What Makes Catholics Different from Episcopalians?
Yes, Virginia, there are people who call themselves Episcopalians, and no, they are not the same as Roman Catholics. The Episcopalians like to think themselves as better than the Catholics, because they do not have to kowtow to an old, fuddy-duddy Pope who simply cannot get with the times.
But then the world proves things otherwise. And do you know, Virginia? The Episcopalians do not even notice—which is why they are Episcopalians.
Take last week, for instance.
The Pope gave a sermon at morning Mass in which he said that all were redeemed by the death of Our Savior on the Cross:
The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all!
Jesus’ death on the Cross served to redeem even the atheists—yes, even the Richard Dawkinses and his ilk among us, who think the Pope is under a delusion.
And just a week earlier, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church (USA) also gave a sermon (albeit at Curaçao, in the Diocese of Venezuela, and not in some big city like Rome). And what was her theme? Redemption by Our Lord Jesus Christ?
We live with the continuing tension between holier impulses that encourage us to see the image of God in all human beings and the reality that some of us choose not to see that glimpse of the divine, and instead use other people as means to an end. We’re seeing something similar right now in the changing attitudes and laws about same-sex relationships, as many people come to recognize that different is not the same thing as wrong. For many people, it can be difficult to see God at work in the world around us, particularly if God is doing something unexpected.
There are some remarkable examples of that kind of blindness in the readings we heard this morning, and slavery is wrapped up in a lot of it. Paul is annoyed at the slave girl who keeps pursuing him, telling the world that he and his companions are slaves of God. She is quite right. She’s telling the same truth Paul and others claim for themselves. [Fn: “E.g., Rom 1:1.”] But Paul is annoyed, perhaps for being put in his place, and he responds by depriving her of her gift of spiritual awareness. Paul can’t abide something he won’t see as beautiful or holy, so he tries to destroy it. It gets him thrown in prison. That’s pretty much where he’s put himself by his own refusal to recognize that she, too, shares in God’s nature, just as much as he does – maybe more so! The amazing thing is that during that long night in jail he remembers that he might find God there – so he and his cellmates spend the night praying and singing hymns.
An earthquake opens the doors and sets them free, and now Paul and his friends most definitely discern the presence of God. The jailer doesn’t – he thinks his end is at hand. This time, Paul remembers who he is and that all his neighbors are reflections of God, and he reaches out to his frightened captor. This time Paul acts with compassion rather than annoyance, and as a result the company of Jesus’ friends expands to include a whole new household. It makes me wonder what would have happened to that slave girl if Paul had seen the spirit of God in her.
Thus the Pope made in his sermon what is for Catholics (as well as for nearly all Christians, as far as I can tell) a very traditional and not controversial point: Jesus died on the Cross to redeem us all from sin. The Pope went on to say that if atheists and unbelievers will simply follow the natural law that is written on their hearts, and “do good” rather than evil (and even Richard Dawkins claims he does good because it’s the result of “secular, moral philosophy and rational discussion”), then Catholics can “engage them there.” In other words, the Pope is encouraging a “culture of engagement,” a celebration of common ground, rather than a heretical form of salvation by good works.
The liberal media, however, wanted to portray a Pope more to their liking, i.e., a liberal Pope. So they misread the Pope’s word “redeem” as the equivalent of “save.” And they ran with headlines like: “Pope: Second Look at Letting Atheists into Heaven?” Others made a note of the difference (which is everything, theologically speaking). While some atheists even took note, if only to say: “No thanks, Pope—keep it to yourself”—or other (perhaps also predictable) reactions.
The point is, however, that virtually the whole Western world took note of what the Pope had to say.
But our Presiding Bishop? Any reaction to her blasphemy about St. Paul in the Western press?
Zero. Zip. Nada.
—Oh, that’s right. The same Catholic reporter who explained Pope Francis’ sermon managed to write about the Presiding Bishop’s sermon, as well. And a few continuing Anglicans, as did an Eastern Orthodox blogger, and—what do you know?—even one other Episcopal bishop. (Not even her supporters in the House of Bishops could manage to utter a word of empathy for her.)
But for all practical purposes, as I say, the reaction was miniscule in comparison to the reaction to the Pope’s sermon. No atheists (or even LGBTs) trumpeted her putdown of St. Paul. No feminist theologians jumped on her bandwagon.
Instead, the reaction could pretty well be summed up as ...
Embarrassment. Yes, that’s it—shame and embarrassment among Episcopalians; shrugs and “so what?” from all others.
While most Catholics and other Christians took heart at the Pope’s affirmation of traditional doctrine—because he expressed it in a new way. A way charged full of hope in renewal of the Holy Spirit—without having to put down St. Paul, or to twist the narrative in Acts to selfish ends.
Yes, Virginia, that is the difference between Roman Catholics and Episcopalians.
The Catholics have their old fuddy-duddy, Pope Francis, who breathes new life into traditional doctrines.
And we Episcopalians have to make do with—Bishop Katharine, who with her every utterance manages to deaden and stultify the gospel of the saints.
[N.B.: In accordance with SF comment policy, please do not post comments along the lines of “I don’t know why anyone stays in the Episcopal Church”, or similar hortatory sentiments.]
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