Monday, January 14, 2013

Caritas Christi urget nos: The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

There is nothing about my personality and temperament which disposes me to give a hoot about Christian Unity. I love a theological barroom fight and at best Christian Unity is a hook and jab useful from time to time, especially when the other guy does not see it coming. My father was a priest who was above all things nice, a broad churchman back in the days, when that did not necessarily mean he did not believe in anything but that he was tolerant to a fault. Of course that meant that I had to be different from him. It also caused him to make sure I experienced the full range of Anglican diversity. He gloried in places like Old St. Mary’s, Kansas City, and St. Mary the Virgin, New York City because they proved the good manners and common decency of Anglicanism.  Little did he know that he was sowing the seeds of his own son’s intolerance.

My father’s tame and mainstream Anglicanism did not stand much of a chance against these more exotic and strange statue-filled, incense-laden, biretta-headed palaces. If I was to have any sort of religion, this is what it would have to be like.  Throughout  all the usual detours, Marxism, the silly sixties, atheism, moral dissolution, and so forth, the conviction remained: this was the best that religion, however wrong-headed, had to offer.

The other mistake that my father made was to fill his library with books by men like Dom Gregory Dix and E. L. Mascall. It turned out that the Victorian palaces had substantial intellectual foundations. It was the devil’s mistake to let me read myself back into the Christian religion. But it may be that our ancient enemy knew quite rightly that the whole thing was about to fall apart and he had little to fear.

In any case along with Mass, Mary and Confession came this annoying business about Christian Unity, not on the grounds of being nice but on the grounds of being Catholic. It should not have been much of a surprise because so much else about the Catholic religion is disagreeable to our natural inclinations.

There is nothing about our current circumstances which encourages a passion for the Unity of the Church. Our friends in the Ordinariate assure us that the generous offer of the Holy Father is the ecumenical imperative of the day, the answer to all our prayers, and that the hopes of ARCIC are now dead and over.  Anglicans are busy as bees trying to construct new and ever more insurmountable obstacles to their own unity and unity with Rome and the Orthodox. Conservatives as well as liberals are intent on sectarian navel-gazing as they try to figure out what Anglicanism is. The Church of England is doing its best to drive Catholic Anglicans to extinction. ACNA and GAFCON are reviving the old factions of the Reformation and the 39 Articles.

It may well be that the Ordinariate is where we are all being  led. But for now and for a variety of reasons there are still a few Catholic Anglicans to be found. In some cases it is purely personal reasons that keep priests and their people within the Anglican fold: family considerations, responsibility for parishes, lethargy, old age, each having his own, take it as you like, excuses or prudence.

If God has anything at all to do with why we remain, it is surely because He wants us to irritate our c0-religionists with His Son’s prayer ut omnes sint.  If there are no Anglicans of the Catholic tradition around, then it is doubtful that this prayer will be made at all.  We are pitiful and poor watchmen standing on the ruble of the ruins.

It is, I fear, characteristic of Anglican arrogance, that the Ordinariate is viewed as the only answer to Christian Unity. What about all the other Christians in the world? I regularly teach in an ecumenical School of Spirituality in which it is possible for me to present the Catholic Faith to Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians and so on. They will listen to me, where they would never listen to a Roman Catholic priest. These folks come to me for spiritual direction, when they would never go to a Roman priest.

St. Francis has a unique relationship with the Catholic Pro-Life Committee of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Dallas, which would not be possible without the tradition of the parish. We share space, resources and people, not only because we have a common cause but because we share theological convictions.

None of this is to pat ourselves on the back, but to remind ourselves that it is our primary vocation, not just part of our vocation, to witness to something bigger than Anglicanism. This has always been the vocation of the Catholic Movement: to insist that Anglicanism can only be important to the degree that it belongs to and longs for something much bigger than Anglicanism.

We will not be successful but success has nothing to do with it. We pray not because we expect that the results of prayers will be quickly seen or realized but because caritas Christi urget nos – the love of Christ urges us on.


Anonymous said...

Fr. Allen,

We Catholic Anglicans are often seen as a small, and sometimes petty, quarrelsome lot; by our neo-Anglican shipmates but also others…we’re barely a blip on the radar screen of larger-world practicing Christians. But it’s not just about “the rules” and calendar practice. It’s a way of living in the Triune G-d, sometimes not well-understood.

And then there are the Ordinariate-types who don’t understand why we just don’t “get with the program”. It’s not so simple. Where is the Catholic expression best understood and lived empirically and not juridically? I would argue in a certain kind of Anglican expression, a la Fr. Martin Thornton-style “English Spirituality”.

Conservatism in the older sense from Blessed Newman is “loyalty to persons.” It really does matter that we have family, friends, parishes, and special relationships that we’re connected to and speak to us spiritually through our particular expression of Christian worship. Blessed Newman may have “swum the Tiber”, but I wonder to what degree his theological arguments were rooted in not just logic and piety, but in personal reflections and underlying proclivities. After talking to an RC Formation Director at an RC parish for several months a couple of years ago, I concluded that the empirical and not juridical expression of the Catholic faith is a gift to greater Xity and certainly my own life. The Mercy of G-d matters in an empirical way matters. Thanks for your thoughts.



Feed Room Five said...


Very well spoken. 'Loyalty to persons' -- either a great Anglican virtue or vice, depending on who you ask -- still compels us. I need you to start writing for the Parish Magazine. Thank you. Fr A

Anonymous said...

Me and my big mouth. President Coolidge, “The things I never say never get me into trouble.” I seem to unwittingly stir up trouble any time I open my trap; not sure you would want that. Respectfully, Brent

Feed Room Five said...

I have the same problem except what I do say and what I do not say seem equally to get me in trouble. But if St. Francis can put up with me for 20 or so years they can certainly put up with you.

Anonymous said...

Ha. I'm glad I say my prayers with you. Best, Brent