Sunday, November 19, 2006

an interesting article and some thoughts on the devotional aspect of my priesthood

Read it all here. Its title is "Pope plans recruitment drive among disaffected Anglicans."

It says "The recruitment drive is a potential embarrassment for Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is travelling to Italy for his meeting with the Pope." But then it goes on to say:

"While the Pope is keen to welcome any conservative Anglicans, he is also keen to forge good relations with Williams. 'The Vatican will do nothing to undermine Williams at such a precarious moment in Anglican history,' one source said."

How does one reconcile these sentiments?

In the end, I suppose, it doesn't really matter whether they can be reconciled. Either the pope is planning a "recruitment drive" or he isn't.

I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, and to be personal about it: I am a young priest. No doubt I'm one of the youngest priests in the Episcopal Church. I've been priested for just over a year. My experience of being a priest so far? With few exceptions, it has been a thankless, joyless, unrewarding, heartbreaking, exhausting, and profoundly lonely enterprise. Among my fellow clergy, I have been surrounded in turns by heresy, backbiting, scandal, cynical political maneuvering, and downright atheism. I've known a woman-minister to deny the sacraments to a layman on his deathbead because he could not accept the ministrations of another priest who was a transexual. That's ECUSA. Among the laity, I've encountered combinations of casual indifference, high-minded-secularist condescension, and loads of uncertainty, confusion and precipitous action in the face of the Anglican ecclesial incoherence. In short, I feel ready to retire. Or at least this explains why the prospect of "going over to Rome" is so alluring. Not because the grass is greener in Rome: I know that there is plenty of Roman nuttiness, particualrly in America, and there too is plenty of scandal and cynical maneuvering and what not. But even as an Anglican, one can see the Glory of God shining through the fissures in Rome's worldly surface. And while I think I can see that Glory in Anglicanism too, its certainly not as clear. One has the impression that the glowing of the fissures in Anglicanism might just be the fire of judgment at its core, rather than the Shekhinah Glory. Yet do I hope.

On the other hand, I sort of expected this. General Convention 2003, with the election of Gene Robinson, happened during the summer after my first year at Seminary. So I experienced a good two years of Anglicanism's downward spiraling before my ordination. When the time came for me to be priested, the hand was writing legibly on the wall, and I had serious reservations about being made an Episcopal priest. I had a fairly clear idea of what it would mean for a catholic Christian to submit to ordination in the Episcopal Church. In the end, I felt God was telling me that this was the place where I could be closest to his Son's own priesthood. The ony real priesthood is in the person of Christ (in persona Christi, as they used to say), and therefore to minister the cross in the person of Christ means to minister in Christ at once as priest and as victim. I felt God telling me that here, as an Episcopal priest, I could give the most and get the least. Here I could pour myself out in union with Christ's own outpouring. Here I would have an opportunity to pray for those who don't know what they're doing. Here I could expect dividends only from the treasury of Christ's merit. Knowing this, in the weeks before my ordination, I began to pray Michael Ramsey's prayer at the end of my office each day:

Lord take my heart and break it: break it not in the way I would like, but in the way you know to be best. And because it is you who break it, I will not be afraid, for in your heands all is safe and I am safe. Lord, take my heart and give to it your joy, not in the ways I would like, but in the ways you know are best, that your joy may be fulfilled in me.

And having not prayed it thitherto, at Evensong, right before my priesting, I added the final clause:

So, dear Lord, I am ready to be your priest. Amen.

So here I am, Father WB, episcopal priest. But I cannot forever endure the mess that ECUSA has become. It will kill me. I already feel ready to retire, and I'm not yet thirty years old. I believe that, barring some seismic turn-around, ECUSA will kill whoever remains in it. Negotiating the scylla of heresy and the charybdis of a hardened heart, is a desperate and seemingly impossible task. And that's why I welcome these kinds of Vatican murmurings. Something's got to be done. This is at least a sign of something being done by someone. I also welcome the murmurings of certain of the primates. But it remains unclear to me that they will be able to provide a home for the orthodox remnant and that, even if they can, its not at all clear (to me, anyway) that the Communion will survive America's winnowing.

In the meantime here's what I recommend: pray (really pray; if you want help, email me), read your Bible, and bless those who persecute you.

Update: I shouldn't really say that my ministry has been "joyless." It has been pervaded by joy, but its the kind of serene joy of the cross. And for me, sinner that I am, its fragile.


The young fogey said...

Thank you for this entry, Father. Praying right along with you - you are not alone; that's something a Catholic can hold onto.

Spent some time at theological college over 15 years ago so I have some idea what you're going through.

I also found Rome, on the ground level where most of us are, a less than hospitable place for Catholic Anglicans.

That said I pray for reunion daily and cheer for Pope Benedict.

DDX said...

"...Indeed all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and imposters will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acqauinted with the scriptures which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus."

You didn't expect anything different did you? You are dearly loved and cared for.

DDX added this p.s. and said...

(ref: 2Timothy 3:12-15)

Pontificator said...

Dear Father,

You are correct. Continuance in the Episcopal Church will kill you--spiritually and emotionally. You must get out now, for the sake of your soul and for the sake of your future ministry.

This past Saturday I was ordained a deacon in the Catholic Church. Quite honestly, I did not take it all that seriously. After all, I was ordained a deacon 26 years ago, and it was but a transitional step to priesthood then, as it is for me now. It was a small, intimate ceremony at the Lady Chapel in the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark. As I lay prostrate before the altar listening to the chanting of the Litany of the Saints, with the invocation of so many saints whom Anglicans do not know and do not pray to, I suddenly experienced the profound difference between the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church.

The grass is not greener here in the Catholic Church, at least not apparently; but the grass is stronger, more real, more true. It is the grass of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

You are in my prayers. If I can be of any assistance to you, please contact me.

ddx said...

Speaking of "greener" all includes weeds to a greater or lesser degree. But weeds, undealt with, choke the grass out.

ECUSA has been a field of weeds for a long time now. Not much grass left by now. No problem for them though. Weeds look somewhat like green and demand nothing but neglect.

father thorpus said...

Ok, 'attrracting' Anglicans is not a problem for Rome. It's like light to our moths. Nor is 'recruitment' the best way to put this, either.

Fr. WB, you never cease to inspire admiration. If we all approached our lives and our vocations with your heart for Christ, perhaps many of TEC's problems would take care of themselves. It's an axiom for me that there's never a problem at home or in church or denomination that wouldn't be fixed by people (including myself) being better Christians. May Jesus break the hearts of all his clergy and help us yearn more to know Him.

Another applicable axiom is 'be careful what you pray for - you just might get it.' I've never known anyone to pray for God to break them for whom He hasn't done precisely that. And it's always painful, and always for the better, a stamping of the image of Christ crucified upon our souls.

Even though my experience of the first year of priesthood, by God's grace, seems to have been substantially more pleasant than yours, I can't deny that I, too, have considered leaving parish ministry on more than one occasion. I've never felt real, clinical depression before in my whole life, but I have struggled with it here. But be encouraged: not all parishes are like yours, nor all curacies, nor all rectors, nor all dioceses, even in TEC. And knowing what I know of your experience, I think it would have been 'thankless, joyless, unrewarding, heartbreaking, exhausting, and profoundly lonely' to almost anyone. Keep focused, as much as possible, upon the small-scale goal of helping people better know and love our Lord -- for there, I doubt not, you have had some success, and can still have success. Not that 'success' is what we're after, but if we must take the bitter with the sweet, why not enjoy the sweetness in Christ's priesthood? Even Christ's outpouring of Himself was done in pursuit of sweet success in precisely this same goal - redeeming for God souls from every nation, language, and people. There is a sweetness to overcoming, and even to merely enduring until the end, when we shall be saved. That's why many clergy are willing to keep their heads down and stay in TEC until the last possible moment, and why it won't necessarily kill our zeal for Christ's priesthood. (This is not to suggest, however, that we're at all in an acceptable situation, nor that I myself will stay with TEC if an ecclesiologically better option comes along.)

I preached Sunday about the Great Tribulation, which was a new concept to many of my parishioners, and one of the most important effects the Great Tribulation has upon our faith is that it teaches us that no one comes to God except through tribulation. No one sees heaven who does not first suffer and die. But we do come to God; we do see heaven. If you, WB, are now suffering, rejoice, for you will see God.

mmbx said...

Thorpus, I am eternally thankful that W.B. has you for a friend! You are so right about tribulation. It's the refining fires. Not much mineral is worth refining in the world but when it has been, it sparkles and has great value! How precious that God sees something in you worth refining.

marymoorman said...

DOS. I join the rest of the ringing throng that admires your heart and your courage. Thank you for who you are and what you do.

flabellum said...

As an ex-Anglican catholic priest I will offer mass for the intention that God will make plain to you the path He desires you to follow.

Anonymous said...

Having been a priest in the Episcopal Church, I can say with certainty that one day as a layman in the Catholic Church is better than eternity in the Episcopal Church in their Holy Orders.