Father Ed's Blog

A Catholic priest reflects…

It’s a girl!

Congratulations to Simi, one of the delightful Keralans who enrich our church community, on the birth of a baby girl, Agnes. I know the whole parish joins me in wishing mum, dad and daughter well in these first days and weeks of bonding and learning all about each other. A first child is a truly momentous thing…I often liken it to a wrecking ball that shatters your entire way of living; that something deeper, richer and more beautiful can then be constructed within the family home.

And what a namesake too. According to tradition, Saint Agnes (b. 291) was a member of the Roman nobility raised in an early Catholic family. She suffered martyrdom at the age of 13 during the reign of Diocletian on 21 January 304.

Agnes was a beautiful girl of a wealthy family and therefore had many suitors. Legend holds that certain young rich men, enraged by her decision to consecrate her life to religious purity and remain virginal, sold her out to the authorities as a follower of Christianity. There are lots of dramatic tales regarding the nature of her subsequent martyrdom but suffice to say this little girl laid down her life for God. 

Agnes was buried beside the Via Nomentana in Rome. There miracles began to occur to those who prayed at her tomb, including the daughter of the Emperor Constantine. St. Ambrose gave account of her life and commended her virtue. She is commemorated in the Depositio Martyrum of Filocalus (354)  and mentioned in the earliest Roman Sacramentaries. Agnes’s bones are conserved beneath the high altar in the church of  Sant’ Agnese fouri le mura  in Rome, built over the catacomb that once housed her tomb. Her skull is preserved in a separate chapel in the church of  Sant’ Agnese in Agone in Rome’s famous Piazza Navona.

Marriage on a whim

When two air stewards on the papal flight over Chile requested a blessing on their relationship Pope Francis opted instead to conduct an impromptu wedding. As senior legislator of the church he is able to bypass canon law in this maverick manner. But whilst the media delight in the feel good story, and the Holy Father presumably understands better than me, I confess it leaves me uneasy as it feels more ‘PR stunt’ than ‘properly conducted sacrament’.

Does this impromptu convalidation witness to the seriousness of holy matrimony? The wedding liturgy states – marriage must not be entered into lightly- yet this feels light given that we are told nobody expected it to happen. So unless this was a stunt, and the couple were secretly prepared, questions arise regarding discernment and validity. Were the couple suitably prepared? Did they feel able to say no after the Pope suggested it? And if the Holy Father did not know the couple – well how can he have discerned suitability? What if there were impediments? What checks were conducted?

It is being suggested the couple were ready because they were already civilly married. But the reverse seems true to me. For if they cherished Catholic teaching regarding marriage and family life and understood its importance- well then why neglect it to date? And whilst it is claimed the couple would have married in church but an earthquake thwarted plans… it is eight years since that earthquake!! Making this sound unconvincing as a reason for not having sought God’s blessing.

Finally the Pope himself is on record stating clergy are not exhaustive enough when it comes to marriage preparation. This event undermines that message profoundly. What would a bishop say if a priest married, outside of church and on the spot, a couple he met that day?  Quite often members of the traveller community demand on the spot marriage from me. How do I now explain this is not possible? They are not a group to be trifled with! Such example undermines clergy who must abide by rules.

Naturally I wish the couple well. And I don’t doubt the good intention of what was done. But it seems misjudged. Maybe I am a rigid sourpuss, and if so I apologise, but I cannot see how knee-jerk nuptials convey the true message of the church regarding Christian marriage.

St. Agatha’s, Portsmouth

Fr Maunder, fellow priest of the Ordinariate, has announced a special High Mass and procession at St. Agatha’s church in Portsmouth, where he serves, on February 10th at 11am. The Music will be Haydn’s Nelson Mass, led by an orchestra, and the homilist will be Rev. Fr. Bruce Barnes. There will be refreshments after Mass and all are welcome to join the congregation for this special occasion.

St. Agatha’s isn’t only a parish in which sumptuous worship is offered to the glory of God. This year they helped launch the Robert Dolling project which aims to use a converted double decker to provide help to Portsmouth’s rough sleepers.

Speaking about the project Fr. Maunder commented: “When I heard about this incredible community based project, I knew this church could help by providing a base, because we are close to an existing group of rough sleepers and have the space to accommodate it….What has been particularly impressive is the energy and support…received from local people, organisations and companies. It has been a real team effort” 

 

 

Father Robert Dolling was priest of St Agatha’s between 1885-1895. A great social reformer he frequently challenged authorities to do more to improve the lives of his parishioner’s, including the appalling state of their housing, which he described in a book, Ten Years in a Portsmouth Slum, published in 1896.

And Fr. Maunder’s other claim to fame? He helped source the beautiful Ashbee reredos, now situated in the Sacred Heart chapel in St. Anselm’s Pembury, for which I am eternally grateful. Do pop along to St. Agatha’s festival if you can.

Special collections

Monsignor Newton has written a pastoral letter, to be made available this Sunday, in which he calls for additional fundraising for the Ordinariate via three official second collections to be taken each year.

Around the feast of St. Augustine of Canterbury a collection will be taken to support the Ordinariate Clergy training fund for Ordinariate seminarians who do not have access to many of the established diocesan funds set aside for this purpose. I shall write more extensively on this need nearer the time.

Around the feast of Our Lady of Walsingham a collection will be taken to support the Ordinariate Clergy relief trust. Despite working full time in diocesan settings and parishes our clergy are not entitled to the usual perks enjoyed by diocesan clergy; private health packages and pensions. With no historic legacies and funds this is a daunting challenge.

And, close to 15th January (the founding of the Ordinariate) a collection will be taken for the Ordinariate Families Fund. To that end we shall take a collection in Pembury this coming week.

Mgr. Newton writes “Those of our clergy with families suffered particularly when they gave up their Church of England posts. There was the move from their family home to accommodation that might not be particularly satisfactory for family life or in very good repair. There was the disruption to schooling or extra cost of getting children to new locations. Less obvious was the loss of access to sources of additional support  available to clergy in the Church of England.  There are no such funds for Ordinariate Clergy families.  The Ordinariate Families Fund seeks, in a small way, to begin to fill this gap.”

These collections will, at present, occur only in the few parishes where the Ordinariate is present- but I urge supportive clergy and parishes to join us! Finance is a particular challenge for us having been required to start what is effectively a non-geographical diocese from scratch and having left behind our buildings, legacies, pensions and funds.

Imagine if the entire church in England and Wales were to get behind such an initiative…one can but hope! Until then we appeal to friends and supporters. Blog readers can send donations via myself or head office at Golden Square. 

Frankincense

As a strong devotee of good aesthetic in worship I am delighted that incense was used to worship Christ from the first moments of his appearance on earth. The need for wholesome worship is paramount. Upholding a sacred liturgy is not optional but essential to the health of faith here on earth.

Devotion should be the first priority of an authentic Christian life. Our communal worship should be oriented to God not man. There should be space for silence, mystery, majesty and awe; a clear emphasis on the beauty of holiness. It is no coincidence that when God himself gave instruction for building a Temple in the Old Covenent- he demanded the  finest materials, the best of what we have, that worship might inspire and lift the human heart. That we might materially witness to its true spiritual value at the heart of the community.

Sad then, that in so many places today, a dumbed down liturgy prevails; one almost entirely focused on human agendas and politics. God can seem squeezed out- an optional extra. This modernist approach leads to lack of mystery and majesty and awe. In the worst cases the sacrament hard to locate amidst furniture that is functional and dreary. An oft banged drum on this blog because I sincerely believe second rate worship lies at the heart of the crisis of supernatural faith today.

How can we discern the living God if no space is being given for majesty and awe, silence, reverence and epiphany? A liturgy stripped to the lowest denominator has leads only to decline. It is no coincidence seminaries and pews emptied as Vatican II was deliberately misconstrued (by political movements) leading many to discard altar rails and sacred images et al. A process of desacralisation. So much damage was caused where the priest, against V2 rubrics understand, turned from facing with us into the great mysterious beyond to create, instead, a circle of people looking inwards at themselves!

The sense of a mysterious realm beyond us- from which irrupts the Word made flesh- quickly evaporated. Soon worship became third rate community entertainment. The incense and sacred music was packed as secular ditties began to dominate. Vestments became ugly and cheap. Sloppy trainers replaced smart shoes. The cost on faith has been tremendous. The magi, in presenting incense to the Lord, call us back to authentic worship. Pray therefore for a reform of the reform; the reintroduction of all that was lost during the harrowing stripping of the altars that devastated worship in the latter half of the 20th Century.

Which is not to suggest you cannot have dignified and beautiful worship at Westward facing altars, you can, but it is to suggest much has been lost which should have been cherished and valued.

Myrrh

Myrrh. A strange gift for a baby. The modern equivalent would be showing up to a baby shower with formaldehyde. Because Myrrh was an ointment used on the dead, to mask the smell of putrid flesh

The magi were not being rude; that Myrrh was a prophetic gift. Even in infancy the shadow of the cross loomed over the lamb of God. His destiny eternally sealed. His purpose the salvation of the world, the laying down of a divine life that we might live. So the myrrh foretells Christ’s death. And ours as well. For we cannot follow Christ unless we too embrace that cross, unless we learn how to lay down our life for the sake of the Gospel. The most challenging part of the sanctification process.

It was Pope St Gregory who suggested we offer to Christ spiritual myrrh whenever, by abstinence and self discipline, we mortify the vices of the flesh. Throughout the Christian life we must develop habits of mortification; making small acts of self denial, like forgoing meat on Fridays, to build up a sense of personal discipline and thereby master our passions. Otherwise they will will enslave us and lead us away from the life of grace.

This ancient wisdom, that mortification is healthy to the soul, is unpopular today. Since the sexual revolution a creeping modernism has tended, instead, to downplay the role of grace. We see this in the huge amounts of energy poured, over the last century, into a futile quest to find wiggle room on what God demands of us. To this end hell is often denied and lives not amended. We pretend that what was true for Christians yesterday need not be binding today. As if human nature and temptation has somehow changed??!

The problem arises when people are then dissuaded from mortification meaning spiritual weakness becomes the norm. The life of grace then seems an impossible dream just as gymnastic feats seem an impossible dream to the morbidly obese! We no longer believe sin is unavoidable, and putting up with it, neither does it scandalise us anymore. Soon we speak only of the God of love, never of the God of judgement. We want the crown but not at the price of that cross!

Understand that life changing faith in Christ may be free but it is never so cheap. There is no wiggle room where commitment is concerned. Thus transformative grace, the sort that leads to sanctification, comes only to those who seek salvation by confessing sins, amending  lives and pledging to live by his Word. Who seek to be faithful to the Gospel embracing the myrrh of mortification and mastering self.

Joining a gym will not make you fit- you must work and make use of classes and equipment. Equally joining church does not make you pleasing to God- you must work and make use of sacraments and devotions.We must die to the self if we are to truly belong to him. A message that is in danger of being lost in these days of confusion and widespread permissive and heretical teaching. A point that few want to hear but which nevertheless is proved by the witness of saints and martyrs.

Gold

To mark Epiphany season (it is not just a day within the Ordinariate) I want to reflect on the gifts of the Magi. Today- that infamous gift of Gold.

Most people can tell you Gold signifies the kingship of Christ. And the eternity of Christ, since gold does not perish. But gold, a precious metal, also encourages us to consider our giving; as individuals and congregations. We are challenged by the generosity of the magi. Is our own giving sacrificial? Do we resource parishes to flourish or merely survive?

In offering gold the magi presented what is costly to God. A powerful witness to the value of Christ and faith. And since then, wherever the best has been given to God, the same point has been made. Witness the magnificent former Catholic Cathedrals of England or the gorgeous Norman and Saxon churches our forebears once built. People still visit them because the art, architecture and beauty are a timeless hymn of praise. We see in them the beauty of holiness. The tranquility of space set aside for the Lord.

What contrast to the modern age where faith has been declining. Here, despite having lived through the wealthiest era in history, we have tended towards the construction of cheap, utilitarian and functional churches. Ugly concrete spaces in which worship brings little glory to God. The message is not of the best given to God  but of begrudging minimalism. Such places do not stand the test of time. Can you imagine future generations visiting the average 1960’s  sanctuary to marvel at the beauty of that Carpet Warehouse weave? I think not.

So the care we put into constructing and maintaining churches, each according to their means, speaks volumes. Little wonder, where faith is nominal, linen also tends to be grubby and uncared for, vestments gaudy and tired.  The servers in dirty cassock albs and trainers. The result is churches that do not inspire. The beauty of holiness is absent. And it isn’t an issue of material poverty or money being better spent on the poor, ever the excuse since Judas suggested it! For the more committed we are to God, the more we then care for the poor also. Hence, in Pembury, our charitable giving doubled after we collectively upped our giving to the church and beautified the sanctuary.

Ultimately it comes down to the value we place on our faith. And when love of the Gospel is cold two things occur. At grass roots level the (not so) faithful offer only tokens; the throwing of coppers into the plate – often less than they tip the waiter. And at the other end, within the hierarchy, loss of faith leads to scandalous misuse of  resources. Consider the running scandal surrounding the Vatican bank, or rumours of Cardinals receiving huge personal incomes despite speaking to us about a need for a church of the poor! Sadly examples are all to easy to find.

St. John Vianney lived in a hovel yet walked miles to purchase frontals for the sumptuous sanctuary he built for God. The polar opposite tends to be true of modern Christians- whose kitchens cost thousands but whose sanctuaries are run on pennies. True believers should be like the magi.  Hungering to honour God and lay not only hearts and souls before his throne- but also resources. The giving of our gold. We must together resource Christ’s mission and ensure every penny is wisely spent.  In our parish we ask for generosity ensuring lay treasurers, not only the priest, account for every penny. That is how it should be. Don’t you think?

Guidance: not only by a star

Everyone knows the story. The magi were guided by a star until they found the baby Jesus in the stable. Well not according to scripture which states the magi arrived after the birth at a house where the holy family were residing. And that is why we celebrate Epiphany after Christmas! And, importantly, it was not the star alone which guided the magi; whom scholars assume were Zoroastrian priests from Iran.

The star certainly guided at the outset of their journey. They began gazing to the heavens for portents, exhibiting a primitive and superstitious form of faith. Because they hungered for truth, seeking God with sincere hearts, he led them via that star, to Bethlehem. But not directly to Jesus…

The star gazing only got them so far then. It connected them to the realm of the supernatural but could not ultimately fulfil them. It took them to the brink of discovery but no further. And so, to move forwards, they had to abandon this primitive guidance system and adopt a new form of guidance. That of human expertise, so they travelled to Herod’s palace and consulted the wisdom of elites. They turned to academia which confirmed suspicions- ancient prophecy did speak of a Messiah born in Bethelehem…and the star shone for them once more.

This time it led them to Jesus. And on encountering him an amazing thing occurs. These important men, important enough to be granted audience with Herod, fell to their knees in homage before a peasant babe. Only a sincere Epiphany can have led to such humility! They saw with eyes of faith. Their hearts were changed. Their lives transformed to the point of offering lavish gifts; gold, frankincense and myrrh.

As they knelt before Christ they found what they were looking for- a grace from above! And it enlightened and transformed not only them but their guidance system in life. So abandoning superstition and worldly expertise they ‘returned home another way’ …thereby avoiding the plot of Herod. The magi were now authentic believers-  living in relationship with God and guided by Him.

Today the church contains all three modes of spiritual guidance. But only one is authentically Christian and will bring you salvation and grace.

First are those stunted by superstition and ignorance; who claim the name Christian but whose faith is not formed. They might trot to church for the lucky bread or out of habit and a sense of tribal identity. They might seek intercession of saints for sentimental reason. But they are very much of this world, living daily lives no different from unbelievers. Ignorance stops them from living a life of grace. Faith seeks understanding – you cannot love what you do not know. And because they do not know their faith, or have not experienced Jesus Christ in a manner of authentic conversion, they remain lost. Like sheep without a shepherd.

Next are the modern day occupants of Herod’s court. The elites who claim to love the church…but only on their terms. Many clergy are in this rank. The compromised who are wedded to ‘the institution’ not Christ. Like the superstitious but more dangerous because they are better informed. Often these sort once had faith but lost it because hunger for power, or a hidden sinful life, corrupted. So they give themselves over to justifying the sham they have become; watering down the Gospel and appeasing the world and the devil.

They are the modernists dominating the hierarchy in recent time whose faith is blatantly political not supernatural. Silent on the horrors of divorce but vehemently outspoken on trendy issues like the environment. Ever desiring secular approval they endorse the faith, and benefit from it, but only to the point  it conflicts with the world…then they back the world every time. Like Herod they are wicked for they do not serve Jesus Christ but desire to tame and control him and make him dance to the tune of our fallen culture. They are, very much, the Herod and Judas of today. And I fear they are legion in the upper echelons of modern ecclesial power. Consider the abuse crisis and tales of deep corruption in the Vatican.

Finally are the saintly few who have genuinely encountered Jesus Christ and live by grace. They are not closed to the mystical realm nor dismissive of the insights of worldly thinking but their first love is always Jesus Christ and to him they belong! So they follow this world but only to the point it contradicts the wisdom of the divinely revealed faith.. and at that point, in contrast to the modern Herods, they opt for Christ and speak out for him and do not count the cost.

You will therefore often find them hated by the world and elites who also hated Christ from the moment Herod drove him into exile in Egypt. Expect them to be run down in the press and never presented, as modernist clerics are, as merciful and kind. But they do tend to speak for the church in all ages not watering down faith but upholding it. Yes, despite often speaking from the margins, I believe they must be the wise men and women of our day. Oh that we would join them!

I write as one prone to stand up for the last group but far too foolish to actually join them in terms of sanctified living. For that I must overcome a daily battle against self and overthrow the wiles of the devil. Must work harder.

Saving the English Church

An excellent article appeared in the Catholic Herald. Click here to read in full. Written by Stephen Bullivant it reflects on the vocations crisis and suggests a solution is staring bishops in the face, were they only to move away from a ‘one size fits all’ way of thinking and embrace the fruits of the new evangelisation. Then struggling parishes, instead of closing, could be handed over to emerging groups – like the Ordinariate – who have the clergy and vision to enable them to flourish. Our story in Pembury being proof positive of this claim.

From the article….

If I were a bishop…what I’d be praying for is a group with dozens of young and energetic clergy, thoroughly immersed in British culture, and with years (if not decades) of pastoral experience…which brings us to the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.

Given the kinds of statistics I’ve outlined – that is, too many churches for the numbers of priests and worshippers we actually have – it’s no wonder that many bishops have readily borrowed ordinariate priests for their dioceses. Anglicanorum Coetibus was, in this sense, a unexpected windfall of additional clergy….yet the current model of plugging gaps in ordinary diocesan provision is, not in the long run, a sensible one for either party….

Christ’s Church has plenty of room in it for such a body…such a thing will not, of course, appeal to everyone (including not all former Anglicans). But then why should it? This vision…offers a niche way of “being Church” that complements, rather than competes with, the default normal parish offering.

Do read the whole article. And then pray the bishops are also reading and taking note. How the Ordinariate could fulfil its vocation, and do great things, if only more people would embrace rather than resist it and see it as a blessing rather than a threat. On both sides of the Tiber I might add!

A tip of the biretta to Stephen Bullivant from all of us in Pembury! The photograph above shows me presiding during Anglican days at St. Barnabas in Tunbridge Wells.

Epiphany carols

A reminder that the Epiphany Carol Service takes place this coming Sunday at 6:30pm. We shall be singing favourite Epiphany hymns- from ‘Brightest and Best’ to ‘O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness’ and, of course, ‘We three Kings’. After the service we shall serve refreshments. All are welcome to attend.

During Mass in the morning, at 8am, 9:15am and 11am, we shall bless and distribute Epiphany chalk and solemnly proclaim the feasts of the coming year in chant. We shall then visit the crib during the final hymn where shepherds will have been replaced by magi. Don’t miss this wonderful feast. Rumour has it there might even be birthday cake to share in honour of your parish priest…

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