Friday, October 30, 2009

Joy or Suspicion?

Catholic reactions - and indeed Anglican reactions - to Pope Benedict's fostering of corporate reunion may be said to fall into two types: transports of joy or murmurings of suspicion.

On the Anglican side, amongst Anglo-Catholics, especially within the Traditional Anglican Communion (which has already broken with Canterbury, and has been edging toward Rome for years), there has been rejoicing at this unprecedented invitation - but also, even amongst such people, there have been expressions of confusion and alarm: will we have to give up all we hold dear? will we perforce be driven from our churches and vicarages? will we really be welcome, or regarded with suspicion by Catholic liberals of the sort that still dominate in many if not most places? will our clergy be vetted and purged in an unfriendly way, and only maybe eventually will some be re-ordained? will these proposed Ordinariates be real dioceses, or just some sort of sop to placate those otherwise to be under firm control of some Latin rite bishop?

And amongst Catholics, while many are glad to hear of this call to unity, both Traditionalists and liberals are not entirely happy. Liberals, of course, are horrified at the idea of letting into their Church such out-and-out right-wing extremists, and are furious at the Pope (whom they loathe) upsetting their ongoing plans for taking over and dominating diocese by diocese, parish by parish. Of course, they, especially those amongst them who are bishops and priests, are precisely the reason Benedict has sought to provide a special, protected place for incoming Anglicans - because every man knows how the liberal English Roman Catholic establishment so shabbily treated many converts and would-be converts, especially Anglican clergymen, back in 1992 when the C. of E. permitted so-called women priests.

But Traditionalists - and I speak as one myself, albeit not of the wild-eyed Jansenist conspiracy theorist sort - have their own fears and suspicions. Will these Anglicans really convert? Will they embrace all Roman doctrine, or maintain black Protestant hearts? Will their Anglican-style doctrinal fuzziness end up subserving the liberal cause of watering down doctrine? Will their liturgies, too-hastily permitted to be maintained by an oversympathetic Vatican, prove to be a horde of unwelcome half-brothers and half-sisters to the dreadful Novus Ordo, full of ambiguity and even Protestant heresy? Will their married priests by their very presence be a standing insult to our celibate clergy - as Cardinal Humbert once said to the Greeks, will they run hot from bed to altar? Will these Anglican Ordinariates provide a congenial oasis for both converts and likeminded traditionalist Catholics, or will they prove a beguiling mirage, as barren and wasted as Novus Ordo Land?

Over at Sub Tuum, the Br Stephen (now a Cistercian, once an Anglican) offers sage and sane advice about these and many related issues.

He speaks of how the Anglicans are in the position of the Israelites, who, having groaned under Pharoah's bitter yoke, now rather unexpectedly have Moses tell them they can depart Egypt for some mysterious Promised Land, about which they know little. But as the Israelites long ago complained, Egypt wasn't that bad a place to live - what of its fleshpots, its garlic, onion and leeks? Traipsing forever through the desert sounds pretty dreary...

Br Stephen notes that, despite the fabulous Cecil B. de Mille moment of God's irruption into human events, the parting of the Red Sea and all that, most of the journey of the people called and chosen was marked by grumbling and nostalgia for Egypt - and, of the 600,000 on foot, only two, Joshua and Caleb, reached the Promised Land. What a glum parallel! - but to save even two souls alive is very great. While of course one wishes these new Ordinariates-to-be swell to bursting with incomers, they may not have many members.

Anglicans must needs seriously ask themselves, are they acting as the Rich Young Man, who heard the Call of Christ, Who looked at him and loved him, but instead refused and went away sad, "for he had great possessions" that he was unwilling to sacrifice even for the chance to come nigh unto the Lord as His disciple. Rather than suffer so tragic a fate, they ought, as Blind Bartimaeus, rejoice, and run after the Lord in the person of His Vicar: If to-day ye hear His Voice, harden not your hearts.

This wise monk also speaks of how staunch Catholics and converts (himself included) can have sour grapes about to-day's heretics and schismatics being given a Get-out-of-jail-free card, and access to the platinum club for superior persons, with privileges not accorded poor dumb ordinary Catholics. Some of us would far prefer to see such fastidious types, who've been hanging around the Church doors since Newman's day, forced to lick the dust and do cruel penance for their obstinacy, made to weep bitter tears and plead for mercy...

But of course this is a most repellent and unchristian revenge fantasy. Just because Anglicans historically have persecuted Catholics, and still can condescend to them, doesn't mean we should not welcome those persuaded of Anglican falsity and the fulness of Catholic truth with open arms.

Again, I was moved by what this monastic blogger wrote: we must not be as the elder brother of the Prodigal Son, affronted and miserably uncharitable, out of pure jealousy at the slaying of the fatted calf: for, after all, his wayward sibling had returned to life from the dead. Nor should we snipe like the labourers in the vineyard, angered that the johnny-come-lately's get the same coin for which we've toiled. Rather, we should remember the parables of the lost coin and the lost sheep - and, I would add, recall that the angels in heaven rejoice at the conversion of anyone.

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