The beautiful church of St. John Lateran is the mother church of all Catholics for it is where the throne of Peter resides. It is the Cathedral of Rome. And it was the setting yesterday morning for a special mass of thanksgiving, organised by the Oratorians, for the canonisation of St. John Henry Newman; the first English person to be canonised for something other than martyrdom since 1401.

The celebrant of the Mass was Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, and many other English prelates were in attendance. The new Archbishop of Southwark,++ John Wilson, was amongst them and it was good to meet him in person for a brief chat after Mass. So too was our Ordinary, Monsignor Keith Newton and some three hundred concelebrating priests. It was quite moving seeing the huge procession walk in to Newman’s hymn ‘Praise to the holiest in the height.’

After Mass several of the Ordinariate wandered to a cafe for a simple lunch and in the afternoon I purchased new birettas and clerical shirts from Barbeconi. A trip I found deeply irritating as the place was swarming with a camp clientele overly excited at the sight of clerical attire. Worst of all were two Anglicans making a silly fuss about choosing the right sort of collar. It’s not something rugby players will ever understand I guess. I was therefore glad to get away for a recovery drink with Fr. and Mrs. Lashbrook and Fr. Nicholas. Much saner company.

The evening was spent at a restaurant near St. Peters for a supper organised by Fr. Tad Oxley of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith who is a great supporter of the Ordinariate. It was good to be able to share with him the hopes and challenges of Ordinariate life in the U.K. and to hear from him about the support we have in Rome from the CDF.

Today, Tuesday, will be spent at an all day symposium organised by the Vatican on the subject of the Ordinariate being held to mark a decade since it was first announced. The day runs from 9am until 6pm and there are lots of good speakers lined up. I shall then return to Kent on Wednesday to catch up with the family and return to parish duties.

It was good to catch up on the first evening here with Fr. Joe, who has long established links with our parish in Pembury due to his charitable work in Ghana. He was on fine form and joined Father Nicholas, Mary and myself for supper. The Roman Aperol Sprtitz certainly helped. It was still the drink of choice the following evening when I briefly met another friend of the parish, Fr. Marcus Holden.

It hasn’t all been drinks and food I can assure you. On Saturday morning the Ordinariate held a Mass at the Venerable English College where the recently deceased of the parish, Mike Blande and Mick Covill, were prayed for. An afternoon of lectures followed ending with a Vigil of Prayer and a musical concert. After which Mary and Joe Hoare, pilgrims from Pembury, met up with us for supper.

Then it was Sunday morning and an early walk took us to St. Peter’s square for the reason of the trip. The canonisation of Saint John Henry Newman. It was a wonderful occasion so full of meaning and importance for the whole church but especially for those of us within the Ordinariate. More on this in a separate post.

In the evening over 50 members of the Ordinariate present in Rome gathered for a celebratory supper. I especially chatting with our two Japanese priests, Fr. Kato and Fr. Masaki. They were raising their glasses in a toast to the Japanese rugby team whose remarkable progress to the quarter finals of the World Cup is impressive indeed.

Today a trip to St. John Lateran for a special mass of thanksgiving presided over by Cardinal Nichols at which English Catholics aplenty will be in attendance. And tomorrow we have a day long symposium of lectures before the journey home on Wednesday.

St. Peter’s square is prepared for a very special weekend during which, for many of us, the Canonisation of Blessed John Henry Newman will be the highlight. It is an auspicious day for the English church especially as one of our own countrymen is made a Saint. How good to see his image displayed.

It is amusing and pleasant walking the streets of Rome today. Around every corner is a familiar face and friend. It seems like most every priest in England is here. And little wonder for Newman is an important figure for us, and especially for Oratorians and the Ordinariate for whom he is patron.

Lunch saw three members of St. Anselm’s in Pembury meeting up. The journalist Tim Stanley joining myself and Father Nicholas in entertaining our good friend Deacon Stephen Morgan who is over from Macau.

It was a fortuitous encounter because Tim is producing an article on Newman for the newspaper and he couldn’t have hoped to meet a more learned scholar on the subject than Deacon Morgan. The good deacon is also an entertaining man, so amidst much serious talk about a soon to be Saint was also much laughter and jollity.

After lunch I took a gentle stroll with Father Nicholas through the streets of Rome. We bumped into dear Joanna Bogle resting by an ice-cream parlour and saw several brethren from the Ordinariate. This evening we dine with our dear friend Father Joe from Ghana before the serious business begins. Blessed John Henry Newman pray for us.

Yesterday was a profoundly sad day because my dear friend Michael Blande, pictured left with his great friend Martin, died very suddenly after suffering a heart attack. He will leave an enormous hole in a great many lives for he was a rock within his family , community and also in our parish in Pembury. A generous, kind and funny man who always had time for people and always looked for the best in them. This photograph was taken last weekend when I was his guest at his beloved Crystal Palace. How happy and healthy he looks. None could have suspected it would be his last visit.

A few months ago I posted a video of the transformation of our parish in Pembury. What struck me as I put the video together was how ever present big Mike was in every phase of work we undertook. He helped move every item of church furnishings and masterminded the felling of trees. In short he was always first to volunteer and he put a lot of sweat, blood and tears into building up a church in this place. He attended meetings and always accompanied me for a beer or two afterwards. It seems impossible than a man so full of life and energy can have been cut short like he was. I am going to miss him so much.

In time there will be more to share. But for now prayers. For him that his sins may be forgiven and that he may be held close to the sacred heart of Christ. For his wife, Liz, who brought him to faith and to whom he owes so much. For his children James and Becci- who he adored and loved so much. For his sister Liz and for all his extended family and friends. Rest in peace Mike Blande- I don’t think you ever quite realised the impact you had on those who knew you. May saints triumphant lead you on your way.

Here is the video of that transformation which serves well, for now, as a tribute to Mike. Thank you so much for all you did for our parish.

Yesterday evening the pews were full as Fr. Marcus Holden delivered the first of the ‘Our Father’ lecture series. He approached his line ‘Our Father who art in heaven’ by considering the vital role of grace in the life of faith. What followed was a first rate and pertinent lecture for the present time. Make sure you listen to it by playing the link below.

All of the lectures this coming year will be recorded and audio links will be placed on a permanent webpage entitled ‘Our Father lectures’ on the header of this site. The next lecture takes place on Wednesday 23rd October when Fr. Hunwicke will speak on the theme ‘Hallowed be thy name”

When slavery was not hidden, as it is today under zero hour contracts or in the murky waters of human trafficking, it was impossible to be slave to two masters. Every moment of a slave’s day; every inch of the slave’s body belonged to their master. The slave existed only to serve and there was no way out, no court of appeal. So when Jesus stated you cannot serve two masters, against a backdrop of slavery, his audience understood what he meant. But to understand why we cannot hope to serve God and money he gave us a curious parable warning us about the danger of corruption.

A rich man had a steward; perhaps the greatest rogue found anywhere in scripture. This isn’t to say he wasn’t intelligent or capable; the estate was left in his hands, he maintained property, paid bills, hired workers, collected rent. Yet, all the while, skimming for his own pocket. It seems he got away with it for some years, doubtless the cooked books presented well. But somewhere along the line, as so often happens, the mistake was made and his dishonesty came to light. Perhaps he squeezed someone too hard or an honest soul suspected falsification? It is important. What matters is that the cat was now put among the pigeons! The indignant land owner demands a full enquiry. The outlook was now bleak, and not just for that steward, because we know that he himself often looked the other way when those beneath him cheated so long as he could take a slice. That is how corruption works. The point here is that the steward not only ruined himself but damaged others too. His distorted love of money led him to betray his master and lead others into sin. 

Christians cannot serve God without integrity. Our actions are as important as our rhetoric. We cannot serve God in secret lives; skimming money or doing things when we think nobody is looking that we know full well he condemns. This point needs over emphasising in an era of church scandal. Doubtless the perverts and thieves who have brought much shame on the church recently started with good intention. Were capable, bright and good stewards in most regards. It is just that they went about the business of serving the institutional church making exceptions for themselves. I am celibate but what harm in a little dalliance here? I am called to virtue but I am sure a little of this bequest won’t be missed? Little sin by little sin souls turn black indeed…until even bishops can have grubby hidden lives that cause shame. No you cannot serve God and mammon. If your own comfort comes first, to the point of dishonesty, you are heading for ruin. 

The steward was in trouble then. His income had dried up. He had lost his job. Now he could, at this point, have done a prodigal son. He could have asked for pardon but that was never going to happen. He was too proud at this stage for that. He had lived by wits not his faith and he turns again to his wits not his faith. He goes to friends, “do you owe 100 that is a lot, let us help each other, write 80 but keep silent, master will never know”. Round he goes to each debtor, getting them on side, cutting deals. His corruption spreads its net. Note how that man was totally unchanged even when caught because, like so many in the world today, his heart belonged to self not to God. We like to imagine vainly that what we do when we think nobody is looking is the slip, the little mistake, but it turns out to be the most honest reflection of who we really are. 

Give him credit the man was at least shrewd. He knew how look out for number one. “Mr so and so do you have the cash you owe – give me something now and I will reduce your debt. You don’t? Oh that is unfortunate, perhaps I best go to master and tell him how you borrowed more than you could afford. Shall we consider your falsified accounts, smaller than mine, it is true, but nevertheless…oh you do have some money. Thank you”  

At the end of the parable the steward is praised for shrewdness. But not by Jesus please note!! Only by his worldly master who, in the twist in the tale, turns out to be just as corrupt himself. Once the steward lines his pockets he forgives. And isn’t that exactly how the world works? We live in a world that actively rewards the greedy and praises the corrupt just so long as they keep the money flowing in the right direction. But Jesus says that is not the way his Kingdom works. So make your choice!

Serve self, be shrewd, cheat and live for money and be praised by the corrupt master of this world. You will have your reward. Or live with integrity for God, serve him alone and the world to come will reward you. But don’t be so stupid as to imagine you can do both. By living for God but with a secret life, lived for sex or money or pleasure. Because it doesn’t work. You cannot serve God and mammon. And it will only lead to your ruin and the ruin of others. You either belong to the world or to God. How is your fight for personal integrity going within the life of faith? 

A reminder that this Sunday we are keeping our Harvest Festival at St. Anselm’s. Please bring non perishable produce to Mass which will be donated to the local food bank for distribution to the needy. We shall, of course, sing all the favourite Harvest hymns and all will be safely gathered in during a procession of goods at the end of Mass. We will also pray for all who farm the earth and help to put food on the table.

Pembury is a village that faces the urban setting of Tunbridge Wells on one side but out onto rich farmland and woodland on the other. For centuries the fertile land of the surrounding area has promised good harvests to those who tend the land. Indeed recent excavations revealed that people have been growing food here since at least the iron age.

The most famous Kent crops are apples and hops. And Apples have been grown here in Pembury since time immemorial. Today the excellent Dowiningbury farm, which has a small shop selling local produce, continues the trend. The famous oast houses attached to the farm, pictured below, speak of the hops that were also grown here. Why not pay them a visit and help our local businesses to thrive?

A reminder that our special lecture series which runs throughout 2019/20, to mark 10 years of the announcement of the Ordinariate and the Canonisation of Blessed John Henry Newman, will begin next Wednesday, 25th September. The evening will begin with Low Mass at 7pm followed by refreshments (donations of cake welcome) and then the lecture at 8pm followed by a short discussion.

Our first speaker is Fr. Marcus Holden, a great friend of the parish, who will speak on the theme ‘Our Father who art in heaven.’ 

Fr. Holden studied at Oxford before training for the priesthood at the English college in Rome. After ordination he served two parishes as assistant priest; in Balham where he helped build up a thriving congregation, and later St. Augustine’s in Tunbridge Wells where he gave support to the fledgling Ordinariate group that later made its home in Pembury. Fr. Marcus then moved to Ramsgate to become parish priest and oversaw a multi-million pound restoration of Pugin’s shrine to St. Augustine. He currently serves as parish priest at  St. Bede’s Clapham Park. 

Outside of parish ministry Father Marcus establish the Evangelium summer camps, which run for young adults every August to ensure they better understand the faith. He also co-authored the Evangelium Course which we use in this parish to instruct candidates for confirmation. Fr. Marcus helps run the UK branch of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy, a support group for clergy passionate about upholding the faith in fullness. And he has starred in many films produced by the excellent St. Antony Communications. He is a great friend to this parish and we are glad to welcome him back to launch our lecture series.

Yesterday afternoon I travelled to Otford, near Sevenoaks, for the baptism of baby Alice; youngest daughter of Deacon Roy Cavey and his wife, Beverley. The family normally worship at St. Anselm in Pembury, where Dcn. Roy is part of the clergy team.

Deacon Roy was born and raised in the villages around Sevenoaks where he and much of his extended family still live. Holding the service in Otford made sense then as it made it easy for family to attend. We were grateful to Fr. David Gibbons, parish priest of Sevenoaks, for letting us use the church for the baptism ceremony which was held according to the Ordinariate Rite. Alice being its newest member!

After the baptism, at which Deacon Robert preached and I celebrated, we were treated to a delicious spread of tea and cakes. Centrepiece was the wonderful baptism cake which was, I can assure you, delicious. Alice’s older sister grace is seen here sampling the first slice!

Our congratulation to the Caveys. Please pray for them and for all families raising children according to the faith. Our catholic families are the lifeblood and future hope for the church.

It has been a magical weekend for our family as we travelled to Aldeburgh in Suffolk for a special wedding. Matthew Jarvis, whose family are very close to mine, got married to his gorgeous bride, Victoria Zeeb. We joined them on Friday, for a lovely evening meal at the Lighthouse restaurant, following the rehearsal in church.

The ceremony was performed at the Catholic Church in Aldeburgh, where I also concelebrated Mass on Sunday. The parish priest, Father Tony, could not have been more helpful and welcoming; stepping aside on Saturday, enabling me to officiate, whilst he served as registrar. The church is pretty with a magnificent reredos and made a perfect setting for the service.

Victoria, who handed in a masters dissertation just this week in anticipation of embarking on a second PHD, is a German lutheran. And it was wonderful to welcome her family from Germany for the wedding. To show the uniting of two families and traditions we had one reading in English and the next in German. The couple also made the vows twice- once in each other’s native tongue.

Matthew’s parents, Michael and Sheila, will be well known to many at St. Anselm’s as they are regular visitors to our parish and have joined us on pilgrimage. In fact both belong to our Ordinariate group in Pembury despite worshipping regularly, for practical reasons, at the Catholic Cathedral in Brentwood close to where they live.

Shiela is especially close to Jemima. Little wonder- she is her godmother! A most generous and indulgent one, truth be told. Indeed the beautiful dress Jemima wore was just one of many financed by ‘Auntie Shiela’ and I am sure readers will agree they both looked delightful.

Of course Hayley also looked radiant, pictured here at 12th Century Butley Priory where the reception was held. Even the Tomlinson boys scrubbed up well, after I swapped clericals for jacket and tie, having got over warm in all the vestments at the wedding! Benny also needed a change of clothes, splitting his trousers spectacularly whilst playing football with his brother.

It was a lovely venue for a party with coaches shuttling guests back and forth from Aldeburgh. I enjoyed it so much that I took the last coach at 1:30am which made Sunday a time for gentle voices only. Shame that I was sharing accommodation with my sons who always wake up before 6am!

I am not one to cry at weddings but admit to shedding a tear when Matthew’s brother, David, who has special needs and was the best man, delivered an amazing and uplifting speech. In it he declared his love for his brother and sister in law from the heart. David and I regularly lunch together and I meant it when I told him that he did a fantastic job.

Of your goodness pray for Matthew and Victoria this week as they begin their married life together. This week it is back to normality in Pembury but with some amazing memories of a very happy event.