Posted by: liturgicalyear | May 27, 2010

Catholics and Episcopalians/Anglicans: Look to St. Augustine!

Today we celebrate St. Augustine of Canterbury, who brought the Christian faith to the Anglo-Saxon peoples and to England as a whole. This gives us pause to consider our Anglican brothers and sisters, who have remained out of communion with Holy Mother Church since that heir-questing, power-aggrandizing adulterer, Henry XVIII, broke ties with Rome in 1534. As a convert from the Anglican church, I want to pause to thank St. Augustine and to ask his intercession on the case of Anglican-Catholic reunion.

 
For those not familiar with the Anglican church, and one must say Anglican churches because of recent splits in that community, it’s important to see the broad expanse of Anglicanism. Pockets of Anglican communities are very close to Rome – a arms reach away – whereas others, especially the mainstream Episcopal church in America, are worlds apart.
 
When you look at the current Episcopal church in the US, which has championed such dead causes as inclusive language, women priests and bishops and embracing gay marriages, we all exhale a collective *sigh* of hopelessness. Yet, it’s in the hordes of Episcopalians not supportive of this liberalizing trend in their church, who’ve both fought within and from without — through newer Anglican communions in the US — to restore their church from Biblical heresy.
 
But there’s a foundational blind spot that must be acknowledged, one I know deeply from my years as an Episcopalian: There is a fundamental heresy oft overlooked, which enables the craziness within the Anglican communion — not recognizing the authority of the papacy nor the command that “they all be one.”
 
What started with a king’s efforts to secure his dynasty, expand his power and wealth in an England under the ambivalent Catholic king, Henry VIII, has led to disaster. Yes, King Henry VIII published his Defender of the Faith in direct criticism of Martin Luther’s reformation-oriented critiques of the Roman Church. And yet, for political, economic and marital expedience, he threw it all aside. And what a mess it has become since.
 
In this age of toleration, it is risky to say so boldly that the fragmented (some) 40,000 Protestant Christian denominations which have (and continually) branch off from the Luther (and others) protestations has spelled disaster for the body of Christ. But the fact must be said. And yes, Catholic leaders share some of the blame, for scandals within the Church have always led to confusion and criticism of the Church. And the beat goes on…
 
But the first St. Augustine of Hippo, that 4th century Roman bishop in northern Africa, provided the clear path toward dealing with disappointment and scandal among Church leaders while maintaining the unity of the Church. He wrote against the Donatists, a heresy that claimed priests who behave badly (in his time they gave away Scripture to be burned by marauders) are no longer priests. Not so, reminded St. Augustine of Hippo. The priest is a man like any other: Some are saved and some may end up in hell. However, in his office as a priest — while administering the sacraments — he takes on the persona of Christ through the specified rites and authentic ordination of his priestly roles, regardless of his personal conduct.
 
All to say, do not confuse the fragile humans who may be associated with the Church with Holy Mother Church herself. When we pray toward the end of Mass, “look not upon our sins but on the faith of thy Church,” hold fast to Christ’s Church and not to particular persons present in this time period of all-to human history.
 
About 15 years ago, my family worshipped in a “high church” Episcopal community. We prayed for Mary’s intercession and we prayed for the Holy Father. We celebrated the Tridentine Mass, but in English, with glorious music and poetical prayers in a liturgy that inspired awe, reverence and faithfulness. And yet, we were on this artificial island in the broader shame of the Episcopal church. And that mistake traced back all the way to that confused King Henry.
 
What God called us to in our decision to leave the Episcopal church was “that they all be one.” (John 17:21) We knew where “the one” pointed us; and, by the Grace of God, we finally said yes to that call to return home to our “one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church” (Nicene Creed) 14 years ago.
 
And I thank St. Augustine of Cantebury for his courage, obedience and faithfulness to convert the savage Angles and Saxons, as well as purify the old Roman-era church of the Britons of Celtic-druid practices. St. Augustine processed before the “savages” in white vestments, with a silver cross, incense and 30 fellow priests. Augustine converted these people peaceably, lovingly and with prudence as well. He did not light torches to their worship spaces and practices; instead, he transformed them to right worship. 
 
And today, Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI is trying to do the same, by encouraging disaffected Anglicans to not fragment the church further, but to hear the call to unity. To this day there are a sprinkling of Anglican Use Catholic communities, which use a missal that combines traditional Anglican prayers with Catholic-approved ones. Anglican priests, even those married, are welcomed home, as are their flocks. And our family has followed the courage and prudence of St. Augustine and our Holy Father today. We were a few of the Anglican lambs brought home.  
 
St. Augustine, pray for us and for unity among Christians!
 
Barbara
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