Society of Catholic Priests.
Yesterday I was elected as Chaplain of the Philadelphia Chapter of the Society of Catholic Priests. I regard this as a great honor, and am looking forward to working with my fellow priests in this area, to be a little leaven in the bread which is the Diocese of Pennsylvania.
The Society is quite new, and is for orthodox Anglo-Catholic priests of the Episcopal Church, who accept the doctrine and discipline of that Church including, happily, a new openness to women priests and to the celebration of gay people in the life of the Church, including gay priests and bishops.
Last year I was asked to give a spiritual lecture (what we used to call a fervorino!) at the opening of the SCP’s annual conference in Toronto. This I did by taking the three words in our Society’s name and meditating on each of them for a few minutes. I hope the coming annual conference in Denver will continue to hold these three themes in its heart. Sadly I will not be able to be there this year, as I will be preparing to leave for a month in the UK.
I am glad, first of all, that we are a Society, because that is what God is. We believe in one God, but not in a God who is only one Person. No, he is “three Persons in one substance “. The essence of his being is that of three Person so much in love that we can say that they are one God. The Blessed Trinity is what Jesus revealed to the world: God is his Father, the Father and he are one, and they send the Holy Spirit to dynamize the Church, so that it will be God’s instrument of love and care throughout the centuries. So the SCP is a Society, separate persons, but united in love to preach the Gospel and celebrate the Sacraments of salvation.
Secondly, we are Catholics. It is important that we boldly state this and do not try to modify it by words such as “Anglo” or “Anglican”. When we were ordained priests the Bishop ordained us, not into the Anglican Church, but into Christ’s “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church”. Roman Catholics often refer to themselves simply as “Catholics” and so should we. When strangers asked me if St Clement’s, for example, was a Catholic Church, I always replied “Yes”. I would then explain that we were not Roman Catholic or Greek Catholic but Anglo-Catholic. Catholic is a lovely word and one we should glory in.
The third word in the SCP’s title is obvious. We are a Society of priests, not lay people. We are men and women who have been called by God to follow in the steps of the Apostles and give our lives to the preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments. Other people can run the finances of the parish; others can organize a dozen different groups to do the work of Christ. The original Apostles said boldly “It is not right for us to leave the Word of God to serve tables” so they ordained St Stephen and others as the first Deacons. Sadly, some of the successors of the Apostles have forgotten this. We are priests, not social workers, not events organizers, not probation officers, not lawyers. If the priest is truly doing his or her job, the day will not have enough hours in it. We will have the Mass to celebrate over and over again, the Daily Office to say either privately or in church. We will be visiting the sick and shut-ins at home and in hospitals to anoint them for healing and to prepare them for death; we will be meeting constantly with parents who want their children baptized, with young couples who want to be married, with people who want to be confirmed or received into the Church. We will have sermons to prepare, pondering the Scriptures and applying them to our daily life. We will have individuals to see, either for the Sacrament of Penance or for spiritual advice.
Who is capable of all this? No one except the one who admits with St Paul “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”.
S. C. P. – powerful letters. God give us strength to live up to each one of them, and may many more priests join our Society.