Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Renewing the spirit

Some of my best experiences in the independent sacramental movement have been attending weekend retreats or gatherings where people from different parts of the country gather for a few days of fellowship, liturgy, and often, ordinations. My first such gathering, in 1999, was the yearly meeting of the Friends Catholic Communion. Although not a part of that body at that point, I was ordained a deacon on Saturday afternoon, and two bishops were consecrated the following day. I attended a couple of other gatherings of FCC, the last being a joint retreat with the Catholic Church of the Holy Grail (now the Contemporary Catholic Church) in Richmond, Indiana. In my early years of involvement with this movement, my religious life was divided between worshipping in a local Episcopal church where my involvement in the independent sacramental movement was not known, and practicing a liturgical and sacramental life in solitude at home, a practice which sustained my involvement in various social justice movements. Those weekend gatherings were wonderful because they supplied me with almost my only experience of community within this movement, apart from internet connections. (My experience is rather common, because many are ordained in our movement for a solitary liturgical life combined with a ministry in the world that is non-parochial, and many of these worship in mainstream churches who do not recognize their ordination.)

Since moving to Philadelphia, I have come to a much more integrated practice, since I am now co-pastor of an independent sacramental parish and therefore part of a small local community. Also, before moving, I did help organize an informal group of independent sacramentalists in New York who meet roughly quarterly for dinner and fellowship, and have continued to participate even after the move. And, while it is less than ideal, I have forged many close friendships with fellow independent sacramentalists by email.

Nevertheless, this past weekend, I had a MARVELOUS time attending the retreat of the Augustinians of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, to which was added an ad hoc gathering of Independent Catholic Christian Church clergy, including an ordination. It reaffirmed my strong belief that this is that part of Christ’s church to which God has called me (it’s not for everyone – our movement complements the more mainstream denominations in the one body of Christ). There were eight of us present for the retreat.

The liturgies were very powerful. Before the retreat actually began, I conferred the subdiaconate on Bryan Marabanian in a simple mass in the chapel. We prayed lauds and vespers each morning and evening, Friday evening through Sunday morning. John Bartholomew Scott was received as a novice on Saturday night. Friday night, we had a compline service of reconciliation, with Fr. Joseph Menna, Prior General of the AIHM and myself available to hear confessions, an oblate bishop anointing, and the giving of general absolution. We had a spontaneous compline on Saturday night that was mostly silence and Taize chant. This singing was quite beautiful – we were an all-male group (by happenstance, not by design, as both groups are open to women), and I added bass lines wherever I could.

Saturday morning, we had a beautiful mass for the ordination of Bryan to the diaconate. Several of us had tears in our eyes at different points. We did a contemporary setting of the Litany of Saints (Becker), and I included a verse with Independent Catholic saints. I could palpably feel their presence with us. The entire mass was very moving. This was the first time I have conferred major orders (not counting being a co-consecrator at episcopal consecrations), and it was a very powerful experience. I truly believe the Holy Spirit was present. Sunday morning, we had another beautiful mass for the renewal of Fr. Joseph's vows. His homily beautifully summed up the weekend.

Fr. Joseph led most of the sessions, which were focused on the Myers Briggs test, which everyone had taken, based on Jungian archetypes, and the implications for spirituality and for working together as church. The information was very helpful, and the exercises we did facilitated getting to know one another. The highlight was perhaps the assignment to determine the Jungian spirituality type (using the two middle polarities of the Myers Briggs) of the four main characters of the Golden Girls and Star Trek – one of the groups also analyzed Will & Grace! I also led a session on Independent Catholic history on Saturday evening, and I will be writing up the talk for an article.

The fellowship was wonderful. Old friendships were strengthened, and new ones were forged. Sadly, for me, this was very much at the expense of getting good nights’ sleep, and I ended up not going to work on Monday to recover! One of the retreatants received word late Saturday night that his sister had died. We supported him in prayer and friendship the rest of the retreat.

Fr. Seraphim McCune, an ICCC priest from Texas, although not able to be present, graciously gave a beautiful wooden monstrance he made to the Order of Augustinians of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

I very much look forward to future retreats as a way to renew the spirit – and I urge others in this movement to attend such gatherings whenever possible.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

On the Other Hand

Just to clarify what I said in the previous post – there is no perfect church on earth. Joining ANY church at all (my own included) means accepting a certain set of strengths and weaknesses.

Also, I do believe in the power of prayer.

So, it is quite possible for a progressive Christian to feel called by God to be a Roman Catholic despite that denomination’s flaws, and there are certainly many, many holy people and many, many wonderful communities within it. Conversely, a conservative may be called to be in a more liberal denomination.

However – and this is my point – to do this requires ACCEPTING the flaws of that community. Basically, one must approach one’s church membership with the attitude of the Serenity Prayer – “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”. The point of the previous post is that the women recently ordained are trying to change things they cannot change, and are expending a lot of wasted effort in the process.

Ecclesiological fantasies – on the “Roman” Catholic Womenpriests

There are a number of Roman Catholic women who are being ordained by various bishops (most, perhaps all, of whom are, in fact, Independent bishops and not Roman) who are claiming to be “Roman” Catholic priests. In fact, this is not the case. The Roman Catholic denomination – like all organized religious groups, from fundamentalist churches to pagan covens – is governed by a set of rules, in this case, its Code of Canon Law. That Code is quite explicit in stating that only baptized males may “validly” be ordained, and that those who are ordained (or “attempt” to be ordained, in the case of ordinations Rome views as invalid) outside of the Roman Catholic or Eastern Catholic (in communion with the pope) denominational structures are automatically excommunicated. Furthermore, it is quite explicit that only the pope can promulgate changes to the rules, and since the pope appoints the cardinals who in turn elect the pope, it is quite accurate to say that no Roman Catholic who has not attained the rank of cardinal has any real say in the governance of the denomination.

I have been rather offended at these women’s claims to be the first “female Catholic priests”, since they ignore the history of both Independent Catholic and Anglican women priests. Furthermore, I think that they are deluding themselves in thinking that they can have a real effect in bringing about change, given the structure of their denomination. Progressives within the Roman Catholic denomination can chant “we are the church” all they want, but at the end of the day, the pope appoints the bishops, and the bishop appoint the male priests to serve in each parish, with no decision-making authority given to any laypeople.

For pointing all of this out in an online discussion, I have been attacked because this is “bad ecclesiology”. I happen to agree that it is horrendous ecclesiology, but that does not change the simple fact that it is the ecclesiology of the Roman Catholic denomination, for better or worse, and pretending that it is not because one does not want it to be does not change that fact one iota.

I happen to believe that, rather than hit one’s head against a brick wall over and over again is counterproductive. Much better for people who disagree with Rome’s ecclesiology to leave and join and help build churches they can believe in. (The same could be said for those in many other denominations, even those with more democratic structure, but I’ll leave making the Anglicans and Protestants angry for another day.) I am not impugning these women’s call to ministry, but far better for them to find communities willing to accept their gifts.

New Home

I have moved, and the process of moving has disrupted this blog -- I hope to do better.

My new home is great -- it is the first time in a very long time that I have had enough space. I even have a room set aside as a chapel. I will have to purchase some furniture (such as a day bed for the guestroom), and have a couple of bookcases to put together (IKEA), but I am very close to having a home that really supports me and my work. I've even had a couple over for wedding preparation -- not something that could happen in the old place!

The only glitches so far have been in the area of communications -- phone (I've been forced to get a cellphone), internet, and mail forwarding.

Nonetheless, I hope to blog more frequently from now on.