Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Plastic Catholics

Yesterday I stopped in my local Roman Catholic parish.  They open their sanctuary during the day for quiet meditation and have an afternoon each week dedicated to silent prayer before the exposed Blessed Sacrament called Adoration.  I had come from a meeting and had on my clerics so everyone who saw me would have known 'I didn't belong there.'  But no one seemed to pay attention and let me just sit before God in a 'comfort zone' of prayer. And in a sense I did belong. And while my personal theology no longer supports the liturgical practice of Adoration and Benediction, the centering quiet is still like mashed potatoes and gravy, or macaroni and cheese for my soul.  Christ is there and so am I and that is enough.

I am so thankful for my Roman Catholic beginnings.  It was in that tradition that I learned to pray--learned that form of meditation of silent exposing my heart to God.  It was there that I came to learn how to live sacramentally--living out of and into the signs of Christ in whom I move and have my being.  When I claim myself as 'catholic' it is this spiritual centering that I refer to.  I am no longer a Roman Catholic.  I do not espouse the Church of the Vatican.  I am an Episcopalian through and through and a catholic one at that.

Coming from the experience of being a vowed religious, of having lived in religious community and entered into the sacramentality that that life implies, I always found that arch Anglo-Catholic experience of the Episcopal Church very disorienting.  All the outward signs of that Catholicism were there, but there was something missing in the inward and spiritual grace.  I am not saying that all Anglo-
Catholicism was at like this because I often found A-C's that lived out of that sacramentality the same as I. And found so many who found the Holy in those acts of the liturgy   But there was an arm of Anglo-Catholicism that I finally realized were 'Roman Catholic Wanna Be' rather than truly Anglo-Catholic with its mission to the poor and richly lived-out sacramental and incarnated faith.  It was that arm that so severely distorted the catholic experience in  the Episcopal Church.

This 'Catholic Wanna Be' phenomenon I most often saw coupled with a political neo-conservative mind.  I always had the impression that these 'plastic catholics' were playing church rather than being Church.  They could never have been Roman Catholics because their understanding of obedience, the primary virtue of the RCC, was not consistent enough to satisfy the RC hierarchy.  They knew all the right dance steps but they didn't feel the beat.  It was the Tea Party at prayer,  rather than the spiritual living out of faithfulness.

When I first became an Episcopalian I was in an area that was not especially Anglo-Catholic.  We referred to ourselves as committed 'Broad Church.'  I knew I wasn't committted Low-Church.  That experience of the Anglican ethos is rooted in the evangelical roots of reformed theology.  And I don't have an evangelical bone in my body.  What I used to call myself was a post-Vatican II Episcopalian.  It confused most people but that way I didn't have to explain this rather UN-pidgeon-holeable position where I stood on the Anglican/Episcopal continuum.

The almost 4O years' experience of the 1979 BCP has healed some of the wounds of the Anglo-Catholic/Low Church split that was threatening the Episcopal Church following WWII but it has done nothing for the 'plastic catholics' who find solace in 'doing church right' rather than living into the transformative life of the liturgy.  The difference can be readily experienced between the real Anglo-Catholicism and the imitation.  The bogus conveys feelings of 'coldness' and I hear descriptions of the 'meanness of spirit' and the 'rigidity' that has never been part of any form of any authentic catholicism that I have known.

I am thankful for my local RC parish and its benign hospitality of holy place.  I am thankful that there is no fear of 'turf' in the large, silent, sacred space that today's RC churches provide.  I am not for reunification with the Vatican.  We are too different after 500 years to feel the comfort of  the holy in each other.  And yet we have gifts in the spiritual geography of that we share. I am at home there because Christ is there.  But in neither tradition--Anglican nor Roman, is our catholicism is tainted with the imitation of performance. The kinds of catholicism that speak to the heart of those who seek Christ and the community of faith where welcome is  vibrant, joyful and  life-giving no matter what our hierarchy, no matter out doctrine or practice.  The signs and symbols of our faith speak of Christ and healing.  That is enough.

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