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In the first Vatican Council held from 1869-1870 (and you thought our meetings were long) the dogma of Papal infallibility was established. The doctrine being that the Pope, in the context of ex cathedra teachings (that is, speaking with the highest authority) is without error. There have been only two such teaching: one is the Immaculate Conception of Mary and the other is the bodily Assumption of Mary, much like Jesus at his Ascension; both of which are very high Marian theology. However, regardless of the proclamation, there are many who have disagreed with the idea of Papal infallibility – your’s truly – along with a good many others, including some Catholics who broke with Rome and are now known as the Old Catholic Church (found chiefly in Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Austria and Czechia) and who are, in fact, in Communion with the Church of England. The Patron Saint of the Old Catholic Church is our Saint for today: Willibrord of Utrecht.
He was born in 668 and placed in the monastery in Ripon in northern Yorkshire at a very early age. When he was thirty, he was ordained a priest and the following year received permission to go on a mission in Utrecht, what is now in central Netherlands. He quickly made friends with the Christian duke and receiving papal permission went about the work of a missionary with great success. Six years after arriving, he was ordained the archbishop and would later be joined by Saint Boniface, also from England, who would later take over the work in the region. Both Willibrord and Boniface and so many of the other saints we study were originally Saints of the Roman Catholic Church and so we also recognize them; however, I very much appreciate what John Julian wrote at the close of his article on Willibrord: “most of the Christianizing of the pagan tribes across Europe after the collapse of the Roman Empire was due to the work of missionaries like Willibrord and Boniface, virtually all of whom came from the Church in Britain.” So the RCs can claim them, but they’re really ours.
Jesus said to the seventy that he sent out before him: “Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’” Willibrord, Boniface, and all the others continued in this great work established by Christ and we are called to do the same. How?
At our convention this past weekend, Bishop Van Kovering said that Episcopalians are very fond of quoting those words that some claim St. Francis spoke, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary use words.” That is a very comfortable place for Episcopalians because we can declare that we are preaching the Gospel by being “nice” people, but as the Bishop pointed out, you must also tell them why you do the things you do. We can’t use Francis’ words as an out. As Jesus said to the seventy, do the works that I’ve been doing, but then, “Say to them, ‘The Kingdom of God has come near to you.” Say to them…. as Jesus, the disciples, the seventy, Willibrord and all the other Saints, say to those you encounter in your missionary work, “The Kingdom of God has come near to you.” And preach the Gospel with both your works and your words.