Father Ed's Blog

A Catholic priest reflects…

The Emperor is still naked

emperor

The level to which our decadent society is denying reality is becoming disturbing. Last month the press informed us that a woman was fighting on front lines for the first time. The reality was that a disturbed man remains in active service whilst his superiors applaud. This week we have been told about the first man to give birth. Spoiler alert- it was not a man. The presence of vagina and womb would have given that one away to small children. It was yet another confused soul who wishes to deny the biological fact of their identity. When will the madness end?

During a conference in America this year I listened with horror, fascination and some amusement as a pastor explained the difficulty of ministering within the liberal left community of Seattle. He was attempting to give counsel to a couple of lesbians who were raising a child belonging to one of them. Decent people by all account. Yet the mother of the child had decided to identify as a man. And this was leading her partner to consider leaving the home because…..well she was a lesbian and didn’t want to be in a relationship with a man?!!?!

Understand that when the remains of King Richard III were dug up under a car park in Leicester nobody argued over the scientific analysis- that the bones clearly belonged to a man. It is a fact of nature that men and women are different to the point of possessing different skeletons. And no matter how much makeup, fancy clothes and butchery one undertakes- if your body is analysed after a terrible fire then the chromosomal information still reveals the truth as opposed to the desire. Why then are we denying science, truth, fact to play this charade?

The conclusions of the sexual revolution are leading us beyond sanity. What madness we sow as we witness the hubris of mankind attempting to deny his true nature. What denial of scientific fact and obvious truth is needed as the State continues its war on the conventional family and hammers home a fantasy of gender fluidity; a slap in the face of hardwired biological fact. I doubt many are really convinced, in truth, but they are afraid to speak out. Because the use of thought policing and hate labelling has left most people more afraid of being thought un-inclusive than deranged. So the nonsense continues.

Well you can label this traditional Christian a hater if you think it wins you the argument. But I would still rather stand with science and reason over insanity. I prefer to insist that you can sympathise with, and care for, those who are  uncomfortable in their own skin without resorting to buying into their delusions. Just as one can support and help the man who thinks he is Nelson without resorting to cutting of his hand and gauging out his eye. If it does not help an anorexic to tell them they are fat then why do we imagine it is helping anyone playing along with the fantasy that they are other than as they were born. In fact it strikes me as cruel.

The downside of Social mobility

busy-road

The invention of the motor car and the internet have made the world a smaller place. Long distance travel has not only become much easier, it is also safer and relatively cheap. And so it is that people travel today as seldom before, not only for leisure but also for work. It has led to an explosion of social mobility – people moving on from town to town and city to city. The job in Dundee is applied for by the man in Harrogate- the cheaper house in the Yorkshire Dales is sorely tempting the stressed commuter in Surrey.

Clearly there are many positive aspects about social mobility. But I think we sometimes overlook and dismiss the negative ones. Mum and dad no longer live on the other side of town, and can be cared for in old age. And so residential homes have become a burgeoning business. Fishermen on the North Norfolk coast find their children priced out of the housing market by second home owners from the more prosperous regions. And communities are much, much weaker than before. Indeed it is said that the busiest cities in the world are also the loneliest places.

And what effect has social mobility had on the Church? We all know a shift to liberal secularism by the leaders of the world, an championed in the press, has damaged the church on a number of levels. But what effect has the increased movement of people had? I suspect it is a bigger factor than we suspect in the downsizing of congregations in recent years.

Firstly because some people, who were at the heart of a parish in one place, find it difficult to adjust to a new setting. There are many reasons people go to church but one main reason they stay- that is if they make meaningful relationships. But joining a community can be hard, especially alone, and it can take time to move from the boundaries to the centre. Mrs X, who always did the flowers at St. Andrews, discovers the formidable Ms Y does them at St. Matthews and has no desire of sharing the responsibility! Her role gone Mrs X finds herself at sea. She still attends but not with the same degree of commitment or attachment as before. Her previous parish struggles for flowers and her new one hasn’t really benefitted.

Then there is the effect on belonging. One of the uphill struggles for clergy today centres on volunteerism. Most worshippers attend on a Sunday but dual income mortgages, the rise in cost of living and the explosion of cheap home entertainment means few offer much time beyond this. And the less involved we are in something, the less invested we will be. You get out what you put in. A challenge multiplied ten fold for newcomers who have no emotional bond with the place in which they worship. To them it is just ‘a church’ and not a ‘spiritual home’. The bond between worshipper and parish is weakened and, I suspect, at cost to faith.

And the invention of the motor car has undeniably encouraged the toxic practice of ‘church shopping’ – that which stops people supporting a local parish in favour of hunting down cosy worship centres where little is demanded of them. Britain’s Cathedrals boast ever rising numbers of worshippers but at what cost to the smaller and less resourced centres of worship? And the fact that birds of a feather have the means to flock together has, I strongly suspect, contributed hugely to the strains placed on unity. When all the modernist minded fellows get together in St. Hippies to bang tambourines just as all the traddies gather in St Smokies for Solemnity with all the bells and whistles….well neither practices tolerance very well. Instead of mucking in together and learning from each other, they grow apart.

And clergy do move so much these days. They whizz in with great ideas but then whizz off again. Leaving the next to whizz in with different ideas and the end result can be a bewildered community of believers. In years past a clergyman would bed into a community for life and baptise several generations. It developed trust and fostered continuity and community. I am not at all certain therefore that the revolving door of clergy appointments is good news. It tends to encourage careerism for the clergy themselves never feel they belong. One of the positive things about being Ordinariate is the knowledge I have nowhere to go! It means I must invest in the parish I have been given for the long run. And this encourages, I suspect, greater pastoral care and concern. I must live with my own mistakes!

And then there is the disruption caused by all the changing faces in the pews. Not long ago I scoured records worried that we seem to attract new people but do not always hold on to them. My research uncovered a story of social mobility. Our Director of Music and his family left for a new life in Australia. The Seminary claimed a family of six. Another family of six have been priced out of the area and relocated. The more I went through the books the more surprised I became. The number of people who arrived and then left the area is large. No sooner do people travel from boundary to centre than they are off again. But the pastor in me wonders at what cost to faith communities and to souls?

I have no real conclusion to any of this. I am just sharing thoughts, probably because we have lost a lot of cherished faces all at once recently. How can the church better respond to a migrant nation? Doubtless there are gains as well as the losses I highlight. But what implications has all of this on our evangelistic mission on these shores? Is there a decent book written on the subject?

Share the good news!

slide1

Above is a poster I have designed for use in the match day programme at the local rugby club- Tunbridge Wells RFC. A fabulous club which is very close to my heart and full of some dear friends. The poster advertises our new 8am Sunday Mass pointing out its suitability for those involved in running children’s sports on Sunday mornings. If you could put the poster up locally please print off a copy and do so.

The 8am Mass has only been running for two weeks. I had expected only a couple at first but it surprised me with over a dozen souls thus far. They have been a mix of those who play sport and those who normally attend our later services but have a reason to be absent. Clearly then there is some need for this short early mass but it would be wonderful to increase the number further in the coming months.

At Saint Anselm’s we are beginning to turn our attention towards a year of evangelisation and mission. We want to ask how we can be more outward looking in our focus and thereby reach out to people around us and not just expect them to walk through our doors. Please pray for our initiative.

Pilgrim check list

rome-pilgrimage

Our parish pilgrimage to Rome is weeks away. So it is time for a little nagging to ensure we are ready come the big day. Here is a check list for pilgrims:

Do you have an up to date EHIC? 

An EHIC card enables British citizens to access European health cover. In the event  of your being bitten by Fr. Nicholas and contracting rabies, this little card will save you from being hit with an impossible bill. It would therefore be foolish to travel without it or to discover it is out of date. In addition you will need personal travel insurance and it is your responsibility to sort this prior to departure.

Here is a link for application and renewal.

Is your passport up to scratch? 

Yes this is a fairly obvious thing but it is surprising how often problems arise. Check your passport today and apply for an emergency renewal if there is a problem. It will prove a very short pilgrimage without it.

Here is a link for emergency renewal. 

Do you have suitable luggage? 

We are not checking  luggage into the hold of the aircraft but travelling with hand luggage only. This means each person must bring only  essentials and not exceed 10kg in weight and their bag must be able to fold down to 55cm x 40cm x 20cm. Do pack a jumper for the cooler evenings and visiting the catacombs etc..

The best way to maximise space is to buy a bag designed to fit the check in criteria. And wear the larger items of clothing on the plane!

Here is a link for those wanting to buy a case of the right dimensions.

Sensible footwear

We will be walking a lot. Sensible footwear and hosiery is essential. Fr. Nicholas recommends walking boots and points out that cheap trainers are neither sensible nor stout. Ignore at your peril!

Food

Bed and Breakfast is provided. Lunch ,Supper, Drinks and Ice Creams are not. Please budget accordingly.  We will try to keep things reasonable, to purchase snack lunch and dine in the evening, but Rome, like most major European cities, is very good at extracting cash from tourists.

Accomodation

We are staying at:

Casa di Santa Francesca Romana a Ponte Rotto, 61, Via di Vascellari, Trastevere, Roma, (00 39) 06 5812 125

A 15th century palazzo close to St Cecilia in the heart of Rome’s medieval suburb and within walking distance of everything. It has a chapel and a lovely courtyard. Bedrooms have en suite facilities.

Finally a huge thank you to Father Nicholas who has organised this pilgrimage. And he doesn’t really bite…honest.

Sermon on the unjust steward

steward

In our Gospel Jesus says be prudent, be shrewd about attaining your salvation. Yet he adds a caveat as a warning; people of faith tend to be less prudent than ‘children of the world.’ There is some truth in this. With some notable exceptions, I discovered long ago that if you insert the word ‘Christian’ into a business then too often it denotes second rate service. There can be something ‘amateur’ at play when we Christians do business. Jesus says learn from the world; where people are more astute. Jesus recommends we apply the same foresight, energy and standards one finds in successful business to faith. Why? Because third rate practice, third rate liturgy, third rate Christian living- these are not fitting responses to God. They do not reflect well on our faith.

Ultimately we are stewards. Responsible for what belongs to God including our lives. And as the steward in the parable was called to account, so one day we will be called to account for our lives. What does the worldly Steward teach us? He was prudent; despite huge character flaws he worked urgently reducing debts owed. He knew he couldn’t make things ‘right’ but he did try to make them better. He worked to amend shortcoming. Now remember this is a message to Christians not actual stewards. So what is the point?

The Letter of James says “whoever brings back a sinner from error will save his soul and cover a multitude of sins.” So when, despite our character flaws, we at least try to put things right with God; obeying his commands, bringing others to Church- like that dishonest steward- we show that we care. And this pleases God. Scripture says it will be to our credit on Judgment Day. Better an imperfect Christian standing up for the Gospel and striving for the kingdom, than what we might call the pious inactive; those who seemingly believe the right thing but do nothing for the salvation of others, for the work of the church.

Having demanded prudence Jesus endorses ‘dishonest wealth’. That might shock you but Jesus is saying Christians are in the world, even if we are not of it. And because we are in the world then we have no option but to live by some of its rules.  Take money, which Christ highlights. Why act as if cash is of secondary importance, too dirty to sully spiritual parishes, when you can do nothing without it!? Prayer is of little use without corresponding action and generosity.

Here, alas, something negative must be said about the modern tendency of Christians in the West to underfund churches at parish level. Over the last half century it has caused tremendous damage; buildings have become shabby, mission is impoverished as it becomes an optional extra, amateurs soon replace professionals, and a low expectation of clergy leads vocations to dry up at clear cost to standards. Ultimately we get the church we pay for! Decline the inevitable result of Church done on the cheap, faith dumbed down. We lose ground when we close parishes through fear and do not open them in faith. Somehow we must reverse this trend that has developed the more cosy in the culture we find ourselves. But how?

All wealth is dishonest in one sense: there is no pound sterling in Heaven. But Jesus stresses it can and should be put to work for God. We must stop playing at building the kingdom; running parishes as though a hobby or as a club for a few empowered laity. If we are serious about evangelisation and about our faith then we need properly resourced parishes, in every community in Britain, parishes emboldened to preach Christ crucified. Able to stand up to the culture and not be seduced by it. We need high standards of preaching and liturgy; a great deal higher than can seem the case at present. And- most of all- we need bishops who are authentic men of God and not emasculated politicians. And that the need for these things cries out to heaven for answers at present…tells us the church is clearly in crisis in the West. So how do we apply this Gospel passage to it? What can be done?

Be shrewd says Christ. Make use of material goods, though tainted. Here I must pause to congratulate you; because this parish has risen, against all expectations, to the challenge of establishing itself for God in the last few years. Giving has risen dramatically and progress made possible. Thank you. Please continue to be a willing, generous giver. But such development isn’t obvious everywhere.

Indeed when you examine the ‘kingdom building’ of the last fifty years against the ‘kingdom building’ of our ancestors it is beyond embarrassing, it is deplorable. Consider the vision and generosity that built Canterbury Cathedral or which established those Catholic schools of excellence- Oxford and Cambridge. Visit any ancient parish church and ask how the poorer residents then, who largely lived on gruel and sweat, resourced and construct churches lasting a thousand years- whilst in the last fifty years, at a time of excessive wealth in the West, we have tended only towards the cheap and the ugly- the concrete blocks?

Tourists still flock to Westminster Abbey and Norwich Cathedral, even Pembury old church. But I cannot imagine, a thousand years hence, they will visit many pre-fabricated churches to marvel at the cheap carpet, electric pianos and pot plants…. Who can deny then, based on such evidence, that our standards have slipped? What we need to do, quite clearly, the is return to what worked in the past. Emulating the firm unflinching faith, the appreciation of beauty and art, the sacrificial love and willingness to die for Christ, shown by Christians in the days when we actually took on a pagan culture and won. That we might win souls for Christ!

And it is to this end that resources should be put at the service of the Gospel. To save souls and prepare ourselves for salvation. We must be serious about faith. It isn’t to be a hobby but a first priority. So when will we up our game in the West and inspire a watching world for the salvation of souls? You and I cannot answer that, for it is beyond our control. And fortunately God will not be asking us to account for anything out of our control. But what we will be asked about, what we can influence, is what happens here. In this place. So that becomes our vocation -to hold together and build up God’s church in this place. To make sure our little parish reflects a sincere love of God and fidelity to the faith of the Apostles.

To this end, in recent years, we have constructed dignified space for the worship of God. The next phase of our life must now be a missionary call. We must go out into the world, out into the village, out into the town and bring people to God. We must fill each pew, adding additional Mass times if necessary. All of which is to say that the foundations are now laid and it is time to build. Not in bricks and mortar but flesh and blood. Which is why, from Advent, we begin as a parish a special year of evangelisation. My hope and prayer is that this initiative will not be left to the predictable few but taken on by all. What will you do to bring another soul to Christ in the weeks and months ahead?

Who am I? Why does it matter?

guess-who-am-i

Unfortunately Fr. Marcus Holden, with good reason, can no longer make the date of our September Year of Mercy talk. He has promised to come and speak to us later in the year. In place of the advertised talk I shall deliver the lecture I gave at the Evangelium summer conference this summer. It is entitled ‘Who are you? And why does it matter?’

The talk is aimed at being easily understood whilst helping us explore some vital anthropological and philosophical suppositions about human nature. As ever it is 7pm for Mass and 8pm for the talk, with refreshment offered between the two. The date for the diary is September 21st- one week from today.

Why not bring a friend? This talk should be of interest to anyone who wants to explore the human condition. I think a great many non-Christians might find it thought provoking and worthy of reflection.

Turning our gaze outwards…

11outward

The Year of Mercy draws to a close. Here in Pembury we celebrated it with a series of special talks, ongoing and worthwhile, and with a pilgrimage to Rome to take place this October. But then what? What next? In the absence of another global initiative, I suspect, it is time for a local one; and thus on Sunday I sowed a seed in the mind of our gathered congregations. I want us to celebrate a special year of…

MISSION!

For the last five years our focus has necessarily been turned inwards. We had a church to build, funds to gather, space to beautify, grounds and gardens to excavate and make good, two congregations to bring together and we were also charged with establishing the Ordinariate vision at a local level. And the great news is that those years have proved very fruitful. God has been good to us.

But now that our worship space is established, and a new kitchen and sanctuary are on the way, we want to turn our gaze outwards. We want to share what we have with other people. How can we better evangelise the local population? Simply waiting for people to walk through the door is not good enough? How can we be of better service to the local community? Our new kitchen and hall suggests we can do more. How might we broadcast our liturgy that the house-bound can feel involved? A question posed to me by a benefactor. How can we catechise those already established in the parish?

To this end members of the congregation are invited to join a special ‘mission committee’. It will form for one year only and meet with the clergy monthly. It will be tasked with answering questions- such as those above- and, most crucially, it will become a forum where ideas get put into practice.

My sincere hope is that people will really engage with this and not leave it to the same few faces. I would love to have people young and old, poor and rich, villagers and those from further afield. The group can be five strong or 155 strong! All that matters is that we produce some real fruit for the faith. That we take seriously our mandate to spread the Gospel for the salvation of souls, and thereby prove that  our investment in this parish has been worthwhile.

Application forms will appear in the pews in the next few weeks….could you spare one evening a month to help with the spread of the Gospel?

Parish round-up

Altar boys arrive in procession during a mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI to commemorate cardinals and bishops who died this year, in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican November 3, 2011. REUTERS/Tony Gentile (VATICAN - Tags: RELIGION TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY)

This morning the first 8am dawn Mass proved a surprising hit for the parish. I was anticipating only a couple of souls at most but a full dozen were there in attendance – most of whom would normally attend later services but for family commitments etc.. If this first week is anything to judge then there is a need for a short but dignified early Mass on Sunday morning.

Many parishioners have asked where Revd. Jack Lusted and family have disappeared to! His absence is, in fact, cause for celebration. Not because we are glad to see the back of him understand, nothing could be further from the truth, but because this new term has seen him begin his studies at Wonersh Seminary where he is being prepared to serve as a priest in the Arundle and Brighton diocese. Part of the deal is that he will now worship, on various placements, within that diocese. So our loss is very much a gain for the wider church.

S. Smith and sons builders of Tunbridge, are in discussion with me at present regarding plastering the Santuary wall, building the gradine, raising the altar and the refurbishment of our Sacred Heart Side Chapel. Being an extremely reputable firm the builders are working flat out on other projects, and this explains a slight delay in phases of work. But the interior works should be completed by the end of autumn and certainly by Christmas.

Meanwhile money continues to flow in for the much needed renovation of the parish kitchen and, because the total raised now exceeds £9000, I have asked one of our wardens to meet with a kitchen fitter this week to sanction the works. What a fantastic achievement this is for our parish- thank you so very much to everyone who has donated. We are extremely grateful as the work is desperately needed.

Finally it was announced, at services this morning, that following the global Year of Mercy, our own parish is to hold it’s own “year of mission” from Advent next year. Having beautified our worship space and embraced changes in the liturgy, we now need to turn our focus outwards with an evangelistic intent. We must seek out souls for salvation and fill our pews to bursting. We must ensure we serve the community and witness to all that God has done for us. And so we are going to be asking people to form a special committee, for one year only, to ponder how to do this most effectively. Details to follow….

Mass of the dawn

2

A reminder that a Mass of the dawn will be offered tomorrow morning at 8am and every Sunday thereafter. This new Mass is aimed to provide for those who often tell me they would be at church except that they are involved in work or sports later on Sunday mornings! It will also be useful to regulars at our later services when they need to dash away to visit family or friends, take children to university, etc… The Mass will be said and there will be a short reflection after the Gospel rather than a full sermon. And I already know that we have a congregation for tomorrow!

Forgiveness in the year of mercy

power-of-forgiveness_t

As a prison chaplain, albeit only for half a day each week, I applaud Cardinal Nichols for speaking out, in this year of mercy, for offenders in need of forgiveness. He has suggested that employers need to stop asking about previous criminal records in an effort to ensure people are not pre-judged and therefore the victims of discrimination. How is society meant to rehabilitate people if it is unwilling to open doors into everyday life?

As a chaplain I see three problems which can face prisoners set for release and two of those are not their own. First there is the obvious problem of their own demons and difficulties. If they themselves are not ready to be rehabilitated then there is very little chance that they will sort themselves out in a helpful way. But this is not true for most who do, in fact, sincerely want a new life and fresh opportunities. The problem comes when nobody will help or befriend them which leaves them turning to old friends, the wrong sort, once released back into the community. And so the cycle continues….

Which leads to the other two significant problems. The first is the loss of Christian faith within society. Put bluntly the less Christian our nation becomes, the less Christian virtues are shaping it and being held up as desirable. Where businesses of old created opportunities for people with learning difficulties, or ex-offenders, out of a desire to do their Christian duty; in today’s profit driven world of faceless corporations nobody looks out for the disadvantaged. Once you have a criminal record the reality tends to be that few people care about you anymore.

The final problem is that communities are not as strong as they once were. This means that ex-offenders cease to be personalities and become a negative stereo-type in people’s imagination. Fear and alienation then follow. Yet the reality is that prisoners are as diverse as the rest of the population. In the prison where I work I could introduce you to some truly lovely people who simply took some wrong turns in life- often because they were failed by family and circumstance in life. Others are clear and obvious victims of vile people who have bullied and controlled them and who simply need a new life away from such hostile and negative influence. Still others have actually committed less crime than many white collared companies. There is something very disturbing about the class imbalance.

One could go on but the point is surely obvious. What is an ex-offender? It is a human being. One like you and like me. One who has sinned at times and proved virtuous and good at others. A person who, though they transgressed, has paid the price and done their sentence. More needs to be done to offer them meaningful avenues in to normative life. For if nice law abiding people do not welcome them as friends then isolated loneliness or else the criminal world will be all that is left for them. It is so bad that there are prisoners who re-offend simply to get back inside. For prison is a more humanising experience than social shunning on the outside.

In this year of mercy let us pray for prisoners and ex-offenders and ensure hope and forgiveness trump fear and suspicion in our dealings with them.

Page 1 of 47

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén