Sunday, February 17, 2019

Progress Without Throwing Out the Baby

There is an old expression "Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater" meaning that just because you allow or encourage change don't also remove what is good and pleasing. I have been reflecting on this a lot among Autocephalous Catholics. I was talking with one of my dearest friends about the state of the wider Independent Sacramental Movement. This is a truncated transcript:

Me: "Does it seem to you that there are less people entering the priesthood in the ISM?"

Friend: "Yes. I believe it is partially attributable to an opening in mainstream denominations. Before we were a haven for LGBT people, women called to ministry, etc. Now they can find that in mainstream groups with the promise (although not always reality) of payment as well." 

I have long wrestled with what makes us unique. Often it is because people who could not minister in the "mainstream church" are able to find a home here. Perhaps they are divorced, married, LGBT, women, etc. My dear friend's observation is that we need to nurture that difference from the mainstream church as part of our essential charism. To be honest, in spite of how many people we have who are "Roman Replicators," that is a big part of why we exist--because there are people who can minister here who cannot minister elsewhere.

I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing. We do need to offer a venue to people who have legitimate callings to provide the sacraments. But it does provoke the question of how this changes us in relation to our larger counterparts. If we have groups that ordain women does this even affect our relationship with Rome and Orthodoxy? Do they even care? Would they see us as "valid" even if we didn't? Perhaps we do need to be less focused on the larger, more mainstream churches.

But we don't have just an obligation to Catholicism as a universal group. We also have an obligation to the faithful we serve. If we change our sacraments in terms of who can be ordained or marry does it affect our ministry with those we serve? Do they care? If Rome is right and women, for example, cannot legitimately receive the sacrament of Holy Orders, do we then sever our apostolic succession because of our inclusivity? Or is this too selective of an interpretation because Rome, the Orthodox, etc. have continued talks with the PNCC which regards the Word of God as a sacrament?

It is not my intention to be insensitive in asking these questions, but to provide a train of thought of the many things we need to discuss more as a movement. For those who have not made sacramental changes what do they have that entice the faithful or make them different than the mainstream churches. Do they only exist because their priest cannot minister in a mainstream church? What need are they fulfilling?

A natural question, for me, is also how do organizations make changes in their discipline or polity without becoming a place where "anything goes?" This is a charge often leveled, sometimes rightly so, at the Episcopal Church. They have priests who openly deny the Resurrection as well as question the core tenets of Christianity. Although these seem to be anomalies, they do exist and (I think) cannot be replicated within our movement if we are to be taken seriously. It is worth noting that another friend rightly surmised that "Rome has liturgical and doctrinal abuses without the changes of the Episcopal Church (i.e. ordaining women, LGBT persons, etc.). So we can't reason that this change is the cause of it all."

What does the future of Autocephalous Catholicism look like in the 21st century? Is there a path that will be most successful in reaching the faithful while maintaining true to our catholicism (little c)? I am wary of so-called "big tents" because of the historic example of Anglicanism. I can't quite understand how a section of a church intended to ordain and consecrate "massing priests" while another believed that to be essentially heresy and ordained ministers to provide a symbol. A "smaller tent" is necessary for my understanding of apostolic tradition, but what that looks like is questionable. Does it include sacramental and disciple changes which will further separate us from the "mainstream" to maintain our charism or are we called to be part of the larger tradition in spite of our separation?

So, what do you think?

“If according to times and needs you should be obliged to make fresh rules and change current things, do it with prudence and good advice.” – St. Angela Merici

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Mitered Mayhem

Episcopal consecrations in our movement are typically mundane. However, every so often there is the announcement of one that results in half a dozen messages to me of "can you believe this" or "OMG." This happens from time to time, and I may not be writing about something recent. Traditionally they follow the same pattern. An individual who has been with numerous jurisdictions, often has started and ended several parishes and/or religious groups, and will wax philosophical about how terrible the movement is and how awful it is everyone is consecrated a bishop--until it's them. 

From experience I have learned to take these announcements in stride. It is pointless to contact the consecrator about the wisdom of the action. It's always going to happen anyway. In the past these have resulted in hurt friendships or the ignoring of the message. I know of once instance where a bishop pleaded with another not to consecrate someone in his area only to be verbally berated. And we don't always have the full reasoning as to who, what, when, or why. So, life goes on. It either ends up in the person leaving the jurisdiction where they are (because now they have the "all-powerful episcopacy"), continuing their behavior, or, ideally, rising to the challenge. 

The reality is that we in the "Independent" or "Autocephalous" world are no different than any other group. There will always be people who are chosen for the clerical state (any part of it) in all different groups where some might think "really?" I have no doubt that our Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and various other brethren see consecration announcements and think "can you believe this" or "OMG." The issue becomes when the person creates scandal-- when their behavior or actions become scandalous to the faithful. And we Christians have been very successful at creating scandal in all our various ecclesiastical entities! The only real difference is that it's easier to end up a bishop in our corner of the Church.

So, then, what is the remedy? Is it to stay silent? Is it to confront? Well, at some point it is our job to discuss in a diplomatic way if possible. If this is not received, then we have to do something more than shake the dust off our feet. We must pray. This method doesn't just apply to bishops--it's to anyone ordained where we have a concern or an issue. We must pray that their ministry is fruitful. We must pray that they, and we, are transformed by God's limitless grace. We must ask God to bless them and to speak through them. Because, after all, are any of us truly "worthy" to be ordained?

This is true of all of our clergy. I entreat anyone who is reading this to pray for us. Pray for the stumbling clergy, the successful clergy, the addicted clergy, to clergy in need, the beloved clergy, the despised clergy, the shameful clergy, the saintly clergy, and everyone in between. Just pray. And leave the rest to God.

"My dear child, you must believe in God despite what the clergy tells you." 

- Benjamin Jowett

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Tridentine Misery

When I entered the Catholic Church, it was through a traditionalist parish. It was majestic. I vividly remember the knocking of Tenebre, the beeswax candles, the beautiful vestments, and all of the other externals. But I also remember the rich prayer life. There were frequent Masses, the stations, novenas, and other prayers. Everything seemed perfect, but there was something that was apparent in the faces of the people. They were miserable. Years of fear and torment morphed into a deep unhappiness. What I noticed attending other traditional parishes was the same unhappiness. There was so little joy. Instead, there was a focus on the minutiae of everything rather than enjoying others company. A psychiatrist could make a fortune at most traddie parishes.

So, I found that there was no place for me. I love traditional liturgy. It's not just because of the externals--I love traditional liturgy because it has been formed through the centuries by people a lot holier and smarter than me. It wasn't just made up and it wasn't the fruit of someone's imagination. It has been tried and tested by saints and sinners alike. I don't mind when it is in the vernacular because Latin was the vernacular for much of the early church (and prior to that Greek). 

The dilemma, then, is how to foster traditional devotion and spirituality without losing our humanity. A review of several Facebook traditionalist groups shows that misery loves company, especially when discussing the liturgy. But deep down I believe that communities can form of real people who have personal issues, tragedies, joys, and other natural emotions which can be shared together in a supportive environment. And these communities can use traditional liturgy and they can strive to make it always rubrically correct. But if someone makes a mistake they can acknowledge that God has an amazing sense of humor.

I also believe, in my heart of hearts, that people can gather together without talking about hot-button issues all the time. For traditionalists this can be what is wrong with the church. There is not enough digital space to hold all of the gripes traditionalists have against modernism, the modern church, modern liturgy, etc. The same is true of neo-conservatives on homosexuality, abortion, etc. While these issues can be discussed they don't have to be the ONLY thing discussed.

I hope that these beloved communities do exist. I have seen glimmers of hope among the incorrectly named "non-canonical" Orthodox. The same is true in the Autocephalous Catholic movement. There are people who are sincere in their prayer and in their commitment to tradition. But they can do it in an open, joyful way devoid of institutional misery. They can disagree but not in a way which dehumanizes the other person.

Opponents of this dream will say that it's just a watered-down Catholicism. Or even "Anglo-Catholicism" as traddies might say about anything that is liturgically high but morally ambiguous to them. Yet this is the vision I have of the Church and of heaven--that together with the Mother of God and the saints we will gather around the Holy Trinity in adoration. And we will truly have been forgiven 70 times 7 as we laugh in the incomprehensible joy of joining the God of the universe.

"From silly devotions, and from sour-faced saints, good Lord, deliver us." - St. Theresa

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Book Review: "Sede Vacante: The Life and Legacy of Archbishop Thục"

This book, again published by Apocryphile Press, is authored by Edward Jarvis who also wrote the book on the Brazilian Catholic Apostolic Church (ICAB). While covering generally the same topic of "dissenting Catholics," the books take a decidedly different tone. Both groups are the legacies of bishops from countries with political upheaval who followed their own brand of Catholicism. Yet the Thuc book provides more insight on Thuc himself and, since Thuc had no successor to his office, lacks the focus required by the ICAB on detailing the history of an organization.

Jarvis does an excellent job of providing in-detail background of the Vietnam which raised and nurtured Thuc. His insights into Thuc's family life are useful at helping to understand Thuc's mindset. Jarvis is to be commended on this work because it is apparent that he worked hard to maintain objectivity. He provides a sympathetic picture of Thuc while also detailing his contradictory actions. I am also grateful that he did not delve deeply into the sacramental validity of Thuc's actions and let the reader decide for themselves (while providing theological and historical context to support validity if that is the reader's conclusion).

It is also helpful that Jarvis does not end the story with Thuc, who died in 1984. He continues the story by detailing information about current traditionalists who carry the Thuc lineage. Jarvis' grasp of church history and sacramental theology gives him the ability to weave the story together with clarity. I appreciated Jarvis' sharing part of his own history (such as where he studied) because it gave some insight into his interest in this distinct part of Catholicism. Because of his background, Jarvis is able to ask difficult questions of the Thuc-lineage inheritors, especially related to the consecration of bishops and the suitability of the consecrated.

This work will be helpful to anyone interested in the traditionalist movement. I owe Jarvis my appreciation for such through research and the consultation of many different sources. My only suggestion is that there are even more sources that could be incorporated. Thuc's life has been detailed by many contemporaries and several books and articles did not make the bibliography. Despite this, the book does not suffer from lack of clarity or detail. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The Good Priest

One meets all types of people in the Autocephalous Catholic tradition. I've posted various dossiers about different people--those you want to stay away from completely and say that you've never met, those that make rapid changes to their jurisdiction/church/religious order, the miserable converts who really hate the movement but are here because, well, no one else will take them, the hypocrites, etc. There are, in fact, too many personality disorders to list them all.

But that, dear friends, is not the focus of today. Enough time is wasted on the chaos caused by the various Fathers Cray Cray (Cray for short). Today we focus on the good priest. As many Father Crays as I've known, I've also known some extraordinary priests.

This, to me, is the true beauty of this movement. I have met priests who could not or would not minister in larger jurisdictions. They either lacked the means to go to seminary, did not want to engage in full-time, stipendiary ministry, or had personal circumstances (sexuality, marriage, etc.) that prevented their entry into larger groups. Some came late to religion and did not have the ability to minister in a larger group because of the limitations of ordination requirements.

In spite of this, these priests have tried diligently. Daily they empty their pockets to pay for the items necessary for divine worship. To some our vocation is a chance to have shiny things and dress up. There are priests, however, who use their humble means to acquire the best that they can for God. They save and sacrifice so that they have the necessary items for ministry. 

These individuals are deeply prayerful and believe in the power of the Holy Mass. They celebrate (often alone) in their homes believing in the deeply transformative nature of the Eucharist. This action is not limited to a public act, but it is also deeply personal. And they dispense the sacraments when they are truly needed. 

I think of Father X, who as a hospital chaplain has celebrated weddings for terminally ill patients so they can enter eternity married to their love. Or Father Y, who celebrates for his consistent band of people. He is not always appreciated and he does it without expectation of remuneration or glory. But he believes in his calling to serve the people to whom God has led him. Or Father Z, who is ministering to the homeless by feeding them and being with them. This is in addition to his spiritual work. Our movement has also opened numerous centers for the addicted by people who sincerely care about those they are serving.

True, there are a lot of Father Crays. But there are also a lot of sincere, good people who are ministering where they are called. Often they are quiet, without fanfare. Or, as one Indie Bishop friend said, "I judge the realness and sincerity of a group by the extent of their internet presence. The more of the former the less of the latter." And, again, by means of comparison--our crazy world has just as many crazy people as any group. Our Father Crays tend to have less reach than their mainstream counterparts.

So as we embark upon our Thanksgiving holiday I rejoice in those saints and people who have come before me. Who have ministered at their own expense in less than ideal places and situations. Yet good still comes from their work. And all the rest shall fade away.

I know my own soul, how feeble and puny it is:
I know the magnitude of this ministry,
and the great difficulty of the work;
for more stormy billows vex the soul of the priest
than the gales which disturb the sea.
- John Chrysostom

Friday, October 5, 2018

Book Review: "God, Land & Freedom: The True Story of I.C.A.B."

Dr. Julie Byrne alerted me to the publication of "God, Land & Freedom" by Edward Jarvis. It was published by Apocryphile Press which, to the credit of Fr. John Mabry, PhD, is well known for its Independent Catholic Heritage Series. As soon as I learned of the book I rushed to buy it and delved in the day it arrived.

The author has done an excellent job researching the topic. Jarvis' detailing the history of Catholicism and religion in general in Brazil is helpful to the neophyte. It gives the impression that because of the tumultuous history of Brazil, a group like ICAB (The Brazilian Catholic Apostolic Church) has factors which organically promote its success. He also cites numerous newspaper and first-hand accounts of the story of ICAB, as well as has a sizable bibliography. I remain impressed by Jarvis' ability to secure newspaper articles from over half a century ago in both Portuguese and Spanish. To his credit, Jarvis portrays the history and path of the church "warts and all." It may be uncomfortable for some members and advocates of the Church, but the book does not read overall as a condemnatory piece. In fact, Jarvis examines the theology of the ICAB movement from both a pro and a con perspective to provide reflection on the topic from a variety of viewpoints. His views of individual members may be less flattering, but the Church itself gets an open discussion.

Where the book does lack, for me, is its statistical details. I would have liked to read more in-depth reporting of the numerical strength of ICAB. Also helpful would have been more discussion about the various branches of the Church. Jarvis mentions the ICAB and its presents in other countries, but much of the work centers around Patriarch Castillo Mendez. Castillo Mendez becomes so pivotal that some of the other history from this time is lost. There is also a lack of information about the status of the church after the death of Castillo Mendez in 2009, so the reader does not have a good grasp of the current situation.

Overall, it is abundantly clear that the author is well versed in Catholic theology and history. He discusses theological concepts that indicate he has extensive knowledge of the subject. This allows him to in-depth discuss things like apostolic succession, liturgical aspects, etc. He highlights enough examples from multiple perspectives of Catholicism (from the SSPX to Rahner) that the work does not come off as biased towards traditionalism or liberalism.

The author's viewpoint on "micro-churches" does come through in the text. It seems apparent to me that the author is a Roman Catholic and, not only writes from that perspective, but sometimes presents the topic as if it's a case study for Roman Catholics. His use of words like "official Catholic Church" or [sic] after Catholic in the names of Independent Catholic bodies indicates a questionable objectivity.  Whereas Dr. Byrne's book indicates an openness to the topic, Jarvis seems to have made up his mind. He also provides opinions on the ICAB's validity, liturgical changes, and other areas that indicate he is writing from the viewpoint of Roman Catholicism. I'm unsure if a biography would have been helpful to alert the reader to his personal history and education. This could have dispelled any question of objectivity.

Overall, however, Jarvis is to be commended for documenting a church that has been ignored for too long. Given its numerical strength (generally speaking) and world-wide impact, a book on this topic was well overdue. While I believe the objectivity of some of it is questionable, Jarvis does provide excellent references which will be useful for many years to come (both positive and negative). 

Saturday, September 8, 2018

A Brief Mass for Meditation

From Jesus, King of Love by Fr. Mateo Crawley-Boevey, SS.CC.

Now, I am going to let you in on a secret – the secret of my spiritual life. When I travel on the train, I say, ten, twenty ‘Masses of St. John’ – Masses in honor of the Blessed Trinity. There is no prayer like that. I have but three devotions: My Mass, my breviary, my rosary. The breviary is beautiful, but you cannot compare it with the Mass. There is no prayer like the Mass. As I travel, I offer my Mass on the altar of the holy Will of God, offering it in union with the thousands of priests saying Mass continuously, perpetually. I am tired, I cannot prepare conferences – I offer Mass instead. I said four or five Masses this morning. I do it the whole day. It unites my heart, my will with priests at the altar. When I awake during the night, the first thing I do is unite myself with the Mass being celebrated at that moment. I say the Offertory, Consecration, and Communion prayers. I call this the "Mass of St John." I hope to die saying Mass – between two consecrations.

Now you might ask, "What do you mean by the 'Mass of St John?'" I call this practice
"The Mass of St. John" only to give it a title. It is really Jesus' Mass. What was the Mass offered by Jesus? The Mass offered by Jesus at the Last Supper was the most simple of Masses, the shortest of Masses, lasting but a few minutes. St. John's Mass, as He offered it for Our Lady, was the same--short, simple, consisting however of the same three elements, the same three prayers: Offertory, Consecration, and Communion.... That is Mass. All the rest is frame. If at the altar I said only those prayers, my Mass would be a valid Mass. I can't do that because it is forbidden. But it would be a genuine Mass.

Learn these prayers by heart and then during the day you can live the wonderful grace of your Mass. You have a few moments free –say a Mass of St. John. You wake up at night – say a Mass. You come into church for a visit or to make your adoration - begin with a Mass... At the end of the day offer a perfect act of thanksgiving, Holy Mass.

... I remember preaching in a big community in California. The Mother Superior said to me one day, “Father, I want to thank you. Yesterday after your conference about Holy Mass I went to the infirmary to see a poor sister who suffers terribly and who cannot sleep at all, especially during the night. She was smiling. Mother, I have learned the secret of how to pass the night – the Mass of St. John. Thank Father for me for having told us about it.”

Fr. Mateo's Mass of St. John:

Offering of the Host
Accept, O Holy father, Almighty and Eternal God, this spotless host, which I, Your unworthy servant, offer to You, my living and true God, to atone for my numberless sins, offences, and negligences; on behalf of all here present and likewise for all faithful Christians living and dead, that it may profit me and them as a means of salvation to life everlasting. Amen.

Offering of the Chalice

We offer unto Thee, O Lord, the chalice of salvation, entreating Thy mercy that our offering may ascend with a sweet fragrance in the sight of Thy divine Majesty, for our own salvation, and for that of the whole world. Amen.

The Consecration
“For this is my Body.”
“For this is the chalice of my Blood of the new and eternal testament, the mystery of faith; which shall be shed for you and for many unto the remission of sins.”

Domine, Non Sum Dignus

Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst enter under my roof; but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.

The Communion Prayers

The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ preserve my soul unto life everlasting. Amen.
The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ preserve my soul unto life everlasting. Amen.