Deborah Gyapong: Why not spare myself all this anguish?

Why not spare myself all this anguish?

Why not just walk away from all this turmoil and become a Catholic on my own.

I must say I have been sorely tempted for purely selfish reasons, because I would be spared any more of the bewildering and crushing sense of disappointment that has pummeled me for the past year; I would be spared the uncertainty, the queasy feeling in my gut that makes me wonder if we in the Traditional Anglican Communion are even welcome in the Catholic Church.

Shoot, I was baptized Russian Orthodox, so I could go over to the Ukrainian Catholics and skip RCIA, as my three-fold initiation as an infant would be automatically accepted as valid. My Ukrainian Catholic priest friend, who tells me “You’re such a Slav,” has joked (half seriously) that canon law used to require that those baptized Russian Orthodox become Byzantine Catholics. Ah, the liturgy. I love the Divine Liturgy and can easily sing it, finding the harmonies that are familiar from my childhood. What an adventure to learn more about my ancestral roots and immerse myself in my ethnic heritage.

There are also several Roman Catholic parishes in Ottawa where I already have an established network of friends and would feel right at home. It would be a sweet joy discerning which one God is calling me to. Would I got to St. Mary’s, the Companions of the Cross parish where I go to Adoration, where the worship is charismatic, where the people are so sweet and loving in the Lord. Would I go to St. Pat’s, where some of the more intellectual Catholic friends I have go. Would I go to Notre Dame Cathedral—both St. Pat’s and Notre Dame are basilicas so I would have architectural beauty, musical excellence, congruent preaching and, well, how much more like heaven can you get? Would I cross town to go to the Traditional Latin Mass Church where I also have friends? Would I go down the road to the parish not far from my neighborhood where I am an associate member of the Catholic Women’s League?

I have had lots of experience in giving up things and people I love, people o whom I was dearly attached. I know that grief will pass with time. Yes, it would be a splendid adventure.

Archbishop Prendergast introduces the bishops at the National March for Life

We have a great Roman Catholic archbishop here in Ottawa. Coming from an evangelical formation as an adult, congruence is everything in a pastor when you don’t have sacraments—the words and the music, the walk and the talk have to match (unless you are a television charlatan that attracts dupes). So here in Ottawa, we have a congruent bishop, one even a dark evangelical heart like mine can love and trust. Archbishop Terrence Prendergast is a true shepherd, a bishop who humbly knows that love, the kind that pours from the Sacred Heart of Jesus, is part of his job description.

I confess, I have seriously mused about this. I even told Archbishop Prendergast, “I could become a Roman Catholic under you.” (How Donatist of me).

Don’t do it because of me, he told me. I could die or be moved somewhere else tomorrow and the next bishop might be a sinner or incompetent, he said (I am paraphrasing). Do it because you believe that through the Church, Christ guides your salvation.

Seminarian Michael Trolly gives the children's lesson before I take them downstairs

So, why do I linger in our humble little cathedral, with its threadbare red indoor/outdoor carpet, and warped linoleum with the yellow wax build up? Why do I say with an embarrassingly small, poor, fragile church community that doesn’t even have a choir and where I used to have to wash the floors and the toilets when we all took turns doing it, or where I have to give up listening to the homily so I can take the children downstairs for Sunday school?

It is so astonishing and outrageous for us in the Anglican Catholic Church of Canada to be described as arrogant. We’re used to being treated like the off scouring of the earth by the Anglicans we could not longer stay in communion with because of their votes “by democracy” to change the sacraments of Holy Orders and Matrimony. I remember one time, practically in tears, thanking Archbishop Prendergast for not being ashamed of us, because his generosity and kindness to our priests and bishops has been amazing.

A few years ago, when we were holding a quiet day of prayer in conjunction with 40 Days for Life, he came and prayed for 45 minutes in one of our creaking pews. That gives me a picture of Christ leaving heaven to come to earth, what a step down from Notre Dame to our little digs.

The ordination of Fr. Hezuk Shroff at Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica in Ottawa

Archbishop Gervais before him was also kind and generous, letting us have episcopal ordinations in one of his churches because our cathedral is too small.

I have been sensitive to the fact that prelates in the Catholic Church might not want to have their pictures taken with us because it might, well, harm their reputations because we have been so trashed by the Anglicans we left, and of legitimate concerns that we’re sort of the Taiwan of Anglicanism and getting cozy with us might upset the China of Canterbury in the ecumenical arena.

So why do I stay? Because mostly I don’t have a clear leading to go. That may change. I know I must become Catholic. But this is my family and if I left I could inadvertently harm this fragile little community. We are like immigrants asking to come in family class and I don’t want to see any of my beloved brothers and sisters in Christ left behind.

I stay because I love the Holy Father and I want very much for Anglicanorum coetibus to succeed. If I left and others followed my example, what critical mass would be left to form an Ordinariate here in Canada? (Is is already too late for that?)

I stay because despite our poverty, despite our humble building, and the uncertainty and pain of this voyage, we are living an Anglican patrimony that is a beauty to behold if you have eyes to see it. I feel rich when I attend Mass here, because the liturgy is so beautiful, and beautifully done with such care and our sermons are like steak not milkshakes.

From the first time I came in to hear Bishop Robert Mercer pray the Mass I, who then had no knowledge of sacraments, was lifted up to heaven and intuitively grasped Christ’s Real Presence. There was something so profound that was imparted to me through the way our priests and bishops devoutly pray the liturgy, the ballet of genuflection, the reverence, the sense that they mean they prayers—every word—the hard to sing hymns that were so rich in theology and in keeping with the liturgical calendar. I have learned so much, my faith has been so deepened, I have been so well-catechized in my little church, well enough catechized that after less than four years I went on to be the national correspondent for Roman Catholic newspapers in Canada and no one has ever complained about my theology.

Oh, and I love the way we are a family, where everyone has a place at the table no matter how difficult to love (and we all are from time to time, no?)–we care for you and call you by name. Everyone knows your name, like Cheers, at our little cathedral. Our bishop is like our father, his wife, our Matushka or mother. We have our little meltdowns, our cross words exchanged, our opportunities to forgive and overlook and to grow in patience and love. We can’t put our bishops or priests on pedestals because we see them up close, close enough to experience their flaws, but also close enough to marvel at how beautifully they have grown in Christ over the years, as we hope we have too. This parish model is also Anglican patrimony.

Our people are growing older. Money is drying up while we are in this painful holding pattern. People will be tempted, like I have been, to move on just to get this over with. We have already sent several people on to the Roman Catholic Church with our blessing.

So folks, instead of judging us, or castigating us for our weaknesses and flaws, pray for us. We know we haven’t been perfect in this. We are experiencing a harrowing purification right now. We are suffering. My consolation is that the Lord knows and He is allowing it and it is ultimately for our good.

Pray that Ordinariates will gather us all up, in every country around the world that wants one. Pray that we will be able to hold fast, to keep our eyes on Christ and to trust, that yes, He does truly guide our salvation through His Church.


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