Unity Not Uniformity

This Spring and summer I’ve had some wonderful experiences that have confirmed the amazing and beautiful unity of the Catholic Church throughout the world. In the first week of June I led about twenty high school kids on our mission trip to El Salvador. Here’s a picture of me and some of our boys in the Corpus Christi procession through the streets of the little town of La Herradura in the La Paz province of El Salvador. (Here is a gallery of photos from the whole trip) There we were, working with the poor, meeting an beautiful nun from India who belongs to the Missionaries of Charity, or a priest from Spain called Padre Pepe who works with the gangs in the inner city.

We were one in Christ because we were one in the Eucharist and one in our loyalty to the Holy Father. Then at the end of June I travelled up to Brooklyn to take part in a Pro Life prayer group. It was a Polish parish with two priests from Poland. One told me how he was persecuted under the Communists and escaped, first to Canada, and then to the USA. The prayer group was led by a couple of Italian Americans with a big family and a big heart. Part of the evening was the chance to venerate the relic of Padre Pio.

Once again, we were one in Christ, on in the Eucharist, on in our loyalty to the Holy Father. This unity was there at a very deep level despite our varied backgrounds. There is more. I come back to Greenville and was asked to cover for Fr Bart Leon, the local Maronite pastor. There’s another experience of unity in diversity. I have the beautiful privilege of celebrating the ancient Maronite liturgy with the Syrians and Lebanese brothers and sisters. That same afternoon I was traveling out on a country highway in South Carolina and took the chance to visit with some of my future Vietnamese parishioners and a connection is made  between us and St Therese, who wanted to be a missionary to Vietnam.

This unity within diversity is something I used to think we had in the Anglican Church. I thought that because we had Charismatics, Evangelicals, Anglo Catholics and we had a world wide communion with many different cultural expressions. However, we did not really have unity because within the diversity there were huge and irreconcilable differences. The only unity we had was a willingness to agree to differ with one another.

The diversity and unity within the Catholic Church is something far stranger and more beautiful and more difficult to describe. This is something I feel passionate about sharing with our Anglican brothers and sisters who are considering the Anglican Ordinariate. Some of them feel they will be gobbled up by the big-ness of Rome. I have found just the opposite. There is an extraordinary amount of freedom within the different expressions of Catholicism. Whether they are religious orders, dioceses, parishes or Eastern Rite Churches, or one day the Ordinariate for former Protestants…within the diversity there is an underlying unity that sets us free.

If you really do ‘profess to believe all that the Catholic Church teaches as revealed by God’ then you belong to the Catholic faith. You are one with the Catholic faith. You may not be perfect.  You may not be a saint. Christians who are outside the Catholic faith may be better Christians than you, but you are a Catholic.

This summer I have shared at a much deeper level than I have ever thought possible my identification with my fellow Catholics. I was the brother of El Salvadorean peasants, a Spanish priest, an Indian nun, a French Carmelite, an Italian American casino operator, a Polish priest who knew Pope John Paul the Great, a Vietnamese seminarian, an old man from Lebanon, a child from Mexico and American middle class high school kids.

My plea to Anglican Christians is, “Please, be bold. Respond to the Pope’s offer of an ordinariate. Work with us to make this happen, and so join the great family of the Catholic faith throughout the world. Bring Anglicanism with all its riches and traditions and holiness to the great table at the marriage supper of the Lamb. You will not be swallowed up. Instead all the great things you bring into full communion will be amplified, multiplied and made more real, concrete and dynamic in the Lord’s service.

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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07569130676781280732 Deacon Dick

    There's a wideness in God's Mercy…….. And His Openness and Love.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07402533227166779275 Richard Ballard

    "In Christ there is no East or West …." Beautiful!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00608252231864576839 Br. Stephen, O.Cist

    Fr. Basil Maturin said something similar 100 years ago after he crossed the Tiber:"It is an amazement to me that we in England should live so close to what we are wholly ignorant of—for we are; one has no idea of what it all means till one enters and sees for oneself. It strikes one as being so broad and so obviously true. I wonder where the idea that people generally attribute to Rome of slyness and untruth comes from. I can only imagine it to come from hell, for I can see no faintest token of it. Faith seems perfectly fearless, for it knows it is grounded in reason, and there is a completeness of conviction all around one that is contagious. I think one has but to cross the threshold and enter to find conviction pour in through every sense and faculty."I saw and had the privilege of living amongst the very best of the Church of England, men infinitely better than I ever hope to be, and I thank God for all the holiness and devotion that there is there; but truly the difference between all that and this is the difference between individual effort and organised life."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00681296306358764468 Andrew

    Fr. L, What a difference a year makes! I'm not sure if you've changed or me, or perhaps both, but I can say that we're on the same page!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11991697351012484996 Theoden

    Fr. Longnecker, thanks for this heartfelt piece. As a priest of the Episcopal Church, I say "Amen" to your sense that here in TEC, the only unity we have is in our tacit agreement to disagree. What I would respectfully add to your crie du coeur, is that true unity is based on the splendor of truth itself. True unity presumes primacy within communion, not a political agenda to "make room" for disagreement.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12373317560249811006 Fr Longenecker

    Andrew, why did we once disagree and about what?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06962374096401238994 shadowlands

    Great post Father!

  • http://biblicalpaths.wordpress.com/ biblicalpaths

    Thank-you Father, your blogging on the Ordinariates has just been so kind and positive of late. Bless you for that!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00681296306358764468 Andrew
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17283981695859909773 MHL

    Good, good stuff. Thanks.