It was not a particularly good time in my life in 2010. My application for laicization had been on hold for 18 years, since Pope Saint John Paul II decided not to grant priests dispensation. I felt like I still wanted to be useful to the Church, but was cut off from doing anything overtly religious. Maybe that is another blog. I made a decision to explore being an Anglican, in the hopes of being ordained a priest for them. I had heard that Anglicans can become Catholic priests while being married. So I gave it a try.
My intention in writing down these ideas is not to prove this or that religion is good and another one is bad. I had always been Roman Catholic and did not have the experience of another faith home. I did want to resolve my situation at the time and see if I could still practice the ministry of priest. I chose Anglican not Episcopal because their physical Church was closer.
I could not have been more warmly greeted and accepted as who I was, someone on a journey to seek God. In many ways, I owe my being Roman Catholic to the laity of the Anglican Church and the generosity of its clergy. I will be forever grateful to them.
I went through a year’s worth of instructions on what it means to be Anglican. I attended their worship services on Sunday. I went to parish socials to mix with parishioners. If it was just a matter of being with good people of faith, I would be Anglican today.
During the period of instruction, I kept thinking how wonderful it would be to serve these people in ministry. My time at morning services was good and familiar. All the things I grew up with were there, the large crucifix, the altar, the candles, the Votive Light that we call the Elijah candle, the smells, the order of the service. If I didn’t know better, I would not have known this service was Anglican and not Roman Catholic. Yet, I had that undefinable something way down deep (and I mean way down deep) in my consciousness that keep me from giving my full self. That went on for nearly six months.
At the end of that time, my instructions were complete and others in my group were given the opportunity to join the community. So was I. It was a generous gift from them and I realized that I would be happy in community with all these believers. Yet, those troubling, nagging doubts were not going way. I remember driving to a Sunday service and parking, then walking to Church. I thought to myself, I can’t do this. Maybe for someone else it would be okay, but I can’t do this. So, now comes the choice. The choice was, there is no choice at all. I can’t do this. If I did convert, no one would ever know, or even care about my struggle. I cared! I was caught in not attending the Roman Catholic Church because I was unable to get a dispensation from my vows and having no other option. I chose the former, which I termed dark love.
Then, things changed. My dispensation came through because Pope Benedict XVI was one again giving dispensations to priests and religious.
My reasons for not wanting to continue as Anglican were these:
I was not fully convinced that Anglican orders were valid. It might not be a problem for anyone else, but it was for me. If Anglican order may not be valid, why should I want to be a clergy person for them?
When I asked about the authority of the Church, in terms of Apostolicity, I was told that there are three Anglican branches: traditional or Anglo-Catholic, Evangelical, and Progressive. These three branches do not agree on things like Real Presence, Authority of Apostolicity, tradition of services, rituals, and women’s ordination. I had problems with knowing that each clergy person, depending on their branch of Anglicanism, would give you a different answer to how they approach issues of Church, worship, authority, the grace of God. This might not be a problem for some, but it was for me. I did not see their Catholicity, Apostolicity nor Oneness. I did observe their Holiness.
I believe that they are, depending on which Anglican Church you belong to (traditional, evangelical or progressive), 50 to 75% of what I hold to be passed on from the Apostles. I reconverted to being a Roman Catholic, my home, and reconverted again to being a Lay Cistercian. Do you see a pattern in there somewhere?
This is my journey, not yours, but I would only caution you. Just because your road to spirituality is rocky, doesn’t mean you are on the wrong road. In whatever remains of the time I have left, I plan to daily convert my life (conversio mores) to be more like Christ and less like me. I have to fight for my core beliefs and not let the Church get away with abandoning me to relativism, worshipping false gods, and my being my own church. Ironically, as Luther said long ago, “Here I stand, I can do no other.”
Being a Lay Cistercian has been a big blessing. Accepted by the monastic community and fellow brother and sister Lay Cistercians is true community, like the early assemblies of Ephesus and Philippi. My appreciation for the history and tradition of the Roman Catholic Church has grown exponentially, since I began to get rid of my pride and pledge obedience to God’s will for me. One of the most significant events for me is Lectio Divina, which I describe as sitting on a wintry park bench, waiting for Jesus to come by, and, if and when it happens, placing my heart next to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
I pray for all the monks and Lay Cistercians of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery, Conyers, Georgia, I pray for all those in my prayer group at Good Shepherd Community, Tallahassee, Florida. I give thanks to God for the privilege of taking instructions to become an Anglican at St. Peter’s Community in Tallahassee. I am not only home, but, like Job, have more than I could have ever dreamed back in 2010. All I can say is:
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever. The God who is, who was, and who is to come at the end of the ages. Amen and Amen. –Cistercian Doxology