Daily Mass Readings:
First Reading: Daniel 12:1-3
The other day I was watching the Australian Christian Channel and the Senior Pastor of what possibly is the largest church in Australia (reportedly 19000 people per weekend go through their centers) was preaching on the ills and the signs of a Backslider. After a few minutes it was becoming obvious to me that anybody who doubted this Pastors take on Theology (Word of Faith), or questioned the vision of his leadership team was suffering from this very serious malady. As time went on I began to be overcome by a severe case of deja vu, this was all too familiar to me and is a behavioral practice I have often witnessed within the Autocephalous and Old Catholic Church Movements. Although we are more likely to hear terms like vagante, hetrodox, invalid, illicit or heretic rather than backslider.
While these terms can be extremely painful when they are applied to us, our Parish or Jurisdiction, do they in the greater scheme of things really matter much at all? As the title of this article implies I have come to the general conclusion that to some degree we are all somebody else’s backslider, vagante or heretic and not much we do or say is going to change that fact. Perhaps the most contentious attack that can be leveled at a Catholic is that their ministry is invalid, this is because as Catholics we understand the importance of sharing valid Sacraments with all who seek them from us in the name of Our Blessed Lord. But what is it that really defines validity, can it actually be defined or is validity like beauty in the eye of the beholder?
Theologian Hans Kung writes in On Being Christian: ” The important thing about a Petrine ministry or any other ministry of leadership is not the historical evidence of a line of succession…………… If such a person did not carry out this Petrine mission, did not fulfill his appointed task, did not give testimony or perform his service, what would be the use of the entire Apostolic Succession to him or the Church? Thus the important thing is not the claim, the right, the chain of succession, as such but the accomplishment, the exercise, the action, the service itself concretely realized.
A case in point I know two Bishops one quite young whose transition from Deacon, Priest to Bishop was very fast to say the least. The other a veteran with over 30 years in the Episcopacy. The elder man took a dislike to the younger after he was photographed wearing a Cope over his Chasuble and wrote some severe comments about the other for months via the Net. He also demanded complete obedience by all and sundry. While the younger Bishop, less theologically and liturgically trained weekly led groups into the streets feeding the homeless, setting up services in Nursing homes for the elderly and working in the Prison system. Who was more following Our Lord’s example, the judge or the servant?
In considering validity I am also reminded of the Gospel of St. Matthew 3:9-10, where John the Baptist referring to the Pharisees says: ” Don’t just say, we’re safe we’re the descendants of Abraham. That proves nothing. God can change these stones here into children of Abraham. Even now the axe of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever your roots. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.”
The Reformed Catholic Church is well known for its real ministries and its acts of servitude. So it does not really matter what others may say and think about us, our validity is confirmed by our acts of service, visiting those in need at inopportune times, in the snow, rain or the middle of the night when others are unwilling to do so. Our Blessed Lord only gave one criteria to judge ministries validity: “By their fruits you shall know them.”