Ordinariate parishes as schools of prayer

Stephen Lybrand has a number of ideas that ordinariate communities might consider to help them grow.  We cannot underestimate the importance of even small changes that might encourage newcomers to stay, such as including in Mass or Morning Prayer instructions on which book or pamphlet to pick up and the page number so people will not be lost.

I have also been considering some programs that ordinariate communities might look at or are employing to help them evangelize or reach out to the wider community, such as Alpha.  I will consider some others in the future, such as The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.

At the same time, however, I would not want our parishes to shift from offering spiritual depth, or meat,  so as not to frighten away those who are only ready for milk.  Rather, let’s never replace the meat with milk, but find ways to nourish people at whatever stage they are in their journey towards heaven.

The key, however, to both discerning what programs or ideas to employ, and to preaching the Gospel, is prayer.  Deep prayer that does not give up when the going gets rough or when the daily discipline becomes dry or so fraught with distractions that it seems like it’s not doing any good.  What is really going on when we continue to press on?  What can we learn from the Christian mystical tradition about the “dark night of the soul” and specifically the teachings of pre-Reformation English mysticism, such as The Cloud of Unknowing that we can incorporate into the lives of our ordinariate communities, in addition to praying the daily offices?

20200113_170350David Torkingtonhas devoted much of his life to helping people develop those deep habits of prayer he believed motivated the early Christians who imitated Jesus.  He contends it was the praying without ceasing, the dying to self and receiving the love of God through Christ that made their loving witness so palpable and transformative.  In order for the Church to experience true renewal, Catholics must return to this kind of deep prayer, he argues.

We have many ministries in the Catholic Church and elsewhere that introduce people to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and in charismatic circles, to the baptism of the Holy Spirit.   But Torkington likens the relationship of a Christian to Jesus Christ as a marriage.  The initial falling in love is only the beginning of the relationship.   As in a marriage, those feelings wear off and the real work of loving begins.  And the end-point of that loving is a deep communion of self-giving love of which the preliminary “falling in love” was merely a foretaste.

Torkington writes in Wisdom from the Christian Mystics:  How to Pray the Christian Way

“When, after first enthusiasm, we find ourselves in dryness and aridity, endlessly trying to dismiss the many distractions that assail us, we are at the beginning of the dark night. It is here the purification of the selfish, self-centered person that we are, begins. Many will soon run away and give up the daily prayer that they once hoped would give them an experience of God. They do not want to waste time doing nothing when they could be changing the world by themselves. However, what they would call doing nothing in prayer is called ‘doing the one thing necessary’ by the mystics. They know from their own experience that it is by continually turning away from the distractions and back to God, although he doesn’t seem to be there, that the selflessness that makes selfless lovers is gradually learnt.  Only then can they love God and others more perfectly.  So, when we courageously journey on in prayer although we seem to get nothing out of it, we are in fact practising the selflessness from which all virtues are born.  We are carrying the cross daily that Jesus asked us to carry, as he carried his cross all the way to Calvary to show his love for us.”

What can ordinariate communities do to foster this kind of prayer among its people, and to encourage them to persevere?  Why is this perseverance to important in the life of a Christian?   What does the nuptial union of Christ and His Church look like when we can truly say, “I am my Beloved’s and He is mine”?

Torkington stresses that without undergoing that inward purification—akin to voluntarily entering Purgatory—we have little room in our hearts for the love of Christ that will make a difference to ourselves and to others.   He bemoans the lack of good spiritual direction to help people stay on track during the dark night and the counterfeit forms of mysticism that promote the pursuit of spiritual states as an end in themselves—to feel better– rather than the dying to self in order to make room for God’s love to fill us and transform our very being.

Could there be a role for our ordinariate communities in recovering this kind of prayer and the needed spiritual direction to accompany it?  I think so. I hope so.





More thoughts on how to grow a parish

Stephen Lybrand has been sharing some ideas on how we in the ordinariate might take steps to encourage the growth of our parishes.   Parts 1-3 are here.   Here’s part four:

4. Promote successes

A. The work of the church is the salvation of soul’s. While our main focus at Mass is always Christ in the Eucharist,  when we have a “conversion event”, particularly someone coming into full communion with the Catholic Church (often colloquially called a “conversion” from another Christian denomination), a Confirmation, a child or especially an Adult baptism the entirety of the focus that day should be a community celebration of the event.

We should do everything we can to let the community know how special an event someone professing the faith is, and to congratulate and affirm every member of the parish community for playing a part in the salvation of that soul!

For converts or people coming into full communion give a 30-60 second version of the conversion story. This not only let’s the congregation know a little more about the person(s), it let’s them know what techniques are effective. Be sure to point out anyone in the parish who helped them along in their journey. Additionally, point out that every member of the parish also can claim part of the new persons entry into the Church. Even though they may not have been directly involved, by participating in the prayers, by supporting financially, by helping in service they all had a part in that person joining the faith.

B. Everybody wants to be part of a winning team. Use every opportunity discuss the positive things that are going on in your parish. Your annual giving letters or “vision night” dinners should start off with success stories and end with plans for the future. Preferable these areas should be presented by the key ministry leaders or significant people making the success happen. How many new people/families, Baptisms, Confirmations and the wonderful plans on how you are going to reach the lost in the future.

C. Other than emergency repairs, Capital Campaigns should be focused on “we have run out of room and have kid’s classes playing in the hallway” or “ The sanctuary is 80% full at both services” rather than “we want something new and shiny”. Of course if your ministry areas have gained traction and you can confidently create projections this could be a reasonable justification for asking as well.  Show a need born of growth and the financial support will happen. For the most part parishioners are generous givers. If we educate about the place giving has in the life of a Christian (in their formation), then give folks a specific purpose for which the funding will be used, I have found the finances are provided. When people see you are on a mission for souls, particularly in our lost world, those who have the means will support the effort. Living in America we are truly blessed.

Some thoughts on how to grow a parish

20190609_105738Growing our communities in the ordinariates for Catholics of Anglican tradition is an ongoing preoccupation of mine, especially after the talk Bishop Steven Lopes gave at the Anglican Tradition in the Catholic Church conference in Toronto last November.

He spoke then of the fragility of our communities and at the same time exhorted us to use that fragility as a way to draw closer to God, to rely on Him more closely.

Recently, Stephen Lybrand has been posting on Facebook some of his ideas for parish growth.  I asked him to send his comments along to me for posting here because they are worth considering and discussing. Continue reading

A prophet for our time–Cardinal Robert Sarah

20190514_200242 - CopySome of us have been following the recent firestorm regarding a new book by Cardinal Robert Sarah with contributions (or, as originally argued by the Cardinal, co-authored) by Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI defending priestly celibacy.   But I would like to post about another book of  Cardinal Sarah’s that deserves to be widely read.

It is his The Day is Now Far Spent, published by Ignatius Press.

Catholic World Report has a review of this important and prophetic book that gives a glimpse of the prophetic words inside the cover.

Timothy D. Lusch writes:

Sarah echoes other voices of the age who warn both faithful and faithless: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Romano Guardini, Benedict XVI. He speaks simply and clearly. One does not mistake his message; one has to ignore it. “We have abandoned prayer,” he says, and have given ourselves over to the “evil of efficient activism.” In this, his third book with Nicolas Diat, Cardinal Sarah speaks to us still as a loving pastor, one who emerged from the darkness of persecution in Africa, carrying fire that by his light we may see.

He continues, quoting Cardinal Sarah:

“The Church is experiencing the dark night of the soul. The mystery of iniquity is enveloping and blinding her.” Plans and programs are the ephemeral hacks of an unserious age. Sarah, quoting Cardinal Ratzinger, calls for “holiness, not management.” Or, as George Bernanos has it, “The Church has need not of reformers but of saints.” We are called to love her too, and serve her, for she is “black but beautiful” and awaits the Bridegroom still.

This call for “holiness, not management” is my prime motivation for urging us in the ordinariates for Catholics of Anglican tradition to revive  and pass on the patterns of daily prayer —the praying of the daily offices of Morning and Evening Prayer that Brother John-Bede Pauley has identified as part of the monastic influence on our  English Catholic roots.

Contemplative prayer is also part of that tradition—one that I and Lisa Nicholas hope the ordinariates can help renew in the western Church.

Back to Cardinal Sarah, who also wrote a profound book on the need to come before God in silence, entitled  The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise. I read it last year as a Lenten exercise.  Cardinal Sarah’s writings called me into prayer, they made me ache for God, for heaven.

Lusch continues over at Catholic World Report on the latest book.

The frenetic pace of our life, the trivialities with which we are consumed, the grave injustices at which we merely shrug, originate in spiritual torpor. The demon of acedia stalk us, in our busyness and in our laziness, leaving behind the “exhilarating fumes of a deep sleep” that, Sarah says, has “made us lethargic.” If we are not awake, if we will not wait one hour with Jesus, we will wake to a nightmare. “The globalized elites want to create a new world, a new culture, new men, a new ethics.” Their effort is not in the nature of a continuum. “Rupture is the driving force of their political project.”

Cardinal Sarah is right to call our attention to acedia. For he knows even among the faithful there are many who know they need God, who know they need to need Him. And yet they cannot be bothered to seek Him. He simply isn’t worth the effort or the trouble. We must be roused, Sarah insists, into constant prayer, Eucharistic adoration, works of mercy and charity, and the utter awareness of our dependence on God. We ought also, he urges, find our way to a monastery. Contemplation is the lifeblood of monasticism and the heart of the Church. What better way to rejuvenate ourselves than to retreat into silence and prayer? Throughout the book, Sarah’s deep love for the men and woman hidden in Christ encourages us to seek them out, so as to experience Him in their midst. “The renewal,” he declares, “will come from the monasteries.”

This book, like God or Nothing and The Power of Silence, is structured in interview format of question and answer. At times Sarah develops an argument, other times he speaks aphoristically, and in others he adopts a homiletic approach. He ranges far and wide, in things spiritual and secular, in the concerns of time and eternity. But he is never confusing, incoherent, or inconsistent. It is like walking with a man who has seen much, knows more, and believes all that is revealed in Christ. He alarms us, but he also arms us. He is a good shepherd.

“The path of truth will lead us to enormous sufferings.” Yet it is truth that frees us. So we go forth in darkness, with Cardinal Robert Sarah up ahead, torch in hand. The world can kill us but it cannot harm us. The day is indeed far spent but we need not worry, for “the dark night of this world is still beautiful,” Sarah says, “because God exists.”

20190514_183954While in Rome last May, I had the privilege of attending Cardinal Sarah’s launch of the French edition of the book.  I bought three copies of the book, two which I gave away.  But I got bogged down in reading it because I had to struggle with the French. Today, I will order myself the English-language edition.

He is shown here with Nicholas Diat, who interviewed Cardinal Sarah for the book.

Interestingly, instead of talking about his book at the event, Cardinal Sarah instead spoke about Pope Benedict XVI’s letter regarding the sexual abuse scandal timed for the big summit in Rome last February on the matter.  It is interesting what a lightning rod the Pope-emeritus remains for controversy and the hatred of the world.

I wrote this story for Catholic papers about what the Cardinal said at the event.

ROME — Cardinal Robert Sarah has blasted what he called “lazy” and “superficial” reactions bordering on “intellectual hysteria” to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s recent notes on the clerical abuse scandal.

Speaking at the French Institute of Rome May 14 to launch his latest book Le soir approche et déjà le jour baisse, Cardinal Sarah said he would not speak about his book, but instead addressed the former pope’s reflection written for the February sexual abuse summit and published in April with the permission of Pope Francis.


Other critics have accused Benedict XVI of “historical ignorance on the pretext that his demonstration begins with the evocation of the crisis of 1968,” Cardinal Sarah said, but the former pope knows this and 1968 was itself a symptom of the absence of God, not a cause.

The cardinal said Pope Benedict pointed out how the destruction of an objective natural law as the foundation for moral theology underlies the crisis of the absence of God.

 The first stage had a “laudable” intention of basing moral theology on the Bible instead of natural law, but this had the effect of leading to consequentalism and the notion that nothing is bad or good in itself, but is relative to the time and circumstances, the cardinal said.

“Finally, the third step is the affirmation that the magisterium of the Church would not be competent in moral matters, “Cardinal Sarah said. “The Church could infallibly teach only on matters of faith.”

“I would like to emphasize how from the beginning of this process it is the absence of God that is at work,” Cardinal Sarah said. “From the first step, the rejection of the natural law manifests the forgetfulness of God.

“Indeed, nature is the first gift of God. It is in a way the first revelation of the Creator,” he said. At stake is the objectivity of the faith and of God’s existence.




Is there such a place? Could we single out one lone parish that could deserve the title? To the consternation of many and my bemusement, I believe I have found and will here expound that I have discovered my candidate for, the most important parish in the world. Furthermore, my nominee is Catholic and English.  I know this title may appear a hyperbolic exclamation and stir forth indignation from others who would, most correctly and with more excellent erudition, advance their particular selection as most deserved of this venerable designation.  Notwithstanding the slings and arrows that one would receive for making such a bold statement, I shall herein press my case for and by manner of this encomium encourage others to imitate or correct me with their nominees. Continue reading

More on the Cloud of Unknowing—Lisa Nicholas

20181014_114159Lisa Nicholas, a member of the Anglicanorum Coetibus Society based in Texas, is going through the Cloud of Unknowing on her blog Learning God. Recently, she wrote this post on Chapter 2 of this classical work on contemplative prayer in the pre-Reformation English Catholic mystical tradition.  This is part of the patrimony we in the Ordinariates for Catholics of Anglican tradition can unpack and rediscover as treasure to be shared.  I also believe that this kind of prayer, coupled with lay participation in the daily offices of Morning and Evening Prayer are key to evangelization on the part of ordinariate communities.  Continue reading

Small is beautiful—more on St. Alban’s

St. Alban’s Catholic Church is doing many things right, including an active Facebook page chock full of videos and photographs.  It is regularly updated.  Go on and take a look and see whether some of these ideas might work for your community.  But there’s more to the story as you’ll see below the fold, in a lovely essay from Andrew N. Jordan, a member of the parish.

Members of St. Alban’s are passionate about their ordinariate community.  In a recent post, Peter Smith outlined some of the steps that the took congregation to grow and eventually be assigned a priest.

That post prompted Pam Smith, who is no relation to Peter, to respond with her perspective on St. Alban’s beginnings.  I have added her full comments to the bottom of the post St. Alban’s Offers a Case Study.   But here’s an excerpt to encourage you to go over over and read the whole thing.

Pam writes:

We eight or ten souls who first gathered in a home as ‘St. Alban’s’ from earliest 2012, through our reception in Oct. 2012 at the old church we used, all thought then that we had a real chance!  We were on a life-raft from the Episcopal and other Protestant denominations which seemed to have left us each stranded, and were heading for the mother ship of the Catholic Church all eager to accept then-Pope Benedict XVI’s gracious offer.  More than four and a half years of fellowship, catechesis then study, and faithful attendance at worship, none of which should be overlooked as a phase of community formation, preceded the calling of our current beloved priest in mid-2017.  When this priest arrived he had this little band to work with, and we had already grown a bit in the four years, though there had been slight attrition and some visitors who did not stay. New babies also had arrived. We have one diocesan layman in particular who mentored us from the 2012 beginnings and has been supportive by frequently video-ing our Masses and giving much other encouragement. The core membership kept on keeping on, coffee hours and all, and in addition to our first two priests who carefully taught and trained us in their time with us, we had a bevy of excellent church musicians, each giving us a grounding in liturgical music and keeping this very important part of the Anglican patrimony vivid among us.  Perhaps that gave us latent parish potential that was discernible to Peter and others who began to arrive by 2015.”

Well, Pam’s comments inspired yet another parishioner at St. Alban’s, Andrew N. Jordan to send along this essay entitled “Small is beautiful” to complement what Pam and Peter had previously written.

“I was inspired by them to write an article praising smallness, as an encouragement to other Ordinariate groups and groups in formation,” he wrote me in an email.   Enjoy!

Continue reading