OK, to begin with, I know that this is going to sound strange. I have always wondered, however, what it would be like to have amnesia. No, I do not actually want to have something happen that causes me to forget who I am, but the experience has always fascinated me. I have read stories about people who had amnesia and it sounds so completely unsettling. We are accustomed to knowing our identity, and valuing it highly. It has been shown, in fact, that not knowing one's identity can be destructive. This is not only true for a person, it is also true for a Catholic parish.
St. Paul in this last Sunday's second reading in Mass exclaimed that he was confident he had "fought the fight, run the race, and held the faith". This is something we all want to be able to say some day. In order to reach that point, however, we need to know what to fight for, which race to run in, and what faith it is that we are holding. This is the reason why I have recently begun a homily series at St. George, my Ordinariate parish, on the subject of who we are. The Ordinariate has a very unique calling in the Catholic Church today, and if we take that lightly, we will be missing what it means to serve the Lord.
This year, we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the publication of Anglicanorum Coetibus, the Apostolic Constitution by which the Ordinariates were established by Pope Benedict XVI. In addition, just a few weeks ago, Cardinal John Henry Newman was canonized -- he who is often considered as the forerunner for all of us former Anglicans who have returned to Mother Church. The time is perfect for us to examine who we are and what our calling is.
Although every Catholic parish has the same basic calling, not every Catholic parish has the same specific calling. Even within the same diocese individual parishes will have different duties before God (one may have a food pantry, while another has an outreach to unwed mothers). There are some specific details to the culture of the Ordinariates that need to be embraced if Ordinariate parishes are going to remain faithful to the duty placed upon them. Yes, each Ordinariate parish will (at least eventually) have a special calling in itself, but we can say that every Ordinariate parish has the responsibility to carry on the heritage of English Catholicism.
It has long been the case (over a thousand years) that England was referred to as "the dowry of the Blessed Virgin Mary". This is because England had a unique place in the Roman Catholic Church and was even allowed to retain special traditions that were clearly distinct from those outside of the British Isles. It was those very traditions that were "kidnapped" at the time of the English departure from Rome (in the 16th century under King Henry VIII). Now in the 21st century, many of those traditions have been restored and are preserved in the Ordinariates.
Pope Benedict XVI established the Ordinariates because, according to his own words, he wanted these very same English traditions to "be shared" with the rest of the Catholic Church. He said he wanted these practices to spread and enlighten the rest of Catholicism. They are not merely to be "kept" and continued, but to be an influence on the rest of the Church throughout the world.
St. George parish, as a part of the Ordinariate here in America is supposed to be different from other parishes; not just by being "weird", but because we are to hold to certain traditions for the good of the whole Church. We are a small community (very small in fact) but we can still fulfill our calling, because God enables us to fulfill it (as He does with every parish). So, as a community learns its place in the Kingdom of God, it also learns how to serve God (since the two go hand in hand). These, then, are fighting orders. Members (present and future) of St. George, prepare for the fight, and be ready to take up the call to battle; for we fight for King Jesus.