Sunday, October 7, 2012

Mental Illness in the ISM


This is, perhaps, a bit more of a serious post than my lighthearted usual posts. It deals with the topic of mental illness. I have been fortunate to have many friends in the psychiatric profession and done significant personal research into this issue. Clergy with mental illness are nothing new. There are numerous examples, in the past, of clergy who have suffered some type of infirmity. For example, modern psychiatric professionals regard Pope Pius IX to have possibly suffered from extreme narcissism or bipolar mania (grandiosity). An example of this is his ring, displayed at the right, which he had set with a cameo image of himself in diamonds.

There were also various saints who, while often displaying holiness of life, had what we now identify as a mental illness. In fact, there can often be a fine line between mental illness and holiness. One man's hallucination is another's vision! This is precisely why it is so important to test the spirit as directed in the Gospel of John ("Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God..".)

Mental illness among clergy is now being addressed. With 500,000 clergy persons in the United States alone (between Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish clergy) it is statistically impossible not to have a segment who are mentally ill. Some are able to receive appropriate treatment, while others are asked to leave. This does not have to manifest itself so visibly as sexual misconduct--it can be inappropriate displays of anger, inability to feel empathy, delusions, paranoia, phantom illness, etc.

The ISM is complicated because we do not have a unilateral system for psychological testing. I cannot beg and implore jurisdictions enough to REQUIRE PSYCHOLOGICAL TESTING. It can be relatively inexpensive and is absolutely essential to not opening up the jurisdiction the ordaining bishop to lawsuits. It must complement a criminal background check. Even if it can't be universally implemented for all candidates, if there is any question about a candidate from the bishop he should reserve the right to request testing.

I have believed and continued to believe in the goodness of sincere, good people who have been prevented ordination in other churches finding somewhere to minister in the ISM. Because I may not agree with their candidacy does not mean that they cannot share God's love with others. However, there are some people who either cannot be ordained because it is dangerous to the general public or who need treatment from medicine or therapy to manage their illness before they are able to minister. Unfortunately, so much stigma surrounds mental illness that they may not be comfortable being honest about their issues.

People of faith and clergy should be vigilant about issues of mental illness. There are certain warning signs that are evident. Studies have pointed to the hypothesis that gay men and women may be more susceptible to borderline personality disorder. This can be apparent in intense personal relationships, addictions, frequent created illnesses, abandonment fears, etc. Men in general may be more susceptible to antisocial personality disorder and may display a lack of remorse, aggressiveness, deception, etc. Narcissism and other personality disorders may present themselves as well.

The more we can be open about the issue of mental illness the better we can understand clergy we know or who may seek ordination. Again, it is not a shameful issue but one which presents in every profession, race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Baptists in Disguise and Apostolic Succession...

There is a new movement among Southern Baptists in my area. They graduate from the local seminary or bible college and start a "community church." These community churches usually have names like "Faith" or "Sojourn" or "Gateway" or "Grace" or some other generic name. However, when you read their statement of faith it is distinctly Baptist. Well, Baptist of the hellfire and brimstone type. Young couples come to the churches hoping for a type of open environment where they can learn their faith in this post-Christian world. Often times, they sink into a type of fundamentalism.

The ISM has a similar problem. Yes, I will call it a problem. It is the new influx of seemingly evangelical ministers who claim apostolic succession. These individuals wear the clothes and were ordained by bishops in the apostolic succession, but they have no concept of sacramental theology. This begs the question--why would they want apostolic succession of they do not believe that they are participating in a sacrifice on an altar? Or, sometimes they do believe in some type of sacramental theology but then dually emphasize the Bible and its superiority over tradition.

I believe there is a parallel with the Reformed Episcopal Church. Bishop George Cummins, the founder, stated very clearly that "I act as a Bishop, not claiming a jure divino right, or to be in any Apostolic Succession..." According to traditional Catholic theology (as mentioned previously) there must be an intention to "do what the church does." If you do not intend to ordain a sacrificing priest, do you do what the church does? That is not for me to say. But, it is pertinent given the large influx of evangelicals into the ISM.

Don't get me wrong. I think the ISM is a big tent, and I realize that the Anglican tradition (in particular) has always had a low church camp. But, really, what is the point of advertising one's self as a "bible believing Christian" who celebrates "the Lord's Supper" and claiming apostolic succession? We believe that the apostolic succession is intrinsically linked to the apostolic tradition, a fact elaborated on quite eloquently by one young Joseph Ratzinger. Without the apostolic faith the apostolic succession is problematic.

I have no problem with Pentecostal preachers wearing Catholic garb. If that's your thing, live it up! Well, at least wear them correctly please. But, it's shaky ground then they claim to have apostolic succession without holding the sacramental deposit of faith that is dependent on that succession. Biblical literalism is, after all, only about a century old.

"We are not to credit these men, nor go out from the first and the ecclesiastical tradition; nor to believe otherwise than as the churches of God have by succession transmitted to us." - Origen, Commentary on Matthew (post A.D. 244).

Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Homily About Listening

One of the readings today, depending on which lectionary you use, has the miracle of Jesus healing the deaf, mute man. This is regarded by female theologians as the greatest miracle of Jesus. He made a man listen! Still, out of the 37ish miracles that were documented in the New Testament this one was chosen. I think it is because listening was as difficult then as it is now. We live in a world where we are told not to listen to each other. We aren't supposed to listen to those that are politically different, especially during this election season, because "they're crazy." Other religions, too, are labeled as having no inherent value. We strive more than ever to reduce people to one common denominator. You're conservative, liberal, gay, straight, black, white, etc. The many complexities that make up you and your essence are not honored. You are just put into a box from which you can never escape. This, of course, makes it much easier to not listen to each other. This is a shame.

Similarly, while listening to each other we need to listen to God. We have a wonderful example from the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose birthday was celebrated yesterday. Mary was likely a girl in her early teenage years who wanted nothing more than to live with her bethrothed, Joseph, until the end of her life. Instead, she answered the Archangel Gabriel with the words "Let it be to me according to thy word." This simple action took her to many dark places. She saw her son, the only son she had ever known murdered as a common criminal. His friends and disciples were similarly murdered. She lived in excruciating emotional agony. Yet, she listened to God's will for her life. She listened.

The two cannot be mutually exclusive. Sometimes we hear each other and it is hearing the very voice of God acting through us. Who better than our sisters or brothers to let us know that we need to change our ways. Sometimes God tells us that we must reach out to each other. Regardless of how it happens, the take home message today is that we must listen. It can't be a half-hearted listening, but it must be fully aware and sincere. We don't have to agree with the message, but we are duty bound to listen to the story. To care about the speaker regardless of their background or differences. Perhaps in this we will hear the very voice of God.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Judge Not...

There are a lot of people that are down on the ISM, including within the movement itself. Sure, we have our crazies. But, we have the directive that the Church is a "hospital for sinners." There is no perfect church because, by definition, they are filled with imperfect people. However, this obviously does not give anyone the right to misuse their authority in any way. Unfortunately, this will never be completely avoidable. However, the one difference is that it happens on a much smaller scale in the ISM than in mainstream churches.

For instance, if I were a Roman Catholic leader, I could not live with the fact that I was complicit in the abuse of children. Yet, for some reason the ISM is derided as flaky, dangerous, spiritually hurtful if people should find our churches. Similarly, an Orthodox jurisdiction recently had a bishop placed on leave for allegations of impropriety. This same jurisdiction has investigated two primates, had a primate resign, is investigating a bishop on molestation charges, removed another bishop, had a priest accused of rape, another priest accused of financial improprieties.... well, you get the idea. Soon, they won't have any bishops left!

This is not gloating. The fact that there have been people hurt by religion is awful. Yet, it stands as a testament that when the ISM is accused of all those negative things and being "not real," is the alternative so much better? Instead of talking about how horrible we are as a movement, we must make a move to more positive discussions. When questioned about perceived negatives, we have an obligation to highlight the wonderful aspects of our tradition. This includes how much more true we are to the model of the early church, how we offer ordination opportunities to qualified individuals who would not have an opportunity elsewhere, how we permit greater access to the sacraments, etc.

Each tradition offers the opportunity to participate in the life giving sacraments of the church. This is, obviously, preferable to the empty fundamentalism that is becoming a fad in America.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Two Men and a Sewing Machine Do Not A Religious Order Make...

Religious orders have a colorful history in the ISM. Many characters of the movement have not done much to help this perception. The joke is that whatever habit a man or woman looks best in will be the religious order of choice. I don't think that is necessarily fair, as there are many instances of wonderful orders.

Don't get me wrong--there is a lot of humor in ISM religious orders. This is especially true when Roman orders are recreated in the ISM that were founded on principles like a vow of obedience to the Pope, propagation of the Roman Catholic faith, etc. We also must be careful not to use a very specific name when not Roman Catholic, lest the Romans think that we are infringing on their rights. It is perfectly ok to claim the charism of a saint but have a different name. Obviously with ecumenical Benedictines, Franciscans, etc. this is moot for those groups.

But, there are many sincere people who want to devote themselves to following he lifestyle and charism of a certain saintly prophet. Or, they want to devote themselves totally to a calling. These can be very powerful instruments in the ISM. Where we are sometimes subject to domineering prelates, religious orders provide a breath of fresh air. They are inherently much more organic than formalized church structures. They also afford the opportunity for individuals to have a greater source of community.

In many ways, I think that religious orders could be the wave of the future on the ISM. That is, even if they are not defined as religious orders in themselves. Generation Y and beyond are increasingly very anti-institutional in their faith journey. A religious order could offer a modicum of structure while still being non-threatening enough to the neophytes. They would cross jurisdictional boundaries and allow individuals to worship in their own community of choice while belonging to an "alternative" group.

I think the ISM has a challenge towards greater unity of religious orders. It seems impractical to join all religious orders of a same tradition, i.e. Franciscan, across jurisdictions and theologies. However, greater unity can certainly be achieved. Perhaps orders can form a collaborative agreement to support each other on their journey. Or, maybe commit to a common place for their respective yearly chapters but use down time to mingle together. This would provide a wonderful opportunity for fellowship.

I also think jurisdictions which contain religious orders can challenge their members to greater formation. This isn't a formal process necessarily, but it could be an introspective way to conform to the charism of a certain tradition.

Maybe the group realized that they need to encourage more study of their founder. It is somewhat unfair to claim a certain character and then pray/act/etc nothing like that tradition. Perhaps an order then becomes "in the spirit of St. Brumhilde," or whomever they choose. Maybe they realize they don't like him or her at all! Or, if a new order, they realize that they need a mission statement and some common purpose. Or, perhaps I am putting on my non-profit director hat!

I think, too, that we have to be careful not to mock start up orders. St. Benedict was once the only Benedictine, and similarly with St. Francis before Lord Bernard. If the individual is bearing good fruit, God will give them brothers and/or sisters. If they just want to wear a habit, at least we can encourage them to get to know the founder. Maybe they will be more devoted than most.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Validity: When the Holy Spirit Stays Home...

I recently re-discovered a quote from one of my favorite liturgists and authors, Adrian Fortescue. The quote is from his book "The Greek Fathers": "People who are not theologians never seem to understand how little intention is wanted for a sacrament (the point applies equally to minister and subject). The "implicit intention of doing what Christ instituted" means so vague and small a thing that one can hardly help having it -- unless one deliberately excludes it. At the time when every one was talking about Anglican orders numbers of Catholics confused intention with faith. Faith is not wanted. It is heresy to say that it is (this was the error of St Cyprian and Firmilian against which Pope Stephen I 254-257 protested). A man may have utterly wrong, heretical, and blasphemous views about a sacrament and yet confer or receive it quite validly."

This is important, because validity is the sacred cow of the ISM. Without valid apostolic succession, the sacraments offered by a priest are invalid. I have been quite scrupulous about sacraments in the past, and continue to be so to a large degree. My theological education, which is patently Western, has always maintained that matter, form, and intent are essential to the valid confection of a sacrament. Matter is the touching of the head with the hands (or hand for diaconate), form is the wording within the preface (in the Western rite) indicating what is being done, and intent is to do what the church intends. That is it. This is relatively simple and reasonably difficult to "mess up."

Now, this post is not intended to get into the murky world of what is the correct form. Traditionalists have been arguing this since the Pontifical of Paul VI appeared and, specifically, if the form for the consecration of bishops truly confers ordination in comparison to the traditional form. For the sake of this post we will generically assume that any form indicating what is taking place will suffice, whatever your view happens to be on this subject.

The issue of this blog post is when other requirements are attached that are historically inaccurate and unnecessary. For instance, it has been repeated ad nauseam that Utrecht requires that a bishop be elected for a specific church. It is unnecessary, although desirable to some, that the clergy and laity be involved in the election of bishops. To require such would invalidate the episcopate of the Roman Catholic and some Orthodox churches. Furthermore, the Church has a long tradition of missionary bishops (St. Boniface!) who are consecrated for no particular population (but with the expectation of the conversion of a populace), bishops of monasteries, administrative bishops who have no direct charge, etc. Depending on your view, this may or may not be desirable. The point, however, is that oikonomia allows for the continuation of the apostolic succession. Holy Mother Utrecht herself derives her orders from a so-called "titular bishop."

Now, because individuals are validly consecrated without a charge does not mean that it is not desirable. No one bishop "owns" the apostolic succession, as the apostolic tradition of the church is complementary to the tactile succession. That is, to do what the church intends. Being consecrated for a specific church creates a larger sense of accountability as well. When St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote "Where the bishop is, there is the church," it was not carte blanche for every egomaniacal sociopath bishop to justify their authority.

Will things aways be done according to the most desirable practice? No. Will people still be healed, the Most Blessed Sacrament be celebrated, the Good News still be preached, and grace be conferred? Yes. Even a scrupulous person like the humble writer can believe that message!

This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Thank You for Being a Friend...

I recently attended the consecration of a friend. Over the course of the weekend, I made a comment to this friend about how thankful I am that we have an Independent Sacramental Movement. I especially am grateful that there were some brave souls that were willing to out on a limb and share apostolic succession with a band of renegades.

Think about it--apostolic succession outside of established churches is a relatively new thing. Sure, there was the consecration of Varlet. However, even his apostolic succession was confined to the Old Catholic Churches. It look men like Vilatte and Mathew to share the succession with others. This is such a relatively recent event in that these consecrations happened within the last 100+ years. Many people within and outside of the movement think that this is the worst thing that has ever happened. However, would many of those same folks inside the movement have orders today without those men?

Sure, Vilatte, Herford, Ferrette, and Mathew were quirky. So were many of the fathers of the movement who passed on succession. But, without their passing on their succession we would be like the priestless Old Believers of Russia. So, forgive this somewhat nostalgic post. But, I am entirely grateful to these early divines. Despite their intentions or shortcomings, they performed significant acts that have had generational ramifications. Some people were and are ordained that should not have been, but can the mainstream church say any different?

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Charisma! We ain't got none...

Exscuse the Southern colloqualism. But the topic of my post today is about the charisma that often surrounds new religious movements, and how quickly it dissapates within the second generation. More than just charisma, though, is an electric energy that surrounds new religious movements. It could be anyone from Jonathan Edwards (the evangelist not the politician!) to our own greats like Bishop Hodur. Something else surrounds these great individuals, and that is doctrinal development.

How, you ask? Well, as I have often mentioned, Bishop Hodur was a proponent of universalism. In spite of the angst that this causes the Scrantonites as they wax philosophical about conservative values to entice the Romans and the various Anglican clefts, it is not necessarily a bad thing. Bishop Hodur continues the venerable tradition in the line of John Scotus Erigena who said: "Evil, being negative, as is punishment, neither can stand eternal." Indeed, we hope and pray that all of our sisters and brethren are saved, despite how many curses we lob upon them during life.

The same is true of the first Obispo Maximo of the Phillippine Independent Church. Theologically, at the end of his life, he was staunchly unitarian in his outlook. Now, am I saying that we need to rush out and adopt universalism and unitarianism? Of course not. However, I relish the position of devil's advocate. The larger, holistic argument is: are people who have different views from our own totally invalid? Are they no longer a source of inspiration because they waxed philosophical and came up with a different view?

The fundamentalists among us would say, definitively, "yes." If you do not agree with me you are crazy and none of your positions are valid. But look at the good that has come out of some otherwise curious traditions in our movment. The Mariavites, granted, were a little innovative when they elevated Maria Franciszka to hyperdulia. However, many things that they did were absolutely on point. They increased devotion to the Holy Eucharist, fasted and prayed, frequented Confession, built beautiful temples to praise God, etc. These are all laudable things! The same is true of the Liberal Catholic Church. More orthodox Christians would completely condemn them. Are some of their ideas not Orthodox? Yes. However, they preserve the Sacraments, and preserve a belief in Christ that can be non-existant among other esoteric traditions.

This extends to the mainstream church as well. St. Angela of Foligno, for instance, was said to eat the puss of penitents and proclaimed it "as sweet as the Eucharist." If true, this is certainly disgusting and totally nuts. However, she also brought thousands to Christ because of her mysticism and was renowned for charitable works. So, you take the good with the bad. We can disagree with each other and we can even think others are nuts. But, that does not mean that they are bad or that they do not have opinions and reasonings that are valid. There are plenty of new jurisdictional movements, especially in the ISM, that I think are nuts and potentially dangerous. Are they all bad? We cannot reason that something is completely bad, unless we're fundamentalists. So, take it with a grain of salt and leave the rest.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Good Riddance!



Good riddance to the Eucharistic Prayers for children! "Oh God, you are our friend... we love you. You make us happy..." These trite phrases are not helpful to children, and they do not make the liturgy more approachable for children. The intent of the prayers was likely to provide catechesis to children and make the Mass more relevant. I think, however, that it has the opposite effect. First, what is it that children hate the most? Could it be when they're talked down to by adults? Do you remember when you would have parents or an aunt who would say to you "you don't understand, or you'll get it when you're older." How frustrating. We live in a country that has done an amazing job of dumbing down our entire culture. We are encouraged to write at a 6th grade level and large numbers of college graduates complete their degrees without knowing how to spell or critically think. If anything, I think that we should be doing a better job of educating young people to speak correctly and better articulate their thoughts. What better place to do it than in the very house of God? Are we doomed to a vocabulary that is as extensive as that of the cast of Jersey Shore?

It is endemic of a society doomed to believe that things must be made approachable to everyone. It is ok if you wear your pajamas out in public, because you should be comfortable. Or, it is ok that your children run screaming throughout the store. You should be able to allow that if you choose. For me, the purpose of liturgy is to create a transcendence. It is an hour a week when we can focus on worship and reverence that belongs the God of the universe without needing to be entertained. Liturgy should not be so watered down that it makes us complacent and is as humdrum as going to the grocery. Individuals should do a better job about learning the prayers and the rubrics of the liturgy to become more involved, rather than having it explained ad nauseam to them. Priests should do a better job about honoring the reverence of the moment, and not rushing through to get to the next Mass or brunch. Priests would also do well to not make it a sideshow for the sake of being "entertaining." For goodness sakes, children attended Mass in Latin for hundreds of years!

Or, maybe I am a dying breed. Every time I say Mass, I cannot help but to remember the words that were posted in the sacristy of my first parish: Priests of God offer this Mass as if it were your first Mass, your last Mass, your only Mass. It's sometimes difficult with our fast-paced lives, but it's a good thought to keep.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Where Charity and Love Prevail, there the Church is never found...

I have been reflecting a great deal lately on  the idea of church as a "big tent." It is true that we do not often get along. Theological issues, social issues, our own issues, and a whole host of other things divide us. Yet, paradoxically, we believe in a faith that says "so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others." How did we get to this state?

Well, Christianity does not have a stellar history of inclusion and welcoming. We frequently find even the most minute reasons to hate each other. This rant is directed more at social issues than theological ones. Let me be clear: there are some unique theological issues that should and will divide us. A dear friend of mine, a Presbyterian pastor, said something to the effect of "our dialogue with each other in my denomination is now about such basic and long-accepted issues that it has become an interfaith dialogue." Depending on the severity of the issues, at this point we should likely part ways as friends and Brothers and Sisters in Christ.

No, my rant here is more devoted towards social issues. The first schisms were mainly the conservatives of many denominations. At the ordination of women, the inclusion of gays and lesbians,  and even interracial issues some people parted ways. This is most unfortunate, as they still had a story to tell and things to contribute. They left often hegemonic groups that had little or no diversity--what challenges and growth can come when you surround yourself with those that are just like you?

However, the conservatives are not completely to blame. The more liberal camp then made things intolerable. Without a strong voice against some of their plans, they began to steamroll over the opinions and thoughts of others. You must accept women's ordination or you must accept gay marriage... This, too, is as uncompromising as the views of their opponents. They alienated those that were left and made them out to be neo-conservative fanatics. This is especially unfortunate.

This author, for one, celebrates alternative episcopal oversight, societies devoted to a certain liturgy, etc. It allows individuals who feel called to a particular direction to band together as a group and maintain their beliefs at which they arrived with a well-formed conscience. They should not be made to accept a woman priest or forced to celebrate a gay marriage. However, they should also respect if another group decides that this is their wish. Oh, but in a perfect world...

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Communion in the Hand


As time goes by, I am becoming more and more adament against the use of Communion in the hand. I know this topic has been written about ad nauseum, but these are my huble thoughts. The argument is that this is a meal and that the priest as presbyter of the community shares the Sacred Meal with the community in an egalitarian fasion. While this may work for Roman Catholicism, it does not necessarily ring true in the ISM.

The ISM has a completely different ethos. One of the beautiful things about our community is the fluidity of our ordination processes. Obviously this is not a free-for-all, but it limits the need for dozens of "eucharistic ministers" because people can be more easily admitted to the Holy Order of deacon and other orders. For this reason, eucharistic ministers become largely obsolete because they have the ability to be raised into Holy Orders if they feel that vocation.

Having celebrated Mass in large parishes, giving Communion in the hand becomes like the "cafeteria" line. The constant, repetative distribution of the most sacred gift in history in the most inauspicious way. It becomes "snatched" rather than distributed. Even just kneeling shows the proper dignity and respect towards the Sacament. However, when one receives on the tongue it shows the true importance of this most august sacrament. There is also less room for accidents to happen or the accidental dropping of the Sacrament.

I would argue that this is not a traditionalist vs modernist issue, but simply an examination of the true importance and significance of the Bread of Life.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Things to be Avoided

Blessedly, as the Independent Sacramental Movement, there is a lot of freedom in how we worship and conduct church together. We are not limited by the rules and regulations of other churches, although in the spirit of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" sometimes our brothers and sisters would do well to follow the rubrics of certain established liturgies.

This tongue in cheek list is one that lists suggestions that not be replicated in the ISM.

1. Electric Votive Candles: They should pay me to use electric votive candle holders, not the other way around! Blessedly, this has only occured once in my many, many church visits. There is nothing warm and fuzzy about pushing a button to lift up your prayer. In fact, it's downright cold. Candles and sticks that burn your fingers are the only way to go in worship. Obviously, this does not apply to vigil lamps as it is a laudable thing not to burn one's house down in misguided devotion.

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/elina/192066186/


2. Abstract Art: If you accidentally sit on that statue of Jesus because you think it's a bench--the artist might be sending the wrong message. Don't get me wrong--I love (some) abstract art. Well, maybe two pieces. Sacred art is meant to be uplifting and visually appealing. I don't want to think about it for 20 minutes. Below is a modern Pieta in the Hofkirche…


3. Inappropriate kitsch: The ISM loves kitsch. I have found myself in parishes that have more statues than the Metropolitan Museum of Art. However, choose your poison carefully…


4. Creative altar server wares: Look, it's a crusader! Seriously, though, it's easy to blur the line between theatrical and liturgical when everyone is dressed in assorted polyesters.

Feel free to add others as you feel so called!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Defining Old Catholicism: Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better!

I have been struck by the tendency to define what is Old Catholic and what is not. This is certainly a good natured exercise--people need to have a basis on which to form their beliefs and build their theologies. It is also sincere because, especially in America, there is a tendency to label anything non-Roman Catholic as Old Catholic. This is a misguided exercise. There are most certainly those who clearly desire nothing more than to be Roman Catholic, and Old Catholic orders have just been a vehicle for them to achieve this imitation.

The Old Catholic tradition, as this humble writer understands it, is a tradition that is grounded on the independence of the local church in juridical matters. It is also rooted in the independence of belief to some extent. Scholasticism and ultramontanism brought the requirement in Roman Catholic circles to minutely define every article of faith and require it to be necessary for salvation. It is, as St. Vincent of Lerins says, defining that which "has been believed everywhere, always, and by all." In this context, it makes it increasingly difficult to define what is not Old Catholic.

There is also, with the advent of the internet, the explosion of Old Catholic jurisdictions in places like America. One can easily realize that this is to the chagrin of the Old Catholic divines in Europe. However, I would posit that there is too different of a perspective between Europe and America for there to be judgement. European Old Catholicism is active on a continent that is the size of our nation. There is also a difference in size--the Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands conservatively has about 10,000 members. This is, in America, the size of a small megachurch. Although still impressive by American Old Catholic standards, this number does reflect a totally different worldview between the two continents. Both traditions also have a very heavy influx of former Roman Catholics in their leadership--this can sometimes adversely affect the theological tradition as there can be a tendency to dictate what is and is not Old Catholic based on the individual's own theological understandings.

There is also the understanding that the Union of Utrecht has had some very diverse beliefs among its members. The Polish National Catholic Church (PNCC) has defined the Word of God as a sacrament and (at some point was) openly universalist. While this may not directly conflict with the beliefs of other Old Catholic churches, it does show a that each church can have dogmatic differences and still co-exist for 100 some years. This is articulated by Professor Dr. Urs von Arx that the commonality of the Old Catholic tradition is based on:

- the fundamental faith of the Church as witnessed in the liturgy, in creeds or other common statements and finding a certain expression in the practical life of the baptized;
- the liturgy of the Church, especially the Eucharist structured around its poles Word and Sacrament;
- the ministry of the Church, especially the episkopé in its structural unfolding and integration in both the local Church and the communion of local Churches.

This is a very beautiful thing, in my opinion. It is also, ideally, accomplishing something that is crumbling in the Anglican Communion and does not have a strong basis in the Roman Catholic tradition. That is to create a "big tent" where there can be diversity of belief in regards to the non-specifics but a commonality in regards to the essential elements of Catholic Christianity. 

JOKE:

Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, "Don't do it!" He said, "Nobody loves me." I said, "God loves you. Do you believe in God?"

He said, "Yes." I said, "Are you a Christian or a Jew?" He said, "A Christian." I said, "Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?" He said, "Protestant." I said, "Me, too! What franchise?" He said, "Baptist." I said, "Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?" He said, "Northern Baptist." I said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?"

He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist." I said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?" He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region." I said, "Me, too!"

Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?" He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912." I said, "Die, heretic!" And I pushed him over.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Eucharistic Theologies: Take and Eat Ye One or Many?

One of the most debated topics in the ISM is the various beliefs and practices of the Eucharist. The Eucharist, the most sublime sacrament, is absolutely crucial to our Catholic faith. Yet, there is much discussion about when and how it should be celebrated. This is not a discussion about the various rites and ceremonies--it is in relation to Eucharistic celebrations that are solitary or communal.

Should the Eucharist be celebrated alone or with a congregation? This question has been argued vehemently by each side. Obviously, most would argue clearly that it is better to have a congregation. In my most humble opinion, it does not prevent us from celebrating the sacrament when alone. I arrived at this decision some time ago when I viewed the movie "When in Rome." It is a movie with Van Johnson about the 1950 Holy Year and is, sadly, not yet released on DVD.

The plot of the movie is that a convict boards a boat with a priest and then steals his identity to escape unnoticed in Rome during the Holy Year. Obviously, there would have been a gaggle of priests in the Eternal City. The criminal eventually finds himself in a Trappist-style monastery and the priest, Van Johnson, says something like "there is great consolation knowing that you are here praying for me and the entire world." I'm paraphrasing, but this is a crude comparison to my own Eucharistic beliefs.

The Eucharist is a means of grace to us, but there is also a sort of metaphysical grace that is conferred on the greater world when the Eucharist is celebrated. It is the recognition of Christ's presence among us in a more tangible way with his very Body and Blood. It is good when this is done either alone or in community. There have been times of great spiritual difficulty that I have celebrated the Eucharist alone and received the graces conveyed very tangibly.

What does this mean in the greater theological schema? Does it necessarily convey that we, as priests, are custodians of the sacramental power without the need to offer sacrifice on behalf of the greater community? Well, no. But, in solitary eucharists we do offer sacrifice on behalf of the very world even, as the old saying goes, if we are only surrounded by the saints and angels. Now, we even have the ability to broadcast our liturgies across the world. I know several priests who have successful apostolates broadcasting their masses to those who cannot attend elsewhere.

Is this the only ministry for which a priest can be ordained? Well, not necessarily. Unless one is a true hermit or some other type of recluse, there is still a commitment to minister to the People of God. We exist to serve them and to bring Christ to them in the graces of the sacraments. This looks vastly different to each person--how they absolve others and spread the Gospel. It is also not limited to space--I know priests who have ministered more in grocery stores, parking lots, among friends, and in other places than they do in a "traditional parish." Perhaps that is more close to the message of Jesus than we think.

"And into whatsoever city ye enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you: and heal the sick that are therein, and say unto them, The kingdom of God is come nigh unto you." Luke 10: 8.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Clergy Fashion: "Sashay! Shante!"

There is one principle that ISM clergy have never heeded well: simplicity of vesture. In the words of Mademoiselle Chanel: "Before you go out, always take something off". In the ISM, perhaps the more appropriate statement is "The Infant of Prague is to be venerated, not imitated." Don't get me wrong--I am a traditionalist and love brocades as well as all manner of luxurious vestments. The very nature of liturgy is to transcend this world in praising God. It is mysterious and familiar at the same time. The clothing of the celebrant and the atmosphere should reflect the dignity of this most sublime Sacrifice. In other words, it is the anti-polyester.

It's not necessarily a matter of taste or of money. Each parish or clergy person has their own abilities and their own tastes. But, liturgical vesture should be something special and unique. It's not about adding as much as you can and finding it as cheaply made as possible. There's a whole blog devoted to badly dressed clergy (blessedly most of them are Episcopalians). But, besides creating beauty in liturgy there are also a guideline as to what clergy should where and when. This isn't about following Roman rules or imitating any denomination--it's what looks appropriate and honoring the dignity and purpose of every item of clergy vesture. Each item evolved over time and came to symbolize something important to our faith. The mitre symbolizes tongues, the alb is a baptismal garment, the stole as Christ's napkin when washing feet, etc.

Sure, there are certain things that drive me crazy. PLEASE DO NOT wear a chasuble with a cope, or a zuchetto with a clergy suit, or a mitre while in choir dress, or wear a chasuble without an alb, etc., etc., etc. But, it isn't about dressing up. It isn't about looking the most fantastic. It is about creating reverence and dignity. I have been countered in this argument by priests who say: "My people want something casual" or "We don't want to spend the money." To that I answer that Dorothy Day, the great Catholic Worker crusader, realized the importance of beauty and mystery in worship. The story goes that a priest told her he wanted to build a simple, inexpensive church in a poor area. She responded that church was the only place that could help the people transcend out of the slums and experience something beautiful and otherworldly.This isn't social hour--it's holding eternity in an instant and infinity in the palm of your hand. Treat it thus.

"Priest of God, celebrate this Mass as if it were your first Mass, your last Mass, your only Mass."

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

What's in a Name?

There is some discussion about using the name "Old Catholic" and if that is acceptable given that there are "legitimate" Union of Utrecht Churches. Names in the Independent Sacramental Movement (ISM) are a very tricky thing. For instance: many Roman Catholics think of "Liberal Catholic" as advocating women's ordination, gay rights, etc., and not necessarily the esoteric sympathies that the Liberal Catholic Church has nurtured. Similarly, the Charismatic Episcopal Church is very clear that the "Episcopal" in their name is not indicative of participation in the Continuing Anglican movement but for leadership by bishops. There are also those that have a hard time making decisions, hence the Anglican Orthodox Byzantine Old Catholic Non-Jacobite Armenian Coptic Church. TM (Obviously this is tongue in cheek).

So, it can be difficult to convey the beliefs of a jurisdiction in a name. For this reason, the name Old Catholic is often used to symbolize a non-Ultramontanist Catholicism. Many ISM folks are very attached to the Old Catholic tradition, both for its collegiality as well as its emphasis on the local church. From my perspective, there are Anglicans who are not under the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Yet, they are every bit Anglican in their understanding of the tradition. So, too, Old Catholics who are not members of the Union of Utrecht are validly claiming that tradition and the understanding of Ultrajectine Catholicism. Old Catholicism is very diverse. This includes in name (the Christian Catholic Church of Switzerland, the Catholic Diocese of Old Catholics in Germany, the Old Catholic Church of Austria, etc., etc.) as well as in practice (the Poles do not ordain women or gay individuals while the Dutch have been doing so for some time). Yet, they all co-exist because of their understanding of the Ecclesia through the local church. This is a rich, beautiful diversity that is the "big umbrella" of our faith.

So, why is it duplicitous, then, to call yourself a Roman Catholic when not in union with the Pope but not Old Catholic when not in union with the Archbishop of Canterbury? Well, for one, the Old Catholic Church does not have a presence in America. It did with the Polish National Catholic Church, but that has since dissolved. The Old Catholic Union of Utrecht presence in the US is the Episcopal Church of the United States of America, as they are linked closely in inter communion and share much in common. Because of this, it is much easier for a non-Utrecht affiliated Old Catholic church to call itself Old Catholic without misrepresentation. When an cleric calls himself a Roman Catholic, though, there is an expectation that he is in union with the Pope. Sure, there are traditionalist groups that call themselves Roman Catholic that are not in union with the Pope. There are liberal groups that call themselves Roman Catholic and are, effectively, excommunicated by Roman Catholic standards. The difference is that there is a deep longing to change the Roman Church through one's identification with it.

This was driven home to me when I had a conversation with a member of a group advocating for a married RC priesthood. I stated that I was glad to meet another independent Catholic and was very firmly told that "we are not independent Catholics. We are Roman Catholics trying to change our church." Good luck. With Old Catholicism, there is little attempt to change the Union of Utrecht. There is also not the belief that one is an Old Catholic "but for jurisdiction," as it used by some who utilize the term Roman Catholic. In fact, the vast majority of Old Catholics have no desire to enter the Union. They are generally happy with their autonomy and realize that recognition is not likely. If one wants communion with the Old Catholic Churches, they steer towards the Episcopal Church. There is no established institution by which to define yourself--you just stand in the tradition.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Sin of Misrepresentation...

There is one thing that is completely unacceptable in the ISM--misrepresentation. People generally realize that many clergy are no different from other people. We all have our foibles, our short comings, and wrestle with different issues. However, misrepresenting ourselves cannot be tolerated.

In mainstream denominations, clergy misrepresentation is (sadly) more common than one would think. Besides the scandals, there are the cases of the made up diplomas, the credentials that don't really exist, the ego inflation... But things are a bit different in the ISM. In the ISM, the principal sin of misrepresenting ones self is the misrepresentation that one is a Roman Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, etc. priest.

It should be noted that this rant is not pointed towards traditionalists who have split (in the eyes of the establishment) or continued (in their eyes) from their original tradition. They are often very clear that they are not connected with the "official" church. This may also be evident because of their calendar, commemorations, position on the Pope, liturgy, etc.

It is directed towards those members of the ISM that are so delusional or seeking validation that they present themselves as a priest from one of the above groups. Often, it is most prevalent with Roman Catholicism. I would posit that is because much of the general public is unaware of Orthodoxy and so it is more difficult appear to misrepresent as a "canonical" Orthodox priest. This is especially true in light of the many various factions and the traditionalist issues above. The same, too, with Episcopalians as many simply call themselves Anglicans and people (generally) know the difference. Most Roman Catholics, frankly, lump Episcopalians into the Protestant category and most clergy from the Anglican tradition have no problem telling of the differences between ECUSA and them.

I have heard horror stories of ISM clergy misrepresenting themselves as Roman Catholics. This includes independently ordained priests hearing confessions in Roman Catholic churches until ejected, showing up at liturgies and presenting themselves as Roman Catholic clergy, saying mass and running off with the collection plate, etc. Sometimes, these folks are pure con artists. Sometimes they are mentally ill. In every circumstance, though, they should not have been ordained (if they were). The same goes for those who misrepresent themselves to faithful as Roman Catholic parishes when they are, in fact, independent parishes.

I have also heard every defense for posing as clergy of a larger jurisdiction. "No one will come to our Mass if we let it be known we are independents" or "They don't know the difference" or "I'm valid, so it's ok." To be clear: it is never acceptable. Those priests are misrepresenting themselves and lying to the People of God. They do themselves a disservice and they create suspicion within the community about our movement.

Sure, there are occasionally those folks who don't know about our tradition and may be confused. This is a teaching moment and when I have met such folks they often come back to the liturgy. This is because our understanding of our faith and the liturgy resonates with them. It is often difficult to describe ourselves in a short period of time. People get confused easily about our tradition. What is not ok is to misrepresent.

The larger issue, as well, is why one would want to represent themselves as a Roman Catholic or any other tradition mentioned. We have an extraordinary calling--to minister to those who feel lost, abandoned, and need the Sacraments and liturgy that feeds their soul. We can function outside of dogma and man-made rules to help others become connected with God. That is a greater gift than a momentary bit of recognition or a photo opportunity.

"But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth." James 3:14

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Purpose of This Blog...

I have been asked the purpose of this blog in the past. I don't necessarily know its length of existance and how often I will post. It is partly theologically driven, so that some of the traditions of the ISM can be examined in light of the Church Catholic and justified or discussed. It is also partly humorous so that I can joke about the lighter side of the movement. If we can't learn to laugh at ourselves, we will be forever ashamed and locked in a struggle of justifying that which needs no justification.

The bottom line is that this blog will deal with the stories of people. These people are sometimes broken, hurt, ambitious, sincere, and just plain mad. They are like you and me and their stories deserve to be heard. The ISM is truly a beautiful movement. It has given an opportunity to those who would never have received ministerial standing in other places--women, gays and lesbians, divorced people, etc. Regardless of your feeling on these particular issues, the ISM is a big tent where each person can live their faith in the manner and place that they feel called by God. The ISM a microcosm of society and the Church as a whole.

So, too, the idea of "episcopi vagantes" is not necessarily a bad one. After all, do we not believe in a Savior who had no where to lay his head? He was a migrant, a wandering teacher who preached to those who would listen. Perhaps having great Sees and cathedrals has hindered us from preaching the Gospel or from being with those who are truly in need of Good News. We have so enshrined ministry to a scientific, rigid calling that the Spirit has called people in different, dynamic ways.

More than anything, I hope that my writings allow the readers to rexamine some of their long-held beliefs. Perhaps recreating a larger church in a smaller model is not what you are called to do. Perhaps you need structure and value the boundaries that can be recreated in this movement. Whatever your place or your calling, have an open mind and reflect that you may not know the battles that others are fighting.

Finally, if I have learned anything from being Southern, it is that we cherish our crazy people. In the words of the great Julia Sugarbaker, "This is the South. We're proud of our crazy people. We don't hide them in the attic, we bring them to the living room and show them off. No one in the South asks if you have crazy people, they ask which side they are on." See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W3KQgulBzh0. Go easy on folks.

Peace.

The More Colorful the Title, the More Colorful the Man...

I have a favorite French proverb: "Wooden Bishop, Golden Crozier. Golden Bishop, Wooden Crozier." That is sometimes hard to apply among the ISM, who frequently use bedposts and all other manner of objects as croziers. Instead, we create fanciful titles for ourselves. This is a list of a few of my favorites:

  • Patriarch of Sodom, Gomorrah, and All Canaan (my favorite)
  • His Sacred Beatitude and Most Holy Eminence
  • His Sacred Beatitude
  • Apostolic Pontiff
  • Most Illustrious Lord
  • Universal Patriarch
  • Supreme Hierarch
  • His Whiteness (Celtic title, not supremacist!)

These are just a few. Unfortunately, it has been a while since I've read Anson. There are also your run of the mill Cardinals, but they have become an also-ran.

I also have mixed feelings about the title of monsignor. Traditionally, one would not use this title unless given some privilege by the Bishop of Rome or if one was a member of the Bourbon dynasty. Given its proximity to Papal privilege now, I personally prefer the title of Canon.

Feel free to add your own below!

Friday, January 13, 2012

A Pedigree Does Not A Bishop Make...

Often times you will here in the ISM that "I have xyz orders, which makes me an xyz bishop/priest/deacon." Let me assure you, dear reader, that having orders through a particular source does not make one entitled to that tradition. Apostolic Succession (or tradition depending on your outlook) is not something that one owns like the pedigree of a horse. It is a tie to the universal priesthood of Christ Jesus. That succession is as equal in a Roman Catholic ordination as it is in an Orthodox ordination as it is in an Old Catholic ordination... you get the drift.

Some interesting precedents have pointed to going outside one's tradition for receiving the Apostolic Succession. There is a well-known Sedevacantist group that initially received orders from an Old Catholic Bishop. Receiving these orders did not make the recipients Old Catholics (and they made all sorts of abjurations and oaths to prove it) but it connected them with the timeless succession from the apostles. So, too, with the Charismatic Episcopal Church, which received orders from the Brazilian Catholic Apostolic Church. They did not necessarily care about the venerable history of (St.) Carlos Duarte Costa--they only wanted to share in the historic succession.

This does not mean that it is anathema to want to receive a certain lineage because of a link to a tradition or an idealization towards the founder. Like it or not humans are a concrete people who value ties to those who are important to their faith--we keep relics, prayer cards, etc., so it goes to reason that lineage should be no different. However, receiving that lineage is not the be all and end all of claiming the tradition. That takes years of careful theological and historical study, but also a sincere adherence to the faiths and beliefs of that group or background.

So, receiving apostolic succession through an unlikely source does not genetically curse your succession and that of your successor's successors. In that same manner, though, receiving succession through someone like Archbishop Thuc doesn't make you a Traditionalist Catholic. If you doubt this, ask Sinead O'Connor.