Monday, February 21, 2011

The Catholic Church is Our Home

The Catholic Church is our home. This is for Christians of an Anglican heritage particularly, but it certainly is true for all Christians, even all people! But many people ask why that is the case. "Aren't all denominations ultimately the same deep down? Some minor differences are there," they might say, "but we're all going to the same place." I hope that we are all going to the same place, but the question surrounding which denomination is best, or ultimately right, is not simply a matter of "what works" but rather "what is." Being is not quite the same thing as what works.

The atheist or agnostic might look at Christianity and throw his hands up in exasperation, for it can be quite confusing. Thus, one more reason for Christian unity. Our divisions are many and often come with embarrassing baggage! What sort of witness are we giving the world?

As many people know, we who call ourselves Anglicans are inheritors of the initial break with the Catholic Church by Henry VIII--to oversimplify things--which eventually formed what we now call the Church of England. Missionaries from the Church of England brought the worship of God through the Book of Common Prayer around the world and now Anglican churches can be found in practically every major city on earth that speaks English (and even many that don't)! And, of course, within those daughter churches, divisions eventually arose--such as in America with The Episcopal Church (TEC) and even within the original mother church, the Church of England (CofE). The churches that broke away from these are often called Continuing Churches, as they continue one aspect or another of the faith or worship that was changed within the original churches. These smaller groups aren't united with each other either, and unfortunately become oddities to the outsider. But one of these breakaway groups, together with many who've remained within the mother churches, have decided that enough is enough. Christians are supposed to be a part of one church, which is the Body of Christ on earth. After all, we confess in the Nicene Creed, "One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church." (Before you read on, please read Perry Robinson's excellent essay, Why I Am Not An Episcopalian.)

One breakaway group that has decided to no longer remain such has not tried to support the "ism" in Anglicanism any longer. Their aim, wisely, is not to try to form another Anglican church on the same principles (i.e., the Branch Theory--the claim that Anglicans are a branch along with the Catholics and Orthodox of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church even though none are in communion with each other!). This particular breakaway group is called the Traditional Anglican Communion, a tiny body of traditional Anglicans who know that the game is up for Anglicanism as an "ism." Many others within the official Anglican Communion, such as many members of Forward in Faith, as well as churches that have already joined the Catholic Church in what's called the Anglican Use, have also realized the game is up. It's over. It's futile to try to recreate the same error in hopes that this time it'll work. We can't put Humpty Dumpty back together again, yet many try. Even still, it's not about whether it will work (however one defines "work")--which it won't--but about being united as one church. It's about being united with the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church that has always existed.

But Anglicans have been separated for over five hundred years from the Catholic Church, and have developed their own spirituality, liturgical use, musical tradition, and cultural ethos. And the Catholic Church has continued onwards too. There are newer dogmas that have been discovered that some Anglicans are not comfortable with, either because they have a misunderstanding about them or they still believe in the Branch Theory. But for those Anglicans who do believe that the Roman Catholic Church is and has always been the Catholic Church of the Nicene Creed and the inheritors of what Jesus Christ himself established, Pope Benedict XVI has allowed for the creation of Anglican Ordinariates (non-geographical dioceses essentially) for them to come into communion with the Catholic Church while retaining their Anglican patrimony. This is a permanent structure that churches and parishes from the groups mentioned earlier will enter. This will ensure that our Anglican patrimony will be perpetuated and be encouraged to flourish with the best of what our Anglican heritage has to offer while shedding off the 'ism' that has forever plagued us.

To the outsider, this might seem like we all have missed the forest for the trees. In some respects, ironically, that is what this reunion is precisely trying remedy. But in order to do that, we must have a firm foundation upon which to go about the business of worship and service in our Anglican context, and that takes sacrifice. It takes conversion of mind and heart. We can't just erect a house on shifting sand for the house won't last. We need to build our house upon the rock, the successor of the Apostle Peter (the Pope), and those bishops in communion with him.

"And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it." Matthew 16:18 (RSV)