I've been re-listening to a great talk given by former-Episcopalian/current Ordinariate priest Fr. Eric Bergman of St. Thomas More parish in Scranton, PA. This is the second part in his series on the disintegration of the Anglican Communion and the formation of the Anglican Ordinariate. In one part of the talk, he humorously discusses some of the differences Protestant converts will notice when they start attending a Catholic parish. The first thing he discusses is the size - Catholic parishes are usually much larger than Protestant congregations. He also mentions the strange way many parishes raise funds, such as with Bingo and Beer Bashes - in a Protestant world so often shaped by a rejection of gambling and a life that's mainly devoid of alcohol (at least as part of worship), this seems most strange. Another aspect he jokes about is what he calls the "Fire in the Nave" syndrome, where when the moment Mass is over the entire congregation bursts out of the church as if it's on fire. In much of the Protestant world, there is "fellowship" after worship - I remember the Presbyterian church would have "coffee hour" after many services, where the congregants could have coffee, tea, and little cakes and cookies and do their catching up with one another before heading home (Catholics currently tend to do their talking in the sanctuary where you're supposed to be quiet and respectful of the holiness of that place). The last issue he discusses is not humorous, though - it's deadly serious, and so serious that I wanted to offer a transcript of his exact words. This is what I and many of my fellow converts experienced once becoming Catholics and for everyone - especially cradle Catholics - this scandal should give us all pause as we go about our daily lives:Anglicanorum Coetibus, we see the value of small parishes made up of people who have ALL chosen, down to the last person, have all chosen to adhere to the fullness of the Catholic faith. In my parish, every single person that is a member CHOSE to become Catholic - he was not baptized as an infant. He was not confirmed when his parents decided to become Catholic when he was 13. They know their fellow believers in these parishes, they tithe, and they have after Mass a coffee hour....
But the biggest thing is not the fellowship, not the tithing, not not knowing everyone who's in church with them - the biggest thing is that these communities have a pastor who has chosen the faith, and so therefore all of his parishioners will be encouraged to live it out. And they will never be suddenly dissuaded from the awesome choice that they have made. [These parishes will] rise up and really be the leaven that leavens the whole lump. [These parishes] are a means of renewal and reform. They will be parishes that reflect the Church's teaching, rather than communities that by-and-large reject the authority by which they ostensibly fall. Think about how many parishes you know of...and sometimes even entire dioceses, which seem to through what they promote, reject the authority of the Holy Father and the Magisterium. These small parishes will be better able to resist assimilation, because every week that a guy goes to church he's not going to be asked, "So, how many kids ARE you going to have?" "You take that seriously what the Holy Father said in Humanae Vitae?"
The trend among American Catholics since around 1928 has been assimilation - to fit in. What happened in 1928 - anybody know? Al Smith ran for president, and at the time the KKK was at the apex of its power in the history of the United States. They went full-bore against the candidacy of Al Smith. And so Catholics thought, "Wow - maybe I just have to become like everybody else and then they'll accept me." And this trend was formalized when President Kennedy foreswore his faith in Houston at a meeting before a bunch of Baptist pastors. He did that in order to get elected - he said that the Catholic faith that he held would have no bearing upon how he would govern the nation....he was sadly misguided and we have to pray for the repose of his soul. [These Ordinariate parishes] within the culture understand that the solution to Catholic alienation in American society is not to conform to the culture; the solution is to convert the people! The solution is to become an evangelist and convert these crazy bigots...The alternative to this culture we're living in, this culture of death, is the Catholic Church.
Please don't think that I am posting this talk because I think I am "more Catholic" than other people. I am posting it because 1) American/Western Catholics all need to realize that we've failed ourselves and one another by ignoring the truths of the faith, and 2) for the first time in my life I understand why I was unable to resist the urge to find a nearby Traditional Latin Mass parish to attend. I know why I kept urging my parish priest to embrace the more traditional ways of worship (like celebrating ad orientem or by using more Latin in the liturgy). It is because lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi: how we worship reflects what we believe and determines how we will live. I used to torture my poor wife with dragging her around to the Traditional Latin Mass and wanting to drive the two hours one-way to attend a parish that celebrated according to those liturgical books. Sure, part of the reason was because of the sheer beauty, solemnity, and transcendence of the traditional Mass, but with Fr. Bergman's talk I finally had confirmation that there was another reason why I longed to attend one of those parishes - it was a chance to be amongst other Catholics who took their faith seriously enough to live it seven days a week, inside the home and at work and on the street. When I first heard Father says these things, I started cheering as I drove down the highway, clapping my hands on the steering wheel, and hearing for the first time in my life a person who understood and could articulate why I was always searching for the "right" parish. I wanted the solemnity, but I was also looking for other Catholics who weren't scared of looking, acting, and sounding Catholic - people who wore it like a badge of honor, of which it certainly is. I wanted to know people who never began a sentence with, "I am a Catholic, but..." This is not to say that I or anyone else is better than those who were poorly catechized in the faith; it's just that as a convert, I didn't come into full communion with the Catholic Church just so that I could continue living like a Presbyterian or Episcopalian - I wanted to be a Catholic. I wanted to worship amongst people who didn't make me feel like an outsider in my own Church. So, I would find a parish and after a while want to look for another one...and another one...and another one. I always thought there was something wrong with me, but Father Bergman was able to prove that it wasn't just me; and now I have a lot more peace as part of the Anglican Ordinariate. Although I am still two-hours away from the nearest parish, I hold onto the hope that as each year passes, there will be the day where either I will move close to a parish or a parish will move close to me; it will happen.
What we have is precious. All we need is to dedicate a little time for learning our faith now; it could make all the difference in our eternity later. Take Fr. Bergman's testimony to heart - it's not to make anyone feel bad or to act like some of us are holier than others - we are all sinners in need of redemption. But what Father's talk should do is put into our minds how badly the faith is scandalized when we engage in or show support for things that defy the 2,000-year-old teachings of the Church. We need to ask ourselves, "How do I live my faith daily? Do my words and deeds reflect a person who believes in what Christ has taught us through His Church, or am I someone who believes in what the American/Western culture teaches instead?" We have to understand that we cannot hide things from God, that other people see the testimony we give by the way we live our lives, and Scripture tells us that at our judgement we'll have to make an account for how we spent every second of our time on earth. This Lent, let us all reflect on who we are, what we believe, and let us take the opportunity to explore our faith in a new and deeper way. Let us not treat our faith as a burden, but as the tremendous gift that it is, for Scripture reminds us that faith is indeed a gift from God. Let us all cry out the words of the father in Mark 9:24, "I do believe, Lord: help my unbelief." Let us renew ourselves so that we can be "the salt of the earth", as Christ calls us - however, he also warns us about what happens when salt loses its saltiness: "It is good for nothing any more but to be cast out, and to be trodden on by men." Do we take these words of warning seriously? Do we want to "flavor" the earth with our presence or be trampled underfoot? This Lent, let us ask ourselves which one we want to be, for it's not only the Latin Mass or Anglican Ordinariate parishes that are called to be faithful.