Page 9, 25th August 2006

25th August 2006
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Page 9, 25th August 2006 — The breathtaking freedom of the Church
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The breathtaking freedom of the Church

BECOME A

CATHOLIC

PART FOUR: LIFE AFTER RECEPTION

people sometimes expect to feel radically different after they've been received into the Church. This is often true of those who have just been baptised. But those who were already committed Christians are more likely to feel a sense of continuity. They have been received into full communion with the Catholic Church. They have reached the very nature and essence of the Christian community. They are now members of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. And they continue with their communion with whatever they were formerly.

They don't cease to he Anglicans or Methodists or Quakers. I have never ceased, ever, to be a member of the Salvation Army or a Strict and Particular Baptist. I was baptised at 15, and that's not nonsense. I was going to be a Baptist minister, and that's not nonsense either. If I was an Anglican priest, or a deacon or bishop, these things were not rubbish. They are all beautiful signs of God's grace. Catholicism embraces all the previous states of your life.

How is that possible? Because Jesus founded only one Church. He didn't make Anglicans, or Baptists or Quakers. Denominations are the result of failure, honor and the abuse of power. In the ceremony of reception you embrace in a unique way every denomination, because Christ is present, in some way, in all denominations. Becoming a Catholic restores the wholeness of Christianity. It may sound odd, but 1 feel that I'm living out the spirituality of the Salvation Army and the Baptist tradition more as a Catholic than I ever did as a Salvationist and a Baptist.

If there is one word that encapsulates what people feel after they have been received, it is "freedom". They understand that they now belong to one Church and are universal people. They are absolutely and totally free. It puts me in mind of that great (though partly untrue) film Braveheart, where Mel Gibson and his men shout "Freedom!" as they charge into battle against the English. They all get wiped out, of course, but there's a great spirit of freedom there. I can't stress that word enough.

This freedom comes from the fact that the person has surrendered. They have surrendered to God, surrendered to themselves, surrendered the idea (which is very widespread these days) that every single person is infallible except the Pope. So many people believe that each human is infallible, a law unto themselves and answerable to no one. But as Catholics we no longer see the Church or the Pope as something that robs us of our free will. Now we learn to see the papacy as freedom, as a centre of love and guidance, and as a tremendous centre of wisdom. We may not always agree with the Church on many difficult and semifive issues. That's OK. We are not robots. We are not living under a totalitarian regime, as some would have us believe.

The important thing is to assent to the fact that we could be wrong, to always be willing to look at our life again. If we have difficulties with Church teaching, we must humbly ask the question: "Could I be wrong?" The difficulties that I had when I became a Roman Catholic are not resolved, but I've surrendered them. I've surrendered them to the fact that I don't understand everything. And I'm happy always to listen and to learn. If the Cardinal says something, I will listen to it. If 1 have difficulty with it, I feel comfortable enough to communicate that difficulty. At the same time, I must be loyal to being in communion. I am in communion, ultimately, with the successors of the Apostles. The Apostles had their differences. St Peter and St Paul had very serious and sincere differences, but both of them strove for unity and for reconciliation.

I stress that this new sense of freedom is not the infantile feeling of having handed over responsibility for our lives to someone else. I haven't surrendered my senses, or my bank balance, or my house, or my telephone bills, but somehow so many things don't matter anymore.

If I am Anglo-Catholic, I don't have to worry any longer about questions of the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist. I don't have to fret about my devotion to Our Lady or about the use of incense, vestments and statues.

If I've come from the evangelical Anglican tradition, or a Methodist or Baptist background, I'm now free in my biblical scholarship. I'm free to live an evangelical and simple sense of the Gospel of Christ. I no longer have to put up with the liberal interpretation of Scripture and constantly fight to preserve biblical integrity, because the Catholic Church is splendid in its defence of the integrity of Scripture.

If I am a middle Anglican, or an affirming Catholic Anglican, my intellect is not lost. I'm now part of a communion that holds academia as a prize gem. For the learned people, we are not brain dead.

If I am artistic or scientific, I belong to a communion that is open to science, to art, to music, all leading to the beauty and the supreme intelligence of God.

Those who are received into the Church shouldn't worry unduly if they do not instantly become saints. It's natural that they will continue to struggle to live the good life. I recall that Archbishop Desmond Tutu once wrote to me, saying: "I wonder what we would do if we found Adolf Hitler or Idi Amin in heaven, them having found God's love so irresistible?" That's my view of the moral question in our Church. There is a home for everyone. There are, however, rules. And it is God who is our final judge.

Jesus has given all authority in heaven and on earth to the Church. Therefore the wisdom and guidance of the Church is sacred and divine. The Church is also very, very, very human. The freedom that one receives in terms of morality is often hard. But remember that Jesus does not expect us to become saints instantly, in a blinding flash of light. Rather, he wants us to work at becoming saints, slowly and steadily, in our ordinary, everyday lives.

If you are thinking about becoming a Catholic or know someone who is enquiring or searching, the Catholic Enquiry Office offers free materials and a question and answer service. For more information please contact: Catholic Enquiry Office, 114 West Heath Road, London. NW3 mt..

Tel. 020 8458 3316.

E-mail: [email protected] Website: www.life4seekers.co.uk

TO THE

CHURCH

Iwas given the name Troy Edkins and baptised in the Church of England. But I never went to church as a boy. From a very young age, I was fascinated by astronomy and the beauty of creation. but was never taught about religion.

We had RE classes at school, but the teacher was something of a battle-axe: she told us that religion was primitive and outdated, superseded by better ideas. The closest I came to discussing God was with my granny, who told me that "God is everywhere". That was confusing to me.

My parents divorced when I was two, so my upbringing was disjointed. As a teenager I was tall — 6ft Sins by the time I was 16 — and depressed. I started stealing and drinking.

My father worked as a disc jockey in a strip club. The owner would let me sit with my father as the girls danced. I have no doubt that this experience damaged my relationships with the opposite sex. I had a series of disastrous relationships with girls. One of my first girlfriends became pregnant and, despite my protests, had an abortion. I opposed her decision because I wanted to be a father.1 liked the idea of having children; 1 didn't like the idea of killing them.

Another particularly tempestuous mmance fell apart when I was 18.1 attempted suicide. I took an overdose of pills and had my stomach pumped in hospital. Life was particularly dark in those years.

After the suicide attempt, I began searching for meaning in my life. At first I explored New Age spiritualism, experimenting with the oriental philosophy and Val chi.

This did nothing to quench my spiritual thirst. Indeed, it had the opposite effect; I just focused more on myself and felt increasingly unhappy as a result. I remember once walking through a park, looking up to the heavens and shouting: "God. where are you?"

My appeal was first answered in a telephone booth in Ilford, Essex. I had just been released from a police station following a failed burglary. I walked into a booth and found a little picture of the Divine Mercy. It was such a beautiful image that it made me pause and

think about Christianity. I kept the picture, but continued to live my aimless life. Then, aged 21, I walked into the Centre for Peace, a Catholic bookshop in Ilford. I felt calm as 1 looked around at the crucifixes and the depictions of the Mother of God. I asked for a Bible. but had no idea which version I was after. I spoke to the lady at the till about God and faith. She decided to give me the Gospel of St John.

I felt a tremendous sense of urgency and excitement. I rushed home and read the Gospel in one sitting. The next day I hurried back to the shop and struck up a great friendship with the lady at the till, Kathy Goble. She answered all my questions. ekplaining the faith clearly and sensibly. I began working voluntarily in the shop. I spent my dole money on crucifixes and holy icons.

One day I accompanied Kathy to Mass at the SS Peter and Paul church. which was opposite the shop. As soon as 1 saw the priest I knew that 1 wanted to devote my life to God. I started attending Mass every day. I was especially intrigued by the institution of the Eucharist. The idea of Jesus's true presence in Holy Communion mesmerised me. It made perfect sense that God would offer us his body to help our broken nature.

Another Sacrament that attracted me was Confession. During a retreat I asked the priest, Mgr John Armitage. if 1 could confess. He made it clear that he could not gant me absolution, but agreed to listen to may sins. I found the experience wonderfully healing. After that I started to yearn for communion with the Church, for the Eucharist and for absolution. I joined the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults programme and in Easter 1993 1 was received into the Church, aged 22.

Some years later, at a Youth 2000 retreat, I met Fr Stan Fortuna, a Franciscan Friar of the Renewal. He was so charismatic and lively. I felt that I too wanted be part of the Franciscan order. The idea of leading a life of prayer, of being poor and helping the poor. appealed to me deeply. 1 flew to New York to visit the Friars. I asked the superior if I could join. He was reluctant because the order had never accepted a foreigner before. But the Friars eventually agreed and I began my novitiate in 1996.1 took the name Brother Francis. I spent eight years in America before coming home to help the order in England. Today I live in the St Pio Friary in Bradford, helping the poor and homeless and praying for the conversion of England.

Brother Francis Edkins




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