Tuesday, 16th January, 2001 – Part E: In which I review my deliberations over the past year

(Still working from notes about the past week)

I began my journal with this quotation from Newman’s Apologia:

You may think how lonely I am. ‘Obliviscere populum tuum et domum patris tui,’ has been in my ears for the last twelve hours. I realise more that we are leaving Littlemore, and it is like going on the open sea.

And then I wrote:

Yet maybe I will listen to the call that Abraham heard: “Obliviscere populum tuum et domum patris tui...” What I need is a healthy dose of faith, instead of this “The Lord helps those who help themselves” philosophy I am used to working with!!!”

That could hardly be more appropriate at this point. Alison’s reminder to me of God’s call to Abraham is, I think, a call to trust God’s leading even in the face of this threat of an enforced “leave of absence”. Abraham had to leave his security and his boundaries, and follow the call of his God to go “to the land that I will show you”. The remarkable thing (well brought out in a film some years ago) is that his wife went with him! This is, of course, the remarkable thing now. Cathy trusts God’s call to me more than I do!

Then there is that old saying that was very important to me once, and of which P. reminded me early on:

Follow the truth where it leads.

What is True? Not just what is “loving and creative”, as my spiritual director used to say, but what is TRUE? That would be a good addition to my director’s ethical criteria. In this case, I think it is decisive. Strange that Cathy is of the opinion that to go to Hope Valley would not be the loving thing to do, and that, in a strange way, it may be more loving to her and the kids to follow my calling to the Truth and, ultimately, more creative too, in that it would lead to the attaining of unimaginable goals of both marriage and family AND (perhaps) Catholic priesthood.

Now this is greatly contrasted with Cathy’s original position. I had recorded that in the first week or so of my journey, Cathy had said
There’s no way I will be getting an annulment of my first marriage.

The fact that she is now engaged in this process, and willingly so, is perhaps one good outcome of this call.

Also of importance is Ratzinger’s comment in Called to Communion:

Perhaps we are now a little better able to comprehend what a turnabout faith entails--to grasp the re-versal, the con-version that it contains: I acknowledge that God himself speaks and acts; I recognise the existence not only of what is ours but also of what is his. But if this is true, if we are not the only ones who choose and act, but he too speaks and acts, then everything changes. Then I must obey, then I must follow him, even when he leads me where I do not wish to go (Jn 21:18). Then it becomes reasonable, indeed, necessary, to let go of my own taste, to renounce my own wishes and to follow after him who alone can show the way to true life, because he himself is the life (Jn 14:6). This is what Paul means by the cruciform character of discipleship, which he underlines at the conclusion of the reading as the answer to the Corinthian party system (10:17): I abandon my taste and submit myself to him. But it is in this very way that I am set free, because the real slavery is imprisonment in the circle of our own wishes.

Now, this “cruciform character” is what I think the District President calls “the theology of the cross”, yet here what is meant is more of a “take up your cross and follow me” rather than “God-working-in-hidden-ways” theology. To “abandon my taste”, ie. what I want, and to “submit myself to him” can only be thought of in the sense of following the truth that God has revealed to me through the Catholic Church.

“I must obey”. “I must follow him, even when he leads me where I do not wish to go.” I may wish to go into the Catholic Church, yes, but do I really wish to go into the uncertainty of “leave of absence”, unemployment, homelessness etc. with out any assurance that I will actually arrive at the destination to which I believe God is calling me? No way! Yes, I want to get to where he is calling me, but I would prefer it without the Cross. But I don’t think I can avoid it. Of course I can't.

Early on, Fr Denis said that he was “afraid” for me, that he “admired my faith and courage”. Now, at that stage, that was all very flattering, especially because I wasn’t particularly being required either to be faithful or to be courageous. Now I am being called to be both, and I don’t need anyone else to be afraid “for me”, I am doing a very good job of being afraid for myself!!!

I also wrote at the beginning:

Essentially, this call to the Catholic Church is something that will not go away if I ignore it. It is an old issue for me that has resurfaced precisely when my ministry is shaky. It is therefore a foundational issue for me, and I have to deal with it eventually. ... If...I turn back at any stage before I reach the point at which I can go no further, the question of whether I should be a Catholic will always remain unresolved.

And that is Cathy’s point exactly.

When I first told the District President that I was on the road to becoming a Catholic, he said to me, “Well, you must ask yourself whether, having even gone this far, you can still continue as a Lutheran pastor, or whether you should resign.” At that time I said to myself that “in one sense he is right—I am already experiencing great difficulties in functioning in my pastoral role.” At that stage though I was still thinking that “out of all of it, I might...emerge even more Lutheran than when I went in.”

This is not true now, I think. The time to resign my parish (if not my place on the roll of pastors) has definitely come. I recorded in this journal back on the 10th of June last year that I was wondering if the time to resign had come. I did not act then. Now, six months have transpired, and it seems that the time is finally here. A lot has happened since then—the Pastor’s Conference and Synod, the annulment process, preparation with Anthony, preparations with the Archdiocese. Yes things are quite different now. Maybe it is time.

Things would be different if I could be assured of being received into the Catholic Church (even as a non-communing member). I wonder now, having re-read my notes, what Fr Tony Kerin meant at the initial interview when he said: “It would, however, not to be necessary for the annulment process to be complete before you were professed and began communing, because you could show that you were doing all in your conscience to set the situation right.” I need to check this out further. If I could, on this basis, be received into the church, I would feel much more secure in making the step of resignation.

Back in June last year, on the phone from Queensland, my Seminary mentor had said to me: “Do you have any idea how much hurt you will cause a lot of people? And how hard this will make it for those of us who remain in the church, like myself and Pastor P., and Pastor D.B.?” At least with regard to P. this seems to be true already. Speaking to P. on the phone the night before I came down here to the Island (on the 13th of January) he said (in very subdued tones for him), “This raises a lot of issues for me”. Maybe he is also reflecting on John Fleming’s challenge to him when we were at dinner at the Holmes' home.

Back in June, my mentor also said: “Especially, since I know you are likely to want to make some sort of big romantic stand out of this, don’t resign, but take leave of absence to consider this.” Again, this seems like a prophecy come true. I don’t think I will resign—there does not seem much point in this if I cannot be immediately received into the Catholic Church—but it has come time to take “leave of absence”.

Then there was my spiritual director's suggestion of seeing a clinical psychologist (“but perhaps the psychological must be examined too”) which I never followed up. Cathy said to me last night that perhaps I should do this, because of the “security” and “boundaries” issues. But I might start first with the cheaper option of talking to the Counsellor who works at my parish church in Knox.

My director had also asked me to consider the possibility that, before I make the final decision, I should get all those whom I have spoken to about this situation together for a round table discussion along the lines of “Okay, give it to me straight.” Could this still be useful as a methodology for handling the current crisis???

Then, in my email to G., I had written:

You will be pleased to know that I have, in the last week, determined not to act upon this matter until: 1) my first marriage has been annulled and Cathy's marriage declared not binding, so that we can both receive the blessing of the church on our marriage, 2) I have a job to go to, preferably a ministry position (lay) in the RC church, 3) our next child has been born, 4) the three congregations of Knox, Frankston and Casey have sorted themselves out a little more than currently is the case. Hence, we are probably talking at least 2 years here.

Of all these prerequisites, only number three has been fulfilled, ie, Mia has been born. Nothing else has been settled. In this regard, taking leave of absence now is a bit premature.

Then, at the end of Synod, I wrote:

When I get home, I will begin preparation for my annulment application. I will hang around in the LCA until my annulment is granted and our marriage is blessed, and then I will move on. I will begin other procedural explorations as well. In the meantime, God grant me the grace to continue my ministry in good faith until it is possible for me to profess my faith as a Roman Catholic. I can’t stay in the LCA, I just cannot. To do so would be completely against the grain for me.

Well, it seems that this prayer for grace has not been granted. “The Old Man”, as my District President called God, is forcing the issue.

In August, after the Synod, I also wrote
I have felt quite despondent in the last few weeks. Above all, to be able to do this job, you have to believe in it.

The District President seems to have recognised that I have, in fact, lost faith in my own ministry. This is why he/God is forcing the issue.

Fr John Fleming once said to me “Trust Cathy”, and back in 1987 the guys sang a parody at our wedding:

Trust and obey,
for there’s no other way,
to be happy with Cathy but to trust and obey.

It was very funny at the time, but now both those words and the words of the original have come back to haunt me. I hate “Trust and Obey” as a song, probably because I am lousy at either trusting or obeying—but now I have to both trust and obey both God and Cathy!


A couple of days ago, I received a short letter from my Godmother and her husband. In it, she said:

We are glad, David, that you shared your deliberations with us. For me it made clearer some things I was hearing and others about which I have wondered for some time. In many ways I ponder why this discussion has been so long coming. In the end, what denomination you are makes no difference, but we remain concerned about your reasons. Keep in touch and all the best in your deliberations about your call to Adelaide.

In a sense, this was a good letter to get, but I know they disapprove of my reasons, and partly that is because to them “what denomination [I am] makes no difference”. Surely it would make a difference to them if I became Jehovah’s witness or Mormon or Muslim or something? So what is their criterion of truth? They have totally failed to think about what I was saying.