No Obedience No Heaven

who quickly decided that he would not ordain any former Anglicans. Not even celibate candidates would be considered. No reason was given, but people behind the scenes told me that my publication of a book of conversion stories did not help my candidacy. The large scale defections of Anglican priests to Rome were supposed to be kept quiet for ‘ecumenical reasons’. My writing that book indicated that I was a ‘dangerous, triumphalist conservative.” It was their opinion that I was being excluded on purpose, and my new bishop was at the center of the liberal cabal.

At this point, friends of mine recommended that I go “bishop shopping” in order to be ordained. There were other bishops who would consider my application.

I said, “Damn it. I’m not going bishop shopping! I became a Catholic because I believed God spoke through his holy apostles and the bishops of the church are their successors. I’m going to obey my bishop even if I think he’s a liberal jerk.” They said I was crazy. In conversation a few years later with a cardinal of the church I expressed this view and even he chuckled at my “foolishness.”

So how did  it happen that I was ever ordained? I was visiting my family in Greenville, South Carolina when I met Fr Jay Scott Newman. He listened to my tale and was the first priest who respected my stubborn and seemingly foolhardy obedience. He pondered my predicament and then said, “You know it is possible to have two bishops. You live in England and that bishop is your bishop, but you are an American citizen and Greenville, South Carolina is your home town. Therefore the Bishop of Charleston is also your bishop. The Bishop is coming for dinner tomorrow night. Would you like to join us?”

It still took another four or five years before the other doors opened up, but we can now see that the path of obedience was, in the long run, far more of a blessing than for me to go “bishop shopping” at the time. Furthermore, I learned lessons in that ‘wilderness’ that I could not have learned any other way.

So I would answer those who find it a strain and a burden to put up with a priest or bishop who they deem to be liberal or mealy mouthed or downright heretical–without condoning their false teaching or hypocrisy–perhaps there is a lesson to be learned by your own submission to the apostolic authority–even when that apostolic authority is corrupt or disordered or just plain wrong, because to overturn that authority is to place yourself in the position of authority instead, and is that the Catholic way? Surely not. Are you to make the church or is the church to make you?

Oh yes it is hard, very hard, to submit week after week to a tiresome and heterodox preacher. “What about my children!” You cry. “Shall they be required to sit through bad catechesis and poor liturgy? Teach them the truth at home in charity and kindness. Maybe they will learn deeper and more stunning lessons from the example of your dogged obedience than they will if they see you running about choosing your own church.

Did you think it was going to be easy to be obedient? The test of obedience is when it is difficult, not when it is easy to obey. Are you able to obey even when to do so seems absurd and you have to grit your teeth and hold your nose to obey? Obedience is important even when it is difficult–especially when it is difficult.

The obedience required is the obedience of faith. To obey a superior in religion is not necessarily to condone or approve of the person or all his actions. The root of the word “obedience” is oboedire which means ‘to listen’. Therefore to obey is to listen–to listen deeply not only to your own thoughts and not only to the circumstances, but also to what God is doing in your life because believe me–he is doing far greater things than you can imagine.

It’s just that he works behind the scenes…in secret.

He’s like that.


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