Transformed Lives

In the past few weeks I have been following the discussions between the Vatican and the German Bishops’ Conference on Eucharistic hospitality towards interchurch couples. This question concerns me quite directly as I am Anglican and my husband is Roman Catholic.  Bishops, cardinals and theologians spend endless hours, months and years debating whether or not to open the table of the Lord to Christians not in communion with Rome, but whose baptism is nevertheless recognized by Rome. Jim and I are united in two sacraments: baptism and marriage. But the Church separates us at the table of the Eucharist. This cuts deep, undermining the integrity and ecclesial value of our marital union.

I have profound respect and affection for the Eucharist. Participating in the Eucharist, consuming the Body and Blood of Jesus has been pivotal in my own faith formation. The centrality of the Eucharist has continued in my new Anglican discipleship. But from this Anglican perch, I am becoming more and more puzzled and saddened at the sacramental antics in Rome. It seems that for Rome institutional communion trumps unity in faith and in Christ Jesus. It also seems that the table of the Lord is being treated as the table of the Church. Finally, it seems that a medieval philosophical category (transubstantiation) trumps transformed hearts and minds.

I don’t in any way intend to be disrespectful, but my deep love for the Eucharist and for the church prompt some serious questions. Is Jesus more fully present in a Catholic Mass than in an Anglican Eucharist or Lutheran service of Holy Communion? When I moved into the Anglican tradition, one faithful Catholic lamented that I was leaving the “Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.” This betrays not only a lack of ecumenical knowledge, particularly about the Eucharist, but also a limited understanding of Christ’s Real Presence. I moved so as to grow more fully into Christ’s Real Presence in the world and in the church by living out the priestly vocation God had placed in my heart (despite my objections, I may add).

If the Roman Catholic sacrament of the Eucharist is truly superior to anyone else’s celebration of the same, then why does this not show in a multitude of changed lives on fire with Jesus? Does the transubstantiation of hearts not take priority over the philosophical minutiae over how the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Jesus? *

I know the theological and ecclesial arguments well: it has to do with validity of Holy Orders, Apostolic Succession and visible ecclesial unity. But each of these terms suffers from a constraining definition, as Avery Cardinal Dulles pointed out so succinctly in his seminal work Models of the Church.

In a 1993 letter to a Lutheran bishop, Joseph Ratzinger wrote: If the actions of Lutheran pastors can be described by Catholics as “sacred actions” that “can truly engender a life of grace,” if communities served by such ministers give “access to that communion in which is salvation,” and if at a Eucharist at which a Lutheran pastor presides is to be found “the salvation-granting presence of the Lord,” then Lutheran churches cannot be said simply to lack the ministry given to the church by Christ and the Spirit.

Holy Communion is meant to change us, Pope Francis said recently. Echoing St. Augustine he stated: Christ gives himself to us both in the Word and in the Sacrament of the altar, to conform us to him. This means to allow oneself to be changed as we receive. Just as the bread and wine are converted into the Body and Blood of Christ, those who receive them with faith are transformed into a living Eucharist. You become the Body of Christ. This is beautiful, very beautiful. … We become what we receive!

How beautiful indeed and how powerful if this was really happening! In fact, we invoke the Holy Spirit upon us God’s people to effect this transubstantiation in our own lives as part of every Eucharistic Prayer. Instead, a Catholic Mass can be as mediocre as any celebration of the Lord’s Supper in another church. Worse even, studies have been done on why Catholics arrive in church late and leave early.

I have been at many a Eucharistic celebration in Anglican and Lutheran churches, and now preside at the same in both. Never have I seen people leave before the end of the service. Moreover, every hymn gets its full verses sung as an expression of praise rather than only a couple of verses serving as “traveling music” for the priest. There is a gusto and an engagement in these services that I wish more of in a Catholic Eucharist. If the Catholic Eucharistic sacrament is somehow more whole, more authentic, then why does this not find expression in all who receive the true Body and Blood of Jesus in radical lives of service to others, simplicity of lifestyle, outreach to the poor, and advocates of justice for the oppressed?

It would behoove us all to sprinkle our private and institutional judgments of one another with a good dose of humility and self-examination, especially when it comes to the Eucharist. The Gospels are embarrassingly candid about how little the disciples actually understood Jesus during his ministry. None of us, not even a Pope, should place higher demands on one another than Jesus ever did for those who broke bread with him.

Clearly, none of us fully grasp the meaning of Christ`s sacrifice any more than the first disciples did. And none of us can add anything to our worthiness in receiving Christ’s sacred Body and Blood in the Eucharist than what Christ has accomplished in his suffering and death for us. In fact, the seventh century mystic St. Isaac of Nineveh is quoted as saying, ‘Did not our Lord share his table with tax collectors and harlots? So then — do not distinguish between the worthy and unworthy. All must be equal in your eyes to love and to serve.

What would happen if the validity of the Eucharist was determined by “discerning the Body” (1 Cor. 11:27-29) and measured by transformed lives instead of institutional membership?

  • I highly recommend Gabriel Daly’s paper Eucharist: Doing the Truth with Christian Faith
  • Excerpts from a summary of the RC position on Eucharistic sharing:
    The norms published by the Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York, in 1999 stated, “Episcopalians and Lutherans can be presumed to believe in the real presence. For members of other communions there may be need for some further discussion concerning their belief in the Eucharist.”
    At the same time, the 2008 guidelines of the Diocese of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, said, “the Church does not require other Christians to have more knowledge of the sacrament or more faith and holiness than the Catholic faithful have. This principle is particularly pertinent in applying terms of the law that speak of the other Christian ‘manifesting Catholic faith’ in the sacrament, having the ‘proper disposition’ and being in ‘spiritual need.’”
  • The final reporting on the meeting between the German bishops and the Vatican can be found here. Interesting to note that Pope Francis did not give the bishops a final answer, but sent them home with — work it out, boys.
  • Update May 12, 2018. Cardinal Willem Eijk from the Netherlands (my country of origin) has unleashed a sharp critique on Pope Francis about the matter. Dutch friends have been sending me responses appearing in Dutch publications, fiercely criticizing the cardinal, summed up in: dear Cardinal, close the book and open your heart.
  • Update May 28, 2018: This interview with Archbishop Charles Chaput is well worth reading and pondering for both Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Protestants alike. Again it raises the question: what is non-negotiable in ecclesial unity and what is acceptable diversity? Rome approved the Eucharistic Prayer of the Armenian Church which does not have an Institution narrative or consecration of elements. What will it take for Rome to accept the Eucharistic prayer of other Christian traditions?
  • Update June 4, 2018: Pope Francis seems to claw back his command to the German Bishops Conference’s to “work it out.”
  • Update June 12, 2018: RC German Bishop Gerhard Feige of Magdeburg responds to Pope Francis’ most recent decree.
  • An interesting article sharing the story of a Lutheran-Catholic couple in Germany.

And the beat goes on …

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Examining Difference

We have 80% agreement, the article states, between the two churches that both claim a Catholic identity. Anglicans and Roman Catholics are indeed so very close in liturgy and prayer, Scripture and Gospel discipleship, sacramental practice and spirituality, the historic three-fold order of bishop–priest–deacon, Mary and the Saints. Truly close siblings holding each other in deep affectionate regard. Then comes Bishop Linda Nicholls’ question: “If we’ve come to so much agreement … why is it we’ve arrived in such different places?” Why indeed … ???

In this question lies the enigma that is the Anglican Church to Roman Catholics. Now that I am swimming in Anglican ecclesial waters, some answers to Bishop Nicholls’ question are slowly floating to the surface. In his book The Anglican Moral Choice Paul Elmen formulates the difference as follows: The Roman Catholic view in general seems to be that a principle must be affirmed without exception; and that thereafter exceptions can be dealt with, without modifying the principle. The view natural to the (Anglican) mind is rather that a principle must be framed in such a way as to include all allowable exceptions. It follows inevitably that the Roman (Catholic) Church must profess to be fixed, while the Anglican Church must profess to take account of changed conditions. The (Roman Catholic) Church thereby conceives of and treats human nature in vastly different ways than the Anglican tradition, and that difference goes deep. (pg. 118, 1983)

In other words, the Roman Catholic point of departure leans more towards a legal authority model that allows exceptions in pastoral situations. The Anglicans acknowledge the grey and ambiguous spheres of life upfront, motivated by a deep concern to make room for every possible situation people of good will with a sincere desire for God may find themselves.

I appreciate the RC Church position. We need clear moral and spiritual markers to help develop our conscience and guide our life choices.  Like a good mother, Rome indeed strives to guide her children in upright and moral goodness. But I also appreciate the Anglican instinct of radical hospitality, the kind Jesus extended so freely in ways that scandalized the religious establishment of his day.

There is a real danger in an overly firm grip on the legal side of things. Once we become grown adults in faith, with capable and critical minds, life itself teaches us that we cannot always apply neat legal categories of right and wrong. The more we live, the more grey appears (despite our colourful experiences). This is where Anglican discipleship shows greater hospitality. While the Anglican approach can be criticized for its apparent inconsistencies, the Roman Church gets criticized for its inability to accommodate those same inconsistent and grey areas of life.

The Comments section of a recent NCR article included the following by a Catholic reader: To be fair, as much as I admire Anglicanism, the subject of homosexuality has long vexed the world-wide Anglican Communion, with some member bodies supportive of LGTB people and others, like the church in Africa, being solidly against. But that’s what I admire about Anglicanism: it’s messiness. They at least are willing to air out arguments in the light of day with considerable lay input. Within Catholicism it’s trickle-down all the way, and nothing ever sees the light of day.

While criticism can be swift over the Anglican storm around homosexuality and same-sex marriage, Catholicism has its own challenges when it comes to moral teaching and practice. The Church’s official teaching against artificial birth control has failed to persuade many married Catholics. As much as it tries to remedy and show contrition, the clergy sexual abuse continues to deliver serious blows to Roman Catholic moral credibility. Moreover, the Catholic Church is struggling mightily with how to welcome its gay and lesbian members.

Both moral approaches come with merits and risks. While the Anglican position risks allowing too much latitude (fueled by a radical trust that God will sort it all out in the end), the Roman position risks stifling pastoral accommodation, thereby alienating those whose lives do not neatly fit the legal ecclesial boxes. A superficial understanding of the Anglican position can lead to the notion that it stands for nothing, thereby completely missing its profound and robust relational and incarnational ethos. Roman Catholics can be criticized for trying to squeeze life’s ambiguities into a greater rigidity than life itself can tolerate, thereby ignoring its noble commitment to moral guidance.

Anglican ecclesiology and polity can look incredibly attractive, fueled by the Christian ideal of communion. But I do wonder if this makes Anglican spirituality and praxis an adult-church, “X-rated” so to speak. In other words, the Anglican tradition is not for children or the faint-hearted. A mature faith is required, an ability to engage in thoughtful dialogue without fear, reserving rash judgments and legalistic categories. However, I don’t think it was an Anglican who said recently: “Who am I to judge?

In one of his columns, Ron Rolheiser wrote: “What’s needed today is not less freedom but more maturity. We don’t need to roll back freedom in the name of God and morality: we need to raise the level of our maturity to match the level of our freedom. Simply put, we are often too immature to carry properly the great gift of freedom that God has given us. The answer to that is not to denigrate freedom in the name of God and morality, but to invite a deeper maturity so as to more properly honour the great gift that we have been given.” (May 21, 2006)

In light of Rolheiser’s words, it seems that both traditions need to be accountable to the other. Only in this tension of mutual accountability can the fruits of our witness mature in our common pilgrim journey in Gospel faithfulness.

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Ordination Musings

I cannot help but share some musings on this coming Pentecost Sunday when I will be ordained a deacon in the Anglican Church (priesthood in late fall). This has been a long journey, some 25 years! But I would not have traded it for anything. Because through all the seasons of faithful and at times painful obedience, of death and newness of life, I have grown a solid relationship with God through Jesus Christ – oh happy fault. It is this intimate faith relationship that has helped me say ‘YES’ to God over and over again:

[Our] ‘yes’ to life may initially be a passive ‘yes’, born of lassitude and of regrets, but it can eventually become a ‘yes’ of openness, of acceptance, a ‘yes’ of joy. This ‘yes’ to life, which springs from the deepest part of us, is not a naïve or idealistic ‘yes’’; it is not saying yes to a dream or illusion. It is a ‘yes’ to our deepest self, a ‘yes’ to our past, to our body, to our family, a ‘yes’ to our inner storms, our winters, our pain; a ‘yes’ also to the beauty of life, to sunshine, to fresh air, to running water, to children’s faces, to the song of birds. It is the ‘yes, to our destiny and our growth. It is the ‘yes’ to our own true beauty, even if, at certain times, we cannot see it.  ~ Jean Vanier

It is mightily unsettling for a faithful Roman Catholic woman to encounter a deep intimate call to preaching and to priestly ministry. For a long time I made heroic efforts to talk myself out of it, dancing circles around it in persistent and creative ways – lay ministry is a valid contribution to the church (I still believe that), I had simply been among the Lutherans (and Anglicans) too long for my own good, I was not at the seminary for political reasons (e.g. advancing the cause for women’s ordination in the RC church) but to obtain a post-graduate degree in Pastoral Counselling etc. etc. Every lame explanation concealed my heart’s cry, echoing Jeremiah: do not call me, O God, I am only a Roman Catholic woman. Believe it or not, but for too long I placed ecclesial belonging before God’s will, even though fullness of life lie waiting in the embracing of the priestly vocation.

No surprise then that none of my escape efforts, or the labels I attempted to give my inner experience,  or the feedback from the faith community, or the response I tried to give God, succeeded in fulfilling the desire inside; in spite of that I soldiered on claiming a “call within a call,” i.e. to live an ordained calling/reality in a non-ordained capacity in the RC church for prophetic reasons; it was noble and took courage grounded in prayer.

A dozen years ago I stepped back from my RC involvements to enter an intense love affair with the Anglican tradition, in the hope of finding a new church home and to fulfill my calling. However, while the call to ordained ministry enjoyed strong affirmation, the denominational transition did not. In my heart of hearts I simply could not transfer with the integrity both the Anglican tradition and myself deserved. So after a 1 ½ year discernment period I re-entered RC professional ministry, hoping against all hope that there was more that God needed me to live as a Roman Catholic woman in ministry, however challenging that would be. But God indeed is faithful. Sure enough, there was more …

Yet even in the six years of rewarding pastoral ministry in a large RC parish, ecumenical engagement remained my primary nourishing and affirming faith community. I contended myself with a wide range of ministry opportunities from preaching in Protestant churches to offering retreats at a RC retreat center. And I enjoyed some extremely respectful and supportive friendships with Catholic priests and bishops with whom I worked well and could share details of my inner priestly landscape.

Despite a wide range of ministry opportunities, which afforded much joy and satisfaction, the priestly nature of the call continued to assert itself. Consciously grounding my ministry in the priestly charism, a charism which grew stubbornly in my heart in near-desert conditions, directly increased my capacity to love all people, to serve all people, to offer wise, patient and compassionate counsel to those in need. I derived a deep and abiding joy from my ministry which, while not sacramental in the traditional sense, nevertheless provided profound sacramental moments and dynamics.

The priestly charism served as a guiding light, providing rich soil for my personal prayer life; it provided the locus of meaning and purpose as I reflected on, prayed with and interpreted my ministerial experiences; finally, the faith community always managed to recognize, call forth and affirm the priestly nature of my being. I discovered the ontological nature of this sacred calling and that I could live it creatively even in a non-ordained capacity.

While settling into this reality as permanent, God was clearly not finished with me yet. A few years ago, I gladly accepted to lead worship and preach in my local Anglican parish (to which I remained very close since that first Anglican courtship) when its priest retired. My heart leaped for joy and lo and behold, the deep desire for ordination, to preside at the Eucharist and celebrate the sacraments, once again rose to the surface like cream on fresh milk. Its perennial newness and depth, beauty and intensity caught me off guard, revealing a sweet authenticating power pressed from the many years of cross and resurrection this calling had challenged me to embrace.

Ten years had passed since that first Anglican love-affair; I was now in a different place spiritually, emotionally and psychologically, with a lot more pastoral and ecumenical experience under my belt. This time God and my own heart released me; I fell into an unreserved yes with such fullness and joy, the likes of which I had not tasted since I uttered the “yes” to my spouse some 38 years previously. The joy, peace and clarity moved in swiftly, communicating an unmistakable affirmation and blessing.

I am discovering that nothing is wasted for our God whose love and guidance is steadfast and reliable, provided we keep our hearts open and soft to God’s merciful touch. But a priestly calling is never intended for the person nor for personal holiness; it is instead intended to serve the faith community. I have been acutely aware of this constitutive aspect of my vocational experience, and thus suffered from the withholding of that ecclesial blessing despite the manifold surprising ministry opportunities I have enjoyed over those same years. So to now receive the much longed-for ecclesial recognition of this vocation is overwhelming beyond words.

Moreover, I am profoundly grateful for my new ecclesial home in the Anglican tradition while I continue to cherish deep affection and healthy relational ties with my Roman Catholic faith family, my ecclesial birth home. The Anglican tradition has ample room for my Catholic heart and for my Protestant leanings. The Anglican expression of Christian discipleship has gifts and challenges that I need in my spiritual walk at this time. At the same time, I come bearing gifts of my own along with a willingness to serve the Body of Christ in the Anglican church family as well as continue to give my best efforts to the quest for UNITY in this same Body of Christ, the church universal.

DeaconMLT4

Finally, I am immensely grateful to our local ecumenical Women-in-Ministry group. This group of valiant women are faithful servants of Christ who serve in a variety of ministry roles across a wide denominational spectrum. Their friendship and support, their joyful witness and disarming capacity for mingling both sad and happy tears have been a source of soul-food, joy and inspiration to me. I am amazed that we are in our tenth year monthly lunches! Many friendships and professional partnerings have had their genesis in that small dining room at Queen’s House. And it doesn’t look like the lunches will cease anytime soon!

 

Diaconate_1And so my soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.

For God has looked upon this lowly servant
and called me blessed.

(adapted, Luke 1:46-48)

For more photos of the ordination, go to my Facebook Page

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Mysterium Tremendum

It’s that time again — musing about Eucharist, ordination and church. After all, my own ordination to the diaconate is approaching. It has been a long journey to this time and place; a deep joy and fullness is overtaking my heart. At the same time, I find my heart super-sensitive to critical comments. I was stung by one recently that went something like this:

A friend cited two reasons for not taking communion in an Anglican church. First he highly doubted whether Anglicans really believe in transubstantiation, i.e. that they truly believe to receive the actual body and blood of Christ. Second, he feels that he cannot receive in a church that is not “in communion” with Rome.

I replied by referring to the substantial agreement on the Eucharist that exists between Roman Catholics and Anglicans. The following excerpt is taken from one of these agreements: “We believe that it is of utmost importance for the clergy and laity of our two Churches to acknowledge their substantial identity in the area of Eucharistic doctrine, and to build upon it as they go forward in dialogue. Whatever doctrinal disagreements may remain between our Churches, the understanding of the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist is not among them.”

“I’m not interested in ecumenical documents,” my friend fired back. “I’m interested in the actual beliefs of the people. A lot of Anglicans don’t even think it is a Mass. And the idea that the Mass is a sacrifice is not one of the key elements of Eucharistic theology as far as I am concerned. You either believe in transubstantiation or you don’t. And the Anglican church, as a whole, does not. Individuals within it do. That’s not a position that makes any logical sense as a basis for inter-communion.”

The exchange stung, piercing the bone of my heart. The above comments cut to the heart of my own experience of and faith in the Eucharist as well as my 25-year journey with a priestly calling. In less than eight months, I will be presiding at the Eucharist as a priest in the Anglican Church, pronouncing the sacred words in the community of faith: “This is my body, my blood.” I continue to cherish my Catholic faith, especially in the Eucharist.

First of all the argument about being “in communion” with Rome. While respecting the RC position on this, I also know there is no Scriptural foundation for the ecclesial communion concept the way it is applied to receiving the Eucharist in one another’s churches. I know that Rome consistently holds that unity at the Eucharistic table can only arise as a result of ecclesial unity. But that does beg the question: how do we know that we have achieved enough unity to share the table of the Lord? And who gets to determine this? We now have some substantial and significant ecumenical agreements between Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans and Lutherans that clearly state that the current differences no longer need to be church dividing.

Moreover, the Gospels portray Jesus as sharing himself indiscriminately with all types of people, regardless of criteria for full communion. It is Pope Francis who insists that we trust the unifying and healing power of the Eucharist as a “powerful medicine for the weak.” So continuing to limit access to this unifying and powerful medicine in one another’s churches seems to set up a contradictory logic. The Eucharist is Jesus’ banquet of complete self-giving; he is the host, the church is merely its servant.

The fact that some Anglicans deny the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist does not make it official Anglican theology nor is it an exclusively Anglican phenomenon. Roman Catholic theology holds fast to the same understanding of Real Presence in the Eucharist, yet some Catholics are sharing the same doubt and ignorance that my friend is so quick to place at the feet of my Anglican sisters and brothers. Is Jesus really more fully present in a Roman Catholic Eucharist than in an Anglican one? Both traditions cite the literal Words of Institution within Eucharistic Prayers that bear close family resemblance. Rather than argue about which Eucharist has more of |Jesus, should we not be more concerned with “reverse transubstantiation” as Kelly Pigott explores so poignantly in an article with a rather misleading title?

And what role does the faith of the communicant play in grasping this concept of Real Eucharistic Presence? The Anglican reverence for the individual’s capacity of faith allows for the person to appropriate the Eucharistic mystery of Real Presence in whatever way they can. This comes through in lovely language in the prayer that accompanies the distribution of Holy Communion from the Book of Common Prayer:

The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith, with thanksgiving. The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Drink this in remembrance that Christ’s Blood was shed for thee, and be thankful. (Order for Holy Communion, Book of Common Prayer)

In her seminal work The Interior Castle St. Teresa of Avila said: Let us look at our own shortcomings and leave other people’s alone; for those who live carefully ordered lives are apt to be shocked at everything and we might well learn very important lessons from the persons who shock us. Our outward comportment and behaviour may be better than theirs, but this, though good, is not the most important thing: there is no reason why we should expect everyone else to travel by our own road, and we should not attempt to point them to the spiritual path when perhaps we do not know what it is. Even with these desires that God gives us to help others, we may make many mistakes, and thus it is better to attempt to … try to live ever in silence and in hope, and the Lord will take care of His own.

Do any of us really and fully grasp Jesus Christ’s self-giving to the point of death? I do not expect to ever fully exhaust the meaning of this profound mystery. Growing into Anglican spirituality is fostering within me a deeper humility along with a greater reticence to pass judgment on how others understand and live their Christian faith. Some will call this wishy-washy and “Anglican fudge.” But maybe one person’s maturing in faith only looks wishy-washy to those who feel overly secure in their own convictions. When all is said and done, I can only stand humbly before a mysterium tremendum.

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Anglican Echoes

Sometimes the best words come from elsewhere and there’s nothing to improve upon, only to reflect on their significance. So it is this morning. I invite you to join me in pondering the implications and potential for church unity of the following:

As reported in CruxNow on December 8, 2016:

In the interview with the Belgian weekly Tertio, released on Wednesday (Dec. 7, 2016), Pope Francis was asked about his attempts to “renew the Church” inspired by the Second Vatican Council. In his reply, the pope distinguished what he called the ‘synodal Church’, which he contrasted with a pyramidal, or top-down, model.

“The Church is born from the communities, the bases, baptism, and is organized around a bishop that convokes it, strengthens it,” he said. “The bishop is the successor of the apostles. This is the Church. But in the world, there are many bishops, many organized churches, and there’s Peter.”

Hence, he continued, there’s either a “pyramidal” Church, where “what Peter says what to do,” or a synodal Church, where “Peter is Peter but he accompanies the Churches and makes them grow.”

The richest experience of the latter, Francis said, were the two synod of bishops on the family, which took place in October 2014 and again in 2015. During them, he continued, all the bishops of the world, representing their dioceses, made their voices heard.

“From there we have ‘Amoris Laetitia,’” the pope said, referring to the apostolic exhortation he released earlier in the year, as the fruit of the synods.

The richness of nuances present there, he added, is part of the Church: “Unity in differences. This is synodality. Not to go down from top to bottom, but to listen to the Churches and harmonize them, discern.”

Everything which is present in this document, Francis continued, was approved in the synod by two thirds of the bishops, and this is a “guarantee.”

Synodality, the pope said, is something the Catholic Church still has to work on and not to be afraid to embrace, adding the Latin phrase that says that the churches are always with Peter and under Peter, cum petro et sub petro, make the pope the “guarantor of the unity of the Church.”

End quote …

I cannot help but recognize in the above words from Pope Francis strong echoes of the Anglican model of being church — a synodal model. Pope Francis acknowledges that the Roman Catholic Church has work to do to recover the spirit of synodality. Is it possible that, now more than ever, Rome seems ready to learn from Canterbury? In turn, with Pope Francis’ efforts to reclaim and recover the synodality of the Church, is it possible that Canterbury could become more amenable to embrace the bishop of Rome as the “guarantor of the unity of the Church”?

I am not claiming that the Anglican governance and authority structure of synodality is in any way superior or flawless. Both models will always fall short of their ideal since our fallen humanity prevents perfection on this side of heaven. I have reflected elsewhere on this blog about this very issue. But both models also need one another to remain healthy.

In any case, whenever we see signs of “rapprochement,” a growing appreciation and understanding between Christian traditions, we need to lift those up in gratitude and hope. And I’d like to think that this morning’s reporting was one of those signs.

(Photo: Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby blessing Pope Francis)

Update Dec. 20: An in-depth treatment of the above subject can be found in Richard Gaillardetz’ recent article here.

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Unlikely People, Unlikely Faith

Note: On this Roman Catholic Feast Day of Corpus Christi the Anglican liturgy features the encounter between Jesus and the Roman centurion from Luke’s Gospel. The centurion’s words, brought to Jesus by his friends, have become an integral prayer of the Roman Catholic Eucharist in preparing to receive Holy Communion. From my new Anglican perch, however, it strikes me as ironic that the prayer of the centurion, an outsider by all criteria, has become part of a communion practice that reserves the right to determine who is and isn’t worthy to receive. Jesus makes all of us worthy; I don’t think church membership or our own efforts to become worthy were meant to be part of the deal. Contrition yes, but anything else, no. Is Jesus’ reply to the centurion not a gentle rebuke on any attempt to restrict access to Jesus, the healing Bread of Heaven, not least on our tendency to judge others by “policing” the communion table? I mean, with all due respect, I’m just wondering …

Homily for May 29, 2016 on Luke 7:1-10
St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, Humboldt, SK

Today’s Gospel opens the seventh chapter of Luke’s Gospel. A very interesting chapter, as it turns out. The chapter begins with a Roman army officer, a Gentile, who believes that Jesus can heal his servant without even being there.  “Just say the word, and I know it will happen.”  Luke says that Jesus was amazed at his faith; he hadn’t seen anything like it in Israel. The chapter ends with an immoral woman crashing a dinner party where she kisses Jesus’ feet and anoints them with perfume. The hosting Pharisee is offended.  Jesus forgives this woman and says, “Your faith has saved you.” She believed that Jesus would forgive and accept her—He did. Not exactly your run-of-the-mill folks… or are they?

Let’s take a closer look at today’s Gospel account…

Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word and let my servant be healed. A close variation of these words can be heard regularly still today: Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed. It is the Roman Catholic equivalent of what the BCP (Anglican Book of Common Prayer) calls the Prayer of Humble Access, a prayer that occurs in the same place in the Eucharist, and that echoes another healing story, (Mt & Mk) the story of the Syro-Phoenician woman: We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. (BCP) (“Yes, Lord, but even the dogs gather the crumbs that fall from the table.”)

How peculiar … how very peculiar that, of all the stories in the Gospels, it is this one of the centurion’s faith (like the Syro-Phoenician woman’s faith) that became a major part of the church’s liturgical prayer. The centurion represents the occupying force of Rome. He is an emissary of the oppressor. Even Luke’s original readers and those who first heard this story knew full well that there is one thing that hadn’t changed across those decades and that was that Rome was still in charge, still occupying the country, still enforcing its will upon people of all ranks and stations. This centurion is one who – as he himself admits – is used to giving orders in the Roman army and having those orders obeyed. He is, then, one of those directly responsible for Israel’s oppression.

But I wonder if that’s not part of the reason that this story is so important and appears in both Matthew and Luke’s Gospel. I mean, just because this man is in the Roman army doesn’t mean that he is incapable of doing good and having faith, does it? Clearly this man, representing the enemy, is already known for having done much good. Even while an outsider to Jewish society, and representing the oppressor, this centurion is clearly choosing not to act as an oppressor. Rather than letting his power and status make him arrogant and hostile, he chooses to have empathy and respect for those in his care, and makes friends with them. He even worries about his sick slave, one who has no power, no voice, no authority at all. He built a synagogue for the Jews living under his jurisdiction and they in turn appreciate his generosity. “He loves our people” (vs.5).  And he’s most considerate and respectful of Jewish religious practice. Anticipating that direct contact with Jesus might compromise  Jesus because of religious purity laws, this Roman soldier decides not to approach Jesus directly. That deference on his part shows profound regard for Jewish religious customs. Instead, he trusts elders and friends to deliver the message on his behalf. Indeed, the Jewish leaders in his town commend him to Jesus. And, the centurion trusts that Jesus, with a word, will heal the beloved servant. Finally, Jesus is amazed: “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”

What are we to make of this? First of all, we would do well to always and everywhere assume the best in people, no matter who or what they are, realizing that God loves all people – all people.

All people, literally all people, are redeemed by Christ’s sacrifice, not just Christians. Even if someone doesn’t share our faith in Jesus, they are our sister, our brother, in Christ. Even our enemies are worthy of our kinship and efforts to find common ground in the goodness of their heart. We need to continuously look for the good and the beauty, constantly looking for the gift and desire of faith in whatever way the other person expresses. Some well-meaning Christians get all tied in a knot and dismiss those who do not share our faith. But perhaps what we should be surprised at is not that unlikely and unexpected people demonstrate faith and do good works, but that we consider them unlikely and unexpected in the first place.

After all, Jesus commends the faith of this Roman centurion even though – and here’s the clincher – there is absolutely no indication that the centurion becomes … a follower of Jesus. I mean, he does not ask to follow Jesus or confess him as the Messiah or even seem particularly interested in meeting him. He simply sees in Jesus an authority that he recognizes and, quite frankly, an authority that he needs. Maybe he becomes a disciple, maybe not. Neither Jesus nor Luke seems particularly interested. Instead, Jesus praises his astounding faith and Luke records it. End of story.

So that kind’a makes me wonder …

We all know and love folks who don’t go to church, who aren’t particularly religious, or even Christian. For the most part, we’re talking about really good people. This story of the centurion is a good reminder that such people are also deeply loved by God, even if they don’t recognize or claim this love as coming from God. A priest once had an argument with a young scientist, who claimed that he didn’t believe in God. To which the priest calmly replied, “That’s okay, as long as God believes in you.”

God does not withdraw his love and mercy just because we don’t believe in God. Just because we don’t recognize God in our lives, doesn’t mean God cannot use us to do good in the world. Many of us love family members and friends  whose relationship to the church is sketchy at best. I have at least two of these wonderful human beings in my own life; they happen to be my own son and daughter. They, like the centurion, may not share my love for Jesus, but they sure know, like the centurion, when they or someone they know needs prayers: “Mom, will you say a prayer for so-and-so? They’re good people; they are worthy of having you do this.” Sounds familiar?

I’d like to think that the interaction between the centurion and Jesus reassures us that it’s okay that faith comes in different shapes and sizes, and certainly in different expressions, and that it is our job to recognize this … as Jesus did. I give thanks that centurion-like people are part of my life, people who I may not feel much in common with, yet people who, in their dealings with others, show respect and compassion, generosity and humility, nobleness and integrity just as the centurion clearly shows to the Jewish people,  to the soldiers under his command, and especially towards his slave. I pray that God would use my loved ones to do God’s will in the world (even if they wouldn’t call it that), and I pray that we would all have the grace and courage to affirm their goodness, sharing our gratitude as well as our joyful conviction that God loves them and uses them.

If we could sum up the one overarching lesson in the entire seventh chapter of Luke’s Gospel it is this: the people we would expect to have faith, don’t; and those we wouldn’t expect to have faith, do. Today’s encounter reminds us not to put people in a box. God is at work in everyone—even in the most unlikely folk. Next, don’t ever let our religious pedigree get in the way of trusting Jesus. It’s easy to become a Pharisee—self-righteous, trusting in our religious heritage and traditions rather than trusting Jesus.

Can we foster the kind of openness that Jesus shows in today’s encounter? If we do, we too may be surprised by joy when we bump into faith in unexpected places and people. For Jesus continues to turn everything upside down and inside out. The church in fact supports that upside down vision of Jesus, even if it doesn’t always reflect that in its own practice. One of the ways it does that is by allowing the words of two outsiders, the words of two highly unlikely people of faith, the centurion and the Syro-Phoenician woman, to find  their way into major parts of our Eucharistic liturgies. It is with their words that we approach Holy Communion:

We do not presume to come to this thy table, O merciful Lord,
trusting in our own righteousness,
but in thy manifold and great mercies.
We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table. …

Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof,
but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.

“I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”
AMEN

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