12 May 2009

Living as Catholics

My former colleague Bob Hughes likes to observe that "the Church is part of the Gospel."

I think this is especially important as we consider the meaning of chapter 19 of the early rule.

All the brothers must be Catholics, and live and speak in a Catholic manner. But if any of them has strayed from the Catholic faith and life, in word or deed, and has not amended his ways, he should be completely expelled from our fraternity. And we should regard all clerics and religious as our lord in those things which pertain to the salvation of the soul and who have not deviated from our religion, and, in the Lord, we should respect their order and office and government.
Now, it's true that the early rule also contains an oath of obedience to the pope and his successors. I don't think any Anglican Christian should accept that. But the Catholic intent of Franciscan life has been there from the beginning. Anglican Christianity has always seen itself as a fellowship within the one holy catholic and apostolic Church. And it has continued to accept the validity of the historic episcopate/apostolic succession and the threefold ordained ministry.

To be Catholic means many different things to many different people. But at the heart of it is a commitment to credal orthodoxy and the sacraments and order of the visible church. It also implies a universal mission and a commitment to unity, as an eschatological goal if not a present reality.

These are especially important in a radical renewal movement like the Franciscan one. Other forms of lay penitential movements existed in the thirteenth century. The Franciscans are one of the few that survived, because they cast their lot with the universal Church and not with private, sectarian opinions.

This can lead to frustrating tensions at times. But a commitment to the brothers and sisters God gives us is part and parcel of responding to the Gospel. As I noted on Sunday, in response to 1John 4, the appointed Epistle: You can't love God, whom you don't even see, if you don't love the neighbor you do.

We respect therefore the authority of the Church, which came before us and will be there after us, as a sign of our respect for one another. Even when it is wrong, we love the Church and we will not lightly depart from its teaching. Even in questions of conscience, we will strive to remain faithful to its doctrine, discipline, and worship. There is freedom in the Gospel, but liberty is not license.

Compare the relevant sections of "Comprehension in Generous Catholicity."

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