Today starts the "week of prayer for Christian unity," with the theme "Pray without Ceasing." I have a special intention for this week of prayer. It is for the members of a schismatic group which calls itself the "Reformed Catholic Church." They operate pretty much under the radar, but they are organizing parishes, dioceses and even religious orders, using all the familiar structures, language and rituals. (The unfamiliar part would be the ordination of women, the recognition of same-sex unions as marriage, the acceptance of abortion under certain circumstances; things like that.) They are not "reformers" in the way of the Protestant reformers, who thought they were bringing the Church and its practices back in line with earlier, purer forms. These new, would-be reformers have set up what they think the Church of Christ "ought" to be like. That being the case, it is not surprising that their vision coincides on a remarkable number of points with the spirit of the age. Also unsurprisingly, they made sure that their bishops (so far, all seem to be male) received valid Orders, so that the Catholic Church (the original one) will have to take them seriously.
It would be easy to condemn this group and its adherents out of hand: there is a certain pitiful pride in their press releases and blog posts. The leaders of this movement clearly believe that they are to our age what Francis of Assisi was to his: called to "rebuild the Church."
And to create yet another break within the Body of Christ...isn't that a tip-off that something has gone very wrong?
But I can understand why some people may latch on to something so obviously delusional: people whose marriages or partnerships cannot be recognized by the Church might grasp at the chance to preserve their Catholic identity and a cherished relationship; women who strongly desire the priesthood and do not adequately understand why the Catholic Church cannot ordain them might convince themselves that Orders would be valid in a splinter Church; people who (again, it is so tied in with not understanding the mystery the Church is living in!) think of Catholic life in political, rather than sacramental, terms, and so read everything in a lens of "exclusion" and "inclusion" might well want to preserve the familiar rites while rescripting their context.
In a way, it all comes down to the dread fear of conversion, and none of us are really free of that. Many of us may be free in the particular areas of conversion that the "Reformed Catholic Church" manages to bypass, but none of us relishes the idea of having to face our own resistance to grace and our own blindness when it comes to good and evil.
This week of prayer for Christian Unity, which culminates in the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, can be a week of prayer also for openness to the Lord's ongoing gift of conversion and repentance--for all of us.