This is my first post here at the Anglicanorum Coetibus Society blog. Deborah kindly asked me to be a contributing writer here a while back. I accepted the offer with the proviso that I could not promise how often I would post. I currently serve as pastor of three parishes; an Ordinariate community in Republic, Missouri (St. George) and two diocesan parishes (St. Susanne in Mt. Vernon, and St. Patrick in Greenfield). Before my conversion I served as a priest in the Anglican Church in America. I have been married to my wife Catherine for 27 years, and we have five children. I write most often from my own experiences as a priest as well as a husband and dad. You can also read my thoughts at Beware Yon Dragons.
I finished reading “The Benedict Option” recently. I have to confess I liked it (most of it). I also must confess that I do not think he is encouraging “retreatism” as many people have claimed (that is something of an exaggeration of what he is saying). Yet, the one point that I believe that Dreher makes perfectly clear is his assessment of the state of our society today. “Barbarism” is the word he uses.
Whether we agree with Dreher or not (in any of his points) it would be a mistake to say that the concept of barbarism does not shed light on the current state of affairs for modern culture. It is not so much that there is more sin (though there may very well be), it is the fact that people show little to no recognition of guilt or sense of regret for sinful actions. I like to define barbarism by saying it is the philosophy that “doesn’t get morality”. Some barbarians may be fairly moral in some instances, but they do not understand the concept of morality itself, nor do they grasp the source of morality (i.e. the Divine Creator).
Taking this as a starting point, while I was reading the book, I kept thinking of how this applies to the Church today (and most specifically to parishes in the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter). Although there may be many areas of application, the one that repeatedly came to my thoughts was our commission to be evangelistic. We, as Ordinariate Catholics, are called to reach out to a society that “just doesn’t get it” when it comes to the basic concepts of right and wrong. What, therefore, is the manner that we are called to do this within the context of being Catholics with an Anglican patrimony? Although the question can be answered in numerous ways, the one that strikes me the most clearly is to teach them what the word “awesome” means.
I switched from Presbyterian to Anglican some 16 years ago because I saw something in the forms of the Book of Common Prayer that filled me with a sense of “awe” towards God. I felt, back then, that I was seeing for the first time what the word “awesome” really meant. I was struck with the realization that I could not truly honor God with a trite or cheap presentation of something called “worship” (especially when we are not clear who is being honored by our “worship”), and that the “most High God” had to be honored with worship that could be called “most high”.
To use a somewhat crude illustration: when barbarians of years past encountered more civilized societies they were often awestruck by some of the advancements of those other societies precisely because they had never encountered many of those things before. Today, the “barbarians” of modern society that we are seeking to convert have usually never encountered genuine “awe” before. Yes, they may have been shocked by something that is “really, really, really cool” on a 110 inch screen tv set (yes there is one that big!), but that is not the same as genuine awe. The biggest thing that man can do to shock us, is still a far cry from what the Creator of the Universe can do.
Therefore, we should be seeking to communicate not just the details of the gospel (which are absolutely essential), but also the sense of what it means for God to be “wholly other” and completely transcendent. Our society has a hard time thinking of God as anything more than a “really strong man upstairs”, and that is not the historic understanding of the Lord and God of all. Christians have talked about and over-emphasized a sense of God which encourages His nearness for so long, that it does not impress much of anyone any more. An overly personal, and “soft” view of God strikes little to no awe in people because there are so many things that are “personal and soft” that one more of these is boring.
This brings me to a recent experience of mine. We had a visitor to St. George Church recently. I had never met him before, and only had a couple of minutes to speak to him after Mass before he left, but I did get some input from him. He had never before seen anything even remotely liturgical before that day (he was brought up in a protestant tradition that was about as anti-Catholic as they get), and after the Mass he said, “it was…it was…I don’t know the word for it, but I felt like I was visiting another planet”. I thought it would be overload for him if I had told him that the Mass is connecting to something much farther away than another planet.
He never actually used the word “awesome” (possibly because it is overused today by people who do not really know what it means) but it was clear what he was referring to. Not just because of the words on his lips, but because of the look on his face, I could tell that he had been struck with a sense of genuine “awe”. He told me that he had never been baptized (his tradition believed that baptism was only for the early Church and was not necessary today), so I am not aware how much grace he genuinely experienced in the Mass, but he was obviously impacted.
What adds to the weight of this story is the fact that St. George meets in a little chapel which is actually converted from a simple meeting room in a former retreat center (and it is only about 13 feet by 29 feet). It was not the surroundings that struck this gentleman; it was something clearly deeper. I would have to say that it was this very same sense of reverence before God that struck me so many times as an Anglican clergyman and made me want something deeper; something with the full weight of awe.
The world we live in has fallen into starry-eyed adoration of various and sundry idols. Yet, none of those idols can create the awe that comes with falling down before the Creator in reverent worship. It makes me want to stand on the rooftops and cry out “you think that is amazing? wait till you see this!” and then begin the Mass. In my experience, that is the most valuable part of the Anglican patrimony: reverent worship. It is this reverence that impacts everything I do and say. It is this reverence that can convert souls and bring them to the feet of Christ. It is this reverence that we must show to a fallen (and falling) world.