Confessor June 4, 2017

1990_croppedHe died as he lived and Father Michael Trigg lived as a confessor. From Oxford through Canterbury on to a small parish in Whittier, this pastor was willing to confess his faith against all kinds of opposition: a confessor. He left me his papers and his massive medical bills show that his confession contributed to his death. He confessed against trendiness, corruption, and church politics.

Best of all, his confession was joyous. 

He was born to be a prelate in the American civil religion. He went to the right schools, had the proper pedigree, and the talent. The problem with his pursuit of preferment is that he counted all his privilege nothing compared to the truth. He loved God more than gold.

If you went with him anywhere, he had a rich bank of stories on which to draw. When I was bemoaning a form of degenerate Christianity, doctrinally and behaviorally compromised, he smiled and asked about the liturgy. I began to rant about ruining the beauty of the service with innovation (Clown Mass!) and he stopped me. “That is an early error,” he said thoughtfully, “soon they will be getting into fights over the proper color of the vestments and the position of the altar. When everything else is gone, and there is nobody to oppose them, then they will worship only the beauty and try to find something in it.”

He missed the cathedrals, because he loved what good men and women had built. He loved standing in a church full of the bones of the people who shaped the rock of the vaults. He gave up the choirs, the smells, the bells, his heritage for the truth. This was a man who knew beauty and cared about traditions and forms as vehicles for truth. He wouldn’t accept beauty without truth or, for that matter, truth without goodness. Once he was sitting with me discussing the church choices some of my students were making. He heard about a very traditional church that so many students were joining. My pastor looked sad and I asked him why. I knew the answer would not be envy. He simply said: “When everything was going wrong, he was a great supporter of traditional Christianity. He was bolder than I was, a leader, and then the time came to give up the comforts and the pension. He was nowhere to be found. That worries me.” His tone is what matters here. There wasn’t any anger, judgment, or even hurt. My pastor was worried for the young people and unsure what to do.

He saw the truth, but knew the goodness was missing and he was right. His great battles had been against those who wanted to hijack the church of his parents for a strange and new religion. Father Michael fought hard and fairly and lost. He confessed in meetings where he was misunderstood, mislabeled, and miserable. Following this, he almost surely went and served all his friends pizza on colonial era china he had inherited.

He was a happy man. He loved to worship and church politics was not his main business, but he lived in difficult times and so he confessed. His last confession was, much to his sorrow, with people for whom he had sought alliance. They were church people on the right who agreed with him on the issues against the prelatory plunder of his old confession. He thought to find a new coalition and to serve a new group. He was in a different social community, and rejoiced, labored without the art and culture he had loved, and was glad. He was serving.

And in the end once again misunderstanding and politics happened and lines were drawn and he once again was a confessor. He explained and shepherded his flock. Having fought the good fight (and failed) against theological liberalism, he taught the good truths about history, theology, and ecumenical promise. He confessed and he failed again, more or less.

What bothered him in all of it?

He worried about us and what we would learn from it all. Would we become embittered and narrow? Would we become withdrawn and crabby? He reminded me that in hard times good people become deformed by the pressure. They do bad things, but much (if not most of the blame) is on the titanic strain of holding to goodness, truth, and beauty in an ugly age. Good people doing good can misunderstand, squabble, cause pain, but the chief problem is the hideous strength of evil that would divide us.

As a man of great conviction, Father Michael always wanted to unite with anyone he could against the shadows of that hideous strength.

If he had a fault, this man wanted to confess and shield us so that the pain would fall on him. That was not good, and failing health meant he had to step back. God help him. He confessed to the end. His last words to me were a blessing: “In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”

Today is the day (Pentecost!) when he prayed over us and we joined the church . . . not his church, Heaven forfend! Not an exilic church looking fondly back at lost glories, bah! He welcomed us to the place we began, the same waters that had already baptized us, the fullness of the Holy Spirit that had baptized our souls: one, good, true, beautiful church.

Thank you, Father.

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