Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Convert

Yesterday--April 7--was the fifth anniversary of the day my husband and I were received into the Catholic Church, at the Great Easter Vigil, the same date as the Great Easter Vigil this year.  One of the terms most commonly used to describe those who embrace the Catholic faith, even after many years as a Christian, is "convert."  It is perhaps not the best word to use, because it requires some explanation in order not to offend someone who considers himself "already converted."  The best explanation, I think, is that conversion is not, after all, a one-time event but a life-long process.  In other words, failure to live up to what one believes--to take two steps forward and one back--is not a sign that one's original conversion wasn't genuine; it is a reason to seek God's mercy all the more ardently.  Having received the grace of forgiveness through the Sacrament of Penance, we are able, in the words of the author of Hebrews, to "run with perseverance the race that is set before us;" in other words, to pursue holiness. The possibility of confessing our sins and having someone absolve us of them is, in fact, one of the greatest gifts of the Catholic Church.  It was the reason that G.K. Chesterton gave for becoming Catholic--"to get rid of my sins."  Of course Chesterton was first converted from atheism to Christianity, which is why his writing resonates with anyone who has experienced real conversion.

In celebration of our Lord's Resurrection, in observance of our anniversary, and in honor of my fellow "convert," GKC, here is his poem of that title:


G.K. Chesterton

                                             After one moment when I bowed my head
                                             And the whole world turned over and came upright,
                                             And I came out where the old road shone white,
                                             I walked the ways and heard what all men said,
                                             Forests of tongues, like autumn leaves unshed,
                                             Being not unlovable but strange and light;
                                             Old riddles and new creeds, not in despite
                                             But softly, as men smile about the dead.

                                             The sages have a hundred maps to give
                                             That trace their crawling cosmos like a tree,
                                             They rattle reason out through many a sieve
                                             That stores the sand and lets the gold go free:
                                             And all these things are less than dust to me
                                             Because my name is Lazarus and I live.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Winning the Battle But Losing the War? - Part I

Along with most everyone else who has been awake during the past few weeks, I have been observing the controversy over the HHS mandate obliterating conscience protections for institutions with moral objections to providing insurance coverage for sterilization and contraceptives, including abortion-inducing drugs.  Three particular aspects of the popular response have been a great encouragement.

For one thing, as others have observed, it is rare to see the Catholic Bishops so united and so pro-active on any subject.  They have been speaking with one voice and speaking forcefully, and they remain steadfast in the face of the somewhat cynical Administration "compromise" proposal that doesn't really get at the problem.  That is encouraging.
Second, I think our Evangelical brothers and sisters understand that this is not a matter effecting only Catholics; their religious freedom is at stake, too, especially when it comes to providing abortifacient drugs (drugs that cause the expulsion of a fertilized ovum), which many so-called contraceptives are.  They are standing with us on this, and that is also encouraging.

Third, and perhaps more crucially, this controversy has brought into sharp focus something that I have been trying for years to impress upon anyone who will listen, especially my non-Catholic Christian brothers and sisters--that the contraceptive mentality, i.e., the notion that sex has no necessary connection with procreation of children, is at the root of the Culture of Death, especially the notion of abortion as a human right.  The Supreme Court itself enshrined this connection in American jurisprudence when it refused to take the opportunity afforded by the Planned Parenthood v. Casey case to overturn Roe v. Wade:
. . . in some critical respects abortion is of the same character as the decision to use contraception. … For two decades of economic and social development, people have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail.
In other words, for too long too many people have expected contraception to be readily available and to work as advertised.  If (when) it doesn't work, they expect abortion to be available as a back up plan.  This is why I am convinced that we will not make a real dent in the abortion culture without first changing hearts and minds on the subject of artificial birth control.  I am seeing signs that this is sinking in, and that is encouraging.

On the other hand...
... I have still had this nagging feeling that somehow the Bishops' current strategy of focusing almost exclusively on the religious freedom question, if it proves successful, is liable to yield a short-term victory at the expense of long-term influence on the culture.  What if, for example, the Obama Administration decides, finally, that this fight is not worth the political consequences they will likely incur, and they reverse themselves.  Not that this is likely to happen, mind you.  They seem to be dug in on this.  But what if?  In that case they will, of course, want to paint themselves as the magnanimous, reasonable party.  They may very well attempt to position themselves as the enlightened authorities willing to tolerate for the sake of religious freedom the rather oddball practices of a marginal sect that is stuck in the Middle Ages.

Well, apparently I am not the only one concerned about this.  Thaddeus Kozonski has posted a piece on the blog of the Center for Morality in Public Life, Ethika Politika, titled, "Religious Freedom and the Triumph of the Therapeutic", that articulates this problem extremely well.  I commend it to you.

Here is a sample quote from the article, re. the Administration's condescending arrogance toward the Church inherent in this mandate:
Indeed, the Obama regime did not decide to offer a compromised position for any other reason than self-serving pragmatism, with some ideological lip service given to a radically individualist conception of the right to “conscience,” meaning, in this case, the right for Catholics to believe in a cruel, sex-hating god, and to play-act in accordance with their fantasy. Are the Bishops satisfied with the Church over which they rule being characterized and treated by the state as nothing more public and authoritative than some superstitious debating society, as long as it can continue to enjoy tax-exempt status and some private freedoms of conscience for its members?
Another article along similar lines and equally worth the read was posted today on the Crisis Magazine website.  "Are Liberal Terms Dominating the HHS Mandate Debate?" by Patrick Deneen, explores many of the same troubling aspects of this debate, especially the inherent concession by most critics to a "private" view of religious faith, a view which is more consistent with liberal Lockean political philosophy than the teachings of the Catholic Church.  For the Church has always taught that followers of Christ have an obligation to contribute to the public good, in part by speaking out in opposition to practices that undermine the public good, like artificial birth control and abortion.  Here's a sample quote:
Catholic as well as non-Catholic defenders [of the Church's objections to the mandate] have largely sought to hold at arms length any claims about the rightness or truth of the Church's teachings on birth control; these are to be treated as belief within a "black box" that should be ignored by liberal society.  As long as those crazy beliefs don't harm individuals within or beyond the faith tradition, then they should be accorded respect and indifference by the State.  The Church seeks the leave of the State on the only terms recognizable by the liberal state: we have a certain set of private beliefs that aren't harming anyone.  Leave us alone, and we'll be quiet.
He goes on to point out that modern liberalism and it's overriding concern with individual autonomy, has reared its ugly head in our time, just as Pope Paul VI predicted it would in Humanae vitae, which I treated in more detail here.  That is, it has revealed itself as "tolerant" only to a point, and it becomes decidedly intolerant (and potentially even coercive) when it comes to any challenge to that autonomy.  Deneen worries, as I do, that allowing the debate to be framed in this way may perhaps win us the battle but lose us the war.

Am I overthinking this?  Being "unrealistic."  I would be interested to know what others think.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter Receives First Ordinary

Msgr. Steenson with Deacons James Barnett and John Denson of OLW
As reported in many other places (see below for links) the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Houston, TX was the site of last Sunday's Installation Mass for the new Ordinary for the US, Msgr. Jeffrey Steenson.  And what an occasion it was!  I told someone that participated with me in a 2007 Anglican Use Society pilgrimage to Rome that I hadn't seen that many bishops, cardinals, priests, deacons and seminarians all in the same place since Rome.  The procession alone took nearly 20 minutes.  I've seen estimates numbering the crowd at upwards of 1,000 people; it appeared nearly full to me, and the capacity is 1,800.  When I arrived with my hosts at 2:00 p.m., an hour before the 3:00 ceremony, already there must have been 200 people waiting in the narthex to go in.  The task of organizing all of this  fell to Master of Ceremonies Fr. Michael Earthman of St. Mary's Seminary, and it is a great tribute to him that it all came off without a hitch, at least nothing that was apparent to me, and I was sitting very near the front.

The music was led by the "Ordinariate Festival Chorus" and members of several local choirs, including the parish choir of Our Lady of Walsingham (OLW), the AU parish in Houston that is now the principle church of the Ordinariate, and they demonstrated magnificently the integral link between music and liturgy that is such a hallmark of the Anglican patrimony.  It seemed to me a fitting combination of selection from Anglican musical patrimony--"Christ is Made the Sure Foundation," and selections from Tallis (O sacrum convivium), Herbert Howells, Byrd (the Kyrie and Agnus Dei from his Mass for Five Voices); two hymns whose text is by perhaps the most famous Anglican convert of them all, Blessed J.H. Newman ("Firmly I Believe and Truly," and "Praise to the Holiest in the Height"); and several others that fall squarely within the Catholic musical tradition--Paletrina's Tu es Petrus and that perennial Catholic favorite, an English rendition of the Te Deum, "Holy God We Praise Thy Name."

Cardinal Wuerl
The installation itself occurred at the end of the Introductory Rite.  His Eminence Daniel, Cardinal DeNardo, welcomed everyone to the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and introduced Cardinal Wuerl, who read the official decree from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith formally installing Msgr. Steenson as the Ordinary and honoring him with the title, "Protonotary Apostolic," which entitles him to be addressed as "monsignor."  Msgr. Steenson then donned his mitre and a crozier (a gift of the men currently in formation to be priests of the Ordinariate) and greeted the congregation, starting with his wife, Debra, and son, Eric.  (Cardinal Wuerl had earlier thanked Debra for her willingness to "share" her husband with us.)  As a rule I don't like applause at Mass, but it seemed fitting under the circumstances, especially since the bishops and cardinals were doing so with enthusiasm.  The Pastoral Provision priests also initiated a brief standing ovation.

We then proceeded to the Liturgy of the Word, followed by the Eucharist, celebrated by the new ordinary himself and concelebrated by the Pastoral Provision priests present, including the vicar general of the Ordinariate, Washington, DC's own Fr. Scott Hurd, who lives in my own diocese (Arlington).

Msgr. Steenson celebrates Mass with Pastoral Provision priests
(l. to r.) Fr. Dwight Longanecker, Fr. Bruce Noble (behind Msgr. S.), Fr. Bruce Ramsey,
Fr. Allen Hawkins, Fr. Eric Bergman and Fr. Scott Hurd, Vicar General
(Cardinal DiNardo kneeling in background; Fr. Michael Earthman to Msgr. Steenson's right)
But first a word or two about the homily, the text of which is posted on the US Ordinariate website:  He began with the words from Psalm 133:1 - Behold, how good and joyful a thing it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!  He went on to speak about the Gospel reading, Mt. 16:13-19, in which Jesus gives Peter the keys to the Kingdom.  Whatever one's understanding of the identity of "this rock," ultimately it is what Christ will do (future tense--"I will build," "I will give," etc.) that matters.  Drawing on writings of the early Church Fathers, he reminded us that unity among all Christians has always been at the heart of what the Church is all about.  In other words, as Msgr. Steenson has said in his recent public statements, this enterprise is not just about preserving the outward elements of the Anglican patrimony--the liturgy, music and that "sense of the sacred" they are meant to convey (as valuable a gift as it all is).  It is about evangelization, about saving souls.  "The Church exists," he said, "to bring souls to Christ." He quoted the new chancellor of the
Ordinariate, Dr. Margaret Chalmers, who put it this way: "Our patrimony is people." He also offered as a fitting illustration of this project Bernini's sculpture of the Chair of St. Peter in the apse of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.  Over the chair is a stained-glass window with a dove in the center, representing the Holy Spirit.  His point, of course, is that the Ordinariate is primarily a work of the Holy Spirit who is, in the words of Anglicanorum coetibus, "the principal of the unity of the faithful."

On Saturday, Feb. 11, the day before the Installation Mass, I was able to sit in on the lecture at St. Mary's Seminary for the former Anglican priests in formation to become priests of the Ordinariate.  The presenter was Dr. Jeremy Wilkins, Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at the University of St. Thomas (the seminary of which is St. Mary's).  He referred to a section of the Catechism which had been assigned.  He didn't say which section, but I gather from the lecture that it was Part I, Section 1 (26-184), about the relationship between "I Believe" and "We Believe," that is, the nature of faith, of belief in God.  In addition to the seminarians present--about 10 of them--some 50 others joined in remotely via video conferencing, and one participant who phoned in from Afghanistan!

Fr. Paul Lockey, Jason Catania and Msgr. Steenson
at final Q&A on Saturday
This weekend certainly confirmed what I already knew--that the Ordinariate is in good hands, and that it's future priests are receiving solid seminary formation.  We are truly blessed to have such a shepherd as Msgr. Steenson at the helm (or perhaps I should say, as the pilot-in-command, since he is a pilot--and has used an airplane analogy to describe the Ordinariate).  Besides possessing (in spades!) the intellectual gifts necessary for the job, most importantly he is also an outstanding pastor.  That is, he is genuinely interested in people, and he seems to live out St. Paul's exhortation in Romans (12:10) "Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love...." (KJV).  And the seminarians themselves are as fine a group of men as I can imagine.  It is truly an exciting time to be a Catholic--especially a reconciled-Anglican Catholic.

Other links -
Houston Chronicle
The Daily Vine (Galveston-Houston diocesan website)
Whispers in the Loggia
National Catholic Register (re. Ordinariate priestly formation)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Back from Houston

I just returned this afternoon from a weekend in Houston to attend the Installation Mass for the new Ordinary, Msgr. Jeffrey Steenson.  Below is a (rather colorful) photo of me with the good Monsignor at the reception after the mass.  I will write more later once I've unpacked and caught my breath.  

Deo gratias!  We are blessed to have such a man as shepherd of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Mt. Calvary Catholic Church - Sounds good...

It's official now!  The formerly-Episcopal Mt. Calvary Church in Baltimore will become a Catholic Church.  The congregation and their rector, Fr. Jason Catania (pictured right), voted overwhelmingly in October of 2010 to seek reception into the Catholic Church.  Yesterday they officially completed negotiations with the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland regarding property issues.  All the legal "i's" are crossed and the "t's" dotted, so they can now proclaim publicly what many of us have known unofficially for some time:  They will be received at a Confirmation Mass at Mt. Calvary this Sunday, January 22, at 10:00am.

The celebrant for the Mass will be Fr. Jeffrey Steenson, the newly-appointed Ordinary for the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter.

A service of Solemn Evensong and Benediction will be held, also at Mt. Calvary, Sunday afternoon at 4:30pm.  Fr. Dwight Longanecker of the Standing on My Head blog, and a newly-appointed contributor to the Anglo-Catholic blog, will preach.  Fr. Eric Bergman, chaplain of the St. Thomas More Society of Scranton, PA, will serve as officiant.

This will be almost a year to the day from January 23 of last year, when the "Mid-Atlantic Gathering" was held in Baltimore, including an Anglican Use Mass at St. Alphonsus Catholic Church, followed by a lovely reception in the undercroft of Mt. Calvary.  The following day (Jan. 24) a group of us met up in Washington to participate in the March for Life under a large red banner with a picture of Pope Benedict XVI and the words, "Thank you, Holy Father, for Anglicanorum coetibus!"  This year we will meet and march again under the same banner--on Monday, January 23.  Meeting time/place is 1:00pm at the corner of 7th Street and Independence Ave., SW (just west of the Air & Space Museum).  Please join us in standing up for the Culture of Life.

... And please join me in welcoming Fr. Catania and the members of Mt. Calvary Church into full communion with the one, holy, Catholic & apostolic Church.  Ut unum sint!

Update:  News release posted today (Jan. 19) on the website of the (Catholic) Archdiocese of Baltimore.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Chair of St. Peter and Christian Unity

Today (on the old calendar) is the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter and the beginning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.  Coincidence?  I think not.  In fact, I've been a Catholic just long enough to know that there are very few coincidences on the liturgical calendar--intentional or otherwise.  This one, I dare say, is intentional, but very often I find certain feast days coinciding with significant events in my own life or in the wider world.  But I digress.

It was certainly no accident that the new Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter for the U.S. and Canada was officially established so close to this date.  And certainly it is the appropriate date to begin this week of prayer for the unity for which our Lord prayed, for without a visible institutional locus of unity, it seems to me that schism and its evil twin, heterodoxy, are inevitable.

Having experienced first hand what ecclesiastical chaos looks like, I am especially grateful for this particular aspect of the Catholic Church.  Far from being a burden, the teaching authority of the Church and the obligation of obedience to her has instead been a means of discovering true freedom in Christ.  It has been a great relief not having to be my own pope anymore.

In honor of the day,  here is an excerpt from something by Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson entitled, The Grace of the Chair of St. Peter:
Turn, then, once more to the Catholic Church and see how in the Life which she offers, as in none other, there is presented to us a means of fulfilling our end. For it is she alone who even demands in the spiritual sphere a complete and entire abnegation of self.
From every other Christian body comes the cry, Save your soul, assert your individuality, follow your conscience, form your opinions; while she, and she alone, demands from her children the sacrifice by hers, and the obedience of their will to her lightest command. For she, and she alone, is conscious of possessing that divinity, in complete submission to which lies the salvation of humanity. For she, as the coherent and organic mystical Body of Christ, calls upon those who look to her to become, not merely her children, but her very members; not to obey her as soldiers obey a leader or citizens a government, but as the hands and eyes and feet obey a brain.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Epiphany Evensong in Virginia this Sunday, January 8

The St. Thomas of Canterbury Anglican Use Society
Northern Virginia

invites you to attend a service of

according to the Anglican Use of the Roman Rite

In thanksgiving for :
the erection of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter,
 and the appointments of The Rev. Jeffrey N. Steenson as its first ordinary
and The Rev. R. Scott Hurd of Washington, DC, as its first vicar general.

Sunday, January 8, 2012
The Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord
5:00 p.m.

Holy Spirit Catholic Church
8800 Braddock Rd.
Annandale, VA  22003-4150

A reception will follow the service.  We are pleased to announce that Fr. Hurd will be joining us on Sunday, and will make remarks at the reception.

We have much to celebrate in this happy new year.  Please join us!

For More Information
Contact: Heide Seward
Visit our website for directions and further details: