John Henry Newman's last sermon as an Anglican was entitled On the Parting of Friends. He then left his cure at Littlemore and shortly thereafter was received into the Roman Catholic Church.
This afternoon (if all went according to plan), there was a liturgy at St Patrick's Church (RC) in Fort Worth, Texas wherein a group of former Episcopalians was received en masse into communion with the See of Rome. They form the nucleus of what will in due course (sooner than later, I think) become the first American manifestation of Pope Benedict's provision for "personal ordinariates."
[Factual excursus: These are communities that will exists outside (though in cooperation with) the diocesan structure of the Latin Rite (that is, mainstream Roman Catholicism). An "ordinariate" is akin to a diocese, under the pastoral care of an "Ordinary." A diocesan bishop (in any tradition than maintains the historic episcopate) is always an Ordinary, with responsibility for ordering the life of the local church. In the case of this new structure, the Ordinary may or may not be a bishop. The reason for this anomaly is that the Ordinary may be a married man. While there have been several married former Anglican clergy serving as Roman Catholic priests for a couple of decades now, there is no provision for married men serving as bishops. So these new Ordinaries will have the administrative and pastoral authority of bishops, including seat and voice in the appropriate national Conference of Bishops, but will not themselves be able to ordain other clergy.
The purpose for this arrangement is to allow former Anglicans to retain the "spiritual patrimony" of Anglicanism. What this means precisely is not entirely clear, but it will no doubt include liturgy that has the "look and feel" of the various sub-streams of Anglo-Catholicism, including hymns and other music.]
One of those participating in the Fort Worth liturgy today is a close personal friend of long standing. We began seminary together a quarter century ago this month. Our children played together. We were formed together as priests, and ordained days apart. I gave a preaching mission in his first parish. We served different parishes in the same city for three years. His son took piano lessons from my wife. We broke bread in one another's homes. (Shooting empty beer cans with BB guns on Easter afternoon still sets the bar for me as to how best to observe that piece of sacred time.) He preached at my institution as rector of the parish I served for 13 years in California, and I preached a year later at his institution as rector of the parish he went on to serve for 15 years in Texas. We have taken road trips together just so we could have time to talk, and the conversation was never silent. We have known one another's joys and known one another's sorrows. We have stood at the same altar and presided at the sacred mysteries of Christ's Body and Blood. We have been friends. We have been colleagues. We have been brothers. And I probably haven't told the half of all that could be told.
We are still friends; that much is clear. I'm also certain that we remain brothers, though the character of that relationship is changed. What focuses my attention today, however, is that we are no longer colleagues.
So I'm processing some pretty strong feelings today. While today's event is "interesting" to anyone engaged with the Anglican angst of the last several years, for me it's personal. I've known this day was coming for at least two years. So I'm not surprised. And that advance knowledge makes the actual event not one whit less shocking.
Part of what I feel is joy. One whom I love is filled with joy, and I cannot but "rejoice with those who rejoice," per St Paul's injunction. This is the realization of a vocation he has felt coming on for a long number of years now, carefully and prayerfully discerned. What's not to like about that?
Part of what I feel is envy. This is a little difficult to articulate. I don't wish I had been standing beside my friend today. These are not the conditions under which reconciliation with the See of Rome would seem coherent and compelling for me. But reconciliation with the See of Rome is, in my opinion, a surpassingly worthy objective--certainly for Anglicans, but for all other Christians as well. To be out of communion with a church that has double apostolic foundation is, at best, an anomaly, and the burden of explanation rests on those outside such communion. The organic visible unity of Christ's Body should be at the top of everyone's prayer list.
Part of what I feel is anger. I'm angry toward all the forces that have contributed to making contemporary Anglicanism the fractious mess that it currently is. I am angry that other developed-world Anglicans have named a justice issue where I don't believe one exists, and have advanced a social agenda that a huge minority (at least) of the Episcopal Church (let alone the rest of the Anglican Communion) was not ready for. And I am angry that, with impatience that they see as righteous, some have resisted those developments by resorting to incendiary rhetoric, and turned aside from the agonizing but holy work of staying connected to a church that is still a church, even if it is in grave error. So my anger is bi-directional. Today's events in Fort Worth may have been inevitable; I don't know. But they have certainly been hastened by outside forces, and unnecessarily so.
Most of what I feel is grief. Something quite precious to me has been changed into a very unfamiliar and uncomfortable shape, so I experience it as a loss. That my friend and I can no longer receive the Blessed Sacrament at the same altar is a reality I can scarcely contemplate. I will get over it. Grace will abound in ways I cannot presently imagine. In the meantime, I will be sad, and my challenge will be to make friends with that sadness and put it at the disposal of the Holy Spirit for the outworking of God's providence.
All will be well. All will be well. All manner of things shall be well. (h/t Julian of Norwich) God is good, all the time.