A seminarian writes…

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Thomas Mason is a seminarian of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham who is currently on a summer placement here in Pembury before he returns to his studies alongside the Dominican’s at Blackfriars,Oxford.  He has kindly written today’s blogpost:

An English Village Church– an outsider’s view of S. Anselm, Pembury.

If one journeys in one’s mind to an English village, one might well find a tree-filled churchyard; then entering the church, hymns from the English Hymnal and choral music from the English tradition to provide a solid musical underpinning for the worship. As the shadows lengthen on a Sunday afternoon, one might even find a local lady cycling to evensong. Thus one might well conceive the stereotypical idyll of a Church of England village parish – but of course this is no Church of England parish, this is a Catholic Church fully united in faith, teaching, practice, and communion with the See of Peter whence unity in the Church flows.

Viewed from the outside the church of S. Anselm, Pembury, strikes one as a place which is remarkably ordinary. Built as the church hall in the ’60s, money ran out before the church itself was built, so it currently functions as both church and hall. These two facts, which seem to be in direct contradiction are the foundation upon which the Ordinariate is pursuing its work in this corner of Kent.

The idyll which is seen as characteristic of the Church of England is, of course, a nearly extinct species; as our former home is finding that its centre will not hold, the Ordinariate seeks to tap into the deep and long memory of Christianity in England. It is no coincidence that the parish Priest’s youngest son is named for S. Augustine of Canterbury, whose mission (on the direct orders of the then Holy Father) led to the creation of a deeply Catholic nation and culture which lasted for a thousand years.

This memory needs to face and address the effects of the reformation; England was dragged out of Catholic Christendom at the point of a thousand pikes, at the hangman’s noose, and at a series of smaller exclusions and marginalisations too numerous to mention; yet something remained – Henry, Edward, and Elizabeth did not manage entirely to extinguish the yearning to Catholicism and that remnant grafted back onto the strong nourishing roots of the Catholic Church is being allowed to flourish once more.

There is a palpable Englishness about everything which happens, yet this is through and through a Catholic parish. Straggling both the Ordinariate (which supplies the two Priests and around half of the laity) and the archdioceses of Southwark (which supplies the building and the other part of the laity) the parish seeks to model unity in diversity – neither side extinguishes the other, yet both enrich each other. The great hope of the Malines conversations – the Church of England united not absorbed – is being built in an unassuming manner. Diocesan Catholics joining Ordinariate Catholics at evensong, and kneeling together for benediction.

The physical setting does not even begin to compare with the local Ordinariate members’ former home of S. Barnabas, Tunbridge Wells; and so it would be easy to consider the via pulchritudinis, the way of beauty, to be inappropriate here; to relax into a gentle mediocrity which in seeking to offend and challenge nobody leaves all unfulfilled. Yet, for many years it has been a mark of the anglo-catholicism whence we came to seek always and everywhere to create ‘Heaven and Earth in Little Space’ – to take the title of a book by (the now Msgr) Andrew Burnham, of the Ordinariate. The outward and obvious challenge of the space seems to force an extra effort to create that within.

The beauty which is pursued is expressed in the reverential manner of the celebration, in the maintenance of a strong musical tradition, but above all in the beauty of Catholic Faith and teaching. There is no sense of a tension between a beautiful celebration and the unabashed expression of truth, but rather they become two sides of the same coin – the Faith is itself an object of beauty (one might even call it the veritatis splendor), that it is surrounded by other forms of beauty as it is expressed flows naturally from this central first proposition.

The beauty is also not to be kept hidden. Just as the via pulchritudinis was called a ‘privileged pathway for evangelisation’ [Plenary Assembly, Pontifical Council for Culture, 2006]; so the beauty is passed on and shared. The sharing is suitably quiet and unassuming (for such an English place), but is clear; the beauty when fully presented becomes irresistible. This sharing also means that rather than talk about the importance of community, here it simply happens because it’s the natural thing to happen.

What will I carry away from S. Anselm’s? First, there is a strong theology of place, this is a particular corner of England, and therefore it is right and proper that a deeply English spirituality should be pursued; the place is also personal, this is a particular community of people, a community who clearly know and love each other. Secondly, this particularity of place is complemented by the universality of Catholicism; in singing the chants from the Missal any Catholic from the anglophone world should be able to feel at home and join in with the Mass, the teaching and the communion are world-wide and throughout time. Thirdly, the concept of beauty; the beauty of the truth of the Catholic Faith, and its reflection in a desire (a realised desire) to have beauty and reverence in worship. We are told that a three-legged stool is sturdiest, and upon these three legs S. Anselm’s is creating a truly special expression of the Faith which is in turn drawing people in and enriching them to bring others in.

The Ordinariate Festival

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Today was an historic day as supporters and members of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham gathered in Westminster Cathedral for our very first festival. It was a time for celebration and reflection and catching up with friends. And it was well attended. Photographs are available here.

The morning began with coffee, a welcome and a round up of news from various local groups. We then moved from a hall into the Cathedral itself for Mass at 12:30pm celebrated by Monsignor Keith Newton. His homily was inspiring reminding us of the need to live our faith authentically that we may then witness more effectively.

After lunch we returned to the hall for the key note addresses. First up was Cardinal Vincent Nichols who assured us of his prayers. The Cardinal recalled the progress of the Ordinariate thus far and reminded us of the need to strike a tricky balance between retaining a distinct charism and yet functioning as a necessary part of the whole. This will come by seeking together what God and the Church requires of the Ordinariate and not just indulging and chasing after our individual whims and desires. He also suggested that patience is needed as not everyone is yet able/ ready to hear the message we bring. Time is needed for this development in the life of the Church to be fully understood and appreciated.

It was then the turn of Monsignor Keith Newton who received a rapturous and lengthy applause! He was on great form and delivered an upbeat reminder of the need to support the vision of the Ordinariate as we obey the will of God. All in all a fantastic day which could well develop into an annual event.

All of the talks can be read in full here. 

A day of hard graft

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Those in favour of muscular Christianity would have approved of today’s efforts at Saint Anselm’s for a fence was dismantled and 22.5 trees felled as the start of our garden project began. The intention is to remove many unsightly and overgrown leilandi from our grounds that better hedges can be planted. This will enable us to open the space we have and turn what is a dark overgrown and muddy area in which grass cannot grow into a beautified space that will benefit the local play school and church children.

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As you can see the hard graft required many breaks for piping hot tea and hearty bacon sandwiches. Quite why the volunteers felt the need to line up so perfectly is beyond me. But I do know that feeding the stomachs of all led to a day of great productivity.

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Much of the cost of the project has been met via a grant from our local County Councillor – a member of our congregation. For this reason he had to leave the room when the decision was made to ensure impartiality. Fortunately the remaining people looked favourably on our project and so we are grateful to KCC for helping meet the cost of new bushes, labour and a chipper to shred the massive amount of greenery we are dismantling. The congregation are also helping via second collections this month as the cost of root removal is significant.

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Further days of work are already in the diary and this helps prepare the ground for the builders who will erect our new parish room. So it was an auspicious day and a clear sign of the intent and vision that is driving us forward as a parish. Massive thanks are due to all who sweated over the felling, limbing and clearing. Each and every one  merited the beer we enjoyed afterwards at the Black Horse.

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One wall of unsightly overgrown trees is down then and we now have two walls to clear. All decent established trees being left to enhance this area of local beauty. With a new parish room to be built  it is shaping up to be a busy but exciting few months.

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Is it just me or does Fr. Nicholas resemble bigfoot in this final photograph? He certainly looks surprised to be snapped.

Seminarian on placement

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Earlier this summer Ordinariate seminarian, Thomas Mason, spent the first of three weeks placement here in Pembury. This week and next he completes his time with us before returning to Greyfriars in Oxford where he resides during term time as he undertakes studies alongside the Dominicans at Blackfriars.

The schedule for Thomas has been varied. This week he has spent time at St. Gregory’s Catholic School in Tunbridge Wells and visited the Southwark vocations centre in Whitstable, led by the ever hospitable and impressive Fr. Stephen Langridge. Today he helps cut down trees as we begin work on the grounds of the church and, weather permitting, we might then drive to Canterbury for the special ecumenical cricket match between the Vatican and the C of E.  Then it is off to London tomorrow for the Ordinariate Festival.

Next week there is a trip to the Friars at Aylesford for a diocesan training day and then a day retreat planned at the Opus Dei run Wickenden Manor in East Sussex. Alongside all of this is the usual round of hospital and hospice visits, morning and evening prayer, daily Mass and visiting. All of which ensures he is well occupied and getting his teeth into parish life. Do pray for our seminarians. If they are all like Thomas then the Ordinariate is blessed indeed.

A new agony aunt

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I am not sure how many of you read the excellent ‘Portal’ – a monthly on-line resource offering articles and news about the Ordinariate. But if you don’t then bookmark it!

This month it contains a gem  from the ever witty Geoffrey Kirk. He has long excelled at using humour to make serious points. So I delight that he has been granted a regular slot  Here is his latest offering in which he imagines a man called Justin writing to Graham Norton, the Daily Telegraph Agony Aunt.

Dear Graham,

I have been dating someone for years now, with the intention – or at least the hope – of marriage. Recently I did something which I knew would create a barrier between us. (She had warned me more than once that it would put our whole relationship in jeopardy.) I have written to her in the hope that we can get together again, and that things will be just as they were. So far I have had no reply. What more can I do?

Justin (address withheld) 

Dear Justin,

You seem to me to be living in some sort of fantasy. If this relationship really means anything to you, you will have to ask yourself some soul-searching questions.

You don’t say what you did to cause the offense, but you need to ask yourself whether it was worth it. And whether, even at this stage, you can back track and make amends.

If you can’t, then you will have to be honest with yourself: the two of you may not be compatible after all. In my experience too many people have forgotten the simple truth that actions have consequences, and that if those actions are conscientiously undertaken we simply have to live with those consequences. But cheer up; I am sure that with time you will make other friends, and perhaps enter upon another relationship with a partner with whom you are compatible. No use crying over spilt milk…

Graham

Ecumenism: stuck at base camp

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The work of ecumenism is important. Christ prayed his Church  be One and did not found the schism that now exists, like a sickness, within the body of Christ. The work of unity must never be treated as a second order issue then- for it is clearly the will of God. And the entire Christian community suffers when division renders it incapable of speaking with intended clarity.  Why should the non believer take us seriously if we present myriad contradictory viewpoints not a single cohesive system of belief- a divine revelation?

Protestantism is, at its heart, a form of rebellion that despite its many precious insights and gifts, sows division wherever it manifests. For lacking a central authority it invariably splinters periodically leaving a plethora of autonomous groups in its wake- each assured of its claim. The opposite of the formation of “One holy Catholic and Apostolic Church”.  The model the Creed insists we should build on.

The Ordinariate exists to repair what was broken at the reformation. Its purpose to call people into authentic lived out unity. Ecumenism in practice not just hope. But this can only occur where there is a serious working towards shared belief.  For ‘shared truth’ is key to Christian unity without which unlocking of division becomes impossible.  Hence in praying that his Church might be One, Jesus also asked the Father to “enshrine them in THE TRUTH” and protect them from the evil one.

But this observation leads to a problem. Because, in recent times, a false ecumenism has crept into the life of the Church. A working for unity through abandonment of truth not shared proclamation of it. And to understand this better we might consider an analogy born of mountaineering.

Prior to Vatican II the path to unity seemed bleak. Sectarian divide  fostered suspicion even hatred. There seemed little chance of reconciliation. It was as though believers stood at the foot of a  mountain staring into the clouds at its peak- something seemingly beyond their reach. Everyone knew it needed to be conquered, for the sake of the Gospel, but nobody knew where to begin.

Then came Vatican II a period of great optimism. Good and faithful people, on both sides of reformation divide, set out to foster unity. The  ecumenical movement got off the ground. Friendships were forged and trust rebuilt throughout the sixties and seventies. Much of the suspicion was gone and trust was regained. There was a very real chance unity might be possible. A base camp was established.

But then, via a series of poor decisions, shock waves were sent through the ARCIC process. Despite having  made promises that nothing would be done to hamper unity  Anglicans went it alone on issues as serious as the Ordination of Women and blessing of same sex unions. The work of unity came to a shuddering halt. And today many ecumenical projects seem stuck at base camp wondering where things go from here.

Deflated some ecumenists have opted to remain at base camp and turn it into a permanent home. Confidence has waned and people sit politely refusing to tackle that which causes division but with no clear idea of where to go next. The problem is that little progress is made and it all becomes a little shallow and pointless. How many sandwiches and united services can anyone bear without fruit?

Others have changed tack and moved to a different mountain. Not realising unity and truth are two sides of the one coin, and swayed by the spirit of the age, they now seek to trade truth for the sake of unity in clear opposition to Jesus prayer. In doing this they are drifting towards something dangerous. An attempt to celebrate  division as somehow worthy of praise.

That is false ecumenism -the seeking of unity by discarding of truth. All religions proclaimed  equal because all claims are silenced. It is the pluralistic vision of Masonic life where holy books of all traditions are placed alongside one another in service of man not God. Where all beliefs are viewed as subjective. More akin to the Satanic motto “believe what you will” than a Christian belief in the revealed truth- Jesus Christ- the only way to the Father.

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So Christians must tread carefully. Recognising that the previously anticipated ARCIC route is now closed so we must seek a new way up. Building and maintaining friendships remains important but we must not be drawn into pluralism or pantheism or pretend that the situation hasn’t changed in light of recent Anglican innovations. We believe in “One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church” and must ever uphold the belief that unity depends on truth.

The Ordinariate  is the new path up the mountain being carved out by Rome. And it works for who else has walked such a walk of unity  in the last few centuries? Are you about the difficult climb? The true work of reconciling believers by elimination of wrongful belief and the working towards a shared proclamation?

Do you believe in truth? Or do you enshrine division by praising that  secular notion that religious belief is not a salvation issue but a personal matter for the home.

Pope predicts WW III

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Looking out on a world enduring a huge rise in global violence, including terrorist incidents, large massacres, and waves of destruction, Pope Francis has reached a troubling conclusion. He believes these incidents represent the beginning of a third world war being fought, at present, in piecemeal fashion.

The Pope was visiting a war memorial in Italy containing the remains of over 100,000 Italian soldiers killed during WW1. There he stated a belief that war was often defended under one ideology or another but actually stems from a distorted desire for money or a lust for power.  The human toll of which was intolerable.

These words add to those issued in August when the Pope again spoke about his fear of a coming world war. He stated that we should be frightened by the level of cruelty which has become the norm in many places. The Pope went on to condemn the way torture has become “almost ordinary”. “ to torture a person is a mortal sin, a grave sin. But it’s more, it’s a sin against humanity,” he said.

I hope the Pope’s fears are misplaced. But  tension in the Ukraine and the dire situation in the Middle East suggest he may have a point. How then to react to this news? Is there anything that can be done to ease tensions and back humanity away from the abyss?

Obviously the powerful elites have the best opportunity to broker peace, though history does not fill me with hope in that regard. For the rest of us, whose influence in a worldly sense is beyond negligible,  there is prayer.  A force not to be underestimated.

Let us pledge to pray daily for peacemakers to restore a sense of calm where there is  hatred at present. Let us pray for sanity to prevail in the face of madness. And let us pray that all people would see the humanity of those they oppose. For it is when we dehumanise the other that the most terrible violence erupts. A wave of destruction that can wreak so much suffering on this world.

Seeking human dignity

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The Catholic Church proclaims every single human life to be sacred and therefore equally worthy of respect. We believe people are far more precious than things. An unshakable belief forming the foundation of all Catholic social and moral teaching.

We begin to see why, for example, the Church strongly condemns abortion. For abortion places the rights of the unborn below those who have been born.  It dehumanises the victim in the interests of the aggressor. And that is wicked for wherever any person is dehumanised, or viewed as less than, evil thrives and suffering tends to follow. Not only for the victim but also for the fallen aggressor.

If you doubt this consider the appalling images coming out of the Middle East. Heads fixed on poles, people decapitated on video, such things are occurring precisely because one group of people no longer recognise the dignity and worth of another group of people. As happened in gulag and gas chamber- victims are dehumanised by  aggressors. Dignity and respect is no longer afforded to them. And once that happens history proves that an unbelievable degree of cruelty and violence often follows.

Of course we like to imagine that we would never do this. That we are better people. How then to we explain that many of the terrorists in Iraq and Syria were raised in British schools and formed within Western culture? A culture that itself holds a poor track record when it comes to acknowledging the equal dignity of every human life from cradle to the grave. Do we not realise that we cannot speak with moral authority if our only line of defence, as Westerners, is that we pick on different people where cruelty is concerned? For we may choose more sanitised methods but the charges we lie at others feet can surely be laid at our own.

I mean why balk at the child decapitated on the streets of Mosul if you do not stand up for the rights of the unborn suffering the same fate in the womb?  Why cry out in horror at the impoverishment of the displaced in Syria when so many elderly in our own community are barely visited in care homes and seen as an unwanted inconvenience leading to a desire for euthanasia? One could go on.

The bottom line being that we either endorse Catholic teaching and stand up with great integrity and moral force for the rights of every human or else, by our actions if not by our words, we accept a broken distorted and unfair society in which, as George Orwell put it, all are equal but some are more equal than others. 

So which is it to be? Are we ready to embrace Catholic teaching as a society and uphold the rights of every living person? Or are we going to pick and choose the points in life where we are morally outraged?

But what of the evangelicals?

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In my musings last week I made two bold claims. First that the Ordinariate is now the logical home of un-compromised Anglo-Catholicism. And second that the Ordinariate is a a natural home for doctrinally orthodox mid churchmen who will delight in the fact that aspects of the Prayer Book, drawn out of the Sarum Tradition, will be preserved here for future generations.

Today I want to reach out to those of an evangelical persuasion because, though they often need help in understanding aspects of Catholic teaching distorted by protestant polemic, they hold much in common with us and would find a warm welcome amongst us. What then might appeal to them about Ordinariate life?

Evangelicals would delight in the task Ordinariate members have been given. We are called to be evangelistic and mission minded-  the very things  Evangelicals do well. Consider the impressive way the ‘Alpha Course’ swept Britain. It was a success story leading its creator, Nicky Gumble, to Rome for a meeting with Pope Francis (pictured above). A clear sign such work is welcome  in the life of the Catholic church.

Evangelicals would also delight in the fact that Catholicism takes scripture seriously. And there is a long list of notable Evangelicals who have found transition into the Catholic church surprisingly easy precisely because scripture pointed the way.  We might consider Scott Hahn or Steve Ray or humanitarian worker Benedict Rogers (who I met at the Evangelium Conference this year). These people, and those like them, came to the Catholic faith because of their Evangelical faith not in spite of it.

And Evangelicals would find a kindred spirit in Pope Francis. The Holy Father was raised in Latin America alongside a strong Pentecostal tradition. He admires Evangelicals and is, in many ways, one of them. A low churchman with a passionate desire to preach the Gospel in its fullness. See how the Catholic world is a natural home for Evangelicals. And the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham would provide, in this country, a boat to fish from that speaks culturally to the English people.

What then are the hurdles?  Well, like all protestants, Evangelicals often need help overcoming Protestant polemic. Somebody to explain: we do not pray to Saints as part of the Godhead but seek their prayers as we do those of a friend, that Jesus does, in fact, love his Mother who models the Christian life perfectly. That there is a need for the Church not least because it gave us the bible! That nowhere in scripture is anyone saved by believing in the bible or giving their heart to Jesus but by baptism- a Sacrament- these Sacraments therefore matter. Etc, etc…

But where minds are open and not closed such explanation is easy because, after all, the bible is a profoundly Catholic work and truth is on our side. Just read John chapter six leaning towards a Catholic belief in the Mass if you doubt me. Then read it and take the sacramental aspect out….it makes no sense??!

Evangelicals have been taught to disregard/dismiss Catholicism not engage with it. But the Catholic church is actually a robustly Evangelical body that offers to deepen faith and understanding  in scripture not detract from it. If the Ordinariate can attract evangelicals it will be blessed and I am praying that it might. Because such people tend to have a real hunger for winning souls for Christ.

I end with a book suggestion for those wanting to think deeper on this subject. “Evangelical Catholicism” by George Weigel.

A new term begins

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Yesterday, a week after the returners settled back into classroom life, a new reception class at our local Catholic Primary School, Saint Augustine’s in Tunbridge Wells, came to school for the very first time. Amongst them my son, Benedict, who was nervous but handled it all incredibly well leading to a smooth day for all.

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But then he is fortunate to have a lovely big sister who knows the ropes and who has been prepping him for weeks ensuring he feels as positive as possible. Which is gracious given that either of the boys would almost certainly have done the opposite and suggested school life was heavily concerned with being rolled down hills of stinging nettles, public flogging etc…

This blog wishes the best to all starting a new term in academic life. Not just little ones like Benny, but those young adults going off to University. Our congregation will miss Alice who travels to Exeter this coming weekend. We must pray for our university students – campus life is often a testing ground of faith given the prevailing secular culture and hedonism that exists there.  Prayer is needed.