Recently, I had a letter from a young man considering the Ordinariate but very tied to his Anglican roots. At the end of the letter he included a long quotation from BARCHESTER TOWERS by Anthony Trollope.
My young friend said that it conveyed his feelings at the present moment. Following the quotation is my response to him (edited):
From Trollope, Barchester Towers, ch. 20 "Mr Arabin"
"And now came the moment of his great danger. After many mental struggles, and an agony of doubt which may be well surmised, the great prophet of the Tractarians [John Henry Newman] confessed himself a Roman Catholic. Mr. Newman left the Church of England and with him carried many a waverer. He did not carry off Mr. Arabin, but the escape which that gentleman had was a very narrow one. He left Oxford for awhile that he might meditate in complete peace on the step which appeared to him to be all but unavoidable, and shut himself up in a little village on the sea-shore of one of our remotest counties, that he might learn by communing with his own soul whether or no he could with a safe conscience remain within the pale of his mother church.
gone badly with him there had he been left entirely to himself. Everything was against him: all his worldly interests required him to remain a Protestant, and he looked on his worldly interests as a legion of foes, to get the better of whom was a point of extremest honour.
In his then state of ecstatic agony such a conquest would have cost him little; he could easily have thrown away all his livelihood; but it cost him much to get over the idea that by choosing the Church of England he should be open in his own mind to the charge that he had been led to such a choice by unworthy motives. Then his heart was against him: he loved with a strong and eager love the man who had hitherto been his guide, and yearned to follow his footsteps.
His tastes were against him: the ceremonies and pomps of the Church of Rome, their august feasts and solemn fasts,
invited his imagination and pleased his eye.
His flesh was against him: how great an aid would it be to a poor, weak, wavering man to be constrained to high moral duties, self-denial, obedience, and chastity by laws which were certain in their enactments, and not to be broken without loud, palpable, unmistakable sin!
Then his faith was against him: he required to believe so much; panted so eagerly to give signs of his belief; deemed it so insufficient to wash himself simply in the waters of Jordan; that some great deed, such as that of forsaking everything for a true Church, had for him allurements almost past withstanding.
"Mr. Arabin was at this time a very young man, and when he left Oxford for his far retreat was much too confident in his powers of fence, and too apt to look down on the ordinary sense of ordinary people, to expect aid in the battle that he had to fight from any chance inhabitants of the spot which he had selected. But Providence was good to him; there, in that all but desolate place, on the storm-beat shore of that distant sea, he met one who gradually calmed his mind, quieted his imagination, and taught him something of a Christian's duty.
When Mr. Arabin left Oxford, he was inclined to look upon the rural clergymen of most English parishes almost with contempt. It was his ambition, should he remain within the fold of their church, to do somewhat towards redeeming and rectifying their inferiority and to assist in infusing energy and faith into the hearts of Christian ministers, who were, as he thought, too often satisfied to go through life without much show of either.
"And yet it was from such a one that Mr. Arabin in his extremest need received that aid which he so much required. It was from the poor curate of a small Cornish parish that he first learnt to know that the highest laws for the governance of a Christian's duty must act from within and not from without; that no man can become a serviceable servant solely by obedience to written edicts; and that the safety which he was about to seek within the gates of Rome was no other than the selfish freedom from personal danger which the bad soldier attempts to gain who counterfeits illness on the eve of battle.
"Mr. Arabin returned to Oxford a humbler but a better and a happier man, and from that time forth he put his shoulder to the wheel as a clergyman of the Church for which he had been educated. The intercourse of those among whom he familiarly lived kept him staunch to the principles of that system of the Church to which he had always belonged."
Thank you for your sincere and very thoughtful message, Tom [not his real name]. I very much appreciate it.
You have given these matters a great deal of thought and prayer and for that we are all thankful. In our Lord's time all will be resolved and all will be well.
I was in something like your position for quite a time, practising what I understood to be the traditional Anglican expression of the Catholic faith, living as a country parson but always hoping for reconciliation and the healing of the Body of Christ in some way that would allow us, as Anglicans, to enter the full communion of the Catholic Church.
In fact, it is over 20 years ago that a group of us approached Archbishop Ambrozic about the Pastoral Provision. I recall hopeful Evensongs at St. Cecelia's here in Toronto and then the candle of unity sputtered and Abp. (later Cardinal) Ambrozic decided not to allow us to proceed.
At the time, Jane and I had to provide for two young girls and so we had little choice but to stay in the parish I had been serving, believing that we had done what we could to move into unity under the circumstances. Time moved on and our Lord's prayer that "they all may be one" began to work its grace in different ways. All the time I felt and believed that we would be able, somehow, to bring our Anglican patrimony into unity with the Holy See. How, I had no idea.
It had become clearer, over time, that the ARCIC dialogues would not be the vehicle for unity so many of us had hoped they would be. Anglicans continued to make doctrinal changes that could in no way be considered Catholic and there was a widening gap.
For me, Anglicanorum Coetibus (AC) in 2009 was nothing short of miraculous. It rang like a bell and I could not resist making the journey over the newly constructed bridge into the arms of Peter and the full embrace of the Catholic Church. I felt and continue to feel more completely Anglican than I ever had. It is as though the first 1000 years of the Church of the Anglo or English-speaking peoples has been restored to its proper relationship with the single universal Church of Christ and the last 450 years are now in proper perspective.
In terms of material well being our situation had changed and we now had our daughters through university with most of the bills paid. We could travel more lightly and Jane had supply teaching to pay the rent. My job ended but every sacrifice was met with a blessing.
|The Rev. John Keble, Rector of Hursley|
It becomes clearer with every month that the journey into full communion is different for each person and family. Your quotation from Trollope mirrors exactly my feelings when serving in a country parish with John Keble as a hero and model.
|Hursley Parish Church|
I understand your situation but I believe entirely that the Anglican Patrimony can, in the long run, only survive with the protection of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. The corrosive liberalism that Newman identified at the heart of the establishment, sadly, continues to undermine the good faith and work of devout Anglicans. The centre of that system, which now includes fundamentally opposed groups and synods, as Newman saw, is fatally flawed and without magisterial direction and the Petrine Office cannot hold against the zeitgeist and its winds of relativism.
As we are both so well aware, our day is very far removed from the classical Anglicanism of Newman, Keble and Trollope. Gone is the orthodoxy of belief and practice with the advances of relativism, radical feminism and the juggernaut of gay political activism. Secular, Islamist and other currents make the waters exceedingly treacherous for those who, like you, sincerely hold to that "system of the Church" (Trollope) we have known as the Anglican Way.
I hesitate to compare myself in any way with Blessed John H. Newman, but his words about his own reception into full communion and having the sense of entering port after a storm express my feelings precisely now. This is not to say that we don't need to launch out again from port in a larger and sturdier barque and so I see the Ordinariate as one sail for the New Evangelization which the Catholic Church very much needs and as our beloved Benedict XVI saw so clearly.
I rejoice that we now have the whole patrimony of Anglicanism at the disposal of the Holy Spirit in the full communion of the Catholic Church that has so many resources but needs new impetus on many fronts.
The very good news, as one young man put it to me recently, is that AC, as an Apostolic Constitution, is part of the universal fabric of the Church. It will be there in twenty or a hundred years and Anglicans will always be welcome along with our many other fellow-travellers.
|Blessed Pope Paul VI|
So, we pray for you and all other faithful Anglicans who, as Unitatis Redintegratio from Vatican II puts it, are our baptized brothers and sisters in Christ.
To rephrase Trollope, this is the one Church to which we all belong. Together, we continue to strive for a more perfect unity in the Church Militant because it is our Lord's will, knowing that the arms of Peter are always open.
Faithfully, in Christ
Fr. John L. Hodgins, Priest Administrator,
St. Thomas More Catholic Church, Toronto
A Quasi (Mission) Parish of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter
Deanery of St. John the Baptist (Canada)