Wednesday, August 07, 2002

Where the bishop is, there is the Catholic Church.

Dave of Pompous Ponderings posted a query about "Independent Catholic" communities, such as Spiritus Christi and Jesus Our Shepherd, that function outside any bishop's protection, unsubmitted.

I hold that such communities cannot long survive and remain recognisably Catholic ---- because one of the earliest and most basic definitions of being Catholic is being where the bishop is. To claim to make a church where the bishop is not is to expose oneself to every dogmatic whim, every howling wind, every marauding predator. It is to cut oneself off from the rest of the believers ---- literally to be in schism. Those very few groups that have separated in the past and have remained recognisably Catholic and Christian only managed because either they took their bishops with them (like the Polish National Catholics) or they immediately put themselves under the shelter of another bishop (like Fr. Toth's parishes that became the core of the OCA). They did not make any claim to "independence" or to direct pastoring by Jesus Christ ---- that is a pride trap. Soon they will fall apart, or become excuses for fancy wedding chapels, or wander into strange and false beliefs. There are no foundations, and no accountability.

We need our bishops. We need to be taught, to be guided, to be chastened, to see that we are loved, to be shepherded, to shelter "under the bishop's cape." We are one body in Christ, and we cannot stand alone. To gather as one people around the bishop given to us, not allowing ourselves to be divided; submitting, not accusing; clinging, not dividing. A few days ago I posted a passage from St. Ignatius of Antioch about our union with our bishop; all things are to be done in order and in union with the bishop, and he with us.

We remember this every time we celebrate the Eucharist. We offer our sacrifice remembering "your servant Pope John Paul, our apostolic administrator Richard, Timothy our archbishop-elect, Rembert, and all the bishops...." as we prayed this past Sunday here, a little complicatedly since our diocese is still officially vacant until the 28th. We always pray in union with our shepherds, our teachers, our fathers in Christ.

As long as the "Independent" groups refuse to acknowledge that they need a father-in-Christ, a protective shepherd, they will fall prey to every whim and every prowler.

We who are Catholic Christians have no business wandering in the howling wilderness where the bishop is not. Where the bishop is, there is the Catholic Church. And there is the only place where we can be certain of that.

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