Sunday, April 22, 2007

Evangelical Catholic

The Catholic Faith is that which is the heart and proclamation of the Church at its best and in its fullness. Anything less is a diminishment of the birthright of all Christians; anything other is a corruption of the revelation of God to his people. When Anglicans speak of “the Catholic Church”, they don’t mean the Roman Catholic Church—they mean the Church that proclaims, “the whole Faith to all people to the end of time”. (Catechism, Book of Common Prayer, p. 854)

The word “Catholic” comes from two Greek words: kata (according to) and holos (the whole). Thus the word, although commonly understood to mean “universal”, is better understood as “according to the whole”. It means “the whole Faith” and not just the parts we happen to agree with or like.

If the Church is to be fully Catholic, then, it must also be evangelical—also from two Greek words: eu (good) and angelos (roughly, “news”). The New Testament clearly imposes the preaching of the Gospel—the Good News—upon all believers. By “evangelical” I do not mean adherence to a particular brand of churchmanship; I mean that the Church must be dedicated to proclaiming the Gospel. In particular, preachers must be fully dedicated to preaching the fullness of the Faith and be able to do so with power, conviction, and effectiveness.

The most evangelical preacher I ever heard was a Roman Catholic priest in Kona, Hawaii in October 1989. He was incredible. Several times in his sermons, which were preached with boldness and confidence and which fully engaged the congregation, he would inject the word, “Amen” as a question, with a long “A”—“Ay-MEN?” And the congregation responded with a resounding, “AY-MEN!”

This evangelical preacher knew that a sermon was not just a lecture, an address, a spoken essay, or a treatise. He knew that a sermon was not the words that were preached, but rather an encounter with the Holy Spirit which the preacher and congregation both experienced together. That is, the sermon was quasi-sacramental. It could not be something that people merely “listened to”. It absolutely had to be an experience of God’s presence.

A woman named Sheila Kaye-Smith wrote an outstanding book called Anglo-Catholicism, which was published in 1925. In the foreword, she wrote: The distinguishing marks of Catholicism are two. First—the subordination of the part to the whole, so that the individual cannot exist without the fellowship, and must combine his separate experience with the corporate experience of the fellowship, and consider the fellowship in all his thoughts, words, and works. Second—the use and sanctification of matter by spirit, the inward working through the outward by virtue of the Incarnation of the Son of God; in other words, the Sacramental System. All details of doctrine and practice ultimately resolve themselves under one of those two heads for their cause and justification.

The sanctification of matter by spirit” is not limited to the sacring of water, oil, bread and wine, and touch—the outward elements of the Sacraments. The hallowing of words offered to God in near-sacramental authenticity is the essence of true preaching. Of course, the words must be true to the Gospel in every way. Catholic preaching, then, must teach and proclaim “the whole Faith” and not just the preacher’s opinion, and cannot deviate from the accepted fullness of Christian Faith.

Anglo-Catholic liturgy is not uncommon. Ritual, incense, vestments, chanting, and so forth can be done very well, but without the fullness of Catholic Faith, the liturgy is not much different from theater. If liturgy is to be authentically Catholic, it must be evangelical as well. Sadly, evangelical Catholic preachers are scarce. To our shame, really good Anglican preachers are also rare.

One of the best was Father Arthur Henry Stanton. He was the Curate at St. Alban’s, Holborn for roughly fifty years. He died in 1913, but his reputation remains.

Here is a photograph of him preaching. Note the confident posture and the crowd, but note also the biretta—the hallmark of the Catholic. Note also the vested servers, processional crucifix, and banner.

Here is a website that tells more about Father Stanton:

I am particularly gratified by a couple of sentences from this source: In one week Fr. Stanton received two letters—one from a militant Protestant who told him he ought to go over to Rome, another from a sober Anglican who complained that the service might have taken place in a Methodist chapel! Fr. Stanton characteristically read both letters from the pulpit, and considered that his ministry was successful.

Oh, AY-MEN! One Sunday about ten years ago at Blessed Sacrament there were visitors at the second Mass. One said upon shaking hands at the church door on his way out, “This place looks and smells like an old-fashioned Roman Catholic church!” The other said, “If I closed my eyes, I’d swear this was a Baptist church!” Both were excited about their experience. Like Father Stanton, I can consider that our ministry is successful. Blessed Sacrament is an evangelical Catholic church.

As a footnote, one might add that a Catholic church must also be charismatic—rich with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The modern charismatic movement can be said to have begun on April 3, 1960 when Father Dennis Bennett, the Rector of St. Mark’s, Van Nuys, California, preached a sermon extolling the gifts of the Holy Spirit. He had recently been “baptized in the Holy Spirit” and chose to teach about the experience with the congregation. St. Mark’s was my home parish and I was present when he preached that sermon. Although I was only eleven years old and didn’t know what was happening, I realize now that I was privileged to be present at the launching of one of the great renewal movements of modern times.

Evangelical, Spirit-filled, high liturgy: living and proclaiming “the whole Faith to all people, to the end of time.” Catholic. The Church at its best and in its fullness. Anything less is a diminishment of the birthright of all Christians; anything other is a corruption of the revelation of God to his people.


Friday, April 20, 2007

Resolving Office and Person

This is the third time I’ve put up a post with this title. The first two times I thought better of it and deleted what I’d written. I deleted the previous posts because I wondered in hindsight whether I had perhaps compromised some people even if I didn’t name them. So this post will be general.

Since last fall I’ve posted seven or eight times on the theme of struggling to find the right balance between exercising an “office” and being recognized as a “person”. During that time I have been trying to relearn how to minister to young adults, trying to become more open and accessible, more personal, without abdicating authority or pastoral effectiveness. I had come to think that this is what most people of that generation want in a pastor rather than the formal over-professional distance that was preferred when I was trained. Most of the time I felt that I was not doing too well.

One insight that came to me strongly several times during the early part of this year is that one factor that kept me from making the progress I wanted and hoped for was that I was paying too much attention to wondering how I was doing. When I thought about myself and my progress too much, I lost the way. I had taken my eyes off Jesus, and that made it difficult for me to see others clearly either. When I thought about how I was relating to others, I didn’t do too well because I had become self-conscious and therefore wasn’t thinking of them as lovingly as I wanted.

One of my favorite passages in Scripture is Isaiah 30:21— “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears shall hear a voice behind you, saying, This is the way; walk in it.” I have mentioned this verse once or twice in previous blogposts on the subject of “office and person”. In the past few weeks, through a number of incidents and experiences both painful and exhilarating, this passage has come fruitfully true for me. I know better now how to minister in this new way. My new boundaries are pretty well set now and comfortable.

I would never have guessed it, never could have anticipated that “the way” would be pointed out in such a fashion. Through juxtaposed loss and affirmation came the finding of the path: “This is the way; walk in it.” I can even look back and see that it was there all the time. In fact, I had been walking it much of the time already without knowing it. God anticipated me, accompanied me, prepared the way, and led me. He is still doing so.

Thursday, April 12, 2007


When I was growing up, I think my favorite day of the week was Saturday. It was the only day that didn’t have a schedule of things that needed to be done. I remember waking up with the sunlight of early day brightening and warming the out-of-doors. Even if I liked the things that needed doing on other days, like going to school or church or visiting my aunts, uncles, and cousins, being completely free of commitments held an appeal all its own. On Saturday morning, my homework was behind me and my chores were hurriedly completed. Then the day opened before me, filled with sunlight and the promise of adventure.

My boyhood friends lived only a few doors down on the same block. Almost every Saturday we plunged into some sort of adventure. We read, collected comic books and baseball cards, played baseball, explored the neighborhood, swam, went to movies (50 cents a ticket), rode bikes to the village main street and browsed the shops. At that time there were still orchards and fields just across the street to the north of the house I lived in. (They’ve all been built over now, of course.) There were walnut trees to climb. There was an old house with an acre or two that long predated the neighborhood I grew up in. The Suarez family lived there. I became friends with Daniel Suarez, the oldest child and only boy in the family, and we occasionally played in the overgrown acreage behind his house, and toured the henhouse that was old, disused, and ruinous even at that time.

Along the major street was a double row of pomegranate trees. We could walk between the rows, and the branches of the trees met overhead so that we moved along inside a tunnel of thick growth.

Looking back on those Saturdays of decades ago, I am sure that there is a patina of idealism that memory puts on them. That’s okay. It’s part of my current enjoyment. I do not live in the past to the exclusion of enjoying the present, but my memories enrich the past experience for the continued enjoyment of it in the present. C. S. Lewis wrote in Out of the Silent Planet that “A pleasure is full grown only when it is remembered.” It does not necessarily have to be remembered accurately or completely.

A few weeks ago I added to my prayer list the name of every friend I can remember, beginning from childhood up to the present, even though I have no idea now where most of them are or even if they are still alive. There are a little more than a hundred names on the list. It continually astounds me that I am as old as I am—just fifteen months short of turning 60. I still feel young, and my physical capabilities have diminished only a little. It feels to me as if I have been in my twenties for almost forty years. Yet my memories go back a long way. And to think that I have another thirty or forty years to go!

We human beings were created to live in eternity, but because of our exile from God’s immediate presence, we live in time. However, deep inside we somehow remember the heights from which we have fallen. Therefore we shall always have a sense of not being completely “at home” in this life. There will always be something uncomfortable about our lives, for they are filled with transitory things. It's as if we are living out of suitcases.

Today, however, it is Thursday in Easter Week. I have taken most of the week off as compensation time for the rigorous schedule of Holy Week. Today is the first day of this week I woke up without any responsibilities, appointments, major chores, or schedule. It was very nearly like a Saturday of half a century ago. Then the day opened before me, filled with warm sunlight, light breezes, and the promise of adventure. I suspect that when I am 90, I shall still feel the same way.