St George & the Dragon

Little is actually known about England’s patron Saint George, whose feast day falls today. What we do know is that he was born circa 280 in Cappadocia, an area that is now part of Turkey and that Emperor Diocletian executed St. George on April 23, 303, in Palestine, for protesting Diocletian’s persecution of Christians. this is a man who was willing to go to his death for love of Christ.

George was written about by Eusebius of Caesarea and made known to England by Arculphus and Adamnan in the early 700s. He was made patron saint of England in 1098, after appearing to soldiers at the Battle of Antioch. And he will be forever linked with the great legend of his defeating a dragon which was terrorising a community and holding it to ransom.

Some historians have suggested the dragon may have been a crocodile. Others think George might have slain one of the last living dinosaurs. Others believe there never was a dangerous beast and that the story is fable. Whatever the truth the story is powerful and works effectively as allegory. You can use the story to speak of St. George as the symbol of good overcoming the dragon which is the symbol of evil. Or you can see the captured princess as a symbol of purity which is under threat from the dragon as a symbol of lust, conquered by the Christian virtue of St. George. Or George can represent Christianity overcoming paganism which is the dragon. What a great tale it is!

Today the last word simply must go to Shakespeare.

Feisty nuns

There are those on this blog who believe I am harsh in criticising modernist liberalism within Christianity. So be it. My criticism will continue because  I sincerely believe liberalism anathema; a cancer to true and living faith in Christ Jesus. The leading cause of decline. But as to being harsh- well compared to the much loved Mother Angelica, who formed the EWTN network and who turned 92 this week, I am a pussy-cat!

The video above shows her speaking out against the erosion of Catholic life caused by liberal modernism. Her message delivered following an evening in which she had been subjected to liturgical dance in which Christ was depicted as a woman. Mother was not happy! Scroll to the 8 minute mark if you are short of time to see the main thrust of her arguments. Her points remain valid.

The fortunate thing today is that the fruit of liberalism, or rather the lack of it, is becoming obvious. Wherever the liberal agenda has been attempted there you find a loss of vocation, closure of parishes, disunity, loss of youth and loss of men. And what seemed novel, even trendy, forty years ago is now looking dated and deeply unfashionable.  The trend is therefore reversing. Young people today either seek traditional Catholicism or drop out of church altogether.

It leaves a situation on the ground reminiscent of Aristophanes’s “The Wasps”. A generational divide exists in which an elderly leadership hungers for novelty and rebellion- the desire to conform to the world- whilst the younger generation wants to adhere to that which is conventional- the desire to be in the world but not of the world. How much more orthodox is the average Seminarian of 2015 than the average bishop! Thus the pendulum is swinging. This is the last watch of liberal Catholicism before the clock is rolled back. Which is why I predict, that within twenty years, radical change will come.

There may be a few more tricky years to endure yet but then will come a time of rediscovery. A third spring. That which was downplayed will be re-emphasised. Beauty will matter once more. Churches will be re-ordered to restore their former glory. And the church will finally be ready to put into place the actual teaching of Vatican II. For she will have ditched liberal modernism, that politically inspired mess that masqueraded as V2 but was, in truth, a wilful deviation from it.

Fr. Alastair writes…

letter writing skills

Fr. Alastair has agreed to my printing the letter he wrote for the parish of Withyham announcing his reasons for leaving the Church of England to become a member of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. It is a very fine letter which speaks powerfully of his integrity and wisdom.

After much thought and prayer, and with the help of spiritual direction, I have decided that I can no longer remain within the Church of England.

I am by God’s grace to be received into full communion with the Church of Rome. Denise and I will be taking instruction, and we are seeking reception into the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.

The Ordinariate, as many of you will know, is that part of the English Catholic Church called into being in 2011 by Pope Benedict XVI for Anglicans who wish to retain the distinctive musical traditions, liturgical culture and pathways of spirituality of the Anglican Church, while being fully in communion with the 1.3 billion Catholics in the rest of the world.

I am very conscious that today we are in a church building originally designed and built by English Catholics, consecrated by a Catholic bishop, and which for five centuries or so was served by Catholic priests who were in communion with the See of Rome. This period includes the time when Withyham was a cell of a French Benedictine monastery.

I want to be among those who will have worked for the re-establishment of the unity of Christendom within this realm – in whatever ways are now being mapped out by God’s providence. Unfortunately such reunion cannot happen with the Church of England, which by its deeds has resolutely set its face against unity with the historic churches of East and West.

There may be some who will regard my action as a betrayal. But it is not. During my time here I have done my best to teach the Faith and to be a priest to you all. However, if a priest does not listen to the voice of his own soul, he cannot with any sincerity be a pastor to others. And unity is a gospel imperative. Our Lord Jesus Christ prayed that his Church might be one. It follows that unless there is a sound theological reason for being apart, Christians should always seek to be united rather than divided. For my part, there is no valid reason for remaining in schism from what for 2000 years has been the Church of the West.

I have greatly valued my time in this parish. It has been bracing, even invigorating. I have learnt much from you, and for that I shall always be very thankful. I have prayed for you all, and will continue to do so. There are a number of challenges in this parish. I hope that some of them have begun to be addressed this past Lent.  

The Archdeacon of Hastings and the Bishop of Chichester, with whom I have of course been in touch, have said that once I have publicly declared my position, this should be my last public service with you.

Over the coming months there will clearly be a heavy burden on the Readers, Elizabeth and Donald, and also on the churchwardens and PCC. Please pray for them. Give them the help they will need.

And of your kindness, please pray for Denise and me in the times that lie ahead for us. We in turn will not forget the friendships we have made, nor the loyalty and support that many of you have given.

After this service, instead of coffee, we are inviting you to drinks at the Rectory. Please do come over to say goodbye. Or if that is not convenient, we are around for much of next week – please feel free to drop in.

Alastair Ferguson
Third Sunday of Easter 2015

Revd Alastair Ferguson

Tree-Planting-Alistair-Ferguson-and-Anthea-Read

Until yesterday Revd. Alastair Ferguson was active as the vicar of St. Michael and all Angels in Withyham, East Sussex. An Anglican parish in the Diocese of Chichester. But that changed at the end of Mattins when he announced to his congregation, that with immediate effect, he was stepping down to follow his conscience and join the Catholic church, via the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, with his wife, Denise. At the request of the diocese he now begins a period of extended leave that is owing to him.

Once the announcement was made Cardinal Newman’s beautiful prayer –‘support us all the day long’ -was read out and the final hymn was the Eastertide favourite, ‘the strife is o’er the battle done!’  Members of the congregation were then invited back for drinks in the rectory garden, a magnificent old property, and as you can see the party was gatecrashed by cassocked riff-raff from nearby Pembury in Kent…

Wealden-20150419-00017

Father Alistair, a former GP, and Denise will be worshipping with us at Saint Anselm’s over the coming weeks as they discern where God is calling them next. This represents great charity on my part- I want readers to understand- given that he is a graduate of Oxford (like Fr. Nicholas) whilst I am a light blue!

What courage Fr. Alastair and Denise are showing to leave behind so much with no clear answers for the future, save this strong desire to walk the path of unity and a genuine belief that God is calling them to it! We must pray for them and make them truly welcome!

Like Fr. Jack, who joined us only a few months ago from Robertsbridge,  Fr Alastair surprised the Anglican authorities when he announced to them his intentions. Being typical country parsons- prayerbook catholics from a rural setting- these are not the unashamed Romanists you once found in town centres, those people assumed were the obvious candidates for Ordinariate life. No, it is not the lovers of exotic liturgy who seem drawn to Rome today but those, who with gentle but firm resolve, simply wish to stand by the faith of the ages and delight in that authentic Anglican patrimony which the Ordinariate upholds.

This does not surprise me. ‘Being catholic’ for many Anglicans today is an aesthetic choice. A love of dressing up and enjoying the trappings of ceremonial. But that isn’t what Catholicism itself is about. So little wonder- in these days when the Catholic claims of Anglicanism have fallen- it is orthodox hearts and missionary minds, not the gin and lace set, who are finding their way home.  Because if you claim to be Catholic, as these men came to realise, the game is up on Canterbury’s shore. Only protestants and liberals can survive with intellectual credibility. A fact to threaten belief not liturgical proclivity.

Perhaps God himself is not particularly interested in preserving ‘the Anglo-Catholic sect’ in any case. But that he used Anglo-Catholicism in the last two centuries to soften protestant hearts ahead of the true work of unity that is now unfolding within the Ordinariate. The calling home of those separated from Rome at the reformation who are now in danger of being led even further from Catholic truth as the C of E abandons its self proclaimed via media to promote its current liberal creed.

Alastair and Denise- we delight in welcoming you into the life of the Ordinariate. May your witness inspire many others to follow, indeed my prayer is that the whole Church of England might one day wake up and see the unbelievable potential and gift that the Ordinariate presents it. That we might all be one. The abandonment of the experiment of liberal modernity and the schismatic tendency of protestantism to reclaim the authentic truth and unity of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic faith.

Wealden-20150419-00016

A letter to the parish

letter

David Howell is a seminarian from the Archdiocese of Southwark currently studying at the Venerable English College in Rome. His link to our parish here in Pembury comes by chance. He being the seminarian we were asked to support in prayer by Fr. Stephen Langridge who cares for vocations in the diocese. This week I received a letter from him thanking us for those prayers:

Dear Father Ed, 

Thank you so much for having your parish pray for me during my seminary formation. It is a great encouragement and help for me and I will pray for you all too. I am due to be ordained a deacon on 12th July just outside Rome and then am due to be ordained priest the following July. 

3180225_orig

The enclosed postcard is the “Martyrs Picture” from our chapel, which was seen by many of the 44 martyrs of the seminary. 

Best wishes

David Howell

Please continue to pray for David. I shall be writing to thank him for his letter and inviting him to visit us next time that he is home.

The forthcoming election

politicalgraffiti56

The graffiti above is cynical but sums up my feelings heading into the general election. The bottom line is that I can not find a single party upholding the views of Christians. Who are we to vote for? It is a question many Catholics are asking. Perhaps we need to vote for local individuals over a party under the circumstances? Is that acceptable in a general election? I do not really know…but what I can share are two good posts from the last week that will help you in your thinking.

The first comes from Ordinariate priest, Fr. Ian Hellyer. You must read it in a lovely gentle West Country lilt to hear his authentic voice! He helpfully reminds us that Catholic teaching stresses how society should place the dignity of the human person at the centre. Not the creation of wealth at the expense of human dignity, not the following of ideology at the expense of the person, not the building up of the State at the expense of human dignity. The building up of humanity, especially protection of the weak, must be the heartbeat of the manifesto acceptable to the Christian. Shame I cannot really find one.

The second entitled “Who can I vote for?” was penned by Deacon Nick Donnelly for a local newspaper. As if the suspicion that the Christian voice is sidelined in modern politics needed highlighting, the paper then refused to publish the article due to its “political content!” Fortunately a blog picked it up. Having shown why the parties fail the Catholic he asks a huge question; has the time come for Christians to mobilise and form a better party? A fantastic vision but it will not help us in the short term.

My own feeling is that we might be looking in the wrong place in any case. Given that the majority of our laws are now formed in Brussels not Westminster why do we still behave as if this election is the big one? If Britain has become a Federal State, as I believe it has, then the political narrative on these shores needs to change in order to recognise the fact.

It is our European MP’s who hold the power over us and it is they who should therefore demand our fullest attention. But most of us do not even know who they are. If you doubt the power of Brussels consider how gay marriage, forced on the electorate without vote despite never appearing in any manifesto, occurred because promises had been given in Europe long before it was even announced in the UK Parliament. Don’t be sidelined by the issue itself – it is the process I am highlighting here. And it hints at something much less than authentic democracy.

Perhaps many, like myself, feel disempowered and apathetic precisely because we are not voting for the leaders of this nation but only for the figures who represent them locally? The servants of the massive corporations and the faceless eurocrats. It would explain why the genuine choice and excitement offered by Thatcher v. Kinnock in my youth has given way to the banal options of today. Our career politicians seem dull in comparison and are barely different one from the other. What do you think a Catholic should do in the forthcoming election? Keep it courteous please!

The green, green grass of Rome…

IMG_1987

The photograph above shows the state of the Paddock area next to our church three years ago. I was testing out our new tent. The overgrown leylandii had starved the ground of light and the debris from the trees made the ground dusty and hard. The ground compacted and rainfall would turn the ground into a swamp. It was far from ideal and the trees were beyond easy maintenance.

IMG_3651

Stage one of operation rescue the paddock consisted of felling over 70 huge trees. With a group of wonderful volunteers we used axes and chainsaws and began the process of shifting all the logs. It was, as you can imagine, hard work. Remember you can click on all the images for an enlarged view.

10349010_10154875963690075_7935404975878396768_n

Once the trees were down the next task was to create a new hedge. We planted lots of blackthorn. The choice of bush chosen by Father Nicholas who is rather keen on producing some gin with the fruit. Indeed he has renamed the paddock as the gin yard. Watch this space for news on this special produce.

10353093_10154875963515075_8108688867224903172_n

Keeping volunteers well fed and watered has been a central part of the many working parties at Saint Anselm’s over this last year. Which has delighted the owner of the Pembury fish and chip shop. I even got a free bottle of tomato sauce yesterday to show appreciation for the regular custom!

1236076_10154875962345075_5430014085346755401_n

Hands on clergy have joined the laity every step of the way. Lead by example, they say, although it has been suggested that the clergy do rather more gossiping together than grafting at times!

IMG_4187

The land was left in a terrible state once the trees were down. But we had to wait for the spring before we could think about turfing. And so, a couple of weeks ago, we set to work again. Here you see big Mike rotivating the ground. Before we set about clearing all the dead leaves and debris with a couple of large bonfires.

IMG_4248

Yesterday we finally set to the task of laying new turf. And what a glorious sunny day it was for the volunteer army.

10346046_10155438785370075_7274182170427842388_n

Filling the gaps would take as much time as laying out the main area. Little wonder we needed a lengthy and leisurely lunch!

19623_10155439762045075_7287608609159588020_n

And the end product? Well the paddock looks beautiful and is a much improved area for the use of the church and pre-school group. But this is not the end of the work understand! Next we set about shifting the last of the mulch and creating a rose garden to sit alongside the paddock. And the building work continues with vigour. As you can see it is proving to be a year of activity at Saint Anselm’s. But what a transformation!

11130112_10155439757325075_5270922405228915385_n

Oh and a final noting of auspicious dates. The building is due to be completed on June 12th of this year. A date provided by the builders not us. This is not only the feast of St. Barnabas this year, the patron of the church from which the local Ordinariate pilgrimage began, but it will also be 4 years to the day from our first Mass, at Pentecost, which launched us. Co-incidence or God-incidence?

Justice matters too

Untitled-111

favourite quote:

“The Church is intolerant in principle because she believes, but is tolerant in practice because she loves. Enemies of the Church are tolerant in principle because they do not believe, but they are intolerant in practice because they do not love.” Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange

The quote highlights the problem I have with modernist calls, ahead of the next Synod on the family, for radical change in church teaching regarding the admission of divorced and re-married people to communion. I fear the liberal desire falls into the latter category. Let me use a story to explain what I mean.

As a former Anglican I have already served within a church that relaxed its teaching and practice where divorce and re-marriage are concerned. So that today the vast majority of Anglican parishes offer re-marriage without recourse to annulment. So long as the local vicar is satisfied the marriage goes ahead. A few refuse to perform these services but the majority do.

At re-marriages the same vows are made as at first marriages, which is clearly problematic. A man or woman vows to remain with new spouse “till death us do part, for better or worse” even though everyone is aware that those vows were already said to another. How can it not cheapen the vows if most people endorse the breaking of them when things don’t work out? Should they not be rewritten to suggest the new transitory nature?

In defence of remarriage the case is made using the language of mercy. Poor old Mr X made a mess before, but he is now sorry and seeks a new start with Mrs Y? The vows are explained away as representing the intention in marriage, even if human frailty cannot ensure they will stand up. I get the argument, I really do. But if this is where the debate finishes then we are in danger of losing sight of the larger picture. Which is to say that the real victims of divorce are silenced and receive no mercy at all. What of the former Mrs X? What of the children?

Mercy matters but so does justice. And the problem is that divorce is never as clean cut as liberal arguments would have us believe. For every person who is lucky enough to move on to the point that new vows seem desirable, so there are victims languishing in sorrow whose pain never leaves them. I will never forget a grandmother telling me on her deathbed that she still wept about the man who had deserted her sixty years before.

And it is almost always women and children who suffer. A third of children whose fathers leave the family home eventually lose contact altogether. I know of somebody who had no childhood relationship with a grandfather who abandoned his wife and sons for his secretary. Though he eventually patched things up with his boys he would always look to the second family as his own with a more distant attachment to the first. A situation causing more pain than I think he ever actually realised.

So to my story which shows how easily the real victims of divorce are neglected- I am changing names to protect identities.

Colin, an Anglican clergyman, had an affair and broke the heart of his wife, Claire. The first time she forgave him but when he repeatedly returned to his transgression it caused the death of that marriage. A painful divorce followed that inevitably hurt everyone involved.

If we follow his story alone then he suffered as the marriage collapsed but went on to marry again. And, scandalously, during the breakup he was able to remain in office, living in the vicarage and preaching from the pulpit as his lover sat in the pews. The diocese did not want to get too close to what they deemed to be a personal matter.

But for Claire, the victim let us recall, she not only lost husband but home. She was sent packing with less than a months stipend depending on benefits and handouts to survive. Today she holds several low paid jobs to make ends meet and lives in cramped accomodation. The divorce impacted negatively even if time proved a healer. Two decades supporting a clergy family counting for nothing when disaster struck. For a Church of England soft on divorce was impotent to help. As the archdeacon explained to her- it is happening so much we simply don’t have the resources to help you…so much for mercy.

We have to be merciful but never naive. And mercy without justice is no mercy at all. Last time the Synod met we heard much concerning same sex couples and those hungering to have their second marriages acknowledged. We heard nothing about jilted spouses and damaged children- the fallout of broken family life. Why was that? Forget legalism, often touted by progressives as a rebuke to those who resist, simple justice alone surely demands we acknowledge victims of family break down and care for them? That we do not hurt them even more by publicly acknowledging the new relationships that cause them so much pain? 

I always imagined the Church stood up for marriage as lifelong union for two reasons. Firstly because God revealed it. That is enough. Secondly because it is the only way to protect those who could so easily be abandoned and deeply wounded if the slightest suggestion is given that divorce is OK. Heaven knows marriage is hard enough, at times, without the sense that leaving it for somebody new doesn’t really matter. 

In an era when families are falling apart, we should be using the Synod and year of mercy to highlight the needs of children and to double our efforts on holding all families together. Not acquiescing to the prevailing culture under the pretence that divorce can ever be a merciful thing worthy of the church’s praise.

The bottom line: I am genuinely interested in finding new ways to offer hope to sinners in need of mercy. Heaven knows I am the lousiest of sinners myself. But let us move with eyes open and beware laws of unintended consequences. The anulment process is already amazingly generous and helps people move forward. But what else can we do? In helping the remarried find their way forward we must not further betray the real victims of divorce. Those so often forgotten in debates on marital life.

Our Easter babies…

DSCN0396

Eastertide is the season for baptisms and here at Saint Anselm’s we have not been slacking but busy ensuring our babies are added to the family of God! Last Sunday, during the Easter morning Mass, baby Harry Grech was baptised. He is pictured above with mum Marie and dad Darren.  The family are regulars at our 9:15am Mass.

IMG_4255

This afternoon it was the turn of baby Gabriella Gloria, whose family regularly attend our 11am Mass. I think the photograph of her wailing beside her smiling parents is wonderful. Definitely one for the Hoare family album. Proof that we accept reluctant Christians as well as enthusiastic ones at this church.

Let us pray for Harry and Gabriella and all baptised throughout the world in this great season of Easter. We welcome you with great joy into the body of Christ. As ever you can click to enlarge the photographs.