At Easter Vigil 2015 I will enter full communion with the Catholic Church, which I hope will be a touchstone for greater depths in my spiritual journey toward God. In this series, I attempt to share ‘why’, not as defense or argument, but to point at something better for the mystical body of Christ. It is organized over five themes during Passion Week: merger, reclamation, hunger, visibility and unity.
A lone, strong tree alone in a field is my favorite scene. Passing one by, I will slow down and turn to meditate on it. Trees remind me of the church – strong, alone, ancient and with a great story to tell. Any good tree has a strong trunk and nourishing roots; I see the early church fathers – who are our heritage – as that strong trunk and roots. But, our Christian heritage has been denied us or censored by disunity.
As I listened to the early church, I came to see what we mean when we confess “I believe…in the communion of the saints…” for it is in communion with them that I came to see Christ more clearly. When I listened to the church fathers, I learned there was far more available to me as a believer than I ever knew. It was like a part of my soul had been found again.
In a class on Christian history, it impressed me that I could read Irenaeus – a disciple of Polycarp, who was a disciple of John, the apostle of Jesus – because it showed an unbroken chain of teaching down the centuries, coming down to me, who also heard the truth. I learned that the early church believed in the literal body and blood in the Eucharist; prayed for the souls of the dead; venerated Mary and the martyrs; collected relics and made pilgrimages to holy sites. They had an active, vibrant faith, even as they believed in all these things contrary to my received practice.
But it was their willingness to fight for unity that impressed me the most about the early church fathers. Theological arguments would drag out hundreds of years, but they eventually established orthodoxy; it was either inclusion or excommunication for them – and if this seems unlike Jesus, we ought to re-read his parables. They believed St. Peter when he commanded us to be like-minded, to have unity of mind.
Our ancestors fought for unity – why shouldn’t we?
And it will be a fight to reclaim our heritage and merge it with our contemporary self. And the postmodern lie of our age will resound in our ears, that the old way of doing things is foolish ‘religion’; our better knowledge of the Scriptures, we suppose, gives us better understanding. But this gives us over to the spirit of the antichrist, which is division, and turns us into the accusers of our brethren. They too have the spirit of Christ.
Old negro spirituals ought to be just as valuable to us as Gregorian chant.
Prayer meetings as valuable as Eucharistic adoration.
Gazing at sacred images as valuable as sermons.
Consider the meaning of this in the gospel:
John said to [Jesus], “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us.“
Reclamation means to return something to a former, better state; the better state to which we must return is a fighting spirit for the unity of Christ’s body. We must come to realize that the brother or sister next to us is for us, not against us.
I suggest to you that if we listen closely to our ancestors – who also had the spirit of Christ, who were so close to the age of Jesus & the Apostles, who heard stories we will only know in the end – these spiritual forefathers may help us reclaim a heritage and a fight for unity we desperately need in these last days.
May all the martyrs and saints before the heavenly throne, Mary, and especially St. Joseph, patron of the universal church, pray for us that we have unity of mind and come to be one again. Amen.