This is the text of the talk I delivered on the Tuesday evening of our "Becoming One" gathering:
This "Becoming One" gathering was planned and is taking place under the spiritual patronage of Blessed John Henry Newman. Let us pray.
Almighty God, who didst bestow on thy Priest Blessed John Henry Newman the grace to follow thy kindly light and to find peace in thy Church; grant, we beseech thee, that through his intercession and example, we may be led out of shadows and images into the fulness of thy truth; through thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost ever, one God, world without end. Amen.
St. Paul the Apostle wrote these words to the Christians in Corinth:
For when one says, "I belong to Paul," and another, "I belong to Apollos," are you not merely men? What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. – I Corinthians 3:4,5
It really was a thrilling day when the Apostolic Constitution was made public, and suddenly we saw the words “Anglicanorum coetibus” for the first time. My Latin is passable enough to say Mass, but it wasn’t refined enough to determine immediately what an accurate translation would be. I knew this kind of document takes the first few words as the title, but my hasty reading of the English translation saw the words, “In recent times the Holy Spirit has moved…” and I knew that wasn’t it. But then the next few words leapt off the page: “groups of Anglicans.” I knew then that was the title. It didn’t seem like a very catchy title, but it was ours – and besides, everything always sounds classier in Latin!
This was historic. A great change was set in motion – a change so tremendous that Anglican/Catholic relations will be seen in terms of “before Anglicanorum coetibus” and “after Anglicanorum coetibus.” The document spoke of “groups,” plural. That, in itself, tells the sad story of what happens when attempts – even sincere attempts – are made to form the Church apart from the plan Christ has for His Church. Ever since the break with Rome, the tendency in Anglicanism has been to break apart – and that tendency accelerated in the 1970’s. When I tried to count how many separate Anglican groups there are today, I lost count after I got to one hundred. Some of them are in communion with one another; many aren’t. But they all claim to be Anglican, holding to the Prayer Book in most cases, some of them with more words in their title than they have people in their pews.
But now, with Anglicanorum coetibus, the way was being opened for these groups to wrap up their separate existences and to prepare for one destination. The word repeated over and over in the document is “unity” – and for anyone with a truly Catholic understanding of unity, that means – ultimately – unity in the visible Catholic Church. But before that ultimate Catholic unity, there needs to be unity among these various groups as part of their journey to the goal. Now, obviously, most of the more than one hundred groups aren’t seeking real Catholic unity. But for those that are, there needs to be some achievement of unity during the journey – and that’s exactly why we’re together here – because all of us are overwhelmingly interested in “becoming one.” Some of us have already entered into visible unity with the Holy See. There are lots of others, however, who seek that visible unity, and are ready to submit to it in obedience – the very groups represented here. Obviously, the existing structures of these groups need to be maintained for pastoral reasons. There are parishes to which people belong, and it’s through those structures that works of charity are done and the Gospel is preached. Good order requires a structure. However, we’re in a new era; we’ve entered the next stage. We’re in the time of transition, of a winding-down, of a de-emphasis on Houses of Bishops and Primates, and a moratorium on the consecrating of new bishops.
Groups such as The Traditional Anglican Communion and Forward in Faith have served a wonderful purpose. They, and others, are the groups that brought about this response from the Holy See. But with the issuing of Anglicanorum coetibus, their destiny is fulfilled. Therefore, to prepare to move from those bodies into a closer unity which finds its completion in the Ordinariates isn’t being disloyal to any person or group; rather, it’s being obedient to Peter, the Rock on which the Church is built. As someone wisely said – and if it was someone who’s here, please tell me – "The Pope wants Anglicans, not acronyms." TAC, FIF, ACA, TEC, ACNA, AU – Anglicanorum coetibus envisions none of those things continuing within an Ordinariate. With the implementation of the Holy Father’s Apostolic Constitution, they will have served their purpose – and as necessary as they were to get us here, they will be needed no more.
As St. John the Baptist proclaimed, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” We’re in a movement towards the primary goal of entering an Ordinariate, and by our being together here we’re saying it’s time to increase our energy in achieving that goal, and it’s time for the former things to decrease. Certainly, we give thanks for those faithful voices – who no doubt sometimes felt like voices in the wilderness – who called together the groups, whose members will comprise the Ordinariates. But they’ve completed their task, and now they can reap the fruit.
To look at the magnificent history of the Church is to look also at a history of various difficulties, and I’m not surprised by the difficulties and misunderstandings which have come about as we head toward the Ordinariate. But the last thing we should ever do is to give in to discouragement. The devil loves it when we do that. I made that mistake in 1983, just before this parish was received into the Catholic Church. What was a fairly healthy number of potential converts dwindled down to eighteen people in those last few months before our reception and my ordination. I had no idea there were those in our little group who had been harboring some rather anti-Roman feelings, and when the time drew closer to “sign on the dotted line,” they bolted, and tried to carry out a scorched-earth policy – they weren’t going, and they didn’t want anybody else to, either. It was downright depressing at the time, and when I heard those who stayed behind chortling and saying, “We told you it would never work,” I had never felt so discouraged.
It was then – at my lowest – that I felt God’s firm kick in the backside. We’d wanted a way into the Catholic Church, and He’d given it to us; but He never said it would be on our terms. Was it somewhat embarrassing to show up at Peter’s door with far fewer than we’d been hoping for? Humanly speaking, yes it was. But the door was still thrown open for us. I knew it was time to stop licking wounds and commiserating over changed circumstances. My family and I had willingly sacrificed everything we had – friends, home, salary, insurance, pension, all gone – and we weren’t about to stay discouraged.
On the first Sunday after the canonical erection of this parish, our numbers started to grow slightly. Some of those who had left us decided to come back, and eventually were able to make a Profession of Faith. Episcopalians and Anglicans of various stripes came to see what it was all about, and many of them chose to join with us. Lapsed Catholics found a place where they could rediscover their faith, and were restored to the sacraments. People who had no particular religious background found a small and welcoming community of believers, and so made their way into the Catholic Church. One by one, soul by soul, our parish grew and continues to grow – numerically and spiritually – even though it was born in very discouraging circumstances. And I have no doubt whatsoever that our story will be repeated over and over again in the Ordinariate.
So, to those who claim that the Ordinariates “will never work” – they don’t know what they’re talking about. Even the little experiment which is the Pastoral Provision has achieved remarkable results in a relatively short period of time, when you consider that it’s been undercut at every turn. The Holy Father will have repaired that particular problem when he appoints an Ordinary to lead us.
We’ve heard people who recoil at the idea of “becoming Roman Catholics” – for heaven’s sake, why would they find that distasteful? To be in the same visible Church as are the great saints throughout the ages, as well as such men as Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI is an incredible blessing! Why would anybody denigrate that? To hear some people, it sounds like being “Roman” is the same thing as having leprosy! And isn’t it ironic? It’s “Rome” which is actually preserving and nurturing the Anglican patrimony.
And to those who reject the Ordinariate because they want to “maintain a pure form of Anglicanism” – all I can say is, “good luck with that!” We can all see how well this so-called “pure Anglicanism” is working out.
Yes, it’s depressing when we see leaders who aren’t leading, and people who put the “protest” in Protestant. But it gives us all the more reason to guard against getting sucked into that vortex, by remaining single-minded about our vocation to unity with the Holy See, and with the fullness of faith which it guarantees.
No one welcomes the difficult times – but we need always to remember that God is in control, and His divine Will is going to triumph. If He’d asked me to plan this party, it would probably look a whole lot different. But He didn’t ask me, and I think He’ll manage just fine.
Our job now is to become one with each other – looking to the day when the unity among us will find its fulfilment in the unity of Christ’s one, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and Roman Church.
Almighty and everlasting God, from whom cometh every good and perfect gift: Send down upon Pope Benedict, all bishops, and other clergy, and upon the congregations committed to their charge, the healthful Spirit of thy grace; and, that they may truly please thee, pour upon them the continual dew of thy blessing. Grant this, O Lord, for the honor of our Advocate and Mediator, Jesus Christ. Amen.