Blogger's Note: An abbreviated version of my article ran in this morning's edition of the Laredo Morning Times. Below, is the story that I wrote, in its entirety.
HOUSTON, TX— On the night before his Crucifixion, Christ prayed that “all be one, one flock under one shepherd.” While there have been divisions in the Body of Christ, there is a slow and steady movement towards fulfilling Christ’s plea for unity.
Although many individuals have found their way back to the Catholic Church, in recent years, there has been a movement of wholesale conversions from the Anglican Communion. Many parishes, including their pastors, have petitioned Rome for full communion. In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI, through the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus, formally paved the way for this reunification to occur. The United Kingdom took the first step in 2011 with the establishment of the Ordinariate (similar in some ways to the more familiar diocese) of Our Lady of Walsingham. On these shores, the Vatican formally erected the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, basing this new structure in Houston, Texas in 2012. In establishing the American Ordinariate, the German Pontiff chose Msgr. Jeffrey Steenson, a former Anglican bishop, now an ordained Catholic priest, to serve as its first leader, or, Ordinary.
“This is the Pope’s personal project,” explained Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, during his address at St. Mary’s Seminary, in Houston on Saturday, February 2, 2013. The Vatican’s chief doctrinal official was on hand to mark the American Ordinariate’s first anniversary at a symposium. “It can be said that in creating this new structure, the Holy Father was responding to a movement of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit that draws the disciples of the Lord together, fashioning them into the ecclesial Body of Christ.”
However, this has not always been an easy journey. The German prelate recognized that the members of the Ordinariate made significant sacrifices to join Rome. “I am well aware that many of you have experienced conflict and division in the years leading up to your decision to seek full communion with the Catholic Church,” he told the group of about 300 participants from all over the United States and Canada. However, he noted the immense courage that they displayed in crossing the threshold into the Catholic Church. “This is an exercise in great courage,” Müller said. “It has meant leaving behind what is familiar and comfortable in order to put out into unknown and deep waters. Actually, it takes a great deal of courage to be Catholic, and so I say to you, be courageous.”
The Vatican official noted that this first anniversary comes in the midst of the Catholic Church’s Year of Faith, which Pope Benedict XVI opened this past October. He stressed that the Church must promote the “Culture of Communion”, imitating the communion of the Blessed Trinity. “True communion is rooted in the unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, a communion in which the diversity of the Persons is constituted and sustained by their essential relations” he told the group. This, he added, is in direct opposition to the secular world’s viewpoint of unity. “The history of the world demonstrates again and again that human beings often go about trying to construct unity by enforcing uniformity. Uniformity tends toward the elimination of those who do not conform or comply.”
The Church, in this Year of Faith, the archbishop noted, proposes something different. “We are called to discipleship and grafted onto the ecclesial Body of Christ through Baptism,” he explained. “Our unity with one another as members of the one Body does not destroy our distinctiveness. Our distinctiveness and interdependence is a blessing for the Church and a source of its vitality.”
While his words were primarily meant for Anglican converts, the Prefect added that they apply to Catholics as a whole. For South Texas, where other denominations have made some inroads within Catholics, Müller urged the faithful to look to the courageous example and the zeal of the Anglican converts as an example.
“One becomes Catholic by conscience,” he said. “We belong to Jesus Christ through Baptism and we must do all that is possible to come to a closer communion with him. Yes, there are struggles, but, we must realize that in these struggles, we encounter Christ. Communion with Jesus Christ in the sacramental sense is important and the doctrinal identity with the Apostolic Church is fully realized in the Catholic Church. Courage is a gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Donald Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, D.C., and the Holy See’s delegate for implementation of Anglicanorum Coetibus in the United States, added that along with courage, Catholics, in general, need to rediscover the Faith. “The New Evangelization is about helping all of us renew our faith, intellectually and effectively,” he explained. “ It’s a matter of mind and heart. We need that across the Church. In addition to knowing the Faith, we need to be confident in its truth. We have to be willing to share it.”
Marcus Grodi, a Catholic convert familiar to many Laredoans who watch EWTN, further encouraged the faithful to re-examine their relationship with Christ. “This is important so that the enthusiasm we have is authentic,” he explained. “We are not simply passing along something because we know it. The way we will help other Catholics has to be based on our relationships with each other. We need to re-establish our friendships.”