Thursday, January 11, 2018

Mail call

Now and then I get emails from inquirers and others seeking advice on various issues. I'm not sure why, as I'm not a priest. But setting that aside I try to help if I think I can.  Which brings me to an email from Ben (not their real name) who is in a situation that I very much fear is not all that unusual these days.

Ben is a small 'o' orthodox Roman Catholic who resides in a diocese (he didn't specify but I can take a guess) with what he describes as a pretty bad bishop who is promoting things that are simply a no no for serious Catholics as well as we Orthodox. Ben used the "H" word in describing him and I'm not going to argue the point. The parish he grew up in and was married in sounds like it has become Episcopalian in all but name. Last summer the priest there gave a homily that was the last straw and Ben realized that remaining there was no longer an option for him or his family.

So they started shopping for a new spiritual home and landed in an Orthodox parish where they have been welcomed with open arms and they are very happy. He and Mrs. Ben love the church, and the liturgy and are very happy with the priest.

I will bet you know what's coming.

The problem is that Ben is not ready to swim the Bosporus. There is much that he admires about Orthodoxy but he is still a Catholic deep down. And of course while he and his family have been warmly welcomed, they can't commune the Holy Mysteries which he, rightly IMO, believes is a problem.

His options vis a vis his own church are limited. There is a fairly conservative parish that is about 90 minutes away. But he would still be within the diocese with a bishop that Ben is convinced is a flat out heretic.

My best advice is to see if there is an Eastern Byzantine* Rite Catholic parish within a reasonable distance. Your mileage may vary, but the Eastern Rites used to be fairly safe compared to a lot of the really dreadful stuff going on in some corners of the Roman Rite. Failing that I would look for a traditional (Tridentine Rite) parish. If necessary, I'd consider a parish under the Society of St. Pius X. Their exact relationship with Rome is not clear. A friend described it as one characterized by strategic ambiguity which seems to suit both sides. To be clear the SSPX has had some issues in the past, but I think they got rid of the more hardcore wing nuts when they expelled Bishop Williamson. Recently the Red Pope granted them faculties for hearing confessions and their Masses are considered valid by the Holy See. For some, in the current emergency in the Catholic Church, the SSPX may well be the safest port in which to ride out the storm.

As for the conservative parish that is an hour and a half away, if all else fails I'd maybe do that once a month, which would permit the reception of confession and holy communion. But I am really reluctant here because that parish is under a bishop that is a heretic. Here I must note my Orthodox side is showing through. In Orthodoxy our connection to the broader Church is through the Holy Mysteries of the Altar which among other things, requires submission to a canonical Orthodox bishop. And to be blunt, if hypothetically my bishop were to be doing/promoting the kind of things that Ben's is, I'd be gone. Which is to say I would never set foot in, much less commune in any parish under their jurisdiction.

The one obvious solution is conversion. But again Ben doesn't sound ready to go there and I for one consider his reluctance to be a sign of spiritual maturity. Conversion should never be done lightly. And as I have noted in the past, it is better to remain in schism from the Church then to enter, only to leave later on. Everything I have heard suggests that this is a chronic problem.

So with my rather lame advice out of the way I am going to open this up in case someone else can offer something a little better. However, I do want to caution that comments need to be constructive and charitable. Any that IMO fail that standard will be quickly dispatched to the cyber trash bin.

* Per the suggestion of Dr. Bill Tighe who worries that some of the non-Byzantine sui iuris churches have been "reformed" in unhealthy ways.


James the Thickheaded said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James the Thickheaded said...

FWIW, I think your advice is sound.I have a friend who is Byz Catholic and very happy with the stability and holiness found there. Truth be told, we have our own nutiness. Different, but nutty all the same and instead of wandering on the big things, it tends to conform to "majoring in the minors" like calendar, how you cross yourself, etc. And can anyone explain to me the crazy stick fights between jurisdictions at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre? Christian behavior? Maybe not. Pride can manifest itself into ugliness in any number of ways. Heresy may in fact be the least of them and easiest to deal / dispense with. My recommendation would be to worship where he finds humility, love and charity... and beauty... the fruits of the Holy Spirit and worry less about the theological "stuff". Christ is not a philosopher and doesn't need us to be "correct" or to correct everyone else. I think that is a temptation best put aside. Be correct and hard on ourselves as we can; confess our sins and have a spiritual father to give regular guidance; be gentle with others... even Christ's Church. Trust Christ to prune it. He will. Serve Christ's people. Love them. Pray for them. Live for them. The rest will take care of itself. Pretty standard stuff, huh?

Woody said...

I can pretty much identify with Ben in a number of ways, even though my RC bishop is not a heretic and the parish is sound, but just the overall state of the Latin Church is very troubling indeed, to the point of no longer trusting it. The local Byzantine Catholic (Ruthenian) parish is quite good and definitely has an “Orthodox in communion with Rome” feel about it, so if he can find Byzantine Catholic or Ukrainian Greek Catholic parish, that might very well be the answer for him.

rick allen said...

"...the overall state of the Latin Church is very troubling indeed, to the point of no longer trusting it."

I am not sure how very "Catholic" anyone is who no longer trusts the Church's magisterium. That's where Luther came down, and there are plenty of his descendants everywhere and as a result there is almost always a "church" which meets anyone's particular version of the Christian faith.

Rather than asking whether I prefer Francis or Benedict, I pause and think that, for whatever reason, the Holy Spirit has seen fit to put this or that man in the Holy See, and my task is to find a way to learn from both, not to form parties. If I think my bishop is heretical (never have, honestly), that doesn't release my own commitments or excuse my participation in the mass. It's a hard place to be in, I'm sure, but no one ever guaranteed we'd never be in a hard place.

I often think of the faith of a Thomas More, or Erasmus, with a Borgia or a Medici on the papal throne, in a time of deep corruption throughout the episcopate, how they kept and defended the faith, fully cognizant of the scandals in the Church, but aware as well of the holiness of the Church and of the faithfulness required at a difficult time.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not myself going through any such trial. I sympathize with those who think that the Church has gone off the rails, as it must be a wrenching experience. But maybe the best thing to do is to be as faithful a Catholic layman as one can be, and recognize that priests and bishops and popes are human, and participate in human folly, but will, through God's grace, act so that the gates of hell will never overcome the Church.