Pope Paul VI to the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Michael Ramsey

"(B)y entering into our house, you are entering your own house, we are happy to open our door and heart to you." - Pope Paul VI to Dr Michael Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

When an Anglican steps across the threshold..

I told the Reverend Father Raymond Arre of the University of the Philippines Catholic parish of the Holy Sacrifice that I could not connect with the "Crossing the Tiber" thingy. After all, to cross a river means one gets wet from swimming. I never crossed the Tiber. I just went into the adjacent room of the same house. It is more like crossing the threshold rather than swimming across a river!  The Philippines is a majority Roman Catholic country and even non-Catholics have to be understanding of Catholic practices and in the fullest extent possible without compromising one's non-Catholicness, Catholic practices may be accepted.

A clear example is that some Protestant churches have adopted the uniquely Filipino Catholic practice of "Simbang Gabi" or in Spanish "Misa de Gallo" or "Mass of the Rooster's Crowing". Back in the Spanish colonial period, farmers had to attend Mass at 4 AM so they can set to work on their fields by 6 AM. The Simbang Gabi marks the traditional liturgical season of Christmas in the Philippines as it starts on December 16 and runs for nine days. A local customary belief is that if one attends all the novena masses, he/she will be blessed for the coming New Year. But in an urbanized society, fulfilling this pledge becomes hard. I for instance only fulfilled the dawn mass series in an unlikely place as northern Australia!

It is because that when there are Filipinos around anywhere on the planet and if they are served by a Filipino priest, this custom is followed. Thus there are dawn masses in LA, London, San Francisco, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Sydney etc. Now why would there be a dawn mass in outback Australia? Answer: There was a small Filipino community and there was missionary Filipino priest. I was able to finish the dawn mass series since that town in Australia was so rural and quiet. One is easily able to get up at 3 AM!

As I mentioned earlier this beautiful tradition has been adopted by non Catholics. The Philippine Independent Church which traces its origin from Catholicism has preserved the tradition. Some Methodists, Presbyterians and United Church congregations have adopted the custom. The Episcopal Church in the Philippines has too and the rite is in the ECP Book of Common Prayer.

For this reason and that Filipinos appreciate the value of some Catholic practices, sometimes crossing over to Catholicism in the Philippines is akin to crossing the threshold doorway of another room in the same house. Filipinos are an ecumenical people. While we hold many faith traditions, we don't use this as a point of disagreement. We feel we belong to one house. We are in one house, the Father's! When a Muslim was treated with injustice in another land, many Filipinos  protested, not because a Muslim had been treated badly, but because a person has been treated badly and this offends Allah, our God.

The Philippines has been fortunate to have been spared from religious conflict. But the nation has not been spared from ALL conflict. Our being a sort of ecumenical people may be the key to resolving the conflicts that have cost lives. We have a long way to go. Can Filipinos live up to this vocation which in no doubt comes from God?

I know only of one painting that shows in art this unique Filipino ecumenism. This is the  mural honouring Father John Delaney at Delaney Hall of the University of the Philippines parish where one sees the Protestant Church of the Risen Lord figuring prominently with the Protestants meeting the Catholics in another uniquely Filipino custom of the Easter "Salubong" or encounter. The Salubong celebrates the meeting of the Risen Jesus and His Mother.  How appropriate that the Protestants from Risen Lord meet the Catholics of the Holy Sacrifice at Easter!

In this reflection, I read with great interest the sermon of  Reverend Father Giles Pinnock, the curate of the Church of England parish of Saint Mary the Virgin in Kenton, England. Father Pinnock resigned his curacy in order to be received into the Catholic Church in the soonest possible time. The good priest told his flock of his decision and we don't see the rashness of the decision. He did not even wait for the English Anglican Ordinariates to be set up!

In England and other countries like the USA or Australia, many Anglicans who live the Catholic faith in their communities know that they are Catholic but some don't see the need to cross the threshold, some agonize at the step. Perhaps they think they will be entering another house. But for those who have crossed the threshold, they have suddenly realized they have entered another room of the same house in a much peaceful setting. Father Pinnock hopes for the day when the Anglicans' and the Catholics' path converge. Perhaps that is nearer than he thinks. But only when people realize they are now in the same house. Will Filipinos be able to share that vocation?

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