Saturday, November 11, 2017


The challenge of belief is that we often forget that the Church is the hospital for sinners. As such, we should expect that people of varying backgrounds come to the Church for salve. We acknowledge that none of us are perfect and that we offend God all too often. Besides loving God and our neighbor we try to heed the words of the monk in "Ostrov" when another monk says "Father, how should I live?" "Just try not to sin too much" is the reply. We know that we will commit sin but we proceed forward knowing nothing we do can merit forgiveness but for the grace we have received from Our Blessed Lord.

The Autocephalous Catholic movement has its share of saints and knaves. However, we acknowledge that we have more than our fair share of people with checkered backgrounds. Who come to the movement because they need a place to minister. Because they appreciate the freedom, or their lifestyle prohibits them from ministry elsewhere, or they have been impacted by the larger Church, or, or, or... In reality, this is the same reason why other people pick any number of religious institutions. Because it appeals to them.

As noted, some people will have checkered backgrounds. The Church, as a hospital for sinners, welcomes these people. Sometimes, however, their past actions must preclude them from active ministry. I do not believe that a person who has committed sexual acts with children can ever be admitted to ministry. I am sympathetic to a person who has reformed themselves. However, there are any number of people who are prevented from ordination to the priesthood. Because of physical or mental limitations, etc. Yet many find the grace to live out a Christian life. This can be achieved by the infamous, who have caused grave harm to others in their past.

But with hypocrisy, we are not even necessarily talking about the notorious, those who have committed heinous acts. In our movement, because we often have looser disciplinary requirements, we often have people ministering who don't look like clergy in the wider Roman Catholic or Orthodox Church. They could be benign (married bishops) or they could be those who have been pastorally admitted (the divorced and remarried or those with infamous pasts or whatever).

The problem is when clergy of our movement adopt a "holier than thou" attitude. For instance, with the benign, there is a cognitive dissonance I have seen among some married bishops. They think that but for this one issue they are exactly in sync with a larger church of their choosing (again usually Roman Catholicism or Orthodoxy) and should be treated as "rightfully Orthodox" or whatever. The larger church would consider their being married as a grave matter, yet they do not. And that's fine. The problem is when they begin to condemn others because of their disciplinary foibles. I don't believe one can slide into bedlam because of a disciplinary change, but I also think that the one who has received some mercy must also be merciful.

The same is true of those who have pastoral admissions to ministry. If you have received the benefit of Holy Orders in spite of your past or even current picadillos, which includes all of us, for God's sake don't proclaim yourself to be the arbiter of all moral goodness. Just shut up and humbly minister and thank God every day for the opportunity. At the end of the day, none of us are ever worthy (or will ever be worthy) to minister to the people of God. So, we get about doing that without condemning other people, without judging them, and without causing a scene.

In doing this, we imitate Our Blessed Lord who handled the repentant respectfully and tenderly. He did not allow the crowd to stone the woman caught in adultery. So why do some clergy think they now must pick up the stone? The same is true of politicians. We all know that in the history of the world politicians have never been examples of holiness. Yet some now think it is their duty to impose their own morality on other people. Often times, the ones with the most condemnatory moral statements have the most checkered pasts themselves. Sadly, we've almost come to expect it. When someone screams the loudest about a sin it's because they are themselves embarrassed at their experience with it.

So, we go forth and sin no more. That's tongue in cheek, because we know we will inevitably sin. We were given free will and human beings can't seem to keep themselves out of trouble. But we can turn to Our Lord and Our Lady of Mercy and beg forgiveness. Saint Paul likens our spiritual life to a race. Sometimes we win, sometimes we fall behind. But the last thing we can do is kick our fellow runners while they're down. It's just mean.

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven."

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Liturgical Wars

Well, I have a feeling people are going to love this post... Not. Today's topic is the liturgy. I have a preference for traditional liturgy, preferably in the Tridentine Rite. However, I can say this without condemning other people's liturgical practices. Why? Well, I personally only care about one thing: REVERENCE. 

I tend to believe that many people believe liturgy is created in a vacuum. That is can never change. I personally do not believe Our Lord was celebrating a Pontifical High Mass at the Last Supper. However, I also don't think that the God of the Universe is best worshiped by showing off your dance moves. For me, the liturgy should be shaped by 1) a lack of focus on the celebrant (this isn't the Fr. Bob show), 2) deep reverence towards the liturgical act (which is often expressed by following the rubrics), and 3) historic rites which are theologically orthodox while spiritually edifying.

The challenge is how to incorporate this into the Church. It should be noted that these are all my personal opinions. They do not shape the order of worship for my church or anyone else. However, as I noted I prefer the traditional liturgy. I do not begrudge changes in that liturgy, however, such as the Holy Week, calendar, etc. For me the key is to look at the intent of the changes. Are they to restore a more ancient practice? Perhaps. But that is a slippery slope. Because many of the medieval practices we have come to love (benediction) could be considered liturgical innovations. Is it, then, to truncate the liturgy? This is not bad in and of itself in the West, as shorter forms have long been used (in emergency forms of sacramental rites, the Low Mass, etc.). We all perhaps wish we had the stamina to engage in the liturgy 24/7 but this may not be practical. So why is that that someone uses the rite they have adopted?

Then there is the Novus Ordo Missae. I do think that its introduction was endemic of the hermeneutic of rupture. Because it is radically different from its predecessor missal--that can't be denied. I think, as well, it has been introduced in a way to make the liturgy less reverent. Familiarity breeds contempt and I think it has been made so common in many areas as to not be given due reverence. The attempt was made to revert back to the believed customs of the Early Church. In doing so, I think the slippery slope mentioned above is pertinent. However, I do not think the rite is bad in and of itself. I firmly realize, as Dix notes, that the liturgical practices of the Early Church were much different. Many of our propers were impromptu because texts and literacy were problematic. Christendom has utilized many different texts to celebrate the liturgy. My concern is how it was implemented which seemed to rupture from the previous rite without a clear continuity.

This is especially pertinent for the 1970 liturgy. We now have, among Autocephalous Catholics, those who would seek to elevate this liturgy as the supreme example of liturgical beauty (like a liberal SSPX). In spite of its simplistic language and the abhorrent additions like the Eucharistic Prayers for children. I do think the revised Third Edition of the Roman Missal is an improvement, despite the fact that it is clearly not perfect. For me, the 1965 liturgy was a much better option of dignified translation and reverent liturgy. However, in general wherever possible I am in favor of hieratic language and separating the liturgy from the ordinary.

Where does that leave us? Well, it seems to all come down to preference anyway. Various groups will gauge orthodoxy based on if there is a second confiteor, the Holy Week rite used, etc. Some groups wear red or purple on Palm Sunday. Within the Novus Ordo some have become attached to the Mass of 1970. Others have adopted the Third Edition. Sometimes ad orientem, with communion on the tongue, etc., etc. I don't think we have to be scared of liturgical innovation. It has clearly happened frequently in the Church's long history. For me, again, the important thing is that it is shaped by the above principles in bold. 

AND, I should add, that just because people think they can write the world's best liturgy doesn't mean it will be the world's best liturgy. We have so many examples of historic liturgies that are beautiful and reverent and written by people much smarter than most of us. Why not just use that? That doesn't mean liturgies can't be tweaked for their place and purpose. But starting from scratch seems a bit much.

I realize that none of this solves any of liturgical issues. And it's enough to make perhaps everyone who reads it unhappy. But it is a stream of consciousness.

“Novelty may fix our attention not even on the service but on the celebrant. You know what I mean. Try as one may to exclude it, the question "What on earth is he up to now?" will intrude. It lays one's devotion waste. There is really some excuse for the man who said, "I wish they'd remember that the charge to Peter was Feed my sheep; not Try experiments on my rats, or even, Teach my performing dogs new tricks.” - C.S. Lewis

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Degrees of Education

Education in our movement is a real issue. There is a distinct challenge on how to educate candidates and give them the formation necessary for ministry. To be honest, I much prefer a prayerful person with less education than a well-educated person with no prayer life. Yet, we do need to ensure candidates have the basic knowledge necessary for ministry. It is especially difficult in a country as large as America. Similarly, we don't necessarily have the money to have candidates study in a centralized location. Frankly, many other religious entities no longer have that either. "Mainstream" groups like ROCOR are experimenting with distance learning through their Pastoral School. Similarly, the Diocese of Northern Michigan in the Episcopal Church is doing local classes and mentorships to educate candidates.

So where does that leave Indies? Well, I think that is a valuable thing to use online learning to educate candidates. I have also been a proponent of reading for Orders. But what I think is dangerous is when try to mimic the seminary system too closely. I think it's helpful for us to remember that we are small and even larger denominations make exceptions for areas without local clergy. It is problematic when jurisdictions claim they are accredited from organizations that are not actual accrediting institutions. It is not helpful to create the "Accrediting Institute International" to "prove" your institution is valid. Frankly, you don't owe it to anyone. If your institution trains clergy for your church then that is all that is required.

The second issue I have is when institutions grant inflated degrees. I earned a law degree and an MBA after years of study. There is nothing that makes me more frustrated when I see clergy with John Doe, MD, MBA, JD, DD, Ph.D., LMNOP, etc. which are all unearned. We have to be very careful at mimicking seminary degrees. For one, it is used as fodder against us by people saying "look, they're just a fake church." Similarly, it is not fair to people who have spent years earning degrees only to have someone claim 23 degrees by spending $200 on a certificate. Your seminary can rightfully grant some qualification to candidates. I'm not always sure it should be an M.Div., because this has been taken as the standard 3-year graduate degree in the US for pastoral clergy. But just because they read an article on canon law doesn't qualify them for a JCD.

I think there is a way to train clergy sincerely to know basic information without overloading them with rigorous academic expectations. Yet still ensuring they have the knowledge necessary to be good clergy. I think it can also be done by not giving everyone a doctorate in their field of interest. I think people are much more sympathetic to sincere clergy with dedicated training than clergy with invented qualifications because of some self-esteem issue. 

"A maiden at college, Miss Breeze,
Weighed down by B.A.s and Lit.D's,
Collapsed from the strain,
Said her doctor, "It's plain
You are killing yourself --- by degrees!"

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Antisocial Media

Social Media has been a mixed blessing to our little religious world. The positives, as I see them, are as follows: you get to know people better, there is more visibility for ministries, and people can connect more easily. I think it also helps regulate behavior. For anyone who has read letters from the early part of our movement, it is easily apparent that many of our venerable forefathers must have spent a great deal of time typing excommunications. However, with social media there is a degree of peer pressure that helps regulate some insane behavior. Some.

However, there is also a great deal of negative. One issue is that people can get to know each other better. Familiarity, as we know, does breed contempt. And the more we know about people and their intimate religious and political beliefs the more we tend to dislike each other. And social media seems to be the one place where people feel able to post their innermost secrets and beliefs on all sorts of topics. In that same vein, it puts all sorts of people into contact. In one sense, it's good that people are getting connected. However, the down side is that it makes people more connected. People can easily manipulate their image so that they seem great because it appears they are religiously active, or they take pretty pictures, or they are half way around the world and that's appealing. But social media is also a great way for people to put their "best foot forward" and disguise themselves and their true intentions. 

Another issue is that some bishops think it's appropriate to share decrees and other proclamations on things like Facebook. Granted, it's okay to publicize information in this way. But posting a Facebook post that you're incardinating someone isn't the way to do it. Imagine if a business' HR consisted of their saying "Congratulations Joe Smith! You're hired!" If you shouldn't run a McDonald's like that, then it's not acceptable for a church. 

There is also an issue with social media and parishioners. In general, I follow the practice that one should be very judicious about their social media account if they are a cleric. Political postings that can alienate the faithful should be avoided. I prefer to think that clergy project a "tabula rasa" as much as possible. We are called to minister to a wide audience of people. Sure, we have our own beliefs, thoughts, feelings, passions, etc. But we live in a divided, fallen world. It is so divided that it doesn't help if we are further dividing it. We let people come to us and administer, as much as we can, the salve of forgiveness and mercy. To whomever should have need.

"You are priests, not social or political leaders. Let us not be under the illusion that we are serving the Gospel through an exaggerated interest in the wide field of temporal problems." - Pope St. John Paul the Great

Saturday, September 2, 2017

All Good is in Me

Below is one of my favorite writings:

All good is in Me by St. Tikhon of Zadonsk

Do you desire good for yourself? All good is in Me.
Do you desire blessings? All blessings are in Me.
Do you desire beauty? What is lovelier that I?
Do you desire noble birth? What birth is more noble than that of the Son of God and the Virgin?
Do you desire rank? Who is of higher rank than the King of heaven?
Do you desire glory? Who is more glorious than I?
Riches? All riches are in Me.
Wisdom? I am the Wisdom of God.
Friendship? Who is a greater friend than I - I who laid down my life for all?
Help? Who can help but I?
Happiness? Who can be happy without Me?
Do you seek consolation in distress? Who will console you but I?
Do you seek peace? I am the peace of the soul.
Do you seek life? In Me is the fount of life.
Do you seek light? I am the light of the world.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

I Never Met the Man

"Choose your acquaintances wisely. If a priest gives scandal you want to be able to say 'I never met
the man.'" This was a saying of Fr. Donald Curry. And it is one that has stuck with me. He was speaking about clergy in the Autocephalous Catholic Movement. I have noted in my posts what because there is a lack of quality control and because we are so much smaller than mainstream groups, our eccentrics are given the spotlight. Yet, we have to exercise our own discretion in who we take in to our churches as well as who we meet.

This is problematic for me. As an extreme extrovert I love to meet new people. But this quote pops into my head every now and again and provides me with caution. Sometimes meeting problematic people is unavoidable. However, it seems prudent to evaluate people's ministry and even sanity before rushing off to meet them. If they are a difficult person they can cause real problems to our ministries by their bad behavior.

This becomes a larger problem when we validate them. For instance, in our movement there is a desire to want to participate in everyone's ordinations. For some it's a change to dress up and participate. For others they see themselves as genuinely ordaining someone to minister to the People of God. Regardless, it's harmful to do unless we know the content of their character. The worst thing that can happen (and I have seen it happen) is to take someone in and discover they have a disreputable background. I've even seen the bishop be contacted by the media and put his name front and center for the crimes of his priest.

The result is a tapeworm like affect. A person with a past of abuse or fraud then affects our reputation, our church, our family, etc. Even if you depose them they are forever attached to your credibility. And now, thanks to the internet, nothing ever really goes away. How much better to be able to say "I never met the man."

"Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm." -
Proverbs 13:20.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Measure Twice, Cut Once

One of the issues in the autocephalous Catholic movement that can be troublesome is constant change. True, a large benefit of our movement is that we can be nimble. As we feel called to a particular lifestyle or charism we can adopt and adapt it at will. This is advantageous as compared to larger, more mainstream groups. The rule of St. Francis, for example, was proposed in 1209 but took until 1223 to receive official written approval.

The downside of this, however, is that things can start and stop at someone's whim. This can give the impression that things are unstable. I will admit that I have been susceptible to these rapid changes in the past. Something sounds effective or good, so why not do it? I'm offering this advice so you can learn from my mistakes. The problem is, however, when it affects the faithful. Too often we have seen examples of religious orders or parishes which have started only to stop abruptly at the decision of the priest. In some cases they begin again anew later, only to stop yet again. The same is true when we pick jurisdictions to join, only to leave them shortly thereafter. The key to building is consistency and a steady pace. Something may not take fruit immediately but it needs time to build awareness and trust. That does not mean that we can never try anything new. Or that our efforts won't be frustrated and we need to re-chart the course. But we have to think very carefully about doing it rapidly or without some type of plan. Beginning the parish of St. Patrick, then starting St. Romulus, then starting St. Agatha only allows our detractors to say "see--they don't know what they're doing." And that benefits no one.

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish." Luke 14:28

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Quality Control

One of the greatest problems of the autocephalous Catholic movement is the quality control of clergy. The movement as a whole typically attracts people for a variety of reasons. Some legitimately feel their beliefs do not fit with the Roman Catholic/Orthodox/Anglican churches, some wish to be married or in same-sex relationships, some are of another gender, and some could not have been ordained in another church.

I focus here on the last category. There are people who get ordained but have various psychological issues which should have prevented their ordination. I am not being hard on the movement as a whole, because we well know there are many more "mainstream" clergy who also should not have been ordained. The problem here with our movement is quality control. In the Roman Catholic church, for example, there is the requirement of excardination of clergy move dioceses. Generally, bishops will get permission from other bishops to accept a priest and will also receive a dossier of their suitability.

There is, unfortunately, no such process in the movement. It allows unsuitable clerics to move from jurisdiction to jurisdiction causing havoc on each one. Bishops often do not ask for letters of incardination because 1) they believe the story of the cleric about their supposed abusive bishop, 2) they really want to grow their church and it doesn't matter if the cleric is properly vetted, 3) they believe (perhaps like a forlorn lover) that they can "change" the cleric. I can honestly say that having a cleric who is psychologically unsuitable is a hardship that is absolutely not worth the time and effort. Like energetic vampires they draw out energy which could be used building up the Kingdom. Moreover, many of them should not be in positions of authority over unsuspecting laity.

I do believe that there is a legitimate issue with clergy who have unsuspectingly found themselves under problematic bishops. Because of the lack of general ordination standards persons can be elevated past their mental or psychological ability. This is a continuation of the discussion above, because problematic priests can become problematic bishops. However, I think it behooves us to at least reach out to a cleric's former bishop and hear their side of the story. Then, weigh the evidence and try to make some reasonable determination if the cleric is fit. If the bishop is abusive, combative, or downright crazy then maybe there is a reason the cleric left! References can also be helpful as can psychological evaluations. It takes a multitude of sources to determine if a person is suitable. And that, for bishops, is the most important part of your job. You have the power to ordain and license people who are entrusted with the souls of others. This is a tremendously frightening and sobering responsibility. It can't be taken lightly.

"The saying is sure: whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task. Now a bishop must be above reproach, married only once, temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an apt teacher, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way— for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace and the snare of the devil." - 1. Tim. 3:1-13.