Friday, November 04, 2005

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

I've mentioned several times that I began my Christian sojourn as an Episcopalian. In some of my posts I have been rather merciless to my alma mater, but perhaps that's just a manifestation of what many separated couples know all too well about the feelings one tends to have towards someone, or some thing, that one once loved dearly but that one feels betrayed by. I've just read a stirring--and deeply touching--article by Fr. Robert Sanders about his exit from ECUSA, posted on Pontifications, a blog run by Fr. Alvin Kimel, another refugee from ECUSA. I share many of Fr. Sanders' complaints about the materialism, determinism, empiricism, deconstructivism, and general debauchery of the post-1979 ECUSA; reading his account was like reading my own private diaries from those years.

I mentioned in a post just yesterday that I had an Episcopalian friend for whom I felt I should pray, in particular, that he convert, and I could name many others whom I would dearly love to welcome into the Roman Catholic Church. My friend is so faithful, so orthodox, I cannot really imagine why he does not convert--how can anyone refuse to leave that crumbling ruin of a denomination? If it is asking too much to become Catholic, it would be better to convert to Orthodoxy than to remain in the ECUSA, where heresy is seeping up through the floors and dripping from the ceiling.

What appears to be happening is that the ECUSA, which used to be the Anglican denomination in the United States, is rapidly dwindling to sect status, while the Anglican Communion Network is the rising star of orthodoxy within American Anglicanism. One cannot help but applaud their efforts to maintain some semblance of orthodoxy among American Anglicans, but one also cannot help but wonder--after all this time, is it really so important to remain aloof from Rome? Why not come home? What is it about Roman Catholicism that still keeps you away? What point of doctrine do you reject? Is it really nothing more than Papal Primacy? Perhaps there's more, but when I was an Episcopalian everyone I knew in the Episcopal church insisted that it wasn't really much more than that.

My mentor in the faith at that time was Fr. Robert Duncan, Fr. Bob, now the Bishop of Pittsburgh, and a leader in the movement for orthodoxy within American Anglicanism. I confess that I was a lousy Christian at that time, but if there was anything good, anything true, about my faith--anything at all--it was because of Fr. Bob's influence. Looking back on the way I used to live, even after my becoming a Christian, I can't believe that he put up with me as much as he did. I was like the young Augustine, who famously prayed "Make me chaste, O Lord--but not yet!" He was, and is, a model of patience, humility, compassion, and mercy.

And what a grasp of our faith he has! Ironic as it may seem, my final conversion to Roman Catholicism was due, in the end, to the rock-solid orthodoxy of what I learned from Fr. Bob. I sometimes wonder, really, how many Episcopalians were lost to Rome because of his influence. His grasp of what is liturgically proper surpasses just about everything I've experienced in the Catholic Church, and his liturgies are among the things I miss the very most from those days. The reverence with which he celebrated the Eucharist, the passion with which he preached, and the care with which he tended souls, taken all together, are beyond anything I have seen since. But why he doesn't convert is a mystery to me, a fact which I suppose reveals just how little I actually know the man himself. I knew the priest, not the person. The priest was indistinguishable from a Roman Catholic, but the person has a history, an intellect, an outlook, that is not mine.

Pablo Casals' titled his autobiography Joys and Sorrows, which has always struck me as a particularly good title for an autobiography. If I were any kind of a writer with any hope of writing my own autobiography some day, I would be grumpy that that title is already taken. Life is an amalgam of sorrows and joys, and sometimes there can be aspects of life that are both at once. In one sense I am overjoyed to be a Roman Catholic rather than an Episcopalian, and it's not just because I've dodged a bullet by jumping out of the train before it went over the cliff, it's because I've come Home to the Truth. But at the same time there is sorrow for what has been lost, much of it near and dear to my heart.

constitit et lacrimans 'quis iam locus' inquit 'Achate,
quae regio in terris nostri non plena laboris?
en Priamus. sunt hic etiam sua praemia laudi,
sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt.
solve metus; feret haec aliquam tibi fama salutem.'


Aeneid i.459-463

4 comments:

Andrew R said...

Scott, you would know me from opencath and similar. I'm an ex-Anglican and I've always been intrigued that the emotional satisfactions of high church Anglicanism can trump ecclesiological reflection. I first decided to become a Catholic when I was fifteen: I made an appointment with a priest who didn't turn up. I thought about it very regularly after that. When I felt drawn again to worship after a period of not practising, I had the thought that I owed it to the church of my baptism to try the C of E first (which had ordained women in the meantime), but I had the sense that it would be cleaner to follow what I had long sensed was my destiny, knowing I would dream up compromises. Otherwise I might have flittered about for a while longer.
It's amazing how vibrant the Anglo-Catholic movement remains given the constant defections to Rome, especially in times of crisis as the Anglican Communion now faces.
I tend to miss the more generic Anglican things like the hymns than I do the liturgy. I went to a funeral in the local Anglican parish a few weeks ago where the vicar wore a biretta. I used to be delighted by that kind of thing, but it looked weird in the bare-walled, barely-unreformed church surrounds.

Andrew R said...

Especially weird given that no matter what the vicar wore and taught and the core congregation took on, the family saw no need for a eucharist.

Mike L said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mike L said...

Funny thing, Scott. Though I had no one, strong clerical influence in youth, it was another Anglican who supplied the best tonic for my faith: C.S. Lewis. Reading him exposed me to the beauty of orthodox Christianity; his robustness and logic made me see its manliness.

I don't fully understand why he didn't cross the Tiber either. Maybe it was just being brought up Protestant near Belfast.