Where Are You from? A Reflection on Recent Tensions over Immigration, Race, and Ethnicity

A priest friend of mine who immigrated to this country from Jordan back in the 1970s is often asked, “Where are you from?” He humorously answers, “I am from my mother’s womb.”

True enough! There is an even more fundamental answer, rooted in Scripture, which speaks to the origin of every human person: You are from the loving will and heart of God. Before you were ever formed in your mother’s womb, God knew you and thought about you (see Jeremiah 1:5). He set into motion everything necessary to create you. He didn’t just get your parents to meet, but your grandparents and great-grandparents, going all the way back. All of this so that you could exist just as you are. Having thought of you and conceived you in greatest love, He knit you together in your mother’s womb. You were skillfully wrought in that secret place of the womb and you are wonderfully, fearfully made. Every one of your days was written in God’s book before one of them ever came to be (See Psalm 139).

This biblical answer is true of every one of us. Whatever our nationality, ethnicity, or race, our truest origin is from God, from His heart and His loving “yes” to our existence. This means that I am your brother and you are my brother or sister. The Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say:

Respect for the human person proceeds by way of respect for the principle that “everyone should look upon his neighbor (without any exception) as ‘another self,’ above all bearing in mind his life and the means necessary for living it with dignity.” … [F]ears, prejudices, and attitudes of pride and selfishness … will cease only through the charity that finds in every man a “neighbor,” a brother.

The duty of making oneself a neighbor to others and actively serving them becomes even more urgent when it involves the disadvantaged, in whatever area this may be. “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (CCC # 1931-1932).

This is Catholic and biblical teaching. One day we shall have to account for how we recognized and treated the Lord in others. God is our Father; you are my brother or sister. Christ the Lord is our brother, too, for He joined our human family; He is not ashamed to call us His brethren (Hebrews 2:11). Wherever you’re from in this world, this origin from God is deeper and older than any earthly origin.

Here on this earth, human movement is constant. We emigrate and immigrate, as individuals, families, and groups. Wars, famines, persecution, economic conditions, the desire for freedom, and educational opportunity all play a role in this movement. Although the phrase seems clichéd, we really are a nation of immigrants. Most of us are from somewhere else, often only a couple of generations back.

Catholics bring a significant experience and witness to immigration to the United States. Many came here during a huge wave of immigration that lasted from about 1880 to 1950. When we came in those years, we were often coming from troubled lands and were extremely poor. There was famine in Ireland; economic and political turmoil in Poland, Lithuania, Italy, and parts of Germany. Many came here not knowing English and at first lived in tenements in large cities. With that poverty went many of social problems: crime, drinking, and so forth. The work of those first generations was anything but easy: laboring in coal mines, laying railroad tracks, working in steel mills, tedious work in textile factories mills. The jobs paid poorly and required long hours; they were jobs that no one really wanted. Additional scorn was heaped upon Catholics due to our faith. The Protestant majority of the time was troubled to see the country suddenly teeming with Catholics, whose religion they often scorned and whose loyalty to the United States they doubted. Slowly, that first wave of Catholics took its place and moved up into better paying jobs. They moved into more slowly into positions of political leadership. Yes, Catholics have endured great scorn in this land, both on account of their religious as well as their status as European peasants.

Prior to 1865, most African-Americans in this country had been brought here against their will. They then suffered great disdain and racism at the hands of the very country that brought them here in chains. The many Black Catholics I have known over the years, especially the older ones, remember well the double scorn they felt for being Black and Catholic.

The most recent wave of immigration into our country is largely from the south. Similarly, poverty and/or persecution are often part of what draws them here. Most of them are Catholic, and like so many immigrants before them, they perform essential services and often take jobs that no one else wants. As was the case during the 19th and 20th centuries, there is crime. And yes, some immigrants are successful, and others remain trapped in poverty.

It is alleged that recently our President, in a moment of anger, said some unacceptable, hurtful things. He spoke not only of nations, but implied that certain nations bring us better immigrants than others. I am not so sure that we have the scales to say who is “better.” Man sees the appearance, but God looks into the heart. It is true that people with technical, scientific, or academic knowledge contribute a lot to our country, but it is also true that we need immigrants at every level of the economy. We need those willing to do all sorts of work, and those with all different kinds of practical know-how.

Personally, I am quite happy with the immigrants who have come to the United States in recent decades. I think that they have added a lot to the economy and to the Church. They are hardworking and want to share in the American experience. By the second generation, most of them speak English well. While I cannot countenance those who enter the country illegally, I am perhaps more willing than many to view their illegal entry as stemming from desperation rather than flippant disregard for our laws.

I recognize that immigration reform is needed. It is a complex issue and concerns for border security are legitimate. We cannot take the whole of the world’s poor or be overrun with every refugee crisis, but we also cannot ever forget that these are our brothers and sisters. Whatever dysfunctional countries or economies they come from, remember that many of us came from similar ones. People don’t typically leave an idyllic environment.

I do not know all the possible legal and social solutions, but something of a picture emerges in Catholic parishes of what things could look like. Cardinal Wuerl paints this picture:

The sight from the sanctuary of many a church in our archdiocese offers a glimpse of the face of the world. On almost any Sunday, we can join neighbors and newcomers from varied backgrounds. We take great pride in the coming together for Mass of women and men, young and old, from so many lands, ethnic heritages, and cultural traditions. Often we can point to this unity as a sign of the power of grace to bring people together (The Challenge of Racism).

Indeed, our parishes are ethnically and racially diverse. The rich beauty of diversity in the unity of our faith is manifest everywhere. “Catholic” means “universal” and it could not be more obvious in Washington, D.C (as in many other regions) that Catholics come from everywhere! This diversity is from God Himself, who has not only created the rich tapestry of humankind but also delights to unite us all in His Church.

“Babylon and Egypt I will count among those who know me; Philistia, Tyre, Ethiopia, these will be her children and Zion shall be called ‘Mother’ for all shall be her children.” It is he, the Lord Most High, who gives each his place. In his register of peoples, he writes: “These are her children,” and while they dance they will sing: “In you all find their home” (Psalm 87:1-7).

Dr. Martin Luther King remarked on the role of the Church back in the days of the civil rights movement:

There is a more excellent way, of love and nonviolent protest. I’m grateful to God that, through the Negro church, the dimension of nonviolence entered our struggle. If this philosophy had not emerged, I am convinced that by now many streets of the South would be flowing with floods of blood (Letter from Birmingham jail).

We are currently locked in many fierce debates. Our discourse grows ever more contentious, our language ever coarser. Anger (some of it quite understandable) reaches new levels. In the midst of the ugliness, consider this reminder:

Therefore, each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are members of one another. … Let no unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building up the one in need and bringing grace to those who listen. … Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, outcry and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and tender-hearted to one another, forgiving each other just as in Christ God forgave you (Eph 4:26-32).

We who are Christians should lead the way in helping to lower the temperature. We are past the boiling point now and we are getting scalded more and more.

Maybe the answer begins in asking this simple question: “Where are you from?” Know the answer to this question theologically and religiously rather than nationally. The truest answer is this: “You are from God and so am I.”

If what I have written angers you, I am sorry. If you think me naïve, I ask you to remember something else about me: I am Charles, your brother.


When Words Get in the Way – A Meditation on the Value and Limits of Language

Language is one our greatest gifts. Our capacity to symbolize reality by sounds and words is nothing short of astonishing. The fact that you are able to decode these letters, words and sentences, and have an echo in your mind of what I am thinking, is a miraculous gift. It is a gift that we often take for granted.

But, I have often wondered if one of our greatest gifts also imposes on us a significant limitation. For, words distinguish as they must:  a tree is not a horse, is not a star. And yet, even while we distinguish, as we must, it is possible for us to miss the great and mystical unity of all things. Perhaps a tree, a horse and a star have more in common than we might imagine. As we use words and make necessary distinctions, it is possible that we stop reflecting on the ultimate mystery of all things. We learn early on to call this a “tree,” that a “horse,” and the points of light above “stars.”  But then, the danger is,  we just file these notions away and stop reflecting on “star-ness” and how it relates to “tree-ness” and so forth.

You may think I am being absurd but I’d like to illustrate how words can sometimes get in the way and that silence can have an important value. Consider some examples:

1. It is widely attested that Albert Einstein did not talk until he was three or four years of age. Thomas Sowell even wrote a book called The Einstein Syndrome: Bright Children Who Talk Late.   Some biographers think it was just that he was shy and thoughtful, others wonder at a mild autism. But in the end, Einstein spent a longer period observing the “is-ness” of things before “reducing” them to words.

I have often wondered if this is how he was able to think past the usual categories and see the ultimate inter-relatedness of things. Who would have thought that matter is really frozen energy and also be able to relate its quantity to the speed of light!?  E=MC2 is a bolt out of the blue! The amount of energy in something is its mass, multiplied by the speed of light squared?!?  Who would have thunk it? And yet, there it is. It is almost as though an angel must have whispered this great secret to Einstein. And yet again, how could he grasp that time and space were really a continuum?  How could he abstract that, as we approach the speed of light, time would slow down?  Where did he get this insight which is far from obvious or easily tested by experience?

My own theory is that Einstein, in addition to his intellectual gifts, had spent more time in silence than most of us. Words didn’t “get in the way” too soon for him and he thus spent more time in an enchanted world where things were all aspects of some “One great thing” that caused them all to be inter-related and, ultimately one. I am not saying it was necessarily a conscious awareness he had as an adult. Perhaps it was just that this intuition of the oneness of things had deeper roots in him because he did not “too early” sort things out and file them all away in separate boxes.

2. In terms of our faith, it makes sense that, ultimately all things are one. Scripture says that Jesus holds all creation together within himself (Col 1:17). Scripture also asserts that God spoke all creation into existence through his WORD. Notice it is “Word” not “Words.” The Gospel of John says it is though this one Word, (Jesus), that all things are: Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (John 1:3). Hence there is a unity at the heart of all things, Jesus. St. Augustine says, that in the end there will be unus Christus, amans seipsum (one Christ, loving himself).

3. Hence, our many words, necessary though they be for us, ultimately lead to one Word, Jesus, through who all things are and are held together. For me, as a man of faith, it would seem clear that the enchanted world Einstein experienced before “words got in the way,” the world where all things were aspects ultimately of one great thing, was ultimately a glimpse into Christ, the mystical unifier and cause of all things. The one Word uttered by the Father.

4. St. Thomas Aquinas had and “Einstein moment at the opposite end of his life. Aquinas was the great distinguisher and no one could articulate and classify like he could. His work is beyond compare and has been an enormous gift to the Church and mankind. And yet, at the end of his life he seems to have had a mystical experience which confirmed powerfully what he already knew, that words were inadequate to express the true mystery of things. It is reported that he said to his secretary: ‘Reginald, my son, I will tell you a secret which you must not repeat to anyone while I remain alive.  All my writing is now at an end; for such things have been revealed to me that all I have taught and written seems quite trivial to me now.  The only thing I want now is that as God has put an end to my writing, He may quickly end my life also’ (Bernard Gui, Vita 27, trans. Foster (p. 46)). Aquinas died three months later.

The apostrophe of silence at the end of his life is probably the most important thing he ever “said.” God is other, and our words, necessary though they are fall far short of the glory of God and the mystery of his creation. Unless we grasp this, as Aquinas always did, words get in the way and cause us to over-simplify. Words necessarily distinguish, but reality is ultimately more mystical than we can ever express.

5. A parable- Abba Moses stood before his students in the desert one day and gave this teaching: “Every word or image of God is more a distortion than a description!”  The students were shocked and said, “But Abba, when you teach us of God you use words!” At this he laughed and said, “When I speak of God, listen less to the words, and ponder more the silence between the words.”  Now this parable exaggerates to make a point. Namely that words are necessary, but silence is even more necessary because of the limits of words.

6. The Gift of contemplative prayer as St. Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross describe it is the gift to pray and experience God beyond words, or images. It is the experience of God as other, as beyond. Those gifted with this prayer cannot reduce it to words, it is ineffable, unsayable, beyond words.

In the end, words do fall short. They are our greatest blessings, but if we do not understand their limits they also curse us to a reductionist understanding of the world. A tree is not a horse, and neither is a star, but mystically they all come from one Word and have a unity far greater than we know.

(Image above  taken from http://www.britannica.com/blogs )

OK, this post has been a little heavy. Time for some humor. Imagine you and I are having a conversation. Here is what my cat hears:

On the Gift of Doing Just One Thing

One of the great lies of the world is that we “can have it all!” We live in the age of great and seemingly endless possibilities and the fact is we want too many conflicting things. We want to be popular but we want to stand for something. We want our kids to be raised well but we want double incomes. We want good health but we want to eat rich foods and avoid exercise. We want God but we want the world too.

The fact is we cannot have everything and we must make choices. In choosing certain things we preclude other things.

But the real key in life is to learn to do just one thing, to want just one thing. This theme of unicity, of doing and wanting one thing is a consistent theme of Scripture. Lets look at some passages and see what they have to tell us.

  1. This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, be thus minded…(Phil 3:13)
  2. “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things,  but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”  (Luke 10:41)
  3. One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple. ( Ps 27:4)
  4. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways (James 1:8 )
  5. Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the regin of God (Lk 9:62)
  6. No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money (Matt 6:24)
  7. Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” But the people said nothing (1 Kings 18:21)
  8. O adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God (James 4:4)
  9. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you would turn to the right or to the left. (Isaiah 30:21)

Well, you get the point. We have a decision to make. We are to choose God and thereby forsake the world. But the problem is that most of us want both. And if most are honest there will be an admission that the world is actually desired more than God.

But true serenity can only be found by seeking God, alone and above every desire. Our hearts were made for God. He has written his name on our heart and He alone can fulfill us.  Yet, we waver, we want everything. And, frankly these endless desires torture us. They are in conflict with each other and ultimately they are never satisfied anyway.

The grace for which to pray is to be single-hearted, to want only one thing, to want only God. The beatitude for which to pray is:  Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God (Matt 5:8) Most people miss the inner meaning of this beatitude.  The Greek word in this passage,  καθαροὶ (katharoi) is usually and properly translated as clean or pure in the usual sense. But a more extended meaning refers to something that is pure in the sense of being  unmixed with anything foreign, unalloyed. Hence there is the concept here of being single-hearted, having a pure and single motive, the desire to see God.  This is a very great blessing and God can give it to us.  Psalm 86:11 says,  Give me an undivided heart O Lord, that I may fear your name. The Latin Vulgate renders this verse as simplex fac cor meum. This is a great gift for which to pray: a simple, undivided heart. A heart that desires only God and what would lead me to him.

And by this one desire every other decision and desire is subsumed. This is what Paul means when he says, this one thing I do. He does not mean that he does not go here and there, or eat, or sleep. He simply means that everything he does is focused on, and supports the one thing: his goal to be with God forever.

A man journeying from Washington to New York would be on a fool’s errand if he took a road heading south. His destination is north. He may pull aside to get gas, or rest his eyes, but these things are only done to help him toward his goal.

A marathon runner does not stop to talk with friends, or step into a local bookstore to browse. He does one thing, he runs, he pursues the goal. Perhaps he will accept water offered. He might stop for brief moment to tie his shoe, but he only does these things because they help him to his goal.

But too many Christians who say heaven is their goal are heading south and stepping out of the race on fool’s errands.

The gift to be sought from the Lord is to be single-hearted, to have an undivided heart, the gift to do just one thing. Otherwise we are compromised, double-minded and just plain tired.

Impossible you say? With God, nothing is impossible.

OK, here’s one of the stranger videos I have posted to illustrate a point. But consider it. Its object is wrong, but its message is right. In the video there is a man who is so focused on just one thing that nothing else matters. He doesn’t even notice anything else. It’s just the one thing, that’s all he sees, that’s all that matters. Again, the object is wrong, but the idea is right, it’s all about one thing.

UPDATE – Thanks to a couple of readers who called my attention also to this movie clip from City Slickers (a movie I saw years ago but had forogtten). Please note there is one bad word in the clip but it “helps” make the point –

Curvatus in Se: On the Inward Focus of Modern Liturgy and On Rediscovering the True Source of Our Unity

St. Augustine described the fundamental ailment of the human person when he described man as curvatus in se (turned in upon himself). St. Augustine had the individual in mind but I think communities can also turn in upon themselves.

Indeed, we have been through a difficult period of this sort in the Church, especially in regard to the way we celebrate the Liturgy, where the fundamental premise of unity seems to have become highly anthropocentric. That is to say we have understood the source of our unity to be primarily ourselves, rather than God. We may not have formally taught this,  but it is implicit in many of things we have done. I have remarked on this in another post over a year ago which you can read here:   Anthropocentric Attitudes  But allow just a few examples from Church life to illustrate.

1. The Tabernacle, once invariably at the center of our churches, was placed to the side or in some chapel. It was almost as if Jesus was in the way, somehow, of what we wanted to accomplish in the Mass. Increasingly what it seems our focus shifted to was our very selves. The principle of unity was thus to be found in us.

2. The Linear and cruciform orientation of the church building gave way to the fan shaped and even circular buildings of the past forty years. Again the message seems to be that we should look at each other, and the main goal  seems to be that we be able to see each other’s faces. It would be this that would enhance and create greater unity. Hence anything like tabernacles, candles, crosses, even altars that blocked  the view of others was to be eliminated. The unity was to be found within the assembly and by a physically inward arrangement free of any obstacles.

3. Thus architectural  minimalism became essential since the people and their ability to see each other and thus find unity were the main point. Large impressive altars, statues, high ceilings etc., anything that tended to draw attention away from others or bock the view of others, was to be removed. Somehow these outside and “distracting” objects, even if they were images of our Lord, offended against unity which was to be found within the “gathered” Church.  I remember rather humorously a now deceased liturgist from the 1970s, (Eugene Walsh), coming to our parish and telling us that the altar should be no bigger than a night stand or side table and that the priest should never stand behind anything. Even our rather radical pastor at that time thought that was going a bit too far! The altar stayed.

4. The priest must face the people at all times. The ancient and common orientation of priest and people in one direction, all looking outward toward Christ, was replaced with an inward focus, a circle. This was said to create and emphasize unity in the gathered assembly. The principle of unity was within, among the humans gathered.

5. Self-congratulatory salutations abound. We are endlessly impressed and fascinated by what we are doing and who is doing it. At large parish masses announcements and congratulatory accolades for musicians, visitors, youth et al. may last longer than the homily or Eucharistic prayer. This is seen as affirming and community-building and thus, once again, the impression is created that the we are the main point and that our unity and gifts flow from us, and exist for us. That the worship of God should be the main point  seems to many to be a downer or a distraction.

Now community is an essential partof who we are and why we are at Church. We do not come to Mass as a purely private moment with God and the Church is not a private oratory. Neither is this a question of the old versus the new Mass, for many of these trends set up wel before the missal of 1970. But in our attempt to emphasize the important and essential communal dimension of the liturgy,  it seems we may have over-corrected. It also seems that we have set up a false dichotomy wherein focusing on God, on the vertical and outward dimension of liturgy, is necessarily to offend against the human and communal dimension of the Mass.

Not only is this dichotomy false but it also destroys the very unity it clams to serve. For, if we do not communally focus on the Lord, we have no true unity. It may be argued that there is some vaguely human sort of unity, but it really no different that the unity that exists among the members of a bowling league. And even the members of a bowling league know that at some point it is important to focus on the act of bowling rather than merely on each other. Something outside themselves (i.e. bowling) ultimately unites them.

It is the Lord who unites us – Hence in the Church and in the Liturgy we must resist the false dichotomy of pitting the focus on the Lord against the focus on ourselves. There really is only one focus, the Lord. And our common focus on him unites us. He and his grace are the source of our unity. This will not exclude our unity with each other, but enhance and deepen it. This of course seems an untenable thought to those who see unity as essentially a human work, rather than a mystical or divine one.  But ultimately the only lasting unity for the Church is the unity God creates.

The Old Latin hymn, Ubi Caritas has this to say: congregavit nos in unum Christi amor  (The Love of Christ has gathered us in one). It will be noted that Amor Christi (the Love of Christ) is the subject of the verb congregavit (has gathered) and nos (us) is the direct object. That is to say, it is Christ who acts, and we who are acted upon. It is Christ who gathers and we who are gathered. The resulting unity is Christ’s work.

To focus on Christ, therefore, is to  focus on the very source of our unity.  Unity for  two really requires a third principle or person. Consider these images from Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s book Three to Get Married (TTGM):

Two glasses that are empty cannot fill up one another. There must be a fountain of water outside the glasses, in order that they may have communion with one another. It takes three to make love. (TTGM Kindle version Loc. 137-39)

Love of self without love of God is selfishness; love of neighbor without love of God embraces only those who are pleasing to us, not those who are hateful. One cannot tie two sticks together without something outside the sticks; one cannot bind the nations of the world together except by the recognition of a Law and a Person outside the nations themselves. Duality in love is extinction through the exhaustion of self-giving. Love is triune or it dies. (TTGM Kindle version Loc. 831-34)

Yes, there it is, the great paradox: the true source of our unity is outside ourselves. The inward focus of modern times in the Church has led to very divisive times in the Church. The more we seek to find our unity in a purely humanistic, inward focused manner, the more we have argued, divided and diminished. The great paradox is that the more we look up and out, the greater our unity can be. It is like a man pointing to a wonder in the sky and the crowd around him also looks up to marvel. And in the shared experience of something outside themselves, they find greater unity than before he pointed out and up.

 Consider too this image from Sheen:

 Imagine a large circle, and in the center of it, rays of light that spread out to the circumference. The light in the center is God; each of us is a ray. The closer the rays are to the center, the closer the rays are to one another. The closer we live to God, the closer we are bound to our neighbor; the farther we are from God, the farther we are from one another. (TTGM Kindle version Loc. 910-12)

Yes, it is a paradox, but like most paradoxes, it is true. The anthropocentric premise of unity in modern times has ultimately offended against unity. In the world we sought brotherhood,  and so, many, under a false notion of tolerance, kicked truth to the curb. We have not found brotherhood though, rather, extreme factions in our culture, strident demands and a battle of wills. For nothing outside us, such as truth, or God unites, we are left only to struggle for power. In the Church we sought community within. We turned inward to the merely human. And here too a battle of wills and tastes ensued. Liturgy more often divides than unites today, for in the current thinking, there is no one outside us to unite us: not God, not the Church, not tradition. What’s left is just us,  and unfortunately we are a disagreeable lot. The promise of community falls flat.

The true source of our unity must be discovered outward and upward. Outward and upward to God, outward to the wider community of the Church and the voice of the ancient community that tradition is. Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor!

I would like to finish with the words of Pope Benedict in his recent book The Light of the World. Here too he speaks with a clarity, that we have got to do a better job of getting outside ourselves if we are to find true liberation and unity in God:

Our preaching, our proclamation, really is one-sided, in that it is largely directed toward the creation of a better world, while hardly anyone talks any more about the other, truly better world. We need to examine our consciences on this point. Of course one has to meet one’s listeners halfway, one has to speak to them in terms of their own horizon. But at the same time our task is to open up this horizon, to broaden it, and to turn our gaze toward the ultimate. These things are hard to accept for people today and seem unreal to them. Instead, they want concrete answers for now, for the tribulations of everyday life. But these answers are incomplete so long as they don’t convey the sense and the interior realization that I am more than this material life, that there is a judgment, and that grace and eternity exist. By the same token, we also need to find new words and new means to enable people to break through the sound barrier of finitude. (Pope Benedict XVI Light of the World Kindle Edition Loc 2271-78)

Onward, outward, upward!

A Bold and Pastoral Move

Today has seen a bold and pastoral move on the part of the Holy Father. He has paved the way of establishing a pastoral provision for members of the Traditional Anglican Communion to reestablish unity with the Catholic Church. In so doing the Pope will not be without his critics both within and outside the Church. Nevertheless he has reached outwith a Shepherd concern in time of need for some of our Christian brothers and sisters in order to welcome back repectfully some whose unity with us was severed almost 500 years ago. A little background may help.

King Henry VIII first established the “Church of England” in 1534 in protest of the Pope’s authority and due to the Pope’s unwillingness to grant an anulment from his marriage to Catherine of Aragon so that he could marry Ann Boleyn. In these past 475 years there have been different branches of this denomination that have developed both in England and in other parts of the world. There were also certain branches of Protestantism that broke off from the Church of England such as the Puritans and the Methodists. Within the Church of England there is a wide variety of liturgical expression. Some Anglican services resemble more a Protestant service. Other Anglican parishes celebrate what looks very much like the modern Catholic Mass. Still others celebrate a very elaborate Mass that much resembles the Old Latin Mass in the Catholic Church except that it is celebrated in English. It is this latter group that largely make up the Traditional Anglican Communion. They have a tradition of fine liturgy and largely adhere to Roman Catholic teaching in terms of the Sacraments and moral theology. The issue of Papal authority has been, until recently, a sticking point but events in the Anglican Church have helped spur a movement toward resolving this.

As you may be aware, the Anglican Church (aka the Church of England and also the Episcopal Church here in America) has been in upheaval over issues such as Homosexual “Marriage,” Clergy who openly practiced homosexuality, and also, going back to 1992 the issue of women’s ordination. Serious rifts have developed over Biblical interpretation in these matters and others. Attempts to maintain a “big tent” approach have broken down as the differences have become very wide. In the past few years this has led to a group known as the Traditional Anglican Communion which has sought a pastoral provision that might enable them to return to union with the Roman Catholic Church, under the pastoral care of the Pope and a bishop or bishops designated to their care. It is this petition that has received an affirmative answer from the Pope. It is beautifully pastoral in that the Pope is not, it seems, requiring a large abandonment of Anglican traditions. Their liturgy, with only a few minor adjustments will remain intact. It will be possible for many of their clergy and bishops to be accepted and ordained as Catholic priests and bishops, even though many of them that are married. Such provisions have been available on a limtied basis already but this move, it seems, will make such arrangements easier and more swift.

What follows are excerpts from an article written by Robert Moynihan of Inside the Vatican. I have included some remarks in red:

Pope Benedict XVI is proposing a special Church structure for those Anglicans who wish to come into full communion with Rome without giving up many of the things they cherish as Anglicans…..Cardinal William Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Archbishop Joseph Augustine Di Noia, O.P.. Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, held a press conference to announce this unprecedented Roman initiative after almost 500 years of Anglican-Catholic division…..Rome is hoping to reunite with all those elements of the Anglican Church which still feel a deep connection with Rome and with the Catholic faith — and is willing to take considerable pains to make those Anglicans feel comfortable when they “come over to Rome.”

“In theory, they can have their own married priests, parishes and bishops – and they will be free of liturgical interference by liberal Catholic bishops who are unsympathetic to their conservative stance. There is even the possibility that married Anglican laymen could be accepted for ordination on a case-by-case basis – a remarkable concession.” I rather doubt that the last point will be included in final arrangements going out indefinitely. Surely those Anglican priests who are already married can and will remain so, even as they are ordained Catholic priests. But I rather doubt that provision will be made for married priests ordained in the future for the Anglican provision, unless the priest began as a married priest in the Anglican Church. To those who are troubled even by allowing this first generation of married priests to be ordained, remember celibacy is a discipline of the Church, it is not an unvarying dogma. Hence, Catholic teaching remains intact even if this discipline is relaxed for a brief time to permit currently Anglican priests to be ordained as Catholic priests.

With one announcement, the Pope has given conservative Anglicans a protected route to union with Rome… Thousands of Anglicans who reject women bishops and priests and liberal teaching on homosexuality are certain to avail themselves of this provision. The word “protected” is explained by the fact that the current situation permitting “Anglo-use Catholic Parishes” is very much subject to the favor of the local bishop and, as stated above, not every bishop is enthusiastic about receiving a group who is conservative both in terms of theology and liturgical practice and also for other local reasons. This move in establishing a “personal ordinariate” will streamline and their entry and smooth over the vicissitudes and variances of local practice.

Will this really affect “thousands” of Anglicans? Cardinal Levada seemed to think the number will be fewer, just a few hundred. “‘Many’ is, of course, a relative term,” Levada said. “If I had to say the number of [Anglican] bishops [who may come over to Rome], I would say that is in the 20s or 30s. If I had to say individual [Anglican] lay people, I would say that would be in the hundreds.”  Well perhaps the Cardinal is being humble and avoiding a kind of “triumphalism” but I think he is rather sharply underestimating the number who may return to unity with the catholic Church under this provision. I would not be a bit surprised if the number is far greater, eventually approaching six figures.

How will this work out, practically, in England?  Anglicans will have to request their own “Personal Ordinariate.” He would then be ordained a Catholic priest (as Anglican orders are not recognized by Rome) and might himself be made “ordinary” (bishop in all but name) of ex-Anglican clergy and lay people who have been received into the Catholic Church together.

John Hepworth, writing at the website “Virtue on Line: The Voice for Global Orthodox Anglicanism ” has this to say in response to the outreach of Pope Benedict:

May I…state that this is an act of great goodness on the part of the Holy Father. He has dedicated his pontificate to the cause of unity. It more than matches the dreams we dared to include in our petition of two years ago. It more than matches our prayers. In those two years, we have become very conscious of the prayers of our friends in the Catholic Church. Perhaps their prayers dared to ask even more than ours.

What makes this move bold? It is bold because it recognizes the limits of ecumenical dialogue. At some point we can no longer carry on a discussion with the Church of England when that denomination has so determinedly moved toward positions that are so contrary to Christian teaching and Biblical Tradition. Further we cannot continue to discuss union with leaders who represent an ecclesial communion that is so desperately fractured as the Church of England clearly is. At some point (now) it seems necessary to reach out to one of those fractured elements where union seems most possible. To those who think we can continue a dialogue with the Church of England as a whole I would ask, What really is the Church of England today and really speaks for it? The Archbishop of Canterbury has not been able to unite his disparate elements or overcome the large schisms rending his flock. Now, one of those elements, theologically close,  has reached out to us in the Catholic Church and the Pope as a pastor, with a shepherd’s heart has seen fit to embrace them with all the pastoral provision possible. This seems to reflect well the work of the Good Shepherd who prayed: ut unum sint (that all might be one). It is a start for which we must continue to pray.

St. Ignatius of Antioch – A Witness of the Early Church

Cardinal Newman once said, “To Read the Fathers of the Church is to become Catholic.” This is perhaps no better illustrated than By St. Ignatius of Antioch, whose feast we celebrated Saturday. He wrote very early,  about 110 A.D. He also knew the Apostle John. Hence he is an important witness to the life and think of the earliest days of the Church. He wrote six letters to the Christian Communities at Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles, Rome, Philadelphia, and Smyrna and one Letter to Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna. In all these letters he clearly reflects Catholic teaching and demonstrates that the current Catholic understanding of authority in the Church, the Eucharist and Church life are consistent with the ancient Apostolic Age.

In celebration of his Feast Day consider a few of his teachings and see how Catholic the early Church was. Consider also how false is the claim of some non-Catholic denominations that they have returned to the “simplicity” of the early Church and overthrown teaching that only emerged later. St. Ignatius of Antioch gives a real portrait of the early Church. His writings debunk fanciful notions of a decentralized Church devoid of significant doctrine and presents a Church that clearly defined herself and was  insistent on orthodoxy and Union with the local Bishop, a Church that was centered around the Eucharist Altar of the Lord. Go with me therefore to 110 A.D. and hear the voice of Bishop Ignatius Theophorus of Antioch who wrote these letters on his way to martyrdom in Rome:  (The full text of these letters is available at www.newadvent.org: HERE and HERE

  1. The grave Sin of no longer attending Sunday Mass – Let no man deceive himself: if any one be not within the altar, he is deprived of the bread of God. For if the prayer of one or two possesses Matthew 18:19 such power, how much more that of the bishop and the whole Church! He, therefore, that does not assemble with the Church, has even by this manifested his pride, and condemned himself. For it is written, God resists the proud. Let us be careful, then, not to set ourselves in opposition to the bishop, in order that we may be subject to God. (Ignatius to the Church at Ephesus,  5)
  2. The Power of the Eucharist and Unity in the Liturgy – Take heed, then, often to come together to give thanks to God, and show forth His praise. For when you assemble frequently in the same place, the powers of Satan are destroyed, and the destruction at which he aims is prevented by the unity of your faith…obey the bishop and the presbytery with an undivided mind, breaking one and the same bread, which is the medicine of immortality, and the antidote to prevent us from dying, but [which causes] that we should live for ever in Jesus Christ. (Ignatius to the Church at Ephesus 13 & 20)
  3. Of the True Presence in the Eucharist and the fate of those who deny this truth – They [heretics and schismatics] abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again. Those, therefore, who speak against this gift of God, incur death in the midst of their disputes. But it were better for them to treat it with respect, that they also might rise again. It is fitting, therefore, that you should keep aloof from such persons, and not to speak of them either in private or in public, but to give heed to the prophets, and above all, to the Gospel, in which the passion [of Christ] has been revealed to us, and the resurrection has been fully proved. But avoid all divisions, as the beginning of evils.  (Ingnatius to the Church at Smyrna,  7)
  4. The Sacred Liturgy is only properly celebrated in union with the Bishop – Take heed, then, to have but one Eucharist. For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup to [show forth ] the unity of His blood; one altar; as there is one bishop, along with the presbytery and deacons, my fellow-servants: that so, whatsoever you do, you may do it according to [the will of] God. (Ignatius to the Church at Philadelphia,  4)
  5. Of the necessity of respecting authority within the Church and of preserving union with the Bishop – Now it becomes you also not to treat your bishop too familiarly on account of his youth, but to yield him all reverence, having respect to the power of God the Father, as I have known even holy presbyters [i.e. priests] do, not judging rashly, from the manifest youthful appearance [of their bishop], but as being themselves prudent in God, submitting to him, or rather not to him, but to the Father of Jesus Christ, the bishop of us all. It is therefore fitting that you should, after no hypocritical fashion, obey [your bishop], in honour of Him who has willed us [so to do], since he that does not so deceives not [by such conduct] the bishop that is visible, but seeks to mock Him that is invisible….I exhort you to study to do all things with a divine harmony, while your bishop presides in the place of God, and your presbyters in the place of the assembly of the apostles, along with your deacons, who are most dear to me, and are entrusted with the ministry of Jesus Christ,… As therefore the Lord did nothing without the Father, being united to Him, neither by Himself nor by the apostles, so neither do anything without the bishop and presbyters. Neither endeavour that anything appear reasonable and proper to yourselves apart; but being come together into the same place, let there be one prayer, one supplication, one mind, one hope, in love and in joy undefiled.  (Ignatius to the Church at Magnesia 3,6-7)
  6. Without Holy Orders there is no Church – In like manner, let all reverence the deacons as an appointment of Jesus Christ, and the bishop as Jesus Christ, who is the Son of the Father, and the presbyters as the sanhedrin of God, and assembly of the apostles. Apart from these, there is no Church…(Ignatius to the Church at Tralles,  3)
  7. Obedience to the Bishop is essential to one who claims to be obedient to God – See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid. (Ignatius to the Church at Smyrna, 8)

If No one is Pope, Everyone is Pope

Some years ago I was privileged to bring a man into the Church who gave me some insight into the question of authority. He approached entering the Catholic Church with some misgivings. He had come from a Protestant tradition of a simpler but dignified liturgy that featured good preaching and hymn singing. As he looked at the state of Catholic liturgy he found mostly poor preaching and what he considered to be awful music. Also, some Catholic traditions, regarding the saints and devotion to Mary were not doctrinally problematic to him but just felt a little unusual.

But in the end he entered the Catholic Church and I remember that one of the chief reasons he was drawn was over the question of authority. He remembered thinking some years back as he sat in a Protestant service, “How do I know that this man in the pulpit has authority to preach in Jesus’ name?” In the end, authority to preach and teach had to come back to Jesus’ commission: “He who hears you, hears me” (Luke 10:16). But just because a person mounts a pulpit or gets a divinity degree does not mean they share in the commission of Jesus. Who actually does speak for Jesus and how can their authority be demonstrated?

In the end the Catholic Church (and also the Orthodox Churches) are the only ones who can demonstrate a direct connection to the Apostles. The laying on of hands is a direct connection to the promises of Christ that the apostles and their successors would speak in his name. All the Protestant denominations broke away from that line and explicitly rejected the need to have a connection to the apostolic succession through the laying on of hands. Who speaks for Christ? Only those who share in the charism of Christ promise to the first apostles “He who hears you, hears me.”

This promise of Christ serves as the basis for authority in the Church. It is the Bishops, in union with the Pope who call the Church to order and unity. It is the authority of Christ, but exercised through his designated representatives. A bishop unites his diocese and the Pope unites the college of bishops. Peter was told that he would “strengthen his brethren” (Luke 22:32), the other apostles. What happens when this system is discarded? It is not necessary to look far. Martin Luther, the first Protestant breakaway, substituted the authority of Scripture for that of the Church. The result? Some estimates now list over 30,000 different Protestant denominations. Why, because when no one is Pope every one is Pope. Without an authoritative interpreter the Bible can divide more than it unites. Put four Christians in a room with a quote from scripture and there my be six opinions as to what it means! Without an authoritative interpreter the text will divide the group. Pastor Jones says it is necessary to be baptized, Pastor Smith says not exactly. Pastor Jones says no to infant baptism but Smith says it is OK. Who is right, who is to say? Who speaks for Christ? Protestantism offers no answers to these questions since they have rejected any authority outside the Book.   The Bible is wonderful but what if there are disagreements over how to understand the Book? No answer.

Christ did not write a book. He founded a Church, with apostolic leaders united around Peter to preach and teach in his name. They ordained successors and this system which Christ established comes to our day as the bishops of the world in union with the Pope. The Bible is precious but it emerged from the Church. It is the Church’s book and it must be authoritatively interpreted somehow. Otherwise, huge division.

This video by Fr. Robert Barron says more on this topic. It is a well crafted video and Father uses a sports analogy to explain Church authority. He also does a very good job of explaining the boundaries of that authority which exists not so much to micromanage the discussion of faith, but, rather to referee the discussion.

Call to Unity

The video below was produced by www.calledtocommunion.com and presents some thoughtful questions to ponder. Questions such as, Did Jesus intend all this disunity among Christians? Do we tend to “paper-over” our disunity and minimize its seriousness?. If Christ intended only one Church then how can we determine the one True Church? At points the video is a bit hard to hear but it surely gives a lot to think about. The truth be told, the disunity among Christians is a grave and serious scandal. It is certainly opposed to the will of Jesus who said:  I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:21-22) The website mentioned above is thoughtful and scholarly and I recommend it to your attention.

Another Hat tip to Canterbury Tales