Norwich Cathedral has been close to my heart ever since I attended school there in the 1980’s. Built by Herbert de Losinga, a friend of St. Anselm take note, it is one of the finest Cathedrals in England with ceiling bosses and a cloister second to none. If you visit during a quiet moment the sacred beauty soon transports the soul to God in prayer. It is an architectural gem built to the glory of God, for the celebration of the sacraments, in days when our nation was a robustly Catholic realm.

But this summer moments for reflection, moments that lift the soul to God, will be few and far between in Norwich because the Church of England, in a move as naff as it is inappropriate, has placed a helter-skelter within. It is one of those embarrassing gimmicks, dreamt up by an ailing ecclesial institution, in the vain hope of appearing trendy and relevant to the world. And like all cringeworthy gimmicks it falls flat.

I can’t help but call to mind that passage in scripture where Jesus turns over the tables in the temple and chastises the cathedral chapter of his day for turning the house of God into a worldly den. Have the Cathedral chapter of today not pondered his point? Why do they again turn space for the sacred into space for housing the profane?

They are not alone. Rochester Cathedral has got in on the act by turning the entire nave into a crazy golf course! The justification is that it may attract new people. Yes but to what end? How does inane chatter over a ‘hole in one’ help people understand the purpose of these buildings? How does it facilitate reverence? How does it encourage encounter with the divine?

Those with poor spiritual formation will doubtless applaud, from the cynical atheist to the person whose notion of worship is all guitars and noise, but only because they themselves don’t appreciate sacred space. Meanwhile those who do appreciate silent devotion are rightly appalled. How tragic that the prayer soaked walls of these ancient and venerable buildings are now housing such blatant tomfoolery.

Not least when the attractions, which are not bad things in and of themselves, could easily be placed without. There is open space in front of Norwich Cathedral which would make a brilliant home for a slide. Similarly the grounds of Rochester Cathedral would make a good venue for crazy golf. The cathedrals would then have enticed new comers without spoiling the sacred space. So why didn’t they take this option? Do they also struggle to see the point of churches and Cathedrals in the first place?

Maybe the root cause is loss of faith and the real problem cognitive dissonance. For many clergy today, especially those of a liberal/modernist persuasion, have lost faith in scripture and the sacraments. And being more persuaded by the secular culture we inhabit, than the ancient faith that inspired the Cathedrals, they eke out an existence as Christian ministers, enjoying the status and stipend, but with waning personal faith. Today you find them everywhere embroiled in earthly not heavenly matters; speaking out passionately on immigration and plastic straws but utterly silent on divine judgment and the salvation of souls.

The growing absence of God in their lives has consequences. One of which is that they lose their faith in the God who is rumoured to inhabit sacred spaces. They no longer believe in the power of sacraments and no longer behave in church as though the veil between earth and heaven is thin here. And that, in truth, is what leads to slides and golf courses. For when you no longer trust that God himself calls people to him, you can only turn to your own efforts and ideas to bring the people in and fill up the coffers. Labyrinths, golf courses, slides and gimmicks are the inevitable end result. And that is perhaps the saddest aspect of this summer of stunts we witness in the ailing C of E.

People have historically been drawn to church by true faith and authentic holiness. But I guess, if the cupboard is getting very bare in that regard, all you have left to offer is golf and a display promoting your favoured causes.

Lift your eyes to heaven daily and never forget the spiritual realities of life. Because life is short and its ultimate purpose is not to build up treasure on earth but in heaven. That is the message of the Gospel this morning. And it is sound advice because we wont be happy, anyway, unless we learn to feed ourselves spiritually for we are children of God. Which means we were made for him, that we belong with him and he with us. And any life that excludes him, yes even a very privileged one in earthly material terms, is a tragedy of epic proportion. 

That is the point of the parable. The rich man is cruising in life. There were always good harvests. He had good land. So he grew richer every year. But disaster awaited him because he neglected his spiritual life. So when he died very suddenly he was not ready to stand before God in judgement. All that magnificent grain was no use now. How much better had he stored up treasure in heaven. Truly life on earth is short but eternity, by definition, will last forever. 

Notice Jesus does not condemn the wealth at any point. The politics of envy has no place in the church. There is nothing wrong with being rich. Just so long as we are in a right relationship with God. So if you are wealthy- good for you. Just don’t neglect your spiritual duty. Make sure you give to the life of the church and ever support the needy. Those with plenty make good friends of God but he does expect all of us to be generous with what we have been given. And, rich or poor, we have all been given something in life materially. So learning how we should deal with wealth is important for all.

The key to getting it right is to understand better the ancient biblical concept of stewardship. God made Adam his steward in the garden. It is what he asked of Israel when he gave them the promised land. But what does it mean to be ‘a steward’ for God. 

Well the ancient office of steward was given to the one who cared for the kingdom when the King was abroad. To be a steward was therefore a great honour. But it was still ultimately a life of service. The steward did not get to sit on the throne and play at being King. He was looking after something until its rightful owner returned. We begin to see how Christian teaching considers all that we have been given in life as belonging ultimately to God not us. It is his world and we are simply asked to care for it. Not to live self indulgently as demigods within it.

This point becomes even clearer when we understand what the bible means when it says we are made in the image of God This does not mean, as the foolish imagine, that we look like God or are somehow mini-gods. Far from it. Consider a ten pound note. It bears the image of the Queen but is not a mini queen nor does it look remotely like her. It is a bit of paper. The image is there however to remind us that British money ultimately belongs to the crown, to the Royal mint. We just get to use it. So if we are made in God’s image- it is a statement that our lives ultimately belong to him. We are servants not masters in life, albeit ones with awesome responsibility. But out lives ultimately belong to him.

So we need to learn, as Christians, to live with an appropriate sense of duty to God. This is radically counter cultural today for our world is self obsessed and deeply self indulgent. Nevertheless we have to learn to be humble before God. Life is about responsibilities not rites! The man in the parable missed this point. He thought that because he had worked hard and done well it was all his own to do with as he liked, he forgot to consider what God might want of him. He neglected his duty to others. And he paid dearly in the end.

To be steward is to understand God has given us responsibility. That is awesome. He trusts us. He hands us life in this world and trusts us to live it in accordance with his will. Furthermore, if we need his help, the gift of grace, he’ll give that too in abundance. If we learn how to ask for it. But everything we have and are given belongs to God. So we should treat everything in our care as belonging to God and learn to be grateful for it. So we teach our children the faith because they, like us, belong to him. We use our money virtuously because it is his gift for which we are accountable. The same for our bodies, they are to be temples of his spirit, we are not free to use them profanely. For they too are his ultimately. He made them.

The rich man could not take his treasure with him because it was not his. It belonged to this world. He had no eternal claim over it. All those bountiful harvests ended up feeding somebody else once he died. His house went to someone else. In the end life went on perfectly well without him. It always does. For we are only passing through this life and none of us are here forever. So consider this week all that your are responsible for temporrily. What are you doing with the life God has given you. Are you being a good steward or a selfish demigod. That is what he will ask when you too die and leave your grain and barns behind and stand before him in judgement.    

Father Nicholas is in Colombia at present. Pictured above is chief of the Ticuna tribe. He spent an afternoon complaining amiably to Father Nicholas that it is difficult to find a replacement. The young men of the tribe prefer the bright lights of the modern city to the ancient customs of the primitive jungle. They are off chasing the high life instead of showing interest in their own customs and traditions. Father Nicholas explained the same could be said in regard to recruiting decent priests. They then shared lunch together. The night was spent in a jungle tree house. Mrs. Leviseur reports that it wasn’t the most comfortable night of her life. It was however spiritually beneficial in that it led her to a great deal of fervent prayer.

A reminder that next week I begin my own vacation. Not to Bogota and the surrounding jungle but to Ireland. We are staying in County Down for a family holiday, in easy reach of County Cavan and Enniskillen where the Irish side of Hayley’s family are found. It should be great fun.

Please note that there will be no midweek Mass from Wednesday of this week until I return to parish duties on Sunday 25th August. The only exception will be Thursday 15th when Mass will be offered at 7pm for the feast of the Assumption.

During the ten days that I am away in Ireland the Sunday 8am Mass is being covered by Fr. Alastair Ferguson. The 9:15am and 11am will be taken by Fr. John Greatbatch, who is house and dog sitting for me. Do welcome him to the parish and support these services if you are resident.

The final day of the children’s holiday club saw the topic shift to Japanese sport. Little surprise that Sumo was centre stage, the children making a fabulous game in which they tap the sides of a box to try and knock their opponents player over. They loved it.

The children also drew images onto shrinkable plastic which were baked and hung on string to form pendents. As you can see it was very effective. Hello Kitty featured prominently amongst the girls work. Can you believe this Japanese icon is 45! More astonishing is that Nintendo, originally a company trading in cards, was formed in 1889!

The children had coloured some fish yesterday with felt tipped pens. These were sprayed with water to produce a stunning effect. The fish are then placed onto sticks with string to form Japanese festival flags. Carp feature heavily in Japanese culture.

The children had lots of help these last three days. Firstly from the helpers-older children who were on hand to assist with the trickier parts of craft and buddy up with any who required additional help or friendship.

And of course we could not run the club without an army of mummy leaders who not only watch over children and helpers but ensure coffee is in good supply. As you can see, despite the hard work, they are still smiling. Chief amongst them were Hayley and Tomi who planned the craft activity.

After the craft was completed, and final games played, we finished the club with a Sung Mass in church amidst clouds of incense. It was opportune that the feast of St. Ignatius Loyola fell this day- for he it was who sent St. Francis Xavier to preach the faith in Japan. At the Mass we asked for the intercession of the saints who were our special focus these past three days- St. Paul Miki and companions, St. Magdalene of Nagasaki and Blessed Justo Takayama- the Samurai of Christ.

Then we headed out to erupt the volcanoes. Alas my substituting coca-cola for pink lemonade to accompany some mentos led to an underwhelming end result. It was more of a pathetic fizzing than the anticipated eruption. Oh well- at least we could laugh about it. Another great year is complete.

Yesterday the holiday club focused on the theme of Japanese customs and festivals. We learnt about the Setsubun festival at which people dress up in masks and shout ‘bad luck out and good fortune in’. The children threw bean bags into the mouths of these sinister looking Setsubun characters. The children then decorated their own monster masks.

After the sinister masks were complete we needed something a little more serene. And so attention turned to Japanese lanterns. These turned out really well and the children worked very hard making them look beautiful. They look especially good with a candle inside at night.

It was then time to head into church for a devotional talk on the life of St. Magdelene of Nagasaki. This devout Japanese lady lost her parents to martyrdom in the 17th Century and went to work as a catechist and translator for the Augustinians. Sadly she then lost both her mentors to martyrdom at the hands of the oppressive Japanese regime of that time. Eventually, wanting to hide her faith no longer, she dressed up in her lay habit and handed herself into the authorities explaining she was proud to be guilty of being a Christian. She was tortured for several weeks and eventually suffocated by being hung upside down in offal. Another reminder to us of the price some people have paid for freedom to believe.

There was then time for lunch and finishing off activities. The katanas were bound in brightly coloured tape and the boys rather enjoyed waving them dangerously in one another’s faces.

We ended with games in the paddock. My favourite was “Ahiru, Ahiru, Gacho!’ more commonly known as ‘duck, duck, goose!’ The children learnt the Japanese translation very quickly and giggled as they played. The sound of children’s laughter is one of the finest sounds in life. One day to go…

Yesterday the St. Anselm’s summer holiday club, for Primary aged children, went off with a bang! This year’s theme is Catholics in Japan which has afforded us many exciting topics for craft and activities.

The first thing the children learnt was that Japan is a nation made up of thousands of islands, though most people only live on the four main islands. The country is also home to lots of volcanoes- and so the first craft activity saw the four groups create their own. It is rumoured that on the final day, thanks to the marvels of science (some bottles of pop and a packet of mentoes) these four volcanoes is set to erupt! Time will tell…

The children also learnt about Samurai and how they used katanas to fight. And so in the next activity they made their own which will be decorated with brightly coloured tape tomorrow once the paint is dry.

The devotional talk explained to the children how most Japanese people are not religious. However many attach themselves to Bhuddism or Shintuism for family festivals. There are however 500,000 Catholics in Japan today who can trace their origins back to the Jesuit missions of the 16th Century. This led into a talk about the martyrdom of St. Paul Miki and companions.

After lunch the children helped create a collage. They also got to try on a kimono. We are fortunate that one of Hayley’s friends, Tomi, is Japanese and able to ensure that what we are teaching is correct. She also has lots of authentic Japanese items for the children to see.

The final craft on the first today saw the children produce beautiful fans. There was also time for lots of games and laughter and a shared picnic lunch. Lots of fun and two more days to go….Watch this space.

Rt. Revd John Wilson was installed as the new Archbishop of Southwark on Thursday. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology you can now watch the service via the link below.

One of the most loyal members of our congregation, Diane, was widowed this week when her husband, Malcolm, passed away after illness. Of your goodness please pray for his soul and for his family who mourn him.

A requiem Mass will be held at 3pm next Monday. All members of the congregation are very welcome to attend and support Diane.

It was Mrs. T’s birthday on Saturday so, after celebrating Mass for the feast of St. Wilgefortis, I took the family for lunch at the Mark Cross Inn situated near Wadhurst on the other side of Tunbridge Wells and recently refurbished after a terrible fire. It is a favourite of mine as the food is delicious and the beer well kept. I highly recommend it.

Benedict was certainly impressed as he loudly announced his burger to be the very best he had tasted. High praise from something of a connoisseur of local burgers! As you can see it was a definite thumbs up!

Jemima and Gus meanwhile opted for ham, egg and chips, an old British favourite, whilst I enjoyed lobster thermidor and Hayley a beetroot, parmesan and halloumi risotto. All of which has to be washed down so it was welcome news that the pub was hosting a mini beer festival with live music that weekend. Anyone might think I was tipped off…

The cheery looking fellow at the bar, in his jolly camp shorts, is Brian Whiting. He is the owner of the pub and a friend of mine. He is also a long standing supporter of Tunbridge Wells rugby club which he supports annualy via sponsorship of the Whiting and Hammond 7s Tournament. Here he is pictured with the recent winners.

Brian’s company, Whiting and Hammond, own several pubs in Kent and Sussex including the Little Brown Jug in Tonbridge which recently won an award for the best restaurant served fish and chips in the country!

After lunch we headed home for desert- an amazing birthday cake which had been specially baked by Jemima. She is becoming an accomplished baker and has an ambition to star on the hit show ‘Bake Off’. With cakes like this she is well on her way. It really was yummy!!

Today, as well as being my wife’s birthday, is the feast of Saint Wilgefortis, a little known martyr referred to as ‘the bearded virgin’. Hers is a curious and unfortunate tale which, though it may first sound preposterous and amusing, is actually worthy of deeper consideration. My own view of this Saint has changed dramatically over the years.

I first encountered Wilgefortis at Westcott House, an Anglican theological college in Cambridge. Yet it was the local pub, not the ecclesial institution, that held her veneration in high regard. For her story was a firm favourite of Terence, eccentric landlord of the St. Radegund arms on King Street. A pub I frequented a little too habitually. Indeed such was Terry’s love for regaling her story that he toasted her whenever a future cleric was present. And he was absolutely delighted when I later helped organise a procession in her honour, from college to pub, at which all taking part sported false beards as well as full pint pots. It was great fun. But joking aside who was she and what is her story?

Legend says Wilgefortis was a teen-aged noblewoman who wanted to enter the religious life. But her wicked father decided to thwart this vocation by spitefully promising her in marriage to a Muslim king. To thwart the nuptials, and thus preserve her vow of virginity, the young Wilgefortis prayed in earnest that the Lord would make her truly undesirable. And, in answer to that prayer a miracle occurred; she sprouted a beard which so revolted her potential suitor that he left in revulsion and horror. Yet the tale does not end well as her father, in anger, then had her crucified. Her prayers produced a beard but did not save her from suffering.

A cult grew up in her honour throughout the Middle Ages and she became fairly popular especially throughout Northern Europe. However the devotions in her honour proved problematic and the church had to ban images of her because she was so easily confused with Christ himself.

I am sure you can see why the story amused the locals at the Radegund. The tale lends itself to send up and seems, at surface level, highly spurious. Beards do not often sprout miraculously on the chins of young ladies only for such strange miracle to lead the bearers to a most hideous death. What then shifted me from mere amusement to take the saint seriously? The answer lies in the area of mental health.

A few days after toasting Wilgefortis with my old friend Terry, on an evening when he had also sung ‘the long and the short and the tall’ to me with a beer towel on his head, I found myself in Fulbourn psychiatric hospital on a college placement. A doctor was speaking about anorexia to me and explaining that the condition often causes a strange side-effect…it triggers an abundance of body hair. This got me thinking. Might poor Wilgefortis, raised by an abusive father and therefore likely to have been susceptible to mental illness, have suffered with this condition? It seems very plausible to me. In which case we soon shift from a strange tale with a pantomime feel to a very sad story of abuse that all should take seriously.

Thus today I always invoke the prayers of St. Wilgefortis when I encounter the horrors of domestic abuse. This poor girl, whose own father treated her so despicably, strikes me as the perfect saint for abused people everywhere. So pray today for children who suffer cruelty and for all who are abused, suffer anxiety, loss of liberty and/or problems with mental health.

Oh and pray for the repose of the soul of Terry, now deceased. He was the very definition of ‘a character’, a warm and generous friend and a great guy when he wasn’t grumpy due to a hangover (which was often!!). I hope they have beer towels in heaven, should he make it, which I very much hope that he does.