Tuesday, January 26, 2016

To Seek Christian Unity

"I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me" (Jn 17:20-21).

"I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brethren...Is Christ divided? There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all." (1 Cor 10-11, 13; Eph 4:4-6)

"You are Kepha [Peter] and on this very kepha [rock] I will build my Church." (Mat 16:18)

As we can see from Scripture, there have always been divisions in the Body of Christ, despite what Christ and St. Paul implored of us. There have been small, divisive movements here and there throughout Christian history, but we'll talk briefly about the largest movements. To Catholics and Orthodox, we believe with certainty that Christ established one Church, which spread throughout the world by his Apostles and their successors (the bishops), but that this one Church has since been divided; for the purpose of this blog post, it'll be written from mainly a Catholic point of view, plus we won't get into the "why's" surrounding the splits because that would go into way too much detail. But the Church acknowledges her share in the problem when, "quite large communities came to be separated from full communion with the Catholic Church - for which, often enough, men of both sides were to blame" (UR, 3).

The Main Periods of Division

The first sad division in the Body of Christ took place in the fifth century after the Council of Chalcedon in 451 when the Oriental Orthodox churches disagreed with the Christological teaching of that Council; since that time, they have been separated from both the Orthodox Churches and the Catholic Church (and, by extension, all the Protestant communities). The majority of Oriental Christians are from Ethiopia, Egypt, Eritrea, Armenia, India, Syria, and Lebanon, but can also be found throughout the world and on every continent. Over the past 50 to 60 years of mutual dialog, however, Catholic-Oriental, Orthodox-Oriental, and Anglican-Oriental relations have never been warmer and there is true hope of reconciliation.

The second sad division in the Body of Christ took place over centuries, but would come to a final break after the sacking of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade in 1204. For centuries, the relationship between the Latin West and Greek East was strained. There is a diversity to the way we worship and live the Christian life, taught to us by the Apostles, but instead of seeing that diversity as complementary, both sides saw it as divisive. There was also, as always, a political element that desired to use our differences against us in order to solidify their power in politics and economics. A massacre of Latin businessmen in Sicily by Greeks in order to protect their business interests led to a massacre of Greeks by Latins in retaliation. Kings, princes, and emperors roused their people against "the other side" and divisions grew to the point that in 1054, a papal legate visiting Constantinople excommunicated the Patriarch of that city, who in turn excommunicated his Roman visitors. Finally, at the sacking of Constantinople, which involved the desecration of Orthodox holy sites, theft of their relics, violence against their people, the suppression of their religious freedom, and the robbing of their treasury, the break between Latins and Greeks was complete.

The third sad division in the Body of Christ is due to the Protestant Reformation, which gained steam starting in 1517. Believing he was a good Catholic trying to reform the Church, Martin Luther inadvertently started a break, not only with Rome, but also with the Apostolic Succession that always marked the Church, East and West. Instead of continuing the long-held beliefs and traditions of the Apostles, there was a jettison of anything deemed "unbiblical". The divisions within the Protestant world continues to grow; by the time of Luther's death there were already 100 different denominations, and by our modern day there is an estimated 300 denominations, with up to 39,000 subdivisions within those denominations. Some Protestant/Catholic relations are very warm, but others (mostly fundamentalist Protestants) refuse to work with the Catholic Church, seeing us as not Christian and a source of evil.

The classic way Christians handled these divisions was to argue, "sheep steal", and condemn each other to Hell; instead of spreading the Gospel to all peoples around the world, we've spent several centuries trying to re-convert one another. Needless to say, many people have died over the centuries never hearing the good news of the Gospel because instead of being evangelized, we were too busy sending missionaries to each other. Even today, I knew a guy who went to a Protestant seminary in order to move his family to Ireland to convert the "heathen" Catholics. I know of a Baptist who currently lives in France, a nation that isn't very friendly to either Catholics nor Protestants, even though at one time she was the most devout Catholic nation in Western Europe. I remember reading the tragic story of a teenaged Evangelical missionary who drowned off the coast of Costa Rica, having gone down there to convert Catholics to Evangelicalism. The largest growing faith in Brazil is Evangelical Christianity, with that nation being flooded by (mainly American) Protestant missionaries. Evangelicals in Nevada made headlines earlier this week - these ex-Muslims, now Evangelicals, are bursting into Catholic churches during Mass in order to condemn Catholics to hell if we don't become Evangelicals. And the stories can go on ad infinitum. It is a sad remnant of the late Middle Ages, the last vestiges of the Reformation still rearing its judgmental, ugly head.

The Second Vatican Council & Christian Unity

Regardless of our pride and confusion, the Holy Spirit draws all people to Christ; the Holy Spirit is a spirit of unity, not division. A great desire for Christian unity (called the 'ecumencial movement') arose, especially in the late 19th and 20th Century, but this movement hit an entirely new level by the 1960s. In 1962, the Catholic Church opened the Second Vatican Council, which called together over 2,000 people (mainly bishops, but also including non-Catholics and non-Christians) in order to discuss the faith and why it is still relevant to modern man. In the opening speech for the Second Vatican Council, Pope St. John XXIII said, "The Catholic Church...considers it her duty to work actively so that there may be fulfilled the great mystery of that unity, which Jesus Christ invoked with fervent prayer from His heavenly Father on the eve of His sacrifice...Indeed, if one considers well this same unity which Christ implored for His Church, it seems to shine, as it were, with a triple ray of beneficent supernal light: namely, the unity of Catholics among themselves, which must always be kept exemplary and most firm; the unity of prayers and ardent desires with which those Christians separated from this Apostolic See aspire to be united with us; and the unity in esteem and respect for the Catholic Church which animates those who follow non-Christian religions."

In the Council's document on Christian unity, the Church proclaimed, "The restoration of unity among all Christians is one of the principal concerns of the Second Vatican Council," and then goes on to celebrate the great qualities of the Orthodox, Anglican, and Protestant traditions. The Church established the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, which actively dialogues with Christians from around the world and from various denominations, churches, and communities, in order to better understand one another, in order to work together for the common goals of justice, charity, and the sharing of the love of Christ, and in order to foster among one another the deep desire to reunite together as one Church. This feeling is being shared by others, as similar ecumenical groups were created in other Christian communities, such as the Anglican Consultative Council, the Orthodox's Inter-Religious Dialogues Organized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Lutheran church's Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations group, and the World Council of Churches, to name just a few.

Much progress continues to be made between the Catholic and Orthodox churches (including the Oriental Orthodox), although there have been setbacks within the Protestant communities as they continue to break with tradition in matters such as female ordination, the blessing of homosexual unions, the acceptance of things such as divorce and remarriage, contraception, and even abortion, and the insistence by some Fundamentalists that the Pope is the antichrist and that Christian unity is somehow against Christ's wishes. However, regardless of differences, pan-Christian relationships have never been better, although our divisions sometimes have never seemed so insurmountable; and yet, there is hope.

Ecumenism in Action: the Anglican Ordinariate

In 1977, many people in the Catholic Church and Anglican Communion thought that unity was possible in their lifetime. Blessed Pope Paul VI said, "The pace of [ecumenism] has quickened marvelously in recent years, so that these words of hope 'The Anglican Church united not absorbed' are no longer a mere dream." Although full communion between Anglicans and Catholics has not occurred, Paul VI's words "united, not absorbed" has guided ecumenical dialog between Catholics and non-Catholics ever since.

Many Anglicans (in the US, most are commonly referred to as Episcopalians) have been seeking full communion with Rome over the last 50 years, but part of their hesitation was having to give up all the things they loved about Anglicanism. In 1980, St. John Paul II established the Pastoral Provision, which established Anglican-Use parishes within US Roman Catholic dioceses - this allowed Episcopalians who accepted the Catechism of the Catholic Church as true to enter full communion with the Church and still keep a lot of their "patrimony", such as an Anglican-style Mass based on a slight re-edit of the Book of Common Prayer (now called the Book of Divine Worship); many of their married priests were even ordained as Catholic priests. This Provision only applied to US Episcopalians, though, and Anglicans in Europe, Canada, and Australia kept seeking the same gift from Rome - it would appear in 2009 when Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI would establish the Anglican Ordinariate, which made Anglicanism united with Rome a permanent fixture of the Catholic Church. With the release of the new missal Divine Worship in 2015, it became the first time in 2,000+ years of Church history where a communion rite, developed outside of the Catholic Church, was accepted by the Church and became a legitimate liturgical offering. As of right now the numbers are humble, with the Ordinariate for the United States and Canada currently at 42 parishes, 64 priests, four deacons, and roughly 20,000 faithful (of which I am one), but there is already talk of more parishes coming in and future Ordinariates being created in Latin America and the Pacific islands.

In another example of the progress of ecumenism, I have become an Oblate candidate (lay people who wish to live the Rule of St. Benedict) of the St. Benet Biscop Chapter of the Benedictine Oblates at St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, MN, which is a Benedictine monastery that houses the Church's first group of Benedictine Oblates consisting of both Catholics and Anglicans. We'll worship together, pray together, and grow closer to God together.

It is the prayer of many Catholics that this may be a sign of hope for other Protestant communities who wish to accept Catholicism's teachings, but not have to abandon all the things they've come to love and appreciate about their Protestant heritage. As many converts can attest to, when you become Catholic you don't really abandon your previous life as a Protestant - you are actually building onto that foundation a much larger picture of the faith; the Ordinariate is putting that truth out there for everyone to see - you're not being asked to ignore your Protestant life once you become Catholic, but instead you're supplementing that with the fullness of the faith. Bishop-elect Steven Lopes of the US' Ordinariate said, "The Ordinariate has a particular role and ecumenism and evangelism are at its heart. All this touches people very deeply so it’s difficult in that sense to articulate. What I mean is that it also proposes a model for unity, corporate unity with the Catholic Church in a way that preserves our distinctiveness, and therefore preserves the gifts we bring, respects our dignity and says, you know, come and not be swallowed up but come and enrich us. So in that sense I think history will prove that the Ordinariate is a very significant ecumenical gesture."

It's been reported that some Lutherans, like Anglicans before them, want to enter full communion with the Church, but hope to hold on to their liturgical and spiritual heritage, like Anglicans can through the Anglican Ordinariate, so you never know if we might see a Lutheran Ordinariate in our lifetime.

Unity Within our Diversity

For most Westerners, our only exposure to Catholicism is from the Latin church, or as we usually refer to it as, the Roman Catholic Church; THIS is what we normally think about when we think about Catholics. However, even in the Latin church there is diversity of worship; we have the Ordinary Form (pic) and the Extraordinary Form (pic) of the Roman rite; whereas the Ordinary Form is what you'll normally run into on any given Sunday, the Extraordinary Form (not as widely available) holds to the traditions and customs that were in place in 1962, so the Mass is offered facing Christ in the tabernacle and it is an older form of the Mass with somewhat different prayers, Gregorian chant, periods of sacred silence, and the liturgy is mainly (or entirely) in Latin. There is also even a variety found in the Ordinary Form that others seem to find spiritual strength and closeness to God within them; such as the Charismatic/Pentecostal movement (pic), where the liturgy is often celebrated with a less formal feel, with more contemporary hymns, usually on guitars, keyboards, and tambourines, and with speaking in tongues. There is also the Neocatechumenal Way (pic), which has a similar music-style, but the liturgy is often much longer and Holy Communion is offered in a much different manner. These groups have different ways of evangelizing, of studying the Scriptures, of catechizing their people, but it's all in conformity with the Church's teachings; basically, there is a (possibly unintended) diversity within the Latin/Roman rite that allows most Westerners to find what they are looking for. In fact, if you go to the website for the Pontifical Council for the Laity, you'll find a directory for the many, many Associations of the Faithful that exists; I'm sure there's something for everyone there.

You might be saying to yourself, "These all, more or less, look and act Roman Catholic." That's because all the Western Christian traditions, even the most fundamentalist, has at its kernel, the original Roman rite from whence it came during the Reformation. You might say, "But what about the Orthodox? They look and act differently. What about them?" I'm glad you asked!

As mentioned a littler earlier, the Church is not just "Roman". The Church actually has seven rites: Latin, Byzantine, Alexandrian, Syriac, Armenian, Maronite, and Chaldean; these are the descendants of the liturgical practices that originated in the five ancient Sees of Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem, and taught to us by the Apostles; most Westerners have only seen or heard of the Latin/Roman rite, but there are parishes from around the world who hold to these other rites, which are more commonly found in the Orthodox Church, but throughout the last couple hundred years, some parishes and churches have re-entered full communion with Rome (which, sadly, has now created a division between them and their brothers and sisters within Orthodoxy). Due to globalization and immigration, many of these Christians can now be found in your hometown.

The Byzantine rite (pic) is based on the practices taught by St. James for the Antiochaian church, but later modified by St. Basil the Great (329-379) and St. John Chrysostom (344-407). Catholics who commonly use variations of this rite are Albanian, Belarussian, Bulgarian, Croatian, Greek, Hungarian, Italo-Albanian, Melkite, Romanian, Russian, Ruthenian, Slovak, and Ukrainian.

The Alexandrian rite (pic), developed by St. Mark at the See of Alexandria, is used in Egypt and a similar rite is used in Ethiopia (called the Ge'ez rite); the Christians of Egypt are usually referred to as Coptic Christians and they are part of the Oriental Orthodox churches that split from Catholics in the 400s. These are the Christians who were recently beheaded by radicals in Libya.

The Syriac rite (pic) is attributed to St. James the Apostle. When they broke away in the 400s, they stopped using Greek in their liturgy and started using the Syriac language, which is similar to Aramaic (the language of Jesus). As you can sort of tell by its name, this rite is mainly found in Syria; these are the Christians being massacred and chased out of their homeland by ISIS. Armenia, the world's first Christian nation, uses a variation of this rite (pic).

The Maronite rite (pic), a hybrid of the liturgy of St. James, was developed by St. Maron in the 4th century, who founded a monastery east of Antioch. Later the monks would move to the mountains of Lebanon, where they are mainly found today. They never left communion with Rome, but we were separated politically for centuries, thanks to Islam and the Ottoman Empire.

The Chaldean rite (pic) developed in present-day Iraq; these are the Christians being exterminated or displaced thanks to our "help" in the region.

The Syro-Malabar rite (pic) and Malankara rite (pic) developed in India. They trace their heritage to St. Thomas the Apostle ("Doubting Thomas") who traveled to South India and founded a church. The Malankarese are mainly located in Kerala State, India. The Syro-Malabar rite could be called a brother rite to the Malankarese.

To those members of these rites, those in union with Rome, they are called Catholics, although they don't look "Catholic" to Western eyes. They follow their own laws and customs, including a married priesthood. For more information on their history and beliefs, you can find links HERE. The point is that the word 'catholic' is Greek for 'universal' - we believe, as do all the churches and communities who profess the Nicene Creed, that the Church of Christ is catholic - universal - that all people from all nations and all races and all languages and all cultures are called to Communion with Jesus Christ through his Church, entering into his Body through baptism and living out our baptismal promises with the help of his grace, which is most profoundly given to us through the seven sacraments.

True, this entire posting was written through the eyes of a Catholic; there are many Orthodox who would quickly explain to me that it was the Catholic Church who broke away from them, and many Protestants would explain that they are only trying to restore what they perceive to be the "New Testament church" that became corrupted through Roman paganism and opulence. Fair enough - we each have our own point of view. But what this posting is trying to do is show how universal the faith can be, and yet doesn't have to be separated by politics, language, culture, or disagreements; Christians from around the world are already striving to follow Jesus' prayer for unity by entering full communion with Peter.

"If I can unite in myself, in my own spiritual life, the thought of the East and the West, of the Greek and the Latin Fathers, the Russians with the Spanish mystics, I will create in myself a reunion of the divided Church. From that secret and unspoken unity in myself can eventually come the exterior and visible unity of all Christians. For if we want to bring together East and West, we cannot do so by imposing one upon the other or absorbing one division into the other. We must contain both in ourselves and transcend them both in Christ." --Thomas Merton

"...the Church must breathe with her two lungs! In the first millennium of the history of Christianity, this expression refers primarily to the relationship between Byzantium and Rome...In view of all this, the Catholic Church desires nothing less than full communion between East and West. She finds inspiration for this in the experience of the first millennium." -- St. John Paul II, Ut unum sint

O GOD, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Saviour, the Prince of Peace; Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions. Take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatsoever else may hinder us from godly union and concord: that as there is but one Body and one Spirit, and one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. -- 1928 Book of Common Prayer, For the Unity of God's People

Lutherans & Catholics Worshiping Together: An Example to All

A few years ago, a joint-declaration between Catholics and Lutherans was released to the public, entitled From Conflict to Communion: Lutheran-Catholic Common Commemoration of the Reformation in 2017. I believe in this very important, very enlightening document, Catholics and Lutherans have the proper mindset walking into the commemoration of this tragic event, the anniversary of a great and painful breaking of Communion throughout the Western world, and can serve as an example for ecumenical dialog between all Christians:

In 2017, Catholic and Lutheran Christians will most fittingly look back on events that occurred 500 years earlier by putting the gospel of Jesus Christ at the center...To this joy also belongs a discerning, self-critical look at ourselves, not only in our history, but also today. We Christians have certainly not always been faithful to the gospel; all too often we have conformed ourselves to the thought and behavioral patterns of the surrounding world. Repeatedly, we have stood in the way of the good news of the mercy of God. Both as individuals and as a community of believers, we all constantly require repentance and reform—encouraged and led by the Holy Spirit...The true unity of the church can only exist as unity in the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The fact that the struggle for this truth in the sixteenth century led to the loss of unity in Western Christendom belongs to the dark pages of church history. In 2017, we must confess openly that we have been guilty before Christ of damaging the unity of the church. This commemorative year presents us with two challenges: the purification and healing of memories, and the restoration of Christian unity in accordance with the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ (Eph 4:4–6)...

It is no longer adequate simply to repeat earlier accounts of the Reformation period, which presented Lutheran and Catholic perspectives separately and often in opposition to one another...What happened in the past cannot be changed, but what is remembered of the past and how it is remembered can, with the passage of time, indeed change...Lutherans and Catholics have many reasons to retell their history in new ways. They have been brought closer together through family relations, through their service to the larger world mission, and through their common resistance to tyrannies in many places...Ecumenical dialogue means being converted from patterns of thought that arise from and emphasize the differences between the confessions. Instead, in dialogue the partners look first for what they have in common and only then weigh the significance of their differences. These differences, however, are not overlooked or treated casually, for ecumenical dialogue is the common search for the truth of the Christian faith...Even though Lutherans and Catholics have different points of view, because of ecumenical dialogue they are able to overcome traditional anti-Protestant and anti-Catholic hermeneutics in order to find a common way of remembering past events...

As members of one body, Catholics and Lutherans remember together the events of the Reformation that led to the reality that thereafter they lived in divided communities even though they still belonged to one body. That is an impossible possibility and the source of great pain. Because they belong to one body, Catholics and Lutherans struggle in the face of their division toward the full catholicity of the church...In 2017, when Lutheran Christians celebrate the anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation, they are not thereby celebrating the division of the Western church. No one who is theologically responsible can celebrate the division of Christians from one another.

Putting these words into practice, Pope Francis surprised many people this week when he announced that he would personally attend a commemoration of the Reformation on October 31st (2017) in the southern Swedish city of Lund. According to the official press release, "The event will include a common worship based on the recently published Catholic-Lutheran “Common Prayer” liturgical guide. The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) is approaching the Reformation anniversary in a spirit of ecumenical accountability," says LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr Martin Junge. "I’m carried by the profound conviction that by working towards reconciliation between Lutherans and Catholics, we are working towards justice, peace and reconciliation in a world torn apart by conflict and violence." The year 2017 will also mark 50 years of the international Lutheran-Catholic dialogue, which has yielded notable ecumenical results, of which most significant is the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ). The JDDJ was signed by the LWF and the Catholic Church in 1999, and affirmed by the World Methodist Council in 2006. The declaration nullified centuries’ old disputes between Catholics and Lutherans over the basic truths of the doctrine of justification, which was at the center of the 16th century Reformation.

From Conflict to Communion goes on to explain how the Church views herself: The church is the body of Christ. As there is only one Christ, so also he has only one body. Through baptism, human beings are made members of this body. The Second Vatican Council teaches that people who are baptized and believe in Christ but do not belong to the Roman Catholic church “have been justified by faith in Baptism [and] are members of Christ’s body and have a right to be called Christian, and so are correctly accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church” (UR 1.3). Lutheran Christians say the same of their Catholic fellow Christians.

Christians United by Blood: Common Martyrs

Pope Francis reminds us of our common brotherhood when he speaks of the ecumenism of blood. "Today more than ever we are united by the ecumenism of blood, which further encourages us on the path toward peace and reconciliation...I remembered [Coptic Pope Tawadros II's] faithful whose throats were slit on the beach (in Libya in February) because they were Christians...In this moment of prayer for unity, I would also like to remember our martyrs, the martyrs of today...They are witnesses to Jesus Christ, and they are persecuted and killed because they are Christians. Those who persecute them make no distinction between the religious communities to which they belong. They are Christians and for that they are persecuted. This, brothers and sisters, is the ecumenism of blood...Unity happens when we walk together."

In an interview with La Stampa in Italy, Pope Francis continues this theme: "Today there is an ecumenism of blood. In some countries they kill Christians for wearing a cross or having a Bible and before they kill them they do not ask them whether they are Anglican, Lutheran, Catholic or Orthodox. Their blood is mixed. To those who kill, we are Christians. We are united in blood, even though we have not yet managed to take necessary steps towards unity between us and perhaps the time has not yet come. Unity is a gift that we need to ask for. I knew a parish priest in Hamburg who was dealing with the beatification cause of a Catholic priest guillotined by the Nazis for teaching children the catechism. After him, in the list of condemned individuals, was a Lutheran pastor who was killed for the same reason. Their blood was mixed. The parish priest told me he had gone to the bishop and said to him: "I will continue to deal with the cause, but both of their causes, not just the Catholic priest's." This is what ecumenism of blood is. It still exists today; you just need to read the newspapers. Those who kill Christians don't ask for your identity card to see which Church you were baptized in. We need to take these facts into consideration."

When Pope Francis visited Uganda last month, he visited a site where Anglican and Catholic missionaries & catechumens (45 men – 23 Anglicans and 22 Catholics) were burned alive between 1885 and 1887 because they would not have ritual homosexual sex with Uganda's king. Anglican Archbishop Stanley Ntagali said, "The Roman Catholic martyrs died for the same Jesus Christ as the Anglican martyrs. Together, they suffered; together, they sacrificed; together, they sang. Together, their blood has been the seed of the church in Uganda."

Fr Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher of the papal household, continues to reinforce this truth: "The most concrete steps toward unity, therefore, are not those that are made around a table or in joint declarations (even though these are all important and indispensable); they are the ones made when believers and especially leaders of different denominations, in spite of all their differences, meet together to proclaim the Lordship of Jesus, to share their charisms and recognize each other as brothers and sisters in Christ."

In his sermon to the General Synod of the Church of England, of which he was an invited guest, Fr Cantalamessa said, "The Christian world is preparing to celebrate the fifth centenary of the Protestant Reformation. It is vital for the whole Church that this opportunity is not wasted by people remaining prisoners of the past, trying to establish each other’s rights and wrongs. Rather, let us take a qualitative leap forward, like what happens when the sluice gates of a river or a canal enable ships to continue to navigate at a higher water level. The situation has dramatically changed since then. We need to start again with the person of Jesus, humbly helping our contemporaries to experience a personal encounter with Him...This does not mean ignoring the great theological and spiritual enrichment that came from the Reformation or desiring to go back to the time before it. It means instead allowing all of Christianity to benefit from its achievements, once they are freed from certain distortions due to the heated atmosphere of the time and of later controversies...Unity is not a simple matter. One has to start with the big Churches, those that are well structured, putting together that which unites them, which is vastly more important than what divides them; not imposing uniformity but aiming at what pope Francis calls “reconciled diversities”. Nothing is more important than to fulfil Christ’s heart's desire for unity expressed in today’s gospel. In many parts of the world people are killed and churches burned not because they are Catholic, or Anglican, or Pentecostals, but because they are Christians. In their eyes we are already one! Let us be one also in our eyes and in the eyes of God."

Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, touched by all of this, addressed the Synod: "The presence among us today of the Preacher to the Papal Household would not have been possible but for the notable advances since 1970 in co-operation across the great Christian traditions. There are many other examples. The Covenant between the Church of England and the Methodist Church; the recent visit of the Ecumenical Patriarch; the participation in this Synod of observers from so many Christian traditions; the newly created ecumenical community of St Anselm at Lambeth. Each of these serves as a reminder both of the progress already made, and of the journey that still lies ahead, in the pursuit of Christian unity."

Recently, the Catholic Church (and many non-Catholic communities) have engaged in the annual Week for Christian Unity, a week filled with prayers to God for a unified Christian church and voice. Most poignantly, Pope Francis appeared with representatives from the Orthodox, Anglican, Pentecostal, and other Christian communities to jointly pray for an end to our divisions. Pope Francis said, "We will move forward on the road to full visible communion among Christians not only when we get closer to one another, but especially when we are converted to the Lord, that by his grace chooses us and calls us to be his disciples...it’s not only the call which unites us, but we [also] share the same mission: to proclaim the wonderful works of God...The mission of the whole people of God is to proclaim the wonderful deeds of the Lord, above all the Paschal mystery of Christ, through whom we have passed from the darkness of sin and death, the glory of his life, the new and eternal." Although not the first Pope to do so, Pope Francis asked forgiveness for those times when Catholics were not very Christian towards non-Catholics. "As Bishop of Rome and Shepherd of the Catholic Church, I plead for mercy and forgiveness for non-evangelical behaviors by Catholics against Christians of other churches...We can not undo what has been, but we will not allow the weight of past sins to continue to pollute our relationships. The mercy of God renewed our relationships."

Conclusion

I cannot begin to recommend enough the videos and stories from The Coming Home Network and the EWTN program The Journey Home, where you get to hear the conversion (or reversion) stories of Protestants, Jews, fallen-away Catholics, and atheists as they've discovered the truth of Christ and the fullness of the faith in the Catholic Church; I've learned so much about others, and myself, by watching these interviews.

May we all be one, as Jesus prayed and St. Paul encouraged, and ignore the lies of the devil who is fooling Christians into thinking Christian unity is the work of the antichrist. Satan is scared to death of Christian unity, which is why he has worked so hard to prevent it from occurring in our time. But, as Jesus Christ promised, the gates of hell will not prevail against his Church, led by the Holy Spirit and build upon the rock of Peter. Jesus promised that if we were one, the world would believe that the Father has sent the Son for the salvation of the world. If we're unhappy with the way things are going in the world, it just might be because we are not united, that the world does not believe, and that is on our heads. I think it is fitting to end this posting with this prayer for Christian unity by Pope Francis:

Dear brothers and sisters, today all of us who thirst for peace and fraternity trustingly implore from our heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ our one priest and mediator, and through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Apostle Paul and all the saints, the gift of full communion between all Christians, so that “the sacred mystery of the unity of the Church” (UR, 2) may shine forth as the sign and instrument of reconciliation for the whole world. Amen.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

When "Being Inclusive" is Destructive to the Other

Last week the leaders of the Anglican Communion, including leaders from the US branch (known as the Episcopal Church), gathered in England in a crucial meeting in the hopes of avoiding a schism (breakup). By the end of the meeting, the Episcopal Church was punished by the rest of the Anglican Communion (and the Canadian Anglicans were warned) for its support of homosexual marriage (including designing a marriage rite for homosexual couples). To many, this was shocking because one of the hallmarks of the Anglican Communion is an undying support for relativism; they are literally the church of "I'm ok, you're ok," so the idea of punishing one of the branches is a bit "un-Anglican". Predictably, the Episcopal Church (TEC) is telling the rest of the Anglican Communion to get bent, that TEC will "continue to be inclusive" and is willing to pay the price to "become second-class Anglicans" because they wanted homosexuals "to be treated like first class Christians."

This is a very difficult situation because the world is so turned on its head because it's abandoned Christian orthodoxy. One of Catholicism's teachings (once held by all Christians) is that we're all called to chastity, which means that if you're single, a member of a Religious community, or are a priest or bishop, you remain chaste by not having sex and staying faithful to the responsibilities and duties of your vocation; for married couples, remaining chaste is to be faithful to your spouse alone, being open to life, and staying faithful to the responsibilities and duties of your vocation. However, the world is upside down, with sex and sexuality being the main driving force for so many. As Blessed Paul VI warned in his letter Humanae Vitae, "[A] man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection" (paragraph 17).

Indeed, the Western World has embraced the contraceptive mentality, whereas almost everything - even car ads - have subtle to obvious sexual overtones due to our hypersexualization of the culture; if you don't think it's that bad, see how one sex toy company has just opened public masturbation booths on New York City streets. Even women have embraced this contraceptive mentality, fooling themselves into thinking that if they willingly become pieces of meat they are somehow "empowered" and that if they also treat men like meat, they are somehow "equal" to us. Truth be told, in the Western World, the only way modern feminism considers itself triumphant is when women are no longer women, but are instead men with different body parts; true feminism, including its beautiful and unique fertility and maternal instinct, has become something to be rejected, hated, despised, ridiculed, or treated as a physical ailment that needs carcinogenic drugs to suppress.

Because Western minds think sexual activity is so vital to quality of life, any restrictions on homosexuals are seen as bigoted, hateful, and exclusive. And, since the Sacrament of Matrimony was rejected as a Sacrament by the Protestant reformers, who left it in the hands of the State to enforce, marriage is seen through most Western eyes (sadly, even by many Catholic eyes) as just a legal document, neither necessary for a couple's happiness, nor something held exclusive to the Church to recognize or enforce. Therefore, to deny homosexuals the right to "marry" is seen, again, as biased and bigoted; hence, the coast-to-coast call for "marriage equality" in the US last year. The Episcopal Church, in riding the tide of relativism, followed the mindset of the culture, recognizing same-sex "marriage" and creating a rite for it in their liturgy. A majority of practicing Anglicans being from Africa, and therefore still holding to Biblical Christian morality, are opposed to embracing this worldliness by TEC; in seeing the future of Anglicanism being in Africa, the other Anglican leaders sided with those bishops, censoring TEC for the next three years and reducing them to observer status in future gatherings (also banning them from ecumenical dialog with other Christian bodies) during this three year period, all in the hopes that TEC will repent and change its ways.

Even though I'm a Catholic, I don't reject my past and I have a lot of Episcopal and Presbyterian pages "liked" on Facebook, and so I get to see both sides of something like this play out. The Episcopal side of things is very defiant, embracing a sort of "bad boy" status and standing tall against "bigotry" and "hatred", proclaiming itself to be "proud to be inclusive". Once again, because the Western world sees so much through its sexual eyes, the only way TEC has understood "inclusiveness" is to allow gays to marry and encourage their lifestyle. The scope of this writing is too narrow to dive into the Catholic teachings on marriage, for that well is deep, but I will try to "wet your whistle", if I can. For a slightly deeper discussion, I highly recommend Christopher West's book, Good News About Sex & Marriage (Revised Edition): Answers to Your Honest Questions about Catholic Teaching, or the full collection of St. John Paul II's works on Theology of the Body.

Throughout the Scriptures, God's relationship with his people is always seen through the eyes of marriage, from in Genesis when he gave Eve to Adam, all the way until Revelation, when the New Jerusalem comes down from Heaven to the New Earth, adorned as a bride for her groom. We're told about the "marriage supper of the Lamb". Jesus warns us to not come to this wedding feast without the proper "wedding garment". He tells a parable about the wise and foolish virgins who are waiting for the groom to arrive for his wedding. Throughout the Old Testament, God chastises his unfaithful people with wording like referring to his people as a harlot, an unfaithful spouse, or a prostitute. Jesus and St. Paul use marriage imagery to show Christ's relationship to his Church, calling her the Bride of Christ. Jesus' first miracle was at a wedding feast. The earliest writings of Christianity dive into this imagery, seeing a husband and wife having children as an image or icon of the Holy Trinity. There is much more that can be said, but I think what's been written helps explain how seriously the Catholic Church (and the Orthodox) treat the Sacrament of Matrimony. An action proper to Matrimony is sex, just as an action proper to being Ordained is to offer the Mass, or an action proper to a citizen (and not a tourist) is the ability to vote. When Christ taught, he reaffirmed that God intended for marriage to be a lifelong union between one man and one woman, and whose proper action would be sexual. St. John Paul II taught that sex between husband and wife was a way in which God shared with us his joy of Creation; and through the union of husband and wife, we share in God's gift of Creation with every marital embrace, "for procreation reproduces the mystery of Creation." We blur this vision of the Trinity and of Christ's relation to his Bride when we propose same-sex "marriage" or go even further and endorse the transgender movement.

All of this might sound ridiculous to non-Catholics (and even to some Catholics) but the road to heaven is narrow and difficult; when I used to live a Christian life where anything goes, I didn't understand the Bible passages that promised that Christian life would be a cross to bear; now I understand what those passages mean! And, when we attempt to live a life of chastity, we have to look at all of these things through those lenses and not the secular West's lenses of lust and promiscuity, and when you do that, things look a bit clearer. Since marriage can only be between one man and one woman (and is lifelong), this is why the Church cannot bless second, third (or more) marriages without first investigating whether or not the last marriage was validly entered into or not. Because sex is a proper act for a validly-married couple, and because marriage can only be between one man and one woman, the Church simply does not have the power to bless same-sex marriage, either. To the minds of the secular world, this is bigotry and bias; this is hatred. But for the Catholic, true love is wanting the best for the other, even if it means laying down your life for the other person. We want everyone to get to heaven; we may not get to heaven if we live a life enjoying our sins and then dying without repentance. So, to encourage someone to sin is to gamble with their afterlife. To many, they insist this is between the sinner and God and we should have no say, and even though it is true that ultimately a person's judgement will be their own before the throne of God, it is not Biblical (nor in Christian love) to see a brother or sister of Christ sinning and not attempt to help them remember the teachings of Christ; indeed, there are many passages in the New Testament that encourage us to help each other, teach each other, and correct each other, and there are many examples throughout the Old Testament that show the entire People of God suffering due to the sins of even one person (think of King David's son dying after he had Bathsheba's husband killed, or 70,000 people dying due to King David's disobedience).

The official Catholic teaching for the proper way to be "inclusive" to homosexuals can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 2357 through 2359:

Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered." They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

We cannot discriminate against anyone, for that is a sin; all people are of equal value and dignity because all people are made in the image and likeness of God. But we cannot endorse sin and call it equality or inclusiveness, either - that's living a lie and encouraging someone to separate themselves from God's graces, jeopardizing their eternal reward. If we embrace chastity as the cross it can sometimes be, as we've been asked to by the Lord, then we can see that we're in the same exact boat as our homosexual brothers and sisters. Then, both homosexual and heterosexual Christians would be helping each other embrace that cross in our lives. But, since most heterosexual Christians have rejected Biblical morality as it pertains to sex - and most Catholics reject our 2,000 year old teaching on sexuality and marriage - the culture is being pulled in the opposite direction, where the promiscuous, fornicating heterosexuals who cohabit as well as divorce and remarry are looking at homosexuals and saying, "Hey, why can't they be just as free as we are?" Hence, we see most of Western Christianity fighting for "marriage equality" and "homosexual rights".

I've often said that the Christian world will be renewed thanks to Africa and Asia, which is why the West is fighting so hard to introduce to them an acceptance of contraception, abortion, euthanasia, and homosexual "marriage". They are stuck in the middle of what Pope Francis calls "ideological colonization," and they suffer greatly for it. But as St. Ignatius of Loyola said, "If God sends you many sufferings, it is a sign that He has great plans for you and certainly wants to make you a saint." This goes for faithful Christians trying to follow God's Word, but I think it also applies corporately to homosexuals, as well as the Church in Asia and Africa. We are going through hardships, but that's because God wants us in his kingdom.

But as long as we're faithful to God and follow his commandments, all will be ok. As St. Padre Pio said, "If certain thoughts bother you, it is devil who causes you to worry, and not God, Who, being the spirit of peace, grants you tranquility," and "Do not let temptations frighten you; they are the trials of the soul whom God wants to test when He knows that he is strong enough to sustain the battle and weave his garland of glory with his own hands," and "Guard fervently the purity of your body and soul, because these are the two wings which carry us to God, and make us almost divine."

We're all in this together, but we'll never make it to the finish line if the culture or our brethren are encouraging us to sin; survival depends on our inner conversion and a change of lifestyle, as St. Padre Pio said, "In the tumult of passions and of adverse circumstances, there arises the dear hope of God's inexorable mercy. Let us hurry confidently to the tribunal of penance where He, with fatherly anxiety, waits for us every moment; although cognizant of our debt to Him, let us not doubt that our sins have been solemnly forgiven. Just as our Lord has done, let us bury them."

Let us pray for one another and help one another, as good brothers and sisters should do. We are all sinners, and I am the worst one I know; instead of encouraging one another to keep sinning, let us remember how God's mercy endures forever, and if we want to enjoy the Kingdom, then we must "go, and sin no more." Let us, as prodigal children, run to our Father who is always willing and ready to embrace us and welcome us back if we confess our sins with a contrite heart. I applaud the Episcopal church for her desire to minister to the LGBTIQ community - we are all God's children and he loves us all - but, since we're all commanded by Christ to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect, and by St. Peter to live holy lives - I pray that their good intentions will one day soon be inspired by the Scriptures instead of from wandering into myths. May all of God's people find solace, peace, and conversion in the "field hospital" of the Lord.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

What I'm Reading

I'm taking a step back from the blog for quite some time; however, that doesn't mean I'm not still learning and taking everything in. As I start new books, I'll post them here as an encouragement to others if they find the material interesting. Just look for the "Suggested Reading" link in the right-hand column for all the various books I've been reading, just in case they are up your alley.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Latest Stop on my Journey of Faith

This Sunday on the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord, I will be at a local diocesan Shrine, becoming a Benedictine oblate candidate of the St. Benet Biscop Chapter of the St. John Oblates, who are from a Benedictine monastery in Collegeville, Minnesota. This is the latest stop in my journey of faith and I praise God for the blessed opportunity.

Of course, my faith journey began at home, where my Christ-loving family would take me to the Presbyterian church, which I attended Sunday School for over 12 years, and would eventually be baptized into the Body of Christ in 1991. I entered full communion with the Catholic Church in 2007, receiving the Sacraments of First Confession, Confirmation, and First Eucharist. I was blessed with the Sacrament of Matrimony in 2008, even though that sadly did not work out. I became an altar server of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass in 2009, serving at least once a week for six years. Out of curiosity, for ecumenical reasons, and to open my heart up to the various customs of the Church, in 2010 I experienced my first Divine Liturgy at a local Byzantine Catholic parish (I continue to worship here once a month). Thanks to EWTN and other really good, orthodox, Catholic media, I continued to grow in faith over the years. Wanting to dig deeper into the faith, to grow in my faith, and to seek the guidance of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I consecrated my life to her in 2011, following the method of St. Maximilian Kolbe through the Militia Immaculata. Around the same time, seeking to deepen my relationship with Christ and to help people learn the faith, I enrolled in the BA in Theology program at Catholic Distance University. Never truly wanting to abandon my time in the Episcopal church, but needing to come to the fullness of the faith, I felt led by God in 2012 to join the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, which is the US name for the Anglican Ordinariate, a group of former Episcopalians/Anglicans who wish to be Catholic, but still keeping many aspects of their Anglican heritage, such as the way the Mass is offered.

Throughout all this time, since around 2010 or 2011, I had been seeking a deeper relationship with God and wanting to find a new way to live out my faith. At first I had explored Opus Dei, but even though I greatly respect them and thank God for them, I felt that this would be too much of a demand on my life, regardless of if I were single or married. I had often looked into becoming a Benedictine Oblate, but didn't know which monastery I had wanted to align with; also, sometimes I'd be tempted by secular orders of other Religious, like the Franciscans. So, I kept pushing it off and pushing it off. A big reason why I waited was because of the fact that I was in the Ordinariate; to become an oblate, it seemed like I had to abandon the Ordinariate (for instance, I pray the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, the same version my grandparents had used, but part of being an oblate is to pray the Liturgy of the Hours or the 1960 Divine Office instead of the BCP - beautiful prayer books, to be sure, but not what I was looking for).

In late 2015 I visited a blog that offers news and views about the Ordinariate and I saw that for the first time (I think in the world), there would be a group of Benedictine oblates specifically designed for Anglicans/Episcopalians and members of the Anglican Ordinariate. I contacted the monk in charge and we chatted back and forth over a few days. After praying on it and asking God to lead me in the right direction, I felt the inner peace to agree to become a candidate. After a one-year candidacy, if I feel compelled to continue on as a "full-blown" oblate, I will travel to the monastery in Minnesota in 2017 for the ceremony.

For those who are unfamiliar, what does this actually mean? Am I saying I'm becoming a monk? No, that's not it. What I'm saying is that I am choosing to follow the ancient Rule of St. Benedict (written in the 500s AD) in my personal life. In aligning myself with St. John's Abbey, I am being allowed to do this in a uniquely Anglican way, being allowed to keep my Book of Common Prayer, for instance.

I think we should go over two things very quickly: 1) Who are the Benedictines, and 2) What does it mean to be an oblate?

A very short history of the Benedictines

The Order of St. Benedict was founded in Italy around 529 AD by Benedict of the town of Nursia. He was influenced by the monastic orders of the deserts of the Middle East and crafted his Rule (way of life) on what he learned from the great desert saints and hermits; he and his sister St. Scholastica would start convents and monasteries around Europe that would continue to expand through the centuries. As the Western Roman Empire collapsed into disarray, anarchy, and violence at the hands of barbarians, it was the monasteries and convents - mainly, if not exclusively, the Benedictines - who would preserve Christianity, as well as Western history and knowledge. It was at the monasteries where you'd find the Sacraments being offered. In the Scriptoriums of the monasteries you'd find monks hard at work copying and translating the Bible by hand, as well as books of science, philosophy, and history. When the Holy Roman Empire was established, Charlemagne had the Rule of St. Benedict copied and sent all over his empire, and the Order continued to spread.

I'm stealing the next section nearly word-for-word from the Oblate Blog because he did such a good job highlighting how Western civilization owes so much to the Benedictines:

...The Benedictines preserved ancient texts...The Benedictines were pioneers in all forms of agriculture. A modern expert noted that "every Benedictine monastery was an agricultural college for the whole region in which it was located." Benedictine monks developed Sweden's commerce in corn, Ireland's salmon fisheries, and Para, Italy's cheese making. "Please pass the Parmesan cheese. Thank you, monks."

It was the Benedictines who first improved cattle breeding by other than random means...The Benedictines fostered the production of great wine. In 1531 Benedictine monks in the Abbey of Saint Hilaire near Carcassonne, in southern France produced sparkling wine. Although Dom Perignon (late 1600s) of Saint Peter's Abbey, Hautvilliers-on-the-Marne, did not invent champagne, his deserved fame as the father of champagne comes from the fact that Dom Perignon did develop many of the modern techniques used in the effective production of champagne, including the use of wire to hold the cork in place.

The Benedictines made technological advancements in architecture and buildings. They expanded the use of water power and directed spring waters to Paris. A Benedictine monk made the first modern clock in about 996 AD. About 1200 AD, a Benedictine monk built and tested a glider that went 600 feet. The English Benedictines developed advanced furnaces for the production of metals — specifically the extraction of iron from ore. Within the last 20 years an archeometallurgist discovered that the slag (a byproduct of smelting) from an early 1500s English Benedictine smelting furnace showed a level of technological sophistication that was not achieved until much later by other inventors.

When it came to using modern means of communication virtually no one surpassed the Benedictine monks — I am speaking of those like Abbot Fredegise at Saint Martin’s Abbey (early 800s AD) who helped develop the Carolingian minuscule — a better form of writing...After the work of Abbot Fredegise, Europe and its future had a form of writing with lower case letters, spaces between the words, and punctuation.

By the 1500s the Benedictines had given the Church 24 popes, 200 cardinals, 7,000 archbishops, 15,000 bishops, 1,500 canonized saints, 20 emperors, 10 empresses, 47 kings, and 50 queens. At its pinnacle, Benedictine Europe had 37,000 Benedictine monasteries. Many cities of today trace their origins to such monastic houses.

Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman wrote: "St. Benedict found the world, physical and social, in ruins, and his mission was to restore it in the way, not of science, but of nature, not as if setting about to do it, not professing to do it by any set time or by any rare specific or by any series of strokes, but so quietly, patiently, gradually, that often, till the work was done, it was not known to be doing. It was a restoration, rather than a visitation, correction, or conversion. The new world which he helped to create was a growth rather than a structure. Silent men were observed about the country, or discovered in the forest, digging, clearing and building; and other silent men, not seen, were sitting in the cold cloister, tiring their eyes and keeping their attention on the stretch, while they painfully deciphered and copied and re-copied the manuscripts which they had saved. There was no one that 'contended or cried out,' or drew attention to what was going on; but by degrees the woody swamp became a hermitage, a religious house, a farm, an abbey, a village, a seminary, a school of learning, and a city. Roads and bridges connected it with other abbeys and cities, which had similarly grown up; and what the haughty Alaric or fierce Attila had broken to pieces, these patient meditative men had brought together and made to live again.

What is an oblate?

A simple, quick answer is that I'll be trying to apply the Rule of St. Benedict to my life. Based on guidance from my monastery, as well as guidance from Benedictine authors, I'll be trying to improve my life by living out the Gospel in a more authentic way, following the method devised by St. Benedict of Nursia. Through the prayerful reading of Scripture, frequent reception of the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist, the occasional religious retreat, service to my community, the praying of the opus Dei (the work of God, the Daily Office), and meditation on the Rule of St. Benedict, trying my best to live by its standards, I hope to love the Lord my God with all my heart, and with all my soul, and with all my mind, and with all my strength, and to love my neighbor as myself.

For one year I remain as a candidate, meditating on the Rule and depending on the prayers and guidance of my monastery. In the book they've given me to read and use in order to develop as an oblate, I am encouraged to grow in the following areas and ways:

Seeking God in all things: Seeking God is foundational to the monastic vocation and is the cornerstone of which Benedictine spirituality is built...Seeking God is a lifelong journey for the longing human heart and continues whether at prayer, reading, or work, and whether in silence or relating in community...As we seek God daily and find him we grow in self-knowledge, as well. Eventually the ultimate goal is then reached: growth into a deeper love of Christ and transformation into a Christlike presence/person.

Conversion: Conversion is a vow for the Benedictine monastic, a call to change attitudes and behaviours into those more closely aligned with Christ...To be able to change implies an openness of mind and heart, even an openness to change, so we can be what God calls us to be.

Stability and Fidelity: Stability is an aid to those who seek to persevere in their search for God...[S]tability relates to being grounded in the where and the now. Stability means that I will persevere and endure; that I am at home with who I am and where I am and will cease my restlessness and wandering...Once I am at home with myself I can more easily move forward into the transformation called for by conversion.

Listening and Loving Obedience: For Benedict, obedience is selflessness, the good of the other, and love, with its generous giving. He wants us to obey out of love for God. Benedict wants Benedictines to think of the needs of others rather than their own...Obedience for Benedict means letting God and service in love to others be the motivating factors of our actions.

Balancing Prayer and Work: Benedictine prayer is Bible-centered. The Word, for Benedict, meant pre-eminently Christ, the Divine Word speaking through the Scriptures and met in other people...Prayer is at the heart of not only Benedictine life, but also Christian life...Prayer is a must if I am to connect with God, open myself up to my communion with God, deepen my relationship with God...we can pray while walking, exercising, sitting still, or while in the car or shower...The oblate's spiritual goal is union with God and it is fueled by consistent and daily prayers in order to connect to that God in all of life's experiences, relationships, and situations...For Benedict, idleness is an enemy of the soul and work is dignified, even holy. Work is using the talents God gave us, developing them, and giving them back to God through our service to others as we help to build God's kingdom here on earth. In Benedictine spirituality, work and prayer are partners.

Through being an Oblate, I will continue to grow and find a Benedictine way of serving my community, developing a better way of offering hospitality, growing in humility, finding God in more frequent moments of silence, growing into a more authentic person, learning more reverence for God and respect for others, living a life of joy and inner peace; to find humor in life and to not take myself so seriously, to find God in beauty in the arts, in the liturgy, in the world; to learn moderation in all things (one of my great weaknesses), and to grow in compassion for others. I will grow in a Benedictine way of spirituality, learning or growing in things like lectio divina, the Divine Office, greater devotion to the Eucharist, fighting for societal and social justice, working to protect Creation, fighting to protect life from conception to natural death, remembering the importance of wholesome leisure, growing in appreciation for the arts and beauty in life, and living a life of service to others.

None of this is saying that other people aren't good Christians because they aren't doing what I'm doing, and I'm not saying that because I'm doing all of this that I'm somehow a better Christian than others - no, I'm basically writing this to evangelize, to explain to people how many different options there are out there in the pursuit of trying to grow closer to Jesus Christ. I do want to be a better Christian, but not better than the next guy - I want to be better than I am now. Everyone who knows me knows that I am just as vulnerable to sin as the next person, not always living my faith with fidelity. I believe that God has led me to this point as a way to better love him and love my neighbor, that this is the path he wants me to take; God has a plan for our lives, and we just have to be willing to repeat the words of the prophet Samuel: "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening." To me, this is no different than a person who wants to live a spirituality like the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, the Neocatechumenal Way, Opus Dei, the Focolare Movement, and so on. So, I'm not exactly trying to become a monk or anything; I'm just trying to find a way in which to live my faith and this is a method that appeals to me. It is a method that I believe God has brought to me as the next step in a life-long journey of faith, and it is by no means the last step on my journey (unless God calls me home sooner than I thought).

The Church is incredibly diverse, with a home and spirituality for everybody. As a member of the laity, the Church depends on us to be faithful bringers of Christ's light to the world. It is up to us, as we leave Mass, to bring Christ to others by the way we live our lives and by the way we love one another. The priests guide us, but it is up to us to go to the ends of the earth, bringing the good news to others. The Second Vatican Council reminds us, "a true apostle looks for opportunities to announce Christ by words addressed either to non-believers with a view to leading them to faith, or to the faithful with a view to instructing, strengthening, and encouraging them to a more fervent life...Since, in our own times, new problems are arising and very serious errors are circulating which tend to undermine the foundations of religion, the moral order, and human society itself, this sacred synod earnestly exhorts laymen - each according to his own gifts of intelligence and learning - to be more diligent in doing what they can to explain, defend, and properly apply Christian principles to the problems of our era in accordance with the mind of the Church" (AA, 6). St. John Paul II said, "It is no exaggeration to say that the entire existence of the lay faithful has as its purpose to lead a person to a knowledge of the radical newness of the Christian life that comes from Baptism, the sacrament of faith, so that this knowledge can help that person live the responsibilities which arise from that vocation received from God" (CL,10). Benedict XVI encouraged, "May you feel as your own the commitment to working for the Church’s mission: with prayers, study and active participation in ecclesial life, with an attentive and positive gaze at the world, in the constant search for the signs of the times. Through a serious and daily commitment to formation never tire of increasingly refining the aspects of your specific vocation as lay faithful called to be courageous and credible witnesses in all social milieus so that the Gospel may be a light that brings hope to the problematic, difficult and dark situations which people today often encounter in their journey through life." Pope Francis recently tweeted, "The laity are called to become a leaven of Christian living within society."

So, taking into account the glory of Christ in his Church, and the responsibility that we have as lay people to live and proclaim the faith, this is why I've been so focused on "religion" since entering full communion with Peter in 2007. I learned a lot about Christ and the Bible, thanks to my family and the many years I spent in the Presbyterian church. Thanks to my time worshiping at the local Episcopal church, God opened my heart up to the Catholic aspects of his Church. And in becoming a Catholic, I haven't felt more complete, more at peace with my religious life, more in love with the Bible, or more conscious of God in my life. When I became a Catholic, I remember promising my RCIA team that receiving the Eucharist at that Easter Vigil wasn't going to be the end of my faith journey, but that the journey would last me a lifetime. I believe that my spiritual life was suffering, partly on hold until 2010, when the Lord's great blessings and graces opened my eyes and heart to the truth of the Church's teachings on sexuality and contraception; from that moment, my spiritual life has been on the move, with the Lord continuing to open my heart and mind to new challenges and new ways of seeing things. Instead of seeing life through the eyes of political party platforms, he brought me to the social teachings of the Church. Instead of being a blind idolater of unbridled capitalism, I learned of the wisdom and practicality of distributism and the wisdom of people like Belloc, Chesterton, and M├ędaille. Instead of being a war hawk, wanting to make America's enemies regret looking at us cock-eyed, I learned about Just War and have become a conscientious objector to our unending wars. I learned that being anti-abortion didn't necessarily mean that I was pro-life; I've since become more consistent, calling for the end of capital punishment, the decriminalization of drugs (and treating addiction as a health issue instead of a crime), and understanding that there's nothing pro-life in calling for the end of the government's social programs for the poor and elderly. Instead of striving for the materialism and gains of this life, I've learned the beauty and simplicity of the Catholic Land Movement, contemplating whether or not God has called me to that lifestyle. Since for the Catholic there can be no conflict between faith and science, I have never enjoyed science as much as I do now. I'm not the same man I was in 2007; I'm probably not the same man I was in 2014!

The Lord continues to lead me and, despite digging in my heels much of the time, I eventually learn to follow his lead. Becoming an Oblate is one of those things, something that I've delayed and changed my mind about several times, but now here I am - and who knows where else God is going to lead me? May the Lord guide every one of us on our journey of faith; through his great blessings and grace, may we all find each other at the end of our journey, sitting at the Lord's Table at that great Wedding Feast at the end of time. God bless you. Please pray for me.