PLEASE NOTE–I posted this and another post during Lent, both which I feel were important life lessons to me and hopefully thus to others, and so many of you were “fasting” from blogging and Facebook that I think some of you missed them perhaps. I therefore am re-posting them again this week, just after we celebrated the Resurrection of our Lord this past Sunday, and in the hopes that we all may continue the spirit of Lent and yet rejoice in the mercies of God, which are new each morning…Please be blessed by these words. Happy Easter.
This has been a peculiar week for me. It seems to have begun Monday evening, after a conversation with a FB friend of mine who is a wonderful Episcopalian brother in Christ. If you have read much of my blog, you may recall that, even after returning to Roman Catholicism in 2005, I went through a short period of total rejection of Rome in the latter part of 2010. That rejection led me into the ever-waiting arms of the Episcopal community, which I had been toying with on and off for perhaps over a year before making the rather short-lived but real leap to Anglicanism.
What I am about to share may sound like unkindness towards Episcopal Christians but is not really meant to. Two things however are very intriguing to me (and somewhat deceptive potentially) about that particular circle of believers. One is its overwhelming similarity to Rome, while all the while replacing the concept of submission to the Magisterium (the world’s bishops in union with Rome) with one’s own human reason. You could for instance attend a Liturgy there and, if you had not carefully checked the sign outside of the building upon entering, not even realize you are in a technically Protestant ecclesia! The order of Liturgy is that similar. The second is a very open willingness, at least in my experience, to almost instantly becoming part of the membership. While some would call this being “welcoming,” it can also lead to people making decisions that they are not spiritually ready for. I was invited to “join” the parish by a simple phone call, and told I could still retain membership in my Catholic parish simultaneously. Seductive indeed when you are questioning Rome while wishing to remain Catholic on some level at least.
Here then is the issue I have more than once faced even since returning to Rome: Faith needs to be struggled with in order for it to become strong. There are doctrines and practices within the hierarchical structure that I sometimes frankly yet do not understand, even after much study and 21 years of my life as a Roman Catholic. Very honestly I suspect some of the readers can relate as well. The proper way to deal with those questions is not to ignore them, but to face them while resolutely retaining a commitment to Catholic Christian principles. Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman (a former Anglican clergy by the way) once said “Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt.” Even our Blessed Mother questioned the angel Gabriel, after being told that she would bear the Messiah without the normal physical intimacy that (at least until this new generation of IVP and surrogate mothers) was and still in reality is necessary to produce earthly offspring. Mary’s question to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34) was immediately followed (1:38) with “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”
The point is here is that she wrestled. The other point is she let God win the match. When an ecclesial body is so anxious for membership that they accept anyone off the street, struggle or not, a very important step is missed for both they and that individual. Working through the seeming immediate despair of the battle actually leads to hope. Not working it through keeps doubts firmly planted within, even when repressed, consciously or not, by the seeming freedom from authority and an “easy Catholicism.” As comedian and actor Robin Williams, a lapsed Catholic turned Episcopalian, says of his current faith “Catholic Lite – same rituals, half the guilt.” And he appears to be right on that count. Now back to me and this week…
Although the time frame in 2010 when I walked along the ever-moving fractured ground of Anglicanism was relatively short (around 2 and ½ months), I think the after-shocks of that spiritual earthquake still exist and tend to haunt me at times. Without going into much detail, I would say that by far the biggest issue for me was Church authority. Settle that question, and the idea that Christianity cannot exist without said authority must then prevail—and that leads directly back to Rome for many reasons. Others have written book-length apologetics on that very issue, so I will leave it to them if you wish to do further research on the topic. I will list a few options and links at the end of this post, however, as it is an important supplement to this study.
But what if there really is no authority? Or, as happened to me this week, a more subtle variation of this question might be, what if the authority of God is so huge, and so universal, that no one body on earth, whether Christian or otherwise, can claim those rights over other humans? It seems to me that Christianity itself, and thus Catholicism as well, must rise or fall on that question. If there is no real group that is “right,” then why am I worrying my rapidly aging head about same-sex marriage, for just one issue, the HHS mandate for another, or even abortion for a third? Why am I not able to re-interpret the 10 commandments into a more palatable set of guidelines for this day and age? Why would sexual activity outside of marriage (to cite but one example of many) be sinful as long as I am loving, kind, and not deliberately using the other person? Who draws what lines? Or do such lines even exist?
These are the things which Episcopalians are “muddy” about, and quite deliberately so. And for Catholic Christians who, like me, become at moments “weary in well-doing,” the appeal to this line of thinking is undeniably tantalizing. It is comparable with attempting to maintain a solid marriage while having one’s former mistress live next door, continually winking and nodding as she works scantily clad in her backyard garden. Or, to be more Biblical, to when King David decided to take a short vacation from being a warrior and started watching the neighborhood women bathe from his rooftop. Bathsheba surely waits for both David and each of us.
Anyway this happened to me. This week. No, not the peeping Tom activity, but the “doubting Thomas” part at least. As a direct result of the chat with my Episcopal friend, I found myself listening to a wonderful and fascinating interview with a man by the name of Brian Deacon, who played Jesus in the movie (aptly named “Jesus”) from 1979. A lapsed Catholic himself, now married to a Buddhist, he shared a very real and sincere journey which has seemingly kept him from making a commitment to any particular religion, while giving him yet a huge appreciation for the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. What hit me was the realization that this man was searching, just as me, and on some level knew God, even though he did not claim or pretend to be a Christian as such. The idea both scared and exhilarated me. Was I wasting my efforts attempting to follow “Church rules and regulations” when all God wanted from me was—me?
On one level, I believe the answer is a resounding “yes.” God wants our hearts and sincerity and will settle for nothing less. I also believe that many from other religions or even no religion at all will one day realize that they were searching for God all along. And our own CCC (Catechism of the Catholic Church) gives us indication that, if so, those people of good will would find salvation (CCC# 847-848). BUT—what of those of us who have already discovered Christ in a more specific way? Were we too gravely misled and naïve by thinking that our dogma and doctrine was untainted? Certainly the practices of the Church are not without a mixture of pink slime and holy water. But what of the teaching itself?
I wrestled with this question for 2 days straight, staying up late into the night and praying, thinking, and praying some more. I wondered why the answer seemed to elude me, and finally began thinking of the Episcopal church yet again, knowing I could seek those answers there at my leisure and on my terms and still be more or less a “Catholic Christian.” Yet I was not ready to give up on Rome either this time. I could on the other hand start attending both or so I reasoned anyway—immediately welcomed by the Anglicans and the Catholics would not need to know the difference, at least for now. I could listen to my own conscience rather than serving the seemingly distant values of the hierarchy. It began to seem like the only rational answer. Until…
Peter. Simon Peter. St Peter, first earthly head of the Church and first to proclaim Jesus as Lord of all. And what Jesus said to him when he made that proclamation “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18). Those are some strong and amazing words. And they were the answer I needed. 999 (yes Herman Cain!) of my 1000 questions still remain. But no more doubts. Just hours after I quietly told God I was going to resume my illicit affair with the “ever-waiting pretty-much-like-Catholic mistress” down the street, I had to refute that whole idea and admit that I was seeking for an answer I knew already in the person of Holy Mother Church.
There would be no early Church Fathers without St. Peter, the first Holy Father of the Christian Faith. The fledgling Catholic Church approved each and every one of the solemn creeds that all Christians live by, such as the Apostle’s Creed and Nicene. The very teaching of the Trinity and in fact the Bible itself was established by councils and bishops who submitted to the bishop of Rome, otherwise known as the Pope, successor of St. Peter and Vicar of Christ. You might ask me why I am Catholic, with all of the numerous scandals, misuses of money and even cold-blooded murders during such times as the Inquisition. Let us call them what they are and not try to excuse them by the way. But, as the tremendous Catholic apologist Tim Staples, a former minister of the Assemblies of God just as I was, has loudly proclaimed, “do not forsake Peter because of Judas” (slight paraphrase but hopefully you get the point here). Both denied Jesus during his most crucial moments, but one wept bitterly for his sin—and later became the leader Jesus had always intended him to be. Even during his greatest failing he never stopped loving our Lord. “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt 26: 41). I can identify. The other one fully despaired, and, with no “easy religion” left to fall back on, lost all of his remaining trust and hanged himself. That is the difference between them—and the difference between near desolation and total despair. One still had a thread of hope and clung to it tenaciously. A “hopeful despair” if you will. And eventually the seeming despair lost its hold.
Peter is why I am and remain a Catholic Christian.
- Catholic First, Christian First (catholicboyrichard.wordpress.com)
- Archbishop Rowan Preaches to the Pope in Rome (kiwianglo.wordpress.com)
- Lent 2012 – SUFFERING, Participating in the Cross of Christ (deaconjohnspace.wordpress.com)
- Deacon Robert Mercer: Former Anglican Bishop Ordained a Deacon (frstephensmuts.wordpress.com)
- Anglican Clergymen Become Catholic Priests: Taking the Final Steps to Ordination (frstephensmuts.wordpress.com)
- Cover the Catechism in a year – in less than 10 minutes a day!(hughosb.wordpress.com)
- Madrid, Patrick–“Pope Fiction” GREAT REFERENCE BOOK ON THIS TOPIC–available at all Catholic bookstores, especially Aquinas and More–
- Staple, Tim–“Why Be Catholic” DVD set–available from Catholic Answers (www.catholic.com)
- http://www.whyimcatholic.com/index.php/conversion-stories/catholic-reverts/item/60-catholic-revert-richard-evans— Dozens of conversion stories, including my own!
SCRIPTURE REFERENCES used in this post are courtesy of The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved. ESV Text Edition: 2007