm quoted above. Seek self, and you lose all you want; seek God and you gain what you want (largely because what you will want will be influenced and informed by seeking God first). Nothing new here, and most of us have heard this many times. Yet, how often do we apply it to the beauty of the Divine Worship liturgy? If we do apply this rightly, then we will rarely think of our great patrimony in terms of superiority and pride. We will say instead, “Lord, help me to be humble and engage in the Mass in such a way as to grow closer to You, and to give You all the glory for it.”

I do not have to explain that although the Mass is for our good, it is not actually for us. We are not supposed to be coming to the Mass for what we get out of it, but for what God gets out of it. We are the “performers” (to use a crude word) who present ourselves and our actions to God; He is the observer, receiving our praise, honor and glory. If we are told “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31), then certainly this would apply to the greatest thing that we do in this life: eating and drinking the very body and blood of Christ. So, then, yes, enjoy the Mass. Enjoy it with your whole heart, mind, soul, and body, but enjoy it for the right reason: as a tremendous blessing that helps us to love God. The Mass is not, after all, an end in itself; it is the temporal “wedding banquet” until that day when we partake of the “eternal wedding banquet”.

When we have a liturgy that is as beautiful and reverent as the Divine Worship Mass, we may take it for granted and easily get the focus off center. The very idea of “we do it right” is a serious temptation to glorify self (and many of us have entertained that thought at times). Think, rather, of the cry of the Psalmist when he pleads with the Lord,

“Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to thy name give glory, for the sake of thy steadfast love and thy faithfulness!” (Psalm 115:1).

He is not saying “don’t let us get any glory”, he is saying “don’t give us any glory”. Walking into the Church before the Mass begins, let us each have this prayer in our hearts — especially if we expect that the Mass will be something we delight in. “Lord, let this all be for Your glory, and not ours; in any way at all”. For me, I pray silently before each Mass “hide me, and show them Jesus”. Each of us needs to do some “re-wiring” in order to overcome this temptation. We need to change how we think, and that means that we go back to what I said at the beginning: “how did we start thinking this way?” Where did we learn the mistaken notion that the Mass is “all about us”?

Just as I have already encouraged (without fully endorsing) people to readthe book “The Benedict Option” (which I still think is the right direction for our future), so I am now encouraging (without actually fully endorsing) people to read a book called “The Unintended Reformation” by Brad Gregory. As “The Benedict Option” says how to deal with what is going on today, so “The Unintended Reformation” says how we got here. In fact, if you read The Unintended Reformation” first, then it is easier to see what the Benedict Option is saying. Gregory does a wonderful job of laying out for us the radical shift in virtually every area of life from a medieval mind to a modern mind. It is this shift that has torn many from the moorings of humble submission to God, and deposited them on the pedestal of personal deification.

As we move forward in our desire to be an “enrichment” to the rest of our Catholic brethren, we need to make sure that we are not coming across as pompous “know-it-alls” who are more Catholic than anyone out in those “non-Ordinariate” parishes. If you want to find a way to turn the Ordinariates into elite and isolationist communities, that will be the way to do it. Let us each look deeply to ensure that we do not allow such pride to taint any area of our service to our Lord Jesus Christ; and let us be sure that the Divine Worship Mass really is “all about Jesus” and nothing else.

Awe

This is my first post here at the Anglicanorum Coetibus Society blog. Deborah kindly asked me to be a contributing writer here a while back. I accepted the offer with the proviso that I could not promise how often I would post. I currently serve as pastor of three parishes; an Ordinariate community in Republic, Missouri (St. George) and two diocesan parishes (St. Susanne in Mt. Vernon, and St. Patrick in Greenfield). Before my conversion I served as a priest in the Anglican Church in America. I have been married to my wife Catherine for 27 years, and we have five children. I write most often from my own experiences as a priest as well as a husband and dad. You can also read my thoughts at Beware Yon Dragons.

I finished reading “The Benedict Option” recently. I have to confess I liked it (most of it). I also must confess that I do not think he is encouraging “retreatism” as many people have claimed (that is something of an exaggeration of what he is saying). Yet, the one point that I believe that Dreher makes perfectly clear is his assessment of the state of our society today. “Barbarism” is the word he uses.

Whether we agree with Dreher or not (in any of his points) it would be a mistake to say that the concept of barbarism does not shed light on the current state of affairs for modern culture. It is not so much that there is more sin (though there may very well be), it is the fact that people show little to no recognition of guilt or sense of regret for sinful actions. I like to define barbarism by saying it is the philosophy that “doesn’t get morality”. Some barbarians may be fairly moral in some instances, but they do not understand the concept of morality itself, nor do they grasp the source of morality (i.e. the Divine Creator).

Taking this as a starting point, while I was reading the book, I kept thinking of how this applies to the Church today (and most specifically to parishes in the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter). Although there may be many areas of application, the one that repeatedly came to my thoughts was our commission to be evangelistic. We, as Ordinariate Catholics, are called to reach out to a society that “just doesn’t get it” when it comes to the basic concepts of right and wrong. What, therefore, is the manner that we are called to do this within the context of being Catholics with an Anglican patrimony? Although the question can be answered in numerous ways, the one that strikes me the most clearly is to teach them what the word “awesome” means.

I switched from Presbyterian to Anglican some 16 years ago because I saw something in the forms of the Book of Common Prayer that filled me with a sense of “awe” towards God. I felt, back then, that I was seeing for the first time what the word “awesome” really meant. I was struck with the realization that I could not truly honor God with a trite or cheap presentation of something called “worship” (especially when we are not clear who is being honored by our “worship”), and that the “most High God” had to be honored with worship that could be called “most high”.

To use a somewhat crude illustration: when barbarians of years past encountered more civilized societies they were often awestruck by some of the advancements of those other societies precisely because they had never encountered many of those things before. Today, the “barbarians” of modern society that we are seeking to convert have usually never encountered genuine “awe” before. Yes, they may have been shocked by something that is “really, really, really cool” on a 110 inch screen tv set (yes there is one that big!), but that is not the same as genuine awe. The biggest thing that man can do to shock us, is still a far cry from what the Creator of the Universe can do.

Therefore, we should be seeking to communicate not just the details of the gospel (which are absolutely essential), but also the sense of what it means for God to be “wholly other” and completely transcendent. Our society has a hard time thinking of God as anything more than a “really strong man upstairs”, and that is not the historic understanding of the Lord and God of all. Christians have talked about and over-emphasized a sense of God which encourages His nearness for so long, that it does not impress much of anyone any more. An overly personal, and “soft” view of God strikes little to no awe in people because there are so many things that are “personal and soft” that one more of these is boring.

This brings me to a recent experience of mine. We had a visitor to St. George Church recently. I had never met him before, and only had a couple of minutes to speak to him after Mass before he left, but I did get some input from him. He had never before seen anything even remotely liturgical before that day (he was brought up in a protestant tradition that was about as anti-Catholic as they get), and after the Mass he said, “it was…it was…I don’t know the word for it, but I felt like I was visiting another planet”. I thought it would be overload for him if I had told him that the Mass is connecting to something much farther away than another planet.

He never actually used the word “awesome” (possibly because it is overused today by people who do not really know what it means) but it was clear what he was referring to. Not just because of the words on his lips, but because of the look on his face, I could tell that he had been struck with a sense of genuine “awe”. He told me that he had never been baptized (his tradition believed that baptism was only for the early Church and was not necessary today), so I am not aware how much grace he genuinely experienced in the Mass, but he was obviously impacted.

What adds to the weight of this story is the fact that St. George meets in a little chapel which is actually converted from a simple meeting room in a former retreat center (and it is only about 13 feet by 29 feet). It was not the surroundings that struck this gentleman; it was something clearly deeper. I would have to say that it was this very same sense of reverence before God that struck me so many times as an Anglican clergyman and made me want something deeper; something with the full weight of awe.

The world we live in has fallen into starry-eyed adoration of various and sundry idols. Yet, none of those idols can create the awe that comes with falling down before the Creator in reverent worship. It makes me want to stand on the rooftops and cry out “you think that is amazing? wait till you see this!” and then begin the Mass. In my experience, that is the most valuable part of the Anglican patrimony: reverent worship. It is this reverence that impacts everything I do and say. It is this reverence that can convert souls and bring them to the feet of Christ. It is this reverence that we must show to a fallen (and falling) world.