Sunday, May 3, 2009

Epiphany

I'm the girl in with dangley earrings and a tattoo in the back pew. The one who looks like a pretty heathen unless you happen look long enough to notice that she knows when to genuflect,she thumbs through the Book of Common Prayer with ease, her favorite hymns are translations of the writings of Thomas Aquinas and she has to restrain herself from running up to the altar at Communion. In many ways,I and those like me are the new face of the Anglican/Roman Catholic/Orthodox triune. Serious, thoughtful,devout....who may not agree with every jot and tittle of church tradition but who love it, who have experienced traditional Protestantism and are painfully aware of its failings. Mother Kirk is accustomed to Cradle Catholics and is uncertain of how to embrace us seeker mystics. This hesitancy and confusion is what currently has me bouncing between two Anglican churches in town with very different strengths and weaknesses.

The church I was at this morning is a lovely Anglo-Catholic "procathedral". The building is stunning, simple with clean lines and a marble altar, reminding me vaguely of St. Thomas's Basilica in Chennai. The rector and his sermons frustrate me to no end. When people ask about this, usually accompanied with "what did he preach on?" I usually have no idea how to answer, and that's much of the frustration.
Today I sat listening attentively, trying to figure it out.

Psalm 113 was the psalm appointed for today, the other readings were from I Samuel 2,(beginning with verse 1), I Peter 2 (beginning with verse 11) and John 16, (beginning with verse 16).

The priest began his sermon with some commentary on the third Sunday after Easter traditionally being "the invention of the Cross", now referred to as "the finding of the Cross." He progressed to a short discussion on the joy of birth, the gift of life,and the evils of abortion, specifically sex-selective abortion. He talked about his recent pilgrimage to Walsingham and the awe of worshiping in a place where people have worshiped for a few hundred years ("as opposed to the twenty or so years we've worshiped here"-I really thought this church was closer to 40 years old, but I'm a random visitor)and the remarkable fact that the pews are "varnished with tears". This progressed to a discussion of the Holy Land in Israel and Satan's special venom against the places Christians have celebrated the mass for 2,000 years. He then rattled off the upcoming feasts of the week- the feast of the birth of St. Monica, the feast of the birth of St. Augustine of Hippo, the feast of the conversion of St.Augustine. He commended the prayers of St. Monica, lamented St. Augustine's involvement in Gnosticism, commented on Gnosticism's continued presence today in the New Age Movement and lamented the attacks St. Augustine and St. Paul made against the church. The rector continued- celebrating the conversions of St. Austine and St. Paul and their later work on behalf of the Church, which more than compensated for their attacks against Her. This led to some self-reflection-he admitted to being the sort of person who believed that if you give people enough books, scripture and reasons to believe they will ultimately convert (apparently other priests have confronted him about this). There was some talk of the reluctant conversion of C.S.Lewis, and then the statement "I think St. Augustine would say we're making this too complicated. The point is that Jesus meets you wherever you are." Somewhere in here he said "It's like reading a book that you've never heard of and loving it and thinking 'why didn't someone tell me about this?' But the truth is, someone mentioned the book,play, musical ten, twenty years ago and that stayed with you even though you didn't realize it, and led you to pick it up and find that this book, play, musical is a little piece of heaven". I'm really not sure what the "It" at the start of the sentence was, I'm sure it's something important. He wrapped up by telling the congregation that if they knew people who were looking for something it was to be found in Mother Church...that, at least in the Catholic churches, there was a banquet waiting, and he didn't understand why people would subsist on stale cornflakes when they had the option of pot roast, filet mignon, cabernet sauvingon and oysters on the half shell."We are Evangelical in the pulpit and Catholic at the altar, and therein is the fullness of the Christian faith. And if we want to continue to worship here for fifty or a hundred years....."

I didn't hear the last few words of the sermon. In that last phrase the priest had given himself away, and I understood the pomp and circumstance, the rants, the meandering sermons for what they were - signs of desperation and despair. Suddenly I saw the congregation through his eyes- a few dozen people scattered about a sanctuary that can seat a hundred and fifty, most of them grey-haired and arthritic. The contributions of one elderly widow sustain the church financially. He's a man of principle- committed to opposing abortion and homosexuality, to Catholic thought and worship, a crusader against immorality, irreverence. Right now, he feels betrayed and abandoned. He approaches the Eucharist as a chore,not with awe and wonder. The congregation has dwindled, drifted away...in his eyes because of their lack of faith and the lure of the world. So he's left trying to rouse a bewildered battered church into a fervor of evangelism. And because of the strength of his convictions, he can't see that perhaps he is sabotaging his own efforts.

Rather than making me want to rip my hair out and beat my head against a wall as most of his sermons do, this one made me want to cry.

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