C. David Burt's Weblog

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Location: Falmouth, Massachusetts, United States

Monday, September 25, 2017

The Star Spangled Banner vs. America the Beautiful

Our country is divided over many things, but few are well understood. A case in point is the controversy over the National Anthem. Here you see a group of NFL players reverently kneeling rather than standing during a pre-game performance of The Star Spangled Banner. Our President has called for them to be fired and for people to boycott NFL games until this "unpatriotic" protest stops.

Quite apart from the disgraceful targeting of blacks by law enforcement in many of our cities, we are learning something that few people seem to have noticed about the National Anthem itself. The third stanza, which is seldom sung, references the black slaves who fought for the British in return for their freedom in the War of 1812. Francis Scott Keys, a slave owner himself, wrote,

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
A home and a country should leave us no more!
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

I am confused by this verse because I think it is bad poetry, but I am very uncomfortable about the history that it references. Present day racism is the saddest legacy of the history of slavery in our country.

This verse is not the only reason some NFL players are kneeling rather than standing during the National Anthem; perhaps they would have reason to do it during any other alternative anthem. The President's reaction forces us to have a conversation about this, however,  and rather than be divided over a song, I would call upon the American people to consider retiring this militant and difficult-to-sing Star Spangled Banner, replacing it with "America the Beautiful" by Katherine Lee Bates.

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine,
Till all success be nobleness,
And every gain divine!

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

There have been many proposals put forward for this song to become our National Anthem. It is lyrical, majestic, easy to sing, and its sentiments point to the highest values of our nation. We should all feel proud to rise to our feet to sing this song.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Inevitable Migration

Here is just one picture of the world's migration crisis. I think it is a ship loading in Libya, but I am not sure and it doesn't matter, and it is only one image of thousands of similar images showing the huge crisis of migration on the planet.

When I was deciding what modern language to learn about fifty years ago, I remember deciding that Spanish would probably be most useful for me because I could easily predict an influx of Spanish speaking people into this country. I had no way of knowing then how this would serve me and how it would influence other choices that I would make in life. But my prediction has proven true, and my knowledge of Spanish, as is the mastering of any second language, has inevitably changed my character and world outlook. As a bi-lingual teacher, I found myself in a classroom full of eager students, just as bright as any American student I ever had, but severely disadvantaged because of their immigration and economic status. Some of those students are still close friends even twenty years later, I have heard their stories and I have come to know their children who are now in school in America.

My lessons of the history of Rome have not been lost on me. It is clear that there were serious social problems which led to the collapse of the great ancient civilizations, including Rome. Some of the factors were things like citizens and non-citizens, corruption, slavery, and even religion. The Roman Empire held off the barbarian migrations as best they could, but when they finally flooded in, everything changed. The classical period of European history was over and Europe entered into what was called the dark ages typified by feudal warfare, enormous economic disparity between the classes, and gross ignorance on the part of almost everybody, owing to there being almost no educational opportunities.

Is our 21st Century western civilization in an analogous situation and ready to plunge into another dark age? We have enough corruption, disparity of wealth distribution, slavery, religious fanaticism, teaming masses on our borders, and a class system of citizens and non-citizens to make our civilization look very much like Rome on the eve of its fall. In addition we have alternative civilizations wishing to destroy the civilization we have built because they consider it to be evil.

Of course it might not be so bad if the human population didn't breed like rabbits, especially in so-called developing countries, but our civilization has contributed to that through improved health care. Malthus was correct when he said that the human population was naturally controlled by famine, pestilence, and war. We have managed to fix most of those problems, and look, we have our human population totally out of control, so much so that scientists have named the age we are in the "anthropocine epoch" because of the significant effect the human race has on the planet's geology and ecosystems. We have had economic bubbles and recessions, but they are nothing compared to what could happen. A nuclear holocaust is only one possible scenario of a cataclysmic collapse of our civilization. The leaders of the world, and even the Pope, can not help but think of these issues from time to time. We have relative peace and prosperity in the world now. We better use this opportunity to solve some of the world's problems.

Of course it will probably not surprise anyone if I say I am not confident that the present direction of politics in the United States and even in Europe will lead in a better direction. Taking the problem of migration alone, it is easy to see how overwhelming it is, but in a way it is itself a consequence of colonialism and the post-colonial mercantilism that has resulted in the enrichment of the old colonial powers at the expense of the developing world. I cannot adequately describe the situation, but the immorality of it seems clear. So if, for example, the people in Honduras are poor, and that is why they want to migrate to the United States, it is really a problem of our own making, or at least the making of those who have preceded us in this world arena. If we think that the people of Honduras are just happy agricultural people (peasants)who live in paradise cutting bananas for our breakfast table, and that they have no aspirations beyond that, we are woefully wrong, because the Hondurans have television, and it is like having a window into our comfortable suburban dining rooms. They want the American dream too. So social unrest in Honduras prompts some parents to send their children north to seek a better life. Who can blame them? Then these innocent kids end up in our schools and on our inner city streets and are brutalized by the problems we have right here, mostly a legacy of racism and segregation. Some get involved with gangs and drugs, and some get deported back to Honduras, now as hardened criminals. Go figure! It is a vicious cycle of violence, and the legacy of the way white Americans have treated persons of color and native born Americans is part of that cycle of violence.

Pope Francis said, "Build bridges, not walls." It may be said that the Great Wall of China allowed Chinese civilization to prosper and continue to develop in an age of intense pressure of migration. Maybe it did, or maybe it didn't. I don't know. Hadrian's Wall in Britain may have allowed Roman civilization to continue somewhat longer than it might have without the wall, but eventually Roman Britain was overwhelmed by people coming from another direction. The Great Wall of China is visible from space. If you look at Google Earth, you can even see the fence between The United States and Mexico. If President Trump builds a "big beautiful wall", you will surely be able to see it from space. But what will be the effect of such a wall, and what will be its future? Obviously it is a useless expense because there will always be another way around it, or over it, or under it. In addition, it would be putting a separation between two areas, the South West of the United States and Mexico that at one time were all a part of Mexico. The people on each side of this unnatural border are mostly Chicano or Native Americans, except for the white Americans whose ancestors migrated into the area with their African slaves after it was taken from Mexico. For the native Americans, there has never been a meaningful border anywhere between the United States and Mexico, and for the Latinos, no matter how American they have become in California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, they are still the same people as their relatives who live on the other side of the border. As for the migrants who come from Mexico or Central America to work and then return, many of them have families that span the border, and although many of them have the freedom to come and go across the border, others do not. The border is an enormous inconvenience and it is apparently going to get worse for them.

At the present time we have something close to eleven million undocumented people in the United States. We don't even know who they are. They are out of sight, out of mind. But they are here and their children are in school. There is a whole underground economy of people who are undocumented. They work hard and receive dollars en efectivo for what they do. If they have a green card and a social security card, they are not really undocumented at all, although their permission to stay here may be limited. Most undocumented people have no hope of ever becoming American citizens. The reason for such a high number of people without papers is because immigration has been so restricted that it is virtually impossible to emigrate to this country legally unless you are part of a preferred class, mainly the highly educated, who can contribute significantly to our economy. Family members of American Citizens can also apply and frequently receive permission to come, but the most needy people, the poor, the sick, the persecuted, the downtrodden, are systematically excluded, so they have to come in another way if they can make it, and many of them do.

Europe has an even more acute crisis of migration, mainly due to Islamic insurgency in the Middle East and in Africa. There is no wall between Europe and these areas, but there is a vast sea. Nevertheless, thousands have made their way into Europe driven by conditions made impossible for them at home by war and ethnic cleansing. Perhaps the European memory of the First and Second World Wars and the Holocaust has prompted them to take a somewhat different approach from what has been happening on the southwestern border of the United States for the past fifty years or more. In Europe asylum is being offered to persecuted people, and an assertive effort to settle them perhaps permanently in European countries is underway. I have an on-line Syrian friend who converted to Christianity and was being threatened by his Muslim friends and family. He managed to get out and is now safely in Sweden. Too many others have simply died attempting to cross the Mediterranean. It is interesting that Europe took down all border check points between countries in the European Union, and it became possible for people to move freely between countries and to work freely in any of the countries. So even though they are still divided by languages and culture, Europeans can freely travel throughout Europe. This has not been without problems, and Brexit is perhaps a sign of the disintegration. of Europe, just as Trump's ascendancy is a sign of the same type of disunity in America. But the example of Europe should be something for us to consider with regard to us and our neighbors.

Why can't America fix its immigration system? Clearly everyone agrees that the system is broken and is not working. There may be many who have taken advantage of the situation, and indeed its very brokenness may have resulted in the swarm of undocumented people we have in the country at present. But politicians have promised over and over again to pass comprehensive immigration legislation and have failed to do it for years and years. It seems to me that the political cost to any incumbent in office is just too high, and rather than comprehensive legislation to fix immigration, we end up with the issue becoming a political football, and the immigrants are the victims, with their situations unresolved. I have sometimes wished that the situation would become so bad that it would force Washington to do something. I may be getting my wish, but not in the way I like it.

Fundamentally I agree with the Pope that we should be building bridges, not walls. The American people and the Latin American people are closely tied economically and culturally. It is the same as the European people. We would all benefit from freedom of movement throughout our continent. We might also benefit from economic integration. Clearly the vast difference in the standard of living between different parts of America is not advantageous to anyone except very few, perhaps, and many of them are criminals. So instead of building a wall, I would urge Trump to build bridges, roads, and railroads linking the United States and Mexico. We should encourage tourism in both directions, and educational opportunities for young people. Our policy should be to help Latin American countries solve their economic and social problems. Most of the people on both sides of the border are of noble and friendly character. It seems to me that we should set out to make them our friends, not set them up to be our enemies by building a wall and saying we will make them pay for it. Sadly, I think that if we try to keep them out, they will come anyway. The historical record proves this to be true. Remember the fall of Rome.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Shepherd's Leap

 The shepherd's leap or salto del pastor is a technique the shepherds of the Canary Islands use to move on the sharply inclined volcanic terrain of their islands using a long lance by which they can descend the way a fireman descends a pole in the firehouse. The shepherd can place the pole and jump from rock to rock or he can jump from a high point, pointing the lance to his landing spot, and slide down the pole, breaking his fall as he lands. It is a spectacular technique which probably originated with the Guanches, the primitive inhabitants of the islands, and it is not practiced anywhere else in the world so far as I know. Still used by the shepherds of the Canary Islands, it has also become a popular sport among young people.

There is a lesson to be learned for pastors, the spiritual shepherds of a Christian flock. Going back to the Psalms we learn that The Lord is my shepherd. and that He leads his flock beside the still waters and makes them lie down in green pastures. Also in the New Testament we learn that Jesus is the Good Shepherd. The Apostles are the appointed shepherds of the Church and the Pope and the bishops are their successors, and every priest or minister who has the "cure of souls" is in the same shepherding business. As the shepherds typically carry some kind of a staff, this is symbolized by the bishop's crozier.

It is well for those of us who are in pastoral work of any kind in the church to reflect on the realities of being a shepherd because Our Lord Himself draws attention to this precisely to inform his followers of what is expected of them. Here are some things that a shepherd does:

1. He tends both the sheep and the goats. This is important because the animals have a sharply different character. The goats are much more agile than sheep, and they can get to inaccessible places. The sheep are more docile than the goats, more willing to follow the shepherd, and because of this they have come to symbolize the more docile members of the Christian flock, while the goats are symbols of the more rebellious nature. Nevertheless, the true shepherd sees value in both animals and will always risk his own life to save them. Picture a shepherd using his lance to reach a high pinnacle where a wayward goat has got himself and refuses to come down, or he does the shepherd's leap to descend into a ravine where a sheep has got himself stuck and is bleating for help. If the shepherd's staff has a hook on the end, he can pull the sheep to safety. If he has a lance, he will have to take the sheep in his arms. The Christian pastor must be prepared to take risks to save individuals who get in trouble in life.

2. The shepherd must find a safe way to lead his flock. He not only is seeking green grass for the animals to graze on, but he must find solid ground so the animals don't fall. On the volcanic slopes of the Canary Islands, the ground is unstable. It can fall away under your weight or come down upon you from above. The shepherd can test the ground with his lance, and finally with his own weight. So too a pastor in the church must be sure he is on solid ground when he is leading his people. Today this is especially important when the ground seems to be shifting under our feet, figuratively speaking. What would have been totally rejected a generation ago is now accepted by many and in some cases is legal. Abortion, divorce, and same-sex marriage are the most obvious but not the only examples. It is important for the pastor to stand on solid ground, and if the stone he is standing on begins to shift, he must move to a rock that will not move. For a pastor, this may involve a lateral career move that may be seen in worldly terms as a bad move. The Canary Islands shepherd makes many lateral moves with the help of his staff. This goes to show that the shepherd's staff serves as much to support the pastor himself as it does to drive the sheep and the goats.

3. The shepherd usually has some dogs who help him keep the flock together. There is a hierarchy here. The sheep and goats are at the bottom in terms of decision making. The shepherd is at the top, and the dog is in the middle. The shepherd knows exactly where to lead the sheep, and sometimes the sheep will naturally follow him. The shepherd can communicate with the dog in a way he can not communicate with the sheep, and so the dogs can help keep the flock together and can communicate in an effective way to the sheep what the plan is. The sheep herding dogs can also help protect against predators. In modern church terms, there is also a hierarchy working with the pastor because he can not be effective alone. I am thinking of everyone else other than the Pastor who has a job to do. They are utterly loyal, work as a team, and share in the risks that a pastor takes to keep the flock safe from harm. A shepherd who can not train his dogs will have a hard time. Likewise the pastor who can not gather a team of effective people around him will not only be lonely, but may end up in disaster.

4. There comes a time when the shepherd can no longer withstand the rigors of the job. He can no longer climb and acrobatically swing himself up onto high ledges using his lance. He lacks the strength in his hands and his arms to break his fall when he does the shepherd's leap. His eyes may be foggy and his hearing may be failing. It is time for him to retire from going up the mountain with the flock. But that is not the end for him yet. He will still be useful and needed perhaps assisting in training the dogs, or making lances for younger shepherds, and training them to safely perform the shepherd's leap and other maneuvers on the mountain. Now he is no longer leading sheep; he is leading others who are leading sheep. In the Church the role of the seasoned elder pastor, whether officially retired or not, is tremendously important. He knows from experience what it is to be on slippery ground, and he will carefully train the younger clergy, if they will listen, to avoid the common pitfalls and temptations that they will inevitably encounter in their ministry.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Subway Train Nightmare

This morning I woke up having a nightmare. Although the details of the dream are now hazy to me, here is the gist of it: In my dream I was going to celebrate Mass. I looked around for my vestments, chalice, and paten, and I realized I had everything with me. I went to look for the chasuble and discovered that my vestments were just tossed in a pile on the floor. Who could have done this? When I came back to where I was to set up the altar, I found that someone else had set up a table in front of the place, all set up for an Anglican Communion service with a purple veil covering the chalice. "What the heck?" I thought, and I remembered then that I wasn't supposed to be celebrating Mass anyway because I am a Catholic and I have not been ordained in the Catholic Church. Then I began to realize the the place where I was was filled with other priests who were also bringing with them all their church paraphernalia: Vestments, chalices, monstrances, thuribles, etc. All was a hopeless jumble of stuff and everyone was looking for something as I was. Then I realized that we were on a subway train hurtling through the subway at enormous speed. "What happens when we get there," I thought. "How will we be able to get all this stuff off the train?" The hopelessness of the situation began to dawn on me and I began to wake up.

As I reflect on this nightmare, I realize that it is the nightmare that I and many Anglican priests are living. They are refugees with a lot of ecclesiastical baggage. The thing we all have in common is that we answered the call to be priests. Over the years we have either settled for some continuing church situation, or we have come into the Catholic Church or the Orthodox Church. In the case of the Catholic Church only some of us, have been invited to move forward to the priesthood in the Pastoral Provision or the Ordinariate, and the effect on those of us who have not received the Nulla osta, is that we are now definitively laicized.

Thus the nightmare: How does one remain faithful to ordination vows when you have become laicized by circumstances like this? I don't want to leave my ecclesiastical baggage on the subway train, and I don't really know where this train is going, so I guess I must just continue to live this nightmare. Perhaps there is a way for laicized Anglican priests in the Catholic Church to have some solidarity with each other.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Operación San Lorenzo

The Chilean mine rescue completed yesterday has caused me to think about Anglicanorum coetibus and the rescue of Anglo-Catholics. There are many parallels. It is a good idea for those of us who are involved with the Anglican rescue effort as well as those who are being rescued to consider now the elements that went into the successful rescue in San José, Chile.

The miners, trapped since August 5 and thought dead, were out of touch with the surface for a number of weeks and survived on the very small amount of food they had in the mine. Fortunately they were able to find water. But until contact was made with the surface they began to despair that anyone would try to find them. They understood only too well the difficulty. But the 33 miners kept their heads and used their mining skill to assure that they would survive long enough. They had faith, they were organized, and united.

The Anglo-Catholics who have left the Episcopal Church and other Anglican provinces over the years are like the miners trapped beneath the surface. They have lost meaningful communication with the their own church and have not established communication with the Catholic Church. They have despaired of ever being rescued. They suffer from disunity. So comparing them with the analogy of the Chilean miners, these Anglicans have kept the faith, but they are in a state of disarray perhaps due to their despair.

But a rescue operation named after St. Lawrence, the patron of miners was underway without them knowing it. Assisted by NASA scientists, the Chileans developed a careful plan for the rescue. When a small borehole was introduced from the surface to the mine, communication was restored. The miners again had hope that they might be rescued, although they were only too aware of the difficulty of the operation. A feeding tube was inserted and the miners were given at first a carefully concocted nutrient as well as needed medications for those with serious health problems. If they had been fed normal food immediately, they probably would have died. So they were at first denied food that they might have wanted in order to save their lives.

Is there an analogy here? The small borehole could be the first communication between Anglo-Catholics and the Vatican. The Anglicans asked for intercommunion. The result was a denial of that request but instead the Vatican offered a process leading to full organic union. Although the Anglo-Catholics, trapped as it were by their circumstances, would not immediately be in full communion, they would be in a very real sense in partial communion leading to full communion.

Meanwhile the Chileans were beginning three larger boreholes, plan A, plan B, and plan C. They didn't know which one would be successful. As it was, the one with a new innovative hammering bit was the one that broke through first.

Perhaps we could say that ARCIC was the first borehole, and the Pastoral Provision for Anglicans, which allowed married Anglican priests to become Catholic priests was the second. The Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus looks like the breakthrough. But what does it mean?

In the actual Chilean mine rescue, one of the first things to happen was to prepare the borehole to make sure it was safe, so that it wouldn't cave in. This took a number of days. The miners themselves had to prepare things on their end. There had to be a good deal of communication and coordination.

The analogy here would be the promulgation of the Apostolic Constitution and the setting up by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of channels of communication and the development of a plan for the ordinariates. Then it must be assured that the plan is safe, so Bishop Wuerl, for example, has been asked to be a facilitator and set up an office to receive inquiries and to assist Anglicans who wish to form the Ordinariate in the United States. It would not be good for the plan to go of half cocked and end up in disaster. On the Anglican side, there needs to be careful preparation too, and this is made difficult by the fact of disunity among the "Continuing Anglicans".

After they had lined the borehole to stabilize it, the chilean rescuers used a bullet shaped cage named Phoenix II that was lowered on a steel cable operated by a power windless. Some rescuers first descended into the mine to help prepare the miners to be rescued. One of the first concerns was the psychological condition of the trapped miners. Throughout the operation the rescuers maintained a fantastic esprit de corps like a soccer team complete with shouts and cheers. The discipline of the miners themselves was one of the things that made it all possible.

Perhaps the preparation of Anglo-Catholics to be rescued is the most critical part of what is going on. Some have deep misgivings. Some think the whole thing will cave in. Some may be thinking, "out of the frying pan into the fire" and thoughts like that. A tremendous amount of sensitivity and patience is needed here.

The rescue operation could not happen all at once. It was only possible to bring out one miner at a time in an operation that seemed to take about 40 minutes each. Each miner had to be prepared with medical equipment to constantly monitor his vital signs as he was brought to the surface. Decisions had to be made about the order of rescue. Family members had to be prepared at the other end. On-site medical facilities had to be prepared to handle 33 or more patients. The President of Chile and even the President of Bolivia had to be there to welcome the miners and to lend to the effort.

The bringing of Anglo-Catholics over to Rome, even groups, can not realistically be done all at once because conversion is an individual choice. So in the Pastoral Provision, and in the Ordinariate as perceived, individuals make their own profession of faith in the Catholic Church. Then if they wish they are reunited again in a community that preserves their Anglican patrimony. But while the operation is going on, there needs to be a tremendous esprit de corps as there was in the Chilean mining rescue situation. Catholics must express and show their solidarity with their Anglo-Catholic brethren. The hearty shout down the tube as a miner is still 15 or 20 meters below the surface, "¿Compañero, Cómo te encuentras?" and the hearty "abrazos" as he emerges from the cage is emblematic of the solidarity between miners and rescuers, and should be the mark of the enthusiastic welcome Catholics offer to Anglo-Catholics who are coming home. This may be difficult in a Catholic Church today that seems ambivalent about its own identity and is full of many Catholics who distrust Anglicans for various reasons.

So one by one the miners stepped out of their cage wearing dark glasses so they would not be blinded immediately by the light. Some knelt and prayed. One held up a bible that had been forced down the small tube. Some brought up rocks and presented them as souvenirs. One made it a point to show he could still kick a soccer ball. Others received their hugs in apparent bewilderment, and all were taken on a gurney to triage for evaluation and medical treatment. Few could hold back their tears as those feared lost were restored to their families. It was like lazarus being brought up from the dead.

Any Anglo-Catholic who joins the Roman Catholic Church, no matter in what way, will experience bewilderment. After the small confining situation of being a "Continuing Anglican", stepping out into the larger Catholic Church can be an overpowering experience. I can tell you it is true because I have done it. The first impulse is to kneel down and thank God. Perhaps another impulse is to try to show people that you can still run and leap about. Bringing in some token of the past may be a natural and worthy effort. But the biggest thing is to adjust to the new reality. Post traumatic stress disorder is well identified in the case of service men and women returning from combat. Far less understood, perhaps is the stress of becoming a Catholic. This may particularly be a problem in the case of Anglican priests. I guess I would say I am one who is still trying to be faithful to my vocation as a priest even in circumstances where I can not easily do it. I pray that my brothers who are coming in now will find it easier.

The final act of the rescue operation, after the last rescuer left the mine, leaving the lights on, by the way, was for the president of Chile to give a speech thanking the rescuers and all involved and placing an iron lid over the top of the rescue hole and placing a rock upon it. The rescue operation was a complete success. Not a single life was lost, and the mine was officially closed with the promise that there would not only be safety reforms in the mining industry in Chile, but in its fisheries and agriculture as well.

How I wish for the day when the cap can be placed on the borehole that has been funneling Anglicans into the Catholic Church for many years! But realistically we know that the rescue operation is still going on. There may even be the need to bore further holes deep into Anglican territory.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

I feel compelled to weigh in on The Anglican Communion Covenant, a document proposed to forge a greater unity between constituent churches in the Anglican Communion. In essence, it is a Constitution, something the Anglican Communion has not had up until now. Obviously it is a reaction to the state of impaired communion resulting from the election and consecration of the Bishop of New Hampshire and other similar sources of tension within the communion, although no specific issues of this kind are mentioned in the Covenant itself.

I read it with a sense of empathy because of course I was once in the Anglican Communion and I still consider myself Anglican in orientation, even as a member of the Catholic Church. Since this Covenant is intended to broadly clarify who is in the Anglican Communion and who isn't, I read it with the idea in mind to check myself to see how far I have drifted away from contemporary Anglicanism or how far it has drifted away from me. Certainly the need to maintain unity in an ecclesial body is very important and although I find myself outside the communion I was once a part of, I deeply sympathize with their need to try to hold it all together. So the idea of proposing a Covenant for the Anglican Communion is clearly a good thing.

One of the things that first struck me was the curious use of the word "covenant" as a verb. It is clear that the English language is flexible enough to give license to such usage, but I wondered as I read it if this was indicative of some kind of innovative attitude that lies behind the writing of this document. The second thing that I found myself asking was whether it was necessary to have something as as lengthy as this document is. Given the fact that churches within the Anglican Communion will be asked to ratify it, the nine pages of text, as noble as it seems at first sight, may offer too much opportunity to quibble over things.

One thing the Covenant is not, however, is a "confession". It is not a doctrinal statement, although it presumably incorporates Anglican doctrinal statements by reference. The Anglican Church can be contrasted with many other Protestant denominations in not being a confessional church. In other words there is no one comprehensive outline of the faith that all adhere to. Some would like to make the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion into such a confessional statement and require more than mere assent to them, but that idea has never been universally popular in Anglicanism since the 39 Articles relate primarily to issues of the Reformation period of history. There is in the covenant a clear reaffirmation of the famous Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral in section 1.1, but adds two more points, vague though they may be: shared patterns of liturgy and shared mission. Given the fact that these two points are added to the four of the quadrilateral means that they are especially significant.

The really central and constitutional aspect of the Covenant is the focus on the instruments of unity: The Archbishop of Canterbury, The Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council, and the Primates Meeting. These four instruments of unity are the way the Anglican Communion works through consultation, mutual responsibility, and interdependence. Put another way, if your church is not represented in these groups, you are not in the Anglican Communion.

The document anticipates the need to maintain the Covenant and to resolve disputes, and it gives authority to The Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion to monitor things, ask churches to postpone or forego some impending controversial actions they are contemplating and generally keeping an eye on what churches are loyal to the Covenant and what churches may be going astray. It will be interesting to see how this operates in practice.

Of course the big question is whether or not the Episcopal Church can or will adopt this Covenant. My guess is that they will ratify it and continue to do pretty much what they have been doing all along, which is to excuse their innovations with the claim, "The Holy Spirit made us do it." Of course it is precisely this arrogant go-it-alone attitude that the Covenant is intended to address. We shall see. Does the Covenant have teeth in it enough for the Anglican Communion to be able to say that The Episcopal Church has failed to live up to the agreement? I tend to doubt it.

Does it come too late? I think so. Anglicanism has already "spilled out" of the Anglican Communion. The "Continuing Anglican Churches" stemming from the St. Louis Congress of 1977, the Western Rite Orthodox parishes and the Anglican Use Roman Catholic parishes have just as legitimate a claim on Anglicanism as do the churches in communion with the Church of England. They are unlikely to see the covenant as a way back to being in communion either together or with the See of Canterbury. If these groups form the fringe just to the right of the Anglican Communion, it is just as likely that there will be former members of the Communion forming groups on the left. The Australians who favor lay presidency at the Eucharist come to mind along with some Evangelical groups that have a claim to Anglican heritage.

While I may not be the only person to say this is too little, too late, it is clearly the way toward the future for the Anglican Communion. The failure to do something like this will certainly and inevitably lead to more fragmentation, but it will not end the current situation of a tragically divided and alienated ecclesial body. I feel the sense that I am crying over spilt milk, and in a sense I am. It is just that the Anglican Communion before it became so divided showed so much promise in its missionary and ecumenical endeavors. Inevitably many more people, like myself, will be compelled to seek to fulfill their Christian vocation and ministry outside of that fellowship. Thank God for the generosity of the Catholic Church in making a place for Anglicans with the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus.

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Monday, November 09, 2009

The Apostolic Constitution "Anglicanorum coetibus" has been promulgated by the Pope on November 4th, memorial of St. Charles Borromeo. This may be seen as the culmination of much hard work and prayer on the part of many Anglicans and Roman Catholics who have made this possible. I only wish some of the people I have known had lived to see this day. Particularly I can think of Canon Albert DuBois, Father W. T. St. John Brown, and Father Joseph Crookston, OSF. They and many others, too numerous to mention, worked and prayed for the day when Anglicans and Roman Catholics could be in full communion with each other.

Of course this will not be for all Anglicans. Many will say. "Thanks, but no thanks." because some of the standards maintained by the Catholic Church are inconvenient for them. Others still think incomprehensibly that Anglicanism can be rescued from falling into apostasy and heresy. But the Vatican has given the signal that we can no longer wait for Anglicanism to straighten itself out, and the pastoral need of those seeking unity with the Holy See has a priority over cordial ecumenical relations with Canterbury.

It is now time for the Anglicans who for many years have said they want to be reunited with the Holy See to come home. There isn't likely to be a better moment than this, and the scruples that some may have are far outweighed by the opportunity to be again united in mission and to be excused from the moral folly that seems to be the mark of Anglicanism in recent years. Now is the time to get on with the commission God has given us.

I am sensitive to the fact that the Forward in Faith Movement in England wants to continue the fight to head off the acceptance of female bishops in the Church of England and to insure a place for Anglo-Catholics in the C of E. My friends, that battle is lost. It was lost when other churches in the Anglican Communion ordained women and when the Church of England eventually accepted it. There were eloquent speeches at the recent Forward in Faith Conference urging people to hold firm and to continue to work to uphold the catholic faith in the C of E. I have seen this all before. When the Episcopal Church voted to ordain women to the priesthood, there was a strong group that said, "Do not leave, but continue to work from within." They were wrong; the battle was lost, and they failed to realize it. I fear Forward in Faith in England is making the same mistake.

I would be the last to say that what lies ahead will be easy. The erection of ordinariates throughout the world will require hard work and dedication. We may not be popular in some circles, even in Roman Catholic circles, But this is what we must do. Rome has said "Yes." To our request. It would only be the meanest of Anglo-Catholics who would not welcome this invitation and do everything possible to bring it to fruition.

C. David Burt

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