Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Monday Roundup: St. Ignatius, Thank You, and New Articles

The Altar of St. Ignatius Loyola at the Gesu in Rome, one of the Eternal City's more serious pieces of ecclesiastical bling.

The Feast of St. Ignatius Loyola

Today is the Feast of St. Ignatius Loyola.  I do not have a particularly deep devotion to St. Ignatius, but this prayer has been a favorite since the time I used to say a version of it each day as an associate of an Anglican religious order:

Take, O Lord, and receive my entire liberty, my memory, my understanding and my whole will. All that I am and all that I possess, You have given me: I surrender it all to You to be disposed of according to Your will. Give me only Your love and Your grace; with these I will be rich enough, and will desire nothing more.

Thank You

I also wanted to take a moment this morning to say thank you to all of those who have sent along words of encouragement or recommended St. Rafe’s to others, especially the bloggers at Bo┼że!, Rumney Marsh Ruminations, Thoughts at Large from a Bishop at Large, Priestcraft, and all of those who’ve shared links on Facebook.

New Articles

A few new pieces have come online over the last few days that seemed worth passing along.  Putting up a link here isn't necessarily a statement of whole-hearted agreement or endorsement--I'll tell you if it is. Instead, these are the things I've run across that seemed to me as if they might be of wider interest to the ISM community.

At Rumney Marsh Ruminations, there is a new Statement on Membership, providing a very thoughtful piece on one jurisdiction's self-understanding that may be of interest to others in thinking about how we define our communities.

At Finding Grace in Ordinary Time, there is an excellent meditation entitled Creedally Orthodox: The Freedom to Live Faith with Deep Intentionality, reflecting on doctrine, authority, and personal responsibility in the ISM in general and the Independent Catholic Christian Church (ICCC) in particular.

Also from the ICCC at Thoughts at Large from a Bishop at Large comes Welcoming All Baptized Christians to Communion, a thought-provoking short piece on communion and the Real Presence.

Finally, at the Vagrant Vicar, who never pulls his punches, there is a new piece titled Validity: When the Holy Spirit Stays Home, addressing the historically vexing question of “valid” holy orders in the ISM.

The interior of the dome at the Gesu.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The ISM and the Future Beyond Inclusion

Where does it all go from here?
This is the third of three pieces on the Independent Sacramental Movement, Inclusion, and the future.  Part I, Saltwater or Sanctification, ran on last Wednesday and Part II, Towards a Taxonomy of the ISM ran last Friday.

Having other, larger, better-resourced religious bodies accepting the ordination of the divorced, women, LGBT people, and members of other marginalized groups creates a particular crisis for the ISM.  Independent sacramental bodies have always drawn heavily from these groups, who now have a variety of choices among churches and denominations that, in some cases, are actively recruiting them.  In a world where Presbyterians now ordain LGBT candidates and the Episcopal Church has become increasingly open to the ministry of transgendered people, what is the distinctive purpose of the ISM beyond ministry to the marginalized?

The ISM in the US has historically had a hard time attracting lay people, since the impediments to lay membership in any religious body are significantly fewer than those for candidates for holy orders. The ISM was always heavily peopled by those who found what they believed to be their calling to holy orders denied elsewhere.  To point out the elephant in the room, it is true that a number of these were unstable or even unscrupulous individuals, who saddled the movement with a legacy of scandal and derision.  That’s hardly everyone or even anything approaching a plurality, but that legacy rests uneasily among us to this day.

So what is the purpose of the ISM other than granting orders to those denied them elsewhere and how will different segments of the movement try to face the future?  There seem to be a variety of responses, three of which I find to be worth examining in some detail from among the five types of groups I sketched out in Friday's Towards a Taxonomy of the Independent Sacramental Movement.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

St. Mary Magdalene and Rennes-le-Chateau

St. Mary Magdalene in the village church of Rennes-le-Chateau.

Last Sunday was the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene. A little over three years ago, I found myself in the southwest of France for the marriage of two friends. In the days leading up to the wedding, four of us made a day trip to Rennes-le-Chateau, the Roswell of France, which, in recent years, has become linked the revived interest in the Magdalene. St. Mary Magdalene is patroness of the village church and its supposedly curious interior has been fodder for innumerable conspiracy theories following the publication of books such as Holy Blood, Holy Grail and, later, The Da Vinci Code.

I read Holy Blood, Holy Grail in the eighth grade and was taken by the idea of Templars and Cathars and hidden secrets. (Yes, I was playing Dungeons and Dragons every weekend then too.) I wanted to see this mysterious town with its ancient church and surrounding ruins.

The main door of the tiny Romanesque church.

After 25 years, I at last found myself climbing up the hill from the car park with two retired academics, a medical anthropologist, and a digital camera ready to be wowed. What I found was a charming little village so small that it might better be called a bled, a few crystal shops, and a tiny church crammed with objects of blasphemously poor taste ordered up from 19th Century church supply catalogues by a rogue priest who thought of himself as an artistic soul.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Sanctifying Time: The Angelus

Cemetery Shrine of Our Lady, New Subiaco Abbey, Arkansas.

Saturday is traditionally given over to the commemoration of the Virgin in the Mass and in praying the Office of Our Lady.  With work and schedules, those may not be customs that are in reach of many people today, but throughout the centuries, the Church in her wisdom has provided devotions suited to all conditions and circumstances.

One of the pious customs all but lost lost in more recent years is the thrice-daily recitation of the Angleus, in which we sanctify time by briefly remembering the Incarnation and the example provided by Our Lady in the morning, at mid day, and day’s end.  Originally a simple set of three Hail Marys, later three petitions were added recalling the Virgin’s answer to the angelic salutation at the Annunciation. Later still, a concluding versicle and collect were added.

      V. The Angel of the Lord brought tidings unto Mary:
      R. And she conceived by the Holy Ghost.

     V. Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.

    R. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

    V. Behold the handmaid of the Lord:
    R. Be it unto me according to thy word.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Sermons in Stone: Cotton Plant Arkansas

Presbyterian Church, Cotton Plant, Arkansas.
This is not in the Ozarks.  I took this picture a few summers ago down in the Cotton Belt in the appropriately named town of Cotton Plant, Arkansas, which has seen its population drop from 1650 in 1970 to 650 today.  It is not so picturesque as some ruin pictures I could pull up from my old photos of Europe or the Middle East, but I think I find it to be an even more poignant reminder that faith communities are born, transform, and often fade away.

The Arkansas Church blog has more photos.

More Thoughts on the ISM, Cultural Relevance, and Inclusion

After Wednesday’s Saltwater or Sanctification post, I thought it might be good to look at what some other folks have had to say on the topic of the Independent Sacramental Movement, Relevance, and Inclusion.  Here are five pieces from five blogs written over the last few years from a variety of viewpoints.

FindingGrace in Ordinary Time

What If You Woke Up One Day and Weren’t Angry Anymore?
...to engage in those arguments is in many ways to deny the unique charism of being Independent Catholic. And to buy into the lie that it is sufficient for us to define ourselves merely as an alternative---forever in comparison to another church. Measuring ourselves by standards not our own and based on the documents and canons of a denomination that sees us as "less than" and our sacraments as "illicit".

We should not be so content with so small a vision.


Theology:  Finding Our Own Voice

We are led by the Spirit and offered mysterious sustenance, and yet we grumble and pine for the fleshpots of Egypt  -  proper academic degrees, paid ministerial positions, lovely building with big congregations, secure pensions, well-defined doctrines, and the like.  Most of us learned our theology in such an “Egypt” (e.g., Rome, Canterbury, or Constantinople) and continue to speak in its tongue.  It is high time we looked around and realized we are not in Egypt anymore.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Three Hymns for the Feast of Ss. Joachim and Anne

 St. Anne with St. Mary as a girl, St. Mary's Church, Altus, AR.

In the Cistercian Calendar, as is often the case with anything touching the BVM, today carries a higher rank than it does in the Universal Calendar. Ss. Joachim and Anne are celebrated as a feast with a full proper office. Here are the textes of today's three hymns.

Mother Anne, be joyful;
Sing, O mother holy,
Since thou art the parent
Of God’s Mother lowly.

Praise thy wondrous daughter;
Joachim, too raises.
To the Virgin Mary
His paternal praises.

Towards a Taxonomy of the Independent Sacramental Movement

The Bishops of what would become the Liberal Catholic Church.
As someone who has watched the Independent Sacramental Movement off and on for two decades, it seems that developments of the last several years have fundamentally changed the movement.  What we see emerging is very different than the world which was as much created as described by Peter Anson in his book, Bishops at Large, whose fiftieth anniversary of publication will come next year.

Anson, a gifted writer with an acid tongue, introduced the wider public to the episcopus vagans with his colorful accounts of those in the 19th and early 20th centuries who sought to found churches with valid orders in the apostolic succession.  Anson painted, sometimes accurately and sometimes theatrically, a picture of a demimonde inhabited by prelates with strange titles given to schism and ever-shifting alliances.  Whatever the truth of that picture, the image of the vagante was set in the wider culture as one who called himself a patriarch, had his cathedral in a spare bedroom, and whose only followers were his ordinands, who would, no doubt, soon be bishops, archbishops, and metropolitans in their own right and rite.

In what has probably been the most important and widely-read book on the topic since Anson, John Plummer gave us a picture of a world much changed in his 2005 book, The Many Paths of the IndependentSacramental Movement, which took a much more sympathetic and systematic approach to describing the descendants of those ordained by Anson’s bishops as well as new movements that have emerged in the intervening years.  Looking over the internet in the seven years since Plummer’s book, several distinct families seem to be coalescing within the ISM, though, given the nature of the beast, many groups bridge or defy these categories.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Feast of St. James: Beginning a New Road

 Shells of St. James in arms on a wall tomb at the Abbey of St. Paul in the Field, Barcelona.

I am yet to make it to the Shrine of St. James at Santiago de Compoestela, but over a couple of summer trips, I have gotten to see several stops along the pilgrimage route as well as several altars and pilgrim marks in the churches of Catalonia.  As James is one of the saints of pilgrimage par excellence, his feast day seems to be an appropriate day to launch this blog.

Altar of St. James at the Basilica of Saint Paul Serge in Narbonne.

Abbey of St. Michael of Cuxa in the French Pyrennes.

This is he, who first among the Apostles planted the Church with his own blood. * His body was borne into Galicia and his glory enlightens the whole world.

V. O light and splendour of Spain, Holy James the Apostle, intercede for us with the Lord who has chosen you.

* His body was borne into Galicia and his glory enlightens the whole world.

V. Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.

* His body was borne into Galicia and his glory enlightens the whole world.

-Responsory for the Third Nocturn of the Feast of St. James

 Altar of St. James, Argeles-sur-Mer, French Catalan Coast

The Priory of Marcevol in the French Pyrennes.

Saltwater or Sanctification: Inclusion, Relevance, and the Good News

When I was in cause marketing, we used to talk about the difference between emphasizing features and emphasizing benefits in explaining a new program or initiative.  If I applied this analogy to selling a car, saying, “This car has antilock brakes, side-curtain airbags, and the latest collision sensors,” I would be selling features.  Saying “This is the safest car we have for taking your kids to school,” would be selling benefits. 

Too often I think that those of us in the Independent Sacramental Movement (ISM) try to sell our churches’ carefully thought-out features when people actually want to know about basic benefits.  When someone walks through the door, we say, “The ordination process is open to women and LGBT people; we support the Millennium Development Goals; and we practice open table communion” when it might be more effective to say, “Welcome!  We’re so glad you’re here today.”

This brings me to a second dichotomy: the important difference between necessary and sufficient conditions.  A “necessary” condition is one which is required for something to happen.  Electricity is necessary to light an incandescent bulb.  A “sufficient” condition is one which in and of itself brings a thing about.  For the electricity to light the bulb, one still needs wires, a filament, and other things.  Inclusion to my mind is a necessary condition to be the Body of Christ, but it is not sufficient.  There has to be more.  People are coming looking for something in particular.  Certainly, they want a place where they are welcome, as they do in a restaurant, gym, or school, but, as with those other establishments, the person who comes through the door is looking to have a certain need met, even though they might not be quite certain what it is.

What is this need?  Clearly, I’m skeptical that it is inclusion or political relevance.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been lucky enough to be able to spend most of my working life as a human rights advocate.  I protest and politick at the drop of a hat, but it’s not what I go to church for.  On the contrary, I would say that it is the faith nurtured in the church that strengthens my commitment to peace and justice.  Passionate as I am about my faith, church is not at the top of the list of places I would go to try to accomplish something concrete in the 21st century.


 For those of you joining the program already in progress, I have left the Roman Catholic Church. I could go through the long and varied list of everything that led me to this place, and it has been an interesting journey, but the most important thing to say is that it was simply not the place I belong.  I gave it my best shot; I tried and tried, but, at the end of the day, it was never home, no matter how much I wanted it to be or contorted myself to fit. I can think like a Catholic theologically, but I can’t think like an American Catholic culturally.  Will that satisfy my more Thomistic friends?  No, it won’t. 

I am interested in the life of prayer, the mystery of the incarnation, and the joy that characterizes the Christian life.  I do not find my vision of the church reflected in the right or the left of the Roman Catholic Church in America.  I often have theological and liturgical sympathy with one group and political sympathy with the other, but I find myself at home with neither.  I suppose there’s a good bit of anarchist Campbellite in me that I can’t shake and perhaps that has led me to having an outlaw conscience.  If that is the case, the sin be upon my head.

For all of that, I am thankful I took my sojourn across the Tiber and for the time I spent as a monk.  I met some good people along the way and learned some important things about the spiritual life and about myself. I admire any number of people who criticize the Roman Catholic Church from within from a variety of viewpoints, but that is their task to do in love, not mine as an outsider, except perhaps where these things touch on the larger church and world.  I wish all my Roman Catholic friends well.  You remain in my prayers.

A year after leaving the Abbey, I find myself living in Arkansas for the first time since graduating from college, pursuing a doctorate in history, and throwing in my lot with what is becoming known, thanks to the work of John Plummer, as the Independent Sacramental Movement (ISM), in which I have taken orders.  The ISM or Independent Catholic Movement, as it is also known, is a messy place, full of both promise and human frailty where people attempt to live out Christian faith and the sacraments in small communities.  The denominational overhead is low, the emphasis on individual discipleship is high.  These pages will show where this leads, with frailty likely outpacing promise on most days.

This blog takes its name from St. Raphael the Archangel to whose patronage I have entrusted myself on the road ahead.  St. Raphael is the healer, companion of travelers, and something of a super guardian angel.  I feel like I’m in good hands.