Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Opening Ramblings

On the Catholic Faith
I set my self to a wandering reflection on the Catholic Faith as I understand it and attempt to live it. God willing, it will settle out into specific reflections on various topics, but initially it will be somewhat rambling.

Why I am writing is a mystery to me. There are so many who have written so much of great value, and more who have written of dubious value, and even more who have written what can best be described as misguided. What can I contribute?

I am neither very holy, nor very wise. I don’t possess great faith, deep prayer, or even a disposition that avoids hypocrisy. So, whatever I put down will likely be shallow or pretentious. God forgive me. As I write, guide my hand so as not to sin, nor to lead others to sin. Let my reflections serve for good, to correct me in my errors, to guide me to Truth, to beckon me to salvation, to protect me from sin.

Here in my old age I discover myself a Catholic priest. I am one who has come home to the Holy Catholic Church from the Orthodox Churches. Why did I do it?

The wholeness of Truth beckoned me. It is almost impossible for me to explain. There is a ring of Truth in the Catholic Church that simply was not there in the Orthodox Church. And this is most strange to me in that I celebrate the same Liturgy, follow the same calendar (even if Pascha is celebrated according to the Gregorian Calendar now), keep the same cycle of fasting and feasting. How is it different?

Despite all anyone can say it is the Holy Father. The Pope makes the difference. He is not my patriarch, yet he is my Pope. I commemorate him in the Liturgy. That is the difference. It seems like something so little and yet for the Orthodox it is so monumental a distinction that they call us "uniates" and pretenders and fakes.

But consider: Do I believe in the Undivided Trinity? Yes. This great Mystery of our Salvation is the heart and focus of my worship. It breathes life into my being, the Trinity reveals the great mercy of Divine Love, shared intimately with the Christian soul. When I offer up the Anaphora I find myself somewhat trembling that I am at that moment actually addressing my prayer to God the Father. I have entered into the Life of God Himself to offer him, "Your own of what is your own…"

How can this be? I am such a sinner. So full of sin and shame. Guilty and full of filth and perversion. Yet I have been given the grace to stand at the altar and pray not just to God, but entering into the Mystery of Who God is, to speak with the Persons of the Holy Trinity Himself.

In my mind I see a great darkness, the unfathomable light that is God. I understand it but do not comprehend it. Intellectually, I accept it and know all the great formulas to put it on paper, but the reality of it eludes my understanding. In moments of spiritual clarity, I can almost say I am acquainted with Him but cannot do more than accept it. (And this makes me wonder how I can ever convey this Mystery in a sermon!)

So how is it that I, so full of pettiness, lust, ambition, arrogance, jealousy, weakness, callousness, and spiritual blindness, can actually stand before the Holy Table? Ex Opere Operato? Yes. But the magnitude of the grace given overwhelms me.

Once, long ago, when I was in seminary I served as a student chaplain. I was called upon to baptize a prematurely born infant who subsequently died. It was traumatic for me. I spoke later with one of the professors and said that I felt empty. All I had done was pour water on a tiny forehead and recited a few words. He told me that I was right. God produced the miracle, all I had done was go through the motions. It was a humbling and uplifting insight for me. In a way it was formative for my becoming Orthodox and ultimately Catholic. It became constitutive of why I love the rubrics and find attention to following them correctly so important to my liturgical spirituality.

I find the whole debate in the Roman Rite almost comical. Why would anyone presume to do the liturgy "their way" as opposed to how the Rubrics indicate it should be done? The Roman Rite has such great potential. Look at a papal mass from the Holy See. It is no less majestic than the Byzantine Rite, and like the Byzantine Rite could equally be celebrated with dignity and spiritual intensity in the most humble of parish settings.

So it is the Holy Father that guarantees the seal of Catholicity to my Faith. And for this the separated brethren call my Church traitorous or blasphemous. But then again, for too many Orthodox the Faith is almost entirely defined by what separates them from the Pope.
I remember one Holy Thursday, listening to the hymns of the Orthros of the Passion, and the primacy of St Peter was clearly indicated! And I thought, how can we sing this and not be united to Rome? Of course, the answer is that Peter had primacy but it was not transferable to his successor. But if not, how is the Apostolic Succession passed on at all? Is it really logical that the succession can pass from generation to generation of bishops but the particular succession of primacy cannot? (Read Soloviev. He says it all!)

The Gates of Hell shall not prevail. Thanks be to God for the Catholic Church. The Orthodox have even abandoned the ancient name of the Church. None of the Church Fathers called it the Orthodox Church. It was always the Christian Faith and the Catholic Church. Perhaps that is why I had to come home – to be in the Church of the Fathers. (What is that old song, "Faith of our Fathers"?)

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