31 March 2007

Home, sweet home

Recent headlines have read, “Bishop Herzog joins the Roman Catholic Church,” and “Retired Episcopal bishop becomes Catholic.” Of course, this is good news. The retired Episcopal bishop, Daniel Herzog, is now a practicing Catholic. However, it was not strictly a “conversion” in the commonly-understood sense of the word. It would perhaps be better called a “reversion.”

Daniel Herzog was born in 1941 and was raised as a Catholic. He was fully initiated into the Church through the Catholic sacraments. He attended a Catholic college. He then left the Catholic Church as a young married man of about thirty years of age and became an Episcopalian, where he subsequently was ordained, most recently serving as the Episcopal bishop of Albany. Upon his retirement he and his wife have returned to the practice of their Catholic faith.

As I said, this is good news. But it is really the story of a prodigal returning to his father’s house. It’s not the story of a gradual discovery of Catholic truth, moving from the known into the unknown and having the treasury of the Faith unfolding along the journey. Daniel Herzog already had all that, and for a time he rejected it. That happens. Very often in our lives we think we have something better than the wisdom of our fathers and in our youthful exuberance we want to take our own path. It must be a common story, since our Lord Himself used it as the basis of one of His best-known and most enduring parables.

But eventually the son comes home. Or so we hope. In this case he did, and in some ways this is a happier story than if Daniel Herzog had been raised as a protestant. There are many who have no concept of what the Catholic Church actually teaches, and so their life outside the fullness of the Catholic Faith is something for which they do not bear responsibility. But when someone has actually had the treasure in his hand, when someone wanders away from the family in which he has been raised and where he has been loved, how much sweeter it is when he retraces his steps and enters the house he had left.

The bishop left as a Catholic layman, and he returns as a Catholic layman. He’s had some adventures along the way, but thank God he never forgot that there’s no place like home.