Monday, November 03, 2014

The Synod and the Ordinariates

Katherine of Aragon Denounced Before King Henry VIII and His Council
Painted by Laslett John Pott, AD 1880

After watching what happened at the Extraordinary Synod on the Family in Rome last month, I am now 100% convinced, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that the monsignor ordinaries, of the personal ordinariates for Anglicans, need to be given a place in the upcoming Ordinary Synod on the Family in October 2015. Why? I say this because their presence in the Catholic Church, indeed the reason for their existence as head of the ordinariates, and the very reason for the existence of the ordinariates themselves, is directly related to the modernist attack on the family.

Reunion with Rome has always been a goal for the anglo-catholic movement within Anglicanism. But actual corporate reunion with Rome never really happened until after the radical changes that occurred in the Anglican Communion between 1970 through 2010. It started out subtly, way back in 1930, with the acceptance of artificial contraception in the Anglican Communion. In time however, within a span of about 50 years, this subtle acceptance of childless-sex (sex without openness to the creation of children) exploded into a lax approach toward abortion, militant feminism and "irregular unions" of couples. Indeed, the Church of England herself, originally broke with Rome on the compromise that a man can annul his marriage with his wife (effectively divorce her), on whatever grounds he likes, so long as he's the king of course. It would be ridiculous to assume that Anglicans agreed with that notion on the whole, they didn't, but what could they do? He was the king! He does whatever he likes! Opposing him usually had undesirable consequences. Just ask Saint Thomas More. That however, was a long time ago. The connections of modern Anglicanism to this historical event are sparse, but they do exist. It is an internal struggle within English Christianity, that was in some times subtle, and in other times overt. In recent times however, this struggle has taken centre stage.

The source of the modernist attack on marriage and the family is not religious. It comes from the ideas of the secular world, which is at its heart anti-Christian. King Henry VIII didn't invent it. He succumbed to it. The Church of England did not formulate it. Rather, it tolerated it. Modern times are no different. The modern attack on the Christian family enters the Church through compromise. Christian denominations do not invent these things. Instead they cave into them. They succumb to them. That's what happened in the Anglican Communion, and it happened in many other Protestant denominations too. It's even beginning to happen in the more conservative Baptist and Pentecostal churches in America now. After what we just witnessed in the Extraordinary Synod on the Family last October, it NEARLY happened in the Catholic Church too! It seems however, that in the Protestant world, Anglicanism is leading the charge into compromise, particularly in The Episcopal Church in the United States, which not only ordains female priests and bishops (an authority never granted by Christ), but also has no problem blessing the same-sex "marriages" of its members and those it ordains. The other Anglican jurisdictions (Australia, Canada and the Church of England) follow not too far behind. So with the American Anglican jurisdiction leading the way, it is only fitting that some American Episcopalians were the first to lead a pilgrimage of reconciliation back into the Catholic Church.

The Pastoral Provision, which lead to the Anglican Use of the Roman Rite within the Roman Catholic Church, was the prototype of what would eventually become the personal ordinariates for Anglicans worldwide (The Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, The Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, The Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross). During the 1980s through 1990s, many Episcopalian priests were reconciled with the Roman Catholic Church. Some of them were ordained Catholic priests under the Pastoral Provision created by Saint John Paul II. When we listen to them, and learn of their conversion, we hear two things. First, they weren't necessarily running away from something (liberal attitudes within Anglicanism) as they were running toward something. It wasn't about running away from female priests and bishops, or liberal attitudes toward sex, or even modernity in worship styles. That did play a big role, but if that's all they were doing, they could have much more easily joined one of the breakaway Anglican bodies, such as the Anglican Church in North America or the Traditional Anglican Communion. No. They chose a much more difficult path, because they believed in something. In addition to the sacraments, authority of the pope, and the catholicity of the Christian faith, they also believed in the Catholic vision of marriage and the family. Many of these Episcopalian priests, who were married themselves, understood the importance of this primary Christian teaching. The family is the domestic church, and it's the duty of the local church (parish), particular church (diocese) and universal Church (Catholic) to protect it, as well as support it. Marriage is the glue that holds the domestic church (the family) together, and when the glue is watered down through compromise, the domestic church (family) breaks apart. This has drastic negative repercussions on the local church, particular church, and universal Church. As married clergy, they saw the big picture on a very personal level. So they moved to reconcile with the largest Church in the world that holds to that same vision -- the Catholic Church. Second, they were fulfilling their Anglican destiny. The deepest desire of the anglo-catholic movement within Anglicanism is reconciliation with the Roman Catholic Church, the Church from which Anglicanism originally came 500 years ago. Yet they wanted to do this as Anglicans. They wanted to be united to Rome, but not absorbed by her, so that they could bring with them not only the liturgy of their Anglican patrimony, but their experiences as well. I'm speaking of 500 years-worth of experience in the Protestant world, living as Protestants, among other Protestant churches. I'm speaking of the important lessons they learnt, the difficulties they overcame, and the sensibility of finding that middle-ground between the Catholic and Protestant ethos. There is something invaluable that former Anglicans have to bring to the table in the Catholic Church's discussions on the family. Who better to exemplify the relation between the Church and the family than a married priest? This is a man who has one foot in each world, and lives it sacramentally every day of his life. Surely the Catholic Church wants to hear from such men. Surely Rome is interested. Surely, the pope will invite them to come, share, and be part of the process. I have no doubt he will.

Beneath the vestments, and within the collar, stand men who's very existence in the Catholic Church is built on this primary question. What is marriage and family in the Christian experience? The separation of the Church of England from Rome was based on this very question. The growth and experience of Anglicanism in the Protestant world has this nagging question ringing in the background. The modern experience of Anglicanism, along with all of the innovations and scandals that have plagued it in recent decades, are based again on this very same question. What is marriage and family in the Christian experience? The creation of the Pastoral Provision within the Catholic Church, and later the personal ordinariates for Anglicans, are based on it as well. It wasn't just about preserving the Anglican Patrimony within the Catholic Church, though that was a huge part, but it was also about providing a space within the Catholic Church for those Anglicans that share in the traditional Catholic vision of marriage and family. This by extension includes the role of the sexes in the life of the Church, as well as other sexuality issues, authority within the Church, and matters related to family life. It's all related. Is it not? This is the core of what it means to be a Catholic within the personal ordinaraites for Anglicans. It is the very reason for our existence. It is the culmination of 500 years of experience: schism, trial, persecution, endurance, patience and finally reconciliation. It's not just about sacred language and beautiful liturgy, through that is a part of it, but it's more than that. It's about what's behind that language and liturgy itself. It's about the history of how it came to be, and why it came to be. It's about who we are as Christians, and what it means to be married and family. Beyond the liturgy, beyond the language, beyond the patrimony, this is perhaps the greatest gift the Anglican ordinariates have to offer to the Catholic Church! It is simply the Catholic Church's own teaching handed back to her; drenched in the blood of English martyrs, assaulted through the ages, defended in the face of church leaders who opposed it, realised fully under the social collapse of Western civilisation, persecuted in modern times, and finally becoming a major cause behind full reconciliation with the Catholic Church. The English schism began over a dispute about marriage, and in the fullness of time, the Anglican ordinariates were created as a resolution to this dispute. Yes, it's all connected!

My wife an I came into the Catholic Church in the year 2000, after a brief journey through Anglicanism. For us, the Canterbury Trail leads into the Roman Road. Prior to this we were Evangelicals. We were also childless. For us, marriage was not clearly defined by our Evangelical experience. We knew it was God's command, and that it was right, but we didn't fully understand why. Our journey through Anglicanism threw this question into our faces. The very meaning of marriage was questioned. I saw on the horizon the eventual consecration of homosexual bishops and the blessing of gay "weddings." I also witnessed the courage of those brave souls within The Episcopal Church, fighting valiantly to prevent the total collapse of Christian teaching on marriage and family. Yet I knew their courageous efforts would be in vain, because I could see the proverbial "writing on the wall." The national leadership of The Episcopal Church would follow the error of King Henry VIII and expand upon it. It was inevitable. We loved the traditions of Anglicanism. We loved the liturgy and the music. We loved everything about it. What we didn't love was the direction it was going on the issue of marriage and family. I remember the bold homilies taught by our Episcopalian priest. He had no problem staring down the evil of divorce, and had no hesitation calling it sin. He was a good priest, and he knew the true meaning of marriage and family. Yet he had little support in the way of the national leadership of The Episcopal Church. Through his teaching, and through the problems going on in The Episcopal Church at that time, we discovered the true meaning of marriage, and we discovered the greatest defender of that truth -- the Catholic Church. We joined the Catholic Church in the year 2000, and we subsequently began having children. In our conversion, our reconciliation with Rome, we were not just running away from liberal attitudes in The Episcopal Church. If that's all we wanted to do, we would have simply returned to Evangelicalism or joined an Anglican splinter group. Rather, we were running toward something. We were running toward the Church that tirelessly defended what we came to believe in. In the process we discovered the sacraments, the meaning of authority, and the universality of the Church. For us, this is all connected, and at the centre of it all is the meaning of marriage and family. This was our Anglican experience.

I do hope our ordinariates will take up the challenge the Extraordinary Synod on the Family has put before us. I'm sure they will, and I look forward to it. I also look forward to the many invigorating and passionate homilies soon to come from our ordinariate priests on this subject. There is no other group of priests so personally tried and tested on marriage and family. Likewise, if he hasn't already done so, I do hope the pope provides some kind of space for our monsignor ordinaries to fully participate in the upcoming Ordinary Synod on the Family in 2015. I appeal to the Holy Father for this. For I can think of no greater witness to the Catholic Church's teaching on marriage and family, having been tested in the trials of Anglicanism for half a millennium.

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