On Being a Layman
May 17, 2012 15 Comments
(Fr) Chori Jonathin Seraiah who was a Traditional Anglican Communion Priest writes:
When the phone rang I had a couple seconds of fear. I was worried that I was about to hear “I’m sorry to have to bring you some bad news . . . ” Instead he said the words that I have been waiting to hear for a very long time. “Rome has granted your approval for ordination.” My wife was sitting right next to me at the time; first she got an enormous smile, and then she started to cry. The previous few days I had been spending much time in prayer preparing myself in case it had been bad news. There was nothing that I knew of that would have disqualified me, but we were told “there are no promises” and I took that seriously. It was a step of faith wherein we could only rely on God.
This was one of those things that is best understood only after you give it up. Only after I was willing to say, “it is not my choice, and I must be willing to give up anything for the sake of following Christ” could I have a deep appreciation of this wonderful blessing. If we hang on to the things of this world too much (even good and godly things), then we never really appreciate having them. I had never known just how much I felt the inner call to the priesthood until the prospect was on the horizon that it might not be able to serve in that way ever again.
I have been reconciled with the Catholic Church for the last four months. I have been enrolled in the condensed seminary course for the majority of that time. All during that time I have had the ability to experience what it is like to be invisible. When I used to wear a clerical collar as an Anglican priest, there were always the stares; it was, of course, always more unabashed when I had my wife and five children with me. Yet, of late I have been incognito. Wearing ordinary street clothes allows one to hide in the shadows. This gave me the impetus to think about certain things.
As a layman I have noticed that Catholics usually show great respect for their clergy. This is different from what the norm is in many protestant congregations. I have seen protestants who deeply love their pastors; to a point. In other words, they love their pastor until he does something that displeases them. As soon as there is a difference in perspective, then it is common fare for the laity to demonize the offending clergyman. No, this is not a universal practice, but it is common enough where you can generally expect it to occur.
On the other hand, I have seen Catholics who do not really like their priest show him sincere respect. Their attitude seems to be “I may disagree with him, but he’s the priest and I’m not”. Happy to learn from my brothers and sisters, I have appreciated the various examples that they have given me in how this works itself out in the life of a Catholic parish (they likely did not know that I was observing them, but I am thankful for each and every one of them). The consequence for me is that I have had the chance to think about what it means to live like a layman in the Catholic Church just long enough to appreciate the differences.
What I am getting at is that the waiting time that I had to go through has been wonderful. If I had been an Anglican priest on Thursday, a Catholic layman on Friday, a Catholic Deacon on Saturday and a Catholic Priest on Sunday, there would not be the opportunity to feel the difference. This would have taken away the blessing of being “one of the people” in the parish. I know this is somewhat of a crass comparison, but it makes me think of what it must be like for those who are not virgins when they get married; the transition is minimized. I am certainly thankful for the short amount of time that we are being made to endure this wait, but I am also thankful that it was not shorter.
Having found conviction that the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church is only found in communion with the Holy See is a very comforting experience. To have come to believe this while I was an Anglican priest who was regularly saying the Anglican Mass, I have longed to say Mass as a Catholic priest for a long time. The more my convictions became clear, the more I found it difficult to say the Anglican Mass without discomfort. That meant that I longed to be able to say a Mass that was undoubtedly valid.
This brings me to my final point. During my journey through the morass of Protestantism, I spent very little time in any kind of layman’s role. I believe that I had forgotten a bit of what it meant to be on the other side of the pulpit. I see it better now; much better. This has been a very helpful reminder of what it means to be in the pews. I am about to be ordained as a transitional Deacon in the Catholic Church and incardinated into the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, and when that happens it will be the beginning of ministering to God’s people in a way that is similar to, but not precisely like anything I have done before. As things begin to happen over the next few months, I ask that all of you would pray for me and my family; that we would each be good examples of the grace of Christ.