January 17th, 2011

The Swoop

REPOST: On Saints and Anglo-Catholics

(Note: As some of you might recall, I spent the Summer of 2008 working as an intern at The Episcopal Church of the Holy Comforter in Atlanta. You are most welcome to read my nine updates that I wrote while working in that blessed Mission. Not a week goes by that I do not think about it or send up a prayer for them. What follows here is a re-post of something I had written while I was in the ATL and it is most appropriate for Martin Luther King, Jr Day.)

"Almighty God, who by the hand of Moses thy servant didst lead thy people out of slavery, and didst make them free at last: Grant that thy Church, following the example of thy prophet Martin Luther King, may resist oppression in the name of thy love, and may strive to secure for all thy children the blessed liberty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen." Lesser Feasts and Fasts: 2006.

I PRAYED AT the tomb of Martin Luther King, JR this afternoon. There, in one-hundred-degree weather, standing by the rank water of the reflecting pool, I stood at a distance and prayed to the man who many consider a Saint (the TEC does). What I prayed there, I suppose is best left between my God, that Saint and myself. Other than St. Thomas Becket, this was the only grave of a martyr that I have been to (And I visited Canterbury as a disgruntled Baptist and therefore didn’t appreciate it as I should have). As with most martyrs, it is not the death itself, but the principles that caused the death of the martyr that always impresses me. And the inspiration to those principles that arises from their death.

THEN, THERE IS my beloved Episcopal Church. It is true, I do love it: its traditions, its via media (that it is both Catholic and Protestant), and its ability to leave most things aside and come to the Table of the Lord. For being the self-proclaimed Church that “welcomes you”, many in the Episcopal Church do a terrible job at it. There are the uber-Liberals who would welcome the notorious and unrepentant sinner without batting an eyelash, but who would thumb their noses at their Evangelical brethren with a passive-aggressive pity. There are those Evangelicals who make litmus tests (whether it be the Articles or the Gay Question) as whether or not to eat at the same Table with you. There are the tat-queens who believe a Eucharist isn’t valid if x, y, or z are not done (or if x, y, or z are done). As I described in my last Atlanta Update, there are myriads of hoops that we all require everyone else to jump through.

NOW, MOST OF you know my Anglo-Catholic affinities; it is true that I could be easily described as an Anglo-Catholic (with the exception of the ordination of Women). But there are many aspects of Anglo-Catholicism that make me very nervous. Among them are the pretentious attitudes concerning certain ways of worship: the obsession with liturgical ephemera. Many would say that one is Anglo-Catholic if one likes incense, has a working knowledge of the maniple or – most especially – can critique the Priest’s “performance” at the Altar. Of course, these “Anglo-Catholics” treat the most sacred and holy duty of the Priest at the Altar as a performance and feel free to be a spectator at that most holy Table. Theology has been removed from liturgical action and deep reverence for irreverent opinions.

FOR EXAMPLE, THESE “Anglo-Catholics” only like the statue of Mary in the corner of the Church because of the beauty of the statue, not for any devotion to Our Lady. Many of these “Anglo-Catholics” only tolerate the benediction of the Blessed Sacrament for the beauty of the music, not for the purpose of spending an hour with our Lord. There is little to no respect or honor to the Episcopate or to the local Parish Priest, rather than trusting that God has put those people over us for a reason. And worst, many of these “Anglo-Catholics” will judge the effectualness of the Mass by the beauty of its music or vestments, without considering the effectualness of uniting with the body and blood, soul and divinity of their Lord. If being “Anglo-Catholic” means being a snarky spectator, then I want no part of it.

BUT MOST OF you know that Anglo-Catholicism should not be these things. At his best, an Anglo-Catholic understands that the Church pre-Reformation is just as important than the Church post-Reformation. At her best, an Anglo-Catholic believes in the Sacramental life of the Church is the most powerful avenue through which Christ changes hearts and minds. At its best, Anglo-Catholicism tries to be Christ to the world, in serving those who are least to be desired. As the Anglo-Catholic Bishop of Zanzibar Frank Weston once said,
“There then, as I conceive it, is your present duty . . . You have got your Mass, you have got your Altar, you have begun to get your Tabernacle. Now go out into the highways and hedges where not even the Bishops will try to hinder you. Go out and look for Jesus in the ragged, in the naked, in the oppressed and sweated, in those who have lost hope, in those who are struggling to make good. Look for Jesus. And when you see him, gird yourselves with his towel and try to wash their feet.”
I WRITE ALL of this to say where have the Martin Luther King, JR’s gone? Where have the Frank Weston’s gone? Where have those who give prophetic voice to the Church gone? Are we to be lost forever, O Lord, amidst a sea of waffling and political wrangling? Where are the Saints of the twenty-first century? Where are the men and women of God who see the Church not for what she has become but for what she was meant to be? The Anglo-Catholic Church of all frills and no substance will produce none; may we rediscover our own history!

I WILL LET you all know this: At MLK’s grave, I prayed that God would look with favor upon His Church by sending us more of these. By his prayers and by the grace of God, may God have mercy on us all.