Sunday, September 22, 2013

Why Catholicism? A Former Episcopalian Priest’s Story

By Jürgen Liias

(Catholic Exchange) Since announcing my decision to become a Catholic and to seek ordination through the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, I have had many an inquiry from folk wondering, “Why?” Some of these were authentic expressions of inquisitiveness; others came with perplexity; not a few came with consternation and dismay.

My first reason is this decision is an act of obedience to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. As my Spiritual Autobiography details, this has been a long personal journey, of twenty-five years or more. However, I would add that, as personal as it is, it is not just a private or uniquely individual call. It is not simply a private denominational predilection.

There is in the Christian life a force of gravity which draws the believer ever deeper into union with Christ. That union is not only a private mystical union—though it is that–but a deepening union with the mystical body of Christ, the Church. It is a dogmatic principle of the Catholic Church that “this Church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in the Catholic Church.” (Lumen Gentium). If this is true, then this gravitational pull of Christ’s Spirit is universally active, drawing all humanity to Christ the Head and to the fullness of his saving grace which he mediates through His Body the Church. John Henry Newman, an Anglican convert to Rome, insightfully quipped there was no steady state between Atheism and Catholicism! There is always in the human soul that spiritual battle—the psychomachia—between the centrifugal forces of the world, the flesh, and the devil drawing us away from the Love of God, and the centripetal dynamic of the Holy Spirit pulling us ever deeper into the love of God. There is a gravitas to the Catholic Church, to the See of Peter, that is, I believe, a true and objective  charism intended by Christ to draw his followers into union with him in the fellowship of the Catholic Church. Whatever the individual contours of my own movement into the Catholic church have been, I believe they are part of this larger, universal gravitational grace that emanates from the Heart of Jesus which is in his Body.

That, of course, already displays the second reason for my decision: theology. The great divide between the churches of the Reformation and the Catholic church is in the domain of Ecclesiology—What is the church? In the protestant world Anglicanism has sought to maintain a catholic ecclesiology; that is to say an ordering of the body that is organic, universal, and apostolic. Bishops; creeds; sacraments; and conciliarism have been maintained as integral pieces of Anglican ecclesiology – Papal Primacy alone being set aside. Within that catholic structure, Anglicanism has also asserted a principle of theological freedom and diversity: one may believe in spiritual regeneration in baptism, but one may not; one may believe in the Real Presence in the eucharist, but one may not; one may believe in the authority of scripture, but one may not; one may believe in the sanctity of marriage but one may not. For much of my life as an Anglican, that freedom was a pleasant gift; but increasingly it had become a source of distress and a profound impediment to my priestly work as a pastor and preacher. How could I proclaim from the pulpit, “the Bible teaches…” or “Christianity asserts…” when my Bishop says quite the opposite? How could I advise a person in the confessional, when the priest in the neighboring parish would advise the opposite?; and I speak here of matters essential and primary. My authority as a teacher and confessor needed to be based on something other than my own best opinion (of course, this quandary becomes even more confusing, on almost any given point of doctrine or morality, in the vast panoply of protestant denominational theologies)... (continued)


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