I have attended four successive Anglican Use conferences, and at each of the previous three there has been a point at which someone in authority has had to stand up and remind us that we are not in Canterbury anymore. That is, in the midst of a discussion about what the Pastoral Provision might look like in the future--possible revisions to the Book of Divine Worship, the training of future priests for Anglican Use parishes, etc.--we have tended to slip into a "strategizing" attitude. Put another way, the discussion turns to what we might negotiate with the Holy See in order to preserve our Anglican patrimony. Not that negotiation itself is bad; it is indeed necessary to work out the nuts-and-bolts of what the new Ordinariate will look like. But ultimately, the decisions will not be the result of a mere consensus between Anglicans and the Holy See. They will have the weight of the Magesterium behind them, because the buck stops at the desk of the Holy Father.
Last year in Houston it was Father John Lipscomb (at the time he was merely "John Lipscomb," the former Episcopal Bishop of Southwest Florida) who reminded us of our true position when we came into the Catholic Church--that of supplicants asking to be allowed in. He recalled the story of the Prodigal Son, who returned to his father with nothing, asking only to be allowed a place with the servants. As Protestants we were in an analogous position, although in our case the sin of apostasy was inherited from previous generations. Nevertheless, at some point every Catholic convert realizes he has been participating in the sin of schism, whether or not he articulates it exactly in those terms. For me, that is exactly how I described my position as a Protestant. At that point, the only appropriate attitude is humble supplication, which doesn't come naturally for the average Anglican. Hence the need for this yearly reminder.
This year, things were a bit different. Anglicanorum coetibus has of course changed everything, and I think that most participants at this year's conference are well aware what a great gift Pope Benedict has given those who, in the words of William Oddie, have been "shivering at the gates" of the Church. In that spirit of humble gratitude the president of the Anglican Use Society, Joe Blake, opened our annual meeting on just the right note, reiterating his own position by declaring, "this is not Voice of the Faithful." That is, we are not a group of dissidents attempting to bend the Church to our way of thinking. (The motto on the VOTF website is, "Keep the faith, change the Church." Ugh.) Mr. Blake assured us that he accepted this position to serve--to serve the Church and the Holy Father. And his words reminded us why he was chosen for this post in the first place. Last year he indicated his intention to step down and offer someone else a chance to lead, but in light of recent developments he has graciously agreed to stay on for the sake of continuity during this time of transition.
But to get back to the Prodigal Son analogy: Thanks be to God that in Pope Benedict we have a Holy Father like the father in the parable. One who has been watching for us for decades and who has now done more than we would have dared imagine even a year ago. Like the father in the story, he saw us coming and ran to meet us, and, to carry the analogy further, with Anglicanorum coetibus he has killed the fatted calf and invited our separated brethren in. This is not a question of mere toleration, either. The document refers to our Anglican disciplines as "a precious gift nourishing the faith of the members of the Ordinariate and... a treasure to be shared." And I am persuaded that the ultimate purpose of the Holy Father is not merely to reconcile Anglicans but all of our separated brethren. Ut unum sint.