Sunday, February 28, 2010

Confessions of a Convert

I recently finished reading Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson's CONFESSIONS OF A CONVERT. Benson was the son of the Archbishop of Canterbury and his conversion to Rome caused great scandal in the Church of England in the early 20th century.

According to Joseph Pearce, "Besides Chesterton and Belloc, the writer most responsible for carrying the mantle of the Catholic literary revival in the early years of the twentieth century was Robert Hugh Benson. In some respects, Benson's life paralleled that of Newman. His conversion to Catholicism in 1903 and his subsequent ordination caused a sensation on a scale similar to that which greeted Newman's reception into the Church almost sixty years earlier. In Benson's case the sensation was linked to the fact that he was the son of E.W. Benson, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1882 until 1896. Like Newman, Benson followed a literary as well as a priestly vocation, and before his untimely death in 1914 at the age of forty three, he had published fifteen highly successful novels. The other obvious parallel with Newman was Benson's writing of a lucid and candid autobiographical apologia describing the circumstances leading up to his conversion. Benson's Confessions of a Convert warrants a position alongside Newman's Apologia pro Vita Sua as one of the great expositions of the spiritual and psychological background to religious conversion."

Confessions of a Convert is not very long, but one finishes the book feeling as if you have known Benson for years. Benson's description of his upbringing is fascinating. On Sunday afternoons, it was the habit of Benson's father to take the children for a walk and read from some spiritual book while walking. Benson recounts that one Sunday, his father read the account of the martyrdom of Saint Perpetua in Latin and flawlessly translated the Latin into English while walking.

Archbishop Benson was a "broad churchman," in other words, he was one that straddled the middle between the extreme Anglo-Catholic party and the extreme Evangelical party. After becoming an Anglican priest, Benson became a devout adherent of the Anglo-Catholic or High Church party in the Church of England.

Benson recounts the usual Anglo-Catholic vs. Evangelical turmoil in the Anglican Church. Benson recounts how after making a trip to the middle east, he realized how insignificant the Church of England really was. Benson comments, "A national church seemed a poor affair abroad." Benson quips that the Anglican Church is something that the English carry with them abroad "carried about (like an India rubber bath), for the sake of personal comfort and the sense of familiarity."

After returning to England, Benson joined an Anglican religious order and for a while this satisfied his Catholic longings. Ultimately, Benson resolved that the Church of England was not truly a part of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church and was received into the Catholic Church.

Although it may be Victorian sentimentalism, there is much beautiful writing in Confessions of a Convert. Having come to Rome from the Episcopal Church myself, I am very sympathetic to what Benson says about his experience as an Anglican: "It was not that she (the Church of England) had become unlovable. I love her even now as one may love an unsatisfactory human friend. She had a hundred virtues, a delicate speech, a romantic mind; a pleasant aroma hung about her; she was infinitely pathetic and appealing; she had the advantage of dwelling in the shadowed twilight of her own vagueness, in glorious houses, even though not of her building; she had certain gracious ways, pretty modes of expression; her music and her language still seem to me extraordinarily beautiful; and above all, she is the nursing mother of many of my best friends, and for over thirty years educated and nursed me, too, with indulgent kindness. Indeed I was not ungrateful for all this, but it had become entirely impossible for me ever to reverence her again as the divine mistress of my soul."

Father Benson says that in searching the scriptures he found 29 passages of scripture in the New Testament which support the Petrine office. In Benson's words about Holy Mother Church written 100 years ago, I could not help but think how true his words are today, when the Church is rocked by the scandal of pedophile priests, liturgical turmoil, and the cancer of extreme liberal theology.

"She (the Church), too, was betrayed and crucified; 'dying daily,' like her great Lord; denied, mocked, and despised; a child of sorrows and acquainted with grief; misrepresented, agonizing; stripped of her garments, yet, like the King's daughter that she is, 'all glorious within'; dead even, it seemed at times, yet, like her natural Prototype, still united to the Godhead; laid in the sepulchre, fenced in by secular powers, yet ever rising again on Easter Days, spiritual and transcendent; passing through doors that men thought closed for ever, spreading her mystical banquets in upper rooms and by sea shores; and, above all, ascending for ever beyond the skies and dwelling in heavenly places with Him who is her Bridegroom and her God."


Transfiguration Sunday

From DIVINE INTIMACY BY Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, O.C.D.:

"Today's Gospel brings out the close connection between the Transfiguration and the Passion of Jesus. Moses and Elias appeared on Thabor on either side of the Savior. They conversed with Him, and as St. Luke explains, talked specifically about His coming Passion: "They spoke of His decease, that He should accomplish in Jerusalem." (Luke 9:31).

The Divine Master wished to teach His disciples in this way that it was impossible - for Him as well as for them - to reach the glory of the Transfiguration without passing through suffering. It was the same lesson that He would give later to the two disciples at Emmaus: "Ought not Christ to have suffered these things and so to enter into His glory?" (Luke 24:26). What has been disfigured by sin cannot regain its original supernatural beauty except by way of purifying suffering."

Friday, February 19, 2010

A REALLY Bad Catholic

The British reporter, who claims to be a Catholic, who didn't know what the ashes were on Vice President Biden's head is a REALLY Bad Catholic! Here's the story from the Bristish Daily Mail.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Our Lady of Lourdes

On February 11, the Church celebrates the appearance of the Blessed Virgin Mary to the peasant girl Bernadette in Lourdes, France.

Saint Scholastica

Today the Church honors Saint Scholastica, the sister of Saint Benedict. Saint Scholastica was born in Nursia in Italy about the year 480. She vowed herself to God and followed her brother to Monte Cassino. She died there around the year 547.

Most of what we know about Saint Scholastica comes from the writings of Pope Saint Gregory the Great. There is a famous story that 3 days before she died, Saint Benedict came to see his sister, when night fell, although his sister begged him to stay, Saint Benedict said that he must return to his monastery.

According to Gregory: "When she heard her brother refuse her request, the holy woman joined her hands on the table, laid her head on them and began to pray. As she raised her head from the table, there were such brilliant flashes of lightning, such great peals of thunder and such a heavy downpour of rain that neither Benedict nor his brethren could stir across the threshold of the place where they had been seated. Sadly he began to complain: "May God forgive you, sister. What have you done? "Well," she answered, "I asked you and you would not listen; so I asked my God and he did listen. So now go off, if you can, leave me and return to your monastery." Reluctant as he was to stay of his own will, he remained against his will. So it came about that they stayed awake the whole night, engrossed in their conversation about the spiritual life."

PRAYER: Lord, as we recall the memory of Saint Scholastica, we ask that by her example we may serve you with love and obtain pefect joy. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Marginal Catholics

At the monastery I finished reading MARGINAL CATHOLICS by Ivan Clutterbuck. Published in Britain in 1993, Father Clutterbuck states in his introduction that his book was written in response to W.S.F. Pickering's book ANGLO-CATHOLICISM: A STUDY IN RELIGIOUS AMBIGUITY, which has previously been reviewed on this blog.

Even though I personally was only a member of the Episcopal Church for about five years, I have soft spot in my heart for all things Anglican and especially the High Church Party in the Church of England. Father Clutterbuck does not begin his history of the Anglo-Catholic movement with the 19th century Oxford movement, but begins it with the Reformation, which is deemed to have mostly been a big mistake. Throughout the book, Clutterbuck takes swipes at the opponents of Catholic worship in the Church of England. The Puritans, the Methodists and the Evangelicals all get hammered to varying degrees by Father Clutterbuck's pen.

When it reaches the Oxford movement, the book really takes off. We are treated to stories of the Victorian Anglo-Catholic priests who ministered in some of the worst slums in the cities of England and then were subjected to riots organized by Protestant Anglicans to disrupt masses. Since the Church of England is an established Church, the prayer book rubrics have the force of law. Protestant Anglicans organized and had criminal charges brought against High Church priests for violating the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer. In some cases, priests were jailed for offenses such as putting candles on the altar, wearing Eucharistic vestments, and burning incense.

The autobiographical parts of the book are particularly fun. Father Clutterbuck was raised in a High Anglican parish in the 1920s. He calls his book "Marginal Catholics" because he says that when he went off to university and theological college he found out that the Anglo-Catholics were really on the margins of the Church of England. He then proceeds to tell anecdotes about how Protestant Anglican bishops sought to marginalize the Anglo-Catholics. Clutterbuck's bishop sent him off to the army chaplain corps at the beginning of World War II to "teach him some manners." The book explains how the chaplain corps in the British Army was run by the Evangelicals while the Navy chaplain corps was dominated by the Anglo-Catholics. After serving as an army chaplain during the war, Father Clutterbuck went to sea as a navy chaplain and has many entertaining stories about his experiences all over the world.

The final chapter involves the decision of the Church of England to ordain women to the priesthood and the effect that this decision will have on Anglo-Catholics. Although Father Clutterbuck rejects the obvious solution, to reunite with the Church of Rome, he does state that it will be impossible for Anglo-Catholics to remain within a church which has departed from orthodox belief and practice. I found it very interesting that Father Clutterbuck comments that women's ordination carries in its wake an entire program of liberal theology which challenges traditional belief.

The Bad Catholic's general response is that maybe its time to move from the margins and cross the Tiber!

Hail Holy Queen!

Since the 9th century, Saturdays have been specially dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Monastic Retreat

The Bad Catholic spent Monday afternoon through Thursday morning of last week on retreat at the Trappist Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia. Every time I go and visit the monastery, I wish that I could just join up and leave the world behind. Talking with the monks, however, one finds out that you can't really ever leave the world and its concerns behind. If anything, I think that the monks are more attuned to the real problems of this old wicked world, while most of us are too involved with the "rat race" to take a broad view.

The retreat conferences were on the writings of Walker Percy. The retreat was led by former Georgia State University literature professor Dr. Victor Kramer. Dr. Kramer is also one of the former editors of The Merton Annual. In addition to Dr. Kramer's talks about the idea of sacrament in Percy's work, we heard from Father James Behrens and Brother Elias, both of whom knew Percy in Covington, Louisiana. Dr. Kramer had also had the opportunity of meeting and corresponding with Percy. These personal anecdotes were very enjoyable and enlightening.

The retreat was well attended by a very diverse group. Among the retreatants were a Bendictine nun, an Episcopal priest from California, a banker, a hospital administrator, a Presbyterian lawyer and his wife, and yours truly. Regretfully, on Friday I resumed a regular workday and realized that a real grasp on reality is rooted in a deep prayer life like that of the monks and that most of us really are
"Lost in the Cosmos."