|Cardinal John Henry Newman|
Last week, Georgetown University invited Kathleen Sebelius to be one of its commencement speakers. I've read numerous headlines concerning the event, but none of them have produced in me the result for which those responsible for the invitation had likely hoped. In inviting Sebelius, the University hoped to present itself as being "edgy" or as a standard bearer against Catholic Doctrine. But instead, it has portrayed itself to be rather pitiable. The University has become like the rebellious daughter who picks as her prom date the person who she thinks will most upset her parents. The master plan for the daughter is to ruin all of the pictures by having her date show up looking like Charlie Sheen in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Georgetown's choice of a speaker is less a declaration of intellectual independence as it is a declaration of adolescent rebellion. This doesn't evoke anger as much as it does pity.
While Georgetown seems determined to place itself in opposition to the Church, this past weekend I had the privilege of witnessing the incremental growth of the Church. On Sunday, in a small parish on the North Shore of Boston, three members of the Anglican Communion were received into the Catholic Church and confirmed by Msgr. Jeffrey Steenson, head of the newly established Anglican Ordinariate. This is the newly established structure for welcoming Anglicans into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. These three individuals were among a larger group who are still investigating whether they will seek full communion with Rome.
Ever since the introduction of this Ordinariate, I've had the privilege of meeting numerous Anglican priests. Some are interested in the possibility of joining the Ordinariate. Others perhaps are just seeking a closer relationship with their Roman Catholic counterparts. For me, it has been a new and truer ecumenism. These Anglican clergy and laity are interested in serious conversations about the Faith. The questions that they have do not arise from a desire to sound provocative. They arise from hearts that love the Lord and that are genuinely seeking Him. In many instances, they've lived the Georgetown experience already. They've seen what happens when ecclesial realities try to rebel against the Gospel and the Tradition. They've watched with sorrow as institutions that they've loved have played the role of the rebellious daughter.
Sometimes, people ask what is the "new evangelization" that the pope keeps talking about? The newly established Anglican Ordinariate is, I think, a good example of the New Evangelization. For decades, so much of ecumenical discussions has lingered in committees, crises, and bureaucracy. Pope Benedict boldly introduced something new into the equation. In the Ordinariate, he has made it easier for Anglicans to have union with Rome. And, he has done it in such a way that these Anglicans can bring into the Catholic Church all of the beauty and goodness that marks their present life. Oddly enough, it might well be that it is the Catholic Church that ends up being the sole preserver of the Anglican heritage.
Pope Benedict provides to us a model and an indication of what the New Evangelization is all about. Being enslaved by methods and structures that have proven again and again to produce no significant fruits, the Holy Father has opened up a new way of engaging with fellow Christians. And he has done something on the universal level that has had an immediate impact on the local level. I've had more engagement with other Christians in the past year than I have had in the previous fourteen years of my priestly life. The introduction of the Ordinariate has infused new life into ecumenism on the local level. I have seen firsthand what these Anglican brothers and sisters bring with them into the life of the local Catholic community. Already, in my conversations with their clergy, I have found myself increasingly educated and renewed in my own priestly life.
I do not know what the answer is to Georgetown and all of the other silly attempts to rebel against the Christian Faith. Pope Benedict's establishment of the Ordinariate, however, is a good model. In establishing it, he did not abolish the former methods of ecumenism, but he introduced something new. When it comes to dealing with certain of our Catholic institutions--be they universities, health care systems, religious orders etc--it may be necessary to engage them with some of our energies, but we should not let those institutions become the only option. They should be seen as just one option. Our attention should also be placed on doing new things. The new movements and the new religious orders that are flourishing are part of the new evangelization. They are where growth is occurring. Directing our energies and our resources towards building up these realities will likely produce good and lasting fruit. And in the meantime, we patiently try to help institutions that are still rebelling to outgrow their adolescence and become part of the new evangelization.