Father Ed's Blog

A Catholic priest reflects…

Month: December 2014 (Page 1 of 3)

Be wary of popularist leaders

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The New Testament makes it abundantly clear, in myriad verses, that the decision to follow Christ means you cannot belong to this world. To be a true disciple involves living the life of faith. And that requires stepping outside of the thinking and values of this world and taking on the armour of Christ. It is a challenge that requires us to strive for truth over popularity. Jesus put it this way: If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. JOHN 15:19

 Jesus clearly considered hostility from the world to be normative for the Christian. Proof that you are no longer living according to the world but for Christ in its service. After all the values of the Gospel are diametrically opposed to the values of this fallen world. And certainly history has proved the point. Jesus himself never courted popularity but spoke the truth frankly in love. It ultimately transformed the world for the better but it left him hanging on a cross with just a handful of followers at his side. 

Since that dreadful day countless great Saints have followed in his footsteps. The first 33 Popes all having given their life to Christ. Countless other saints witnessing to Christ by their suffering and rejection in this world. Most recently we see this played out in the Middle East where a great many heroic souls have lost their lives for love of Jesus Christ. Indeed more people have died for being Christian in the last Century than all others combined.

We also saw this suffering in the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI. A man gentle and humble in spirit, who will surely be proved prophetic – a doctor of the church- and yet who was nevertheless constantly attacked in the media and grotesquely misrepresented. What people “hated” about him was his robust and inflexible defence of  Catholic faith. Do not fall for the lies of the enemies of the Church. Those who would paint him as a right wing dinosaur to set against a compassionate modern lefty. The Catholic faith has never been about the left and right of human politics. That is the thinking of this world. It is centred on the Gospel. On the fundamental issue of what is truth and what is error.

Thus Pope Benedict delighted Catholics who wanted to preserve the faith of the ages. Yet scandalised those outside the church, as well as those within it who would conform the faith to the world. I speak here of those who uphold the ideals of the sexual revolution to the extent that they would have the church abandon its historic teaching to bend to the will of modernity. What a scandal that amongst this brood of vipers we find those at the highest level of church governance!

What could possibly motivate a Cardinal to desire unscriptural reform? To even attempt a detachment of pastoral practice from doctrine to tip things in the worlds favour? The answer, I suspect, would not delight Christ. Rather we see hunger for popularity, a place at the high tables of society, desire for personal comfort, hunger for church taxes (in Germany) and evidence of those who long ago abandoned faith for the political agendas of this world. Dare I suggest we might also witness the harvest of blind eyes being turned (during the seventies and eighties) to immoral life in the seminaries?  That the gay issue might touch more than a few nerves within the episcopate?

People ask me what  I think about Pope Francis. I love his charisma and warmth. I love his missionary heart. I believe he is a true son of the Church. At least I hope so because the alternative would be grave. But he worries me or rather his approach does.

I assume his intention is to soft peddle faith amongst unbelievers (realising how far apart the modern world is from the church) without actually changing teaching. Which is to say he holds those of faith to a higher/different standard to those of no faith. Gradualism in other words. This would explain why he said ‘who am I to judge’ to the world but chastised the curia for x,y and z. But, if true, this is a dangerous game to play. I fear he underestimates the power of the media who, by broadcasting only half of his message, are cleverly casting their own face and agenda onto him to make him a tool for their cause. The result: he delights the very people Benedict horrified and horrifies those Benedict delighted.

Think about that. Doubtless the detractors of this blog will hoot in delight- for they are those hungering for unscriptural revolution. But those not entirely sold on the liberal causes might ponder what make of a Pope who, unintentionally (I hope) delights non-believers but dismays the person of faith. Who galvanises those who seek to undermine church teaching but alienates those who, with much difficulty in the modern world, seek fidelity and obedience to it. And I do know of a lot of fine Catholics who feel let confused, let down and demoralised at present. In  business terms- does it make sense to chase those who do not buy your product at the clear cost of your faithful consumer base?

So we must pray that the Pope stops playing to the PR gurus and returns to his role in defending the faith even to the point of being disliked. Jesus did not try to give one message to those outside of faith and another to those within it. He just spoke to the truth in love and dared to offend in the process. Our confused world needs that truth more than ever before. And we cannot afford to confuse them by suggesting that a range of opinions are possible. That is called protestantism not Catholicism. And it leads to fracture and schism. Consider again that verse in the Gospel of John

If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. JOHN 15:19

A return to Anglican roots

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This is morning I returned to Anglican roots- visiting St. Lawrence’s church in Hunworth where my father is rector. Being Catholic, I could not take communion, but I was able to make a spiritual communion amongst fellow Christians and was honoured to lead intercessions and support my dad in his ministry.

Unlike much of the Church of England, services in Hunworth reflect a land that time forgot. The bicycle still leans against the church wall, BCP prayers echo against ancient walls and the people still meekly kneel upon their knees wrapped up in winter attire to beat the chill! It it was a charming morning to be followed by a hearty lunch that mother has prepared.

Whilst in church I offered prayers for the parish in Pembury and for a member of our community being admitted to the hospice this week.

On the feast of Stephen

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The photograph above, captured after Mass on Christmas morning, begs itself as a caption competition. My offering is Father Jack, who is looking quizzically at Fr. Nicholas, saying to his children “If that is what passes as ecclesiastical headwear in the Ordinariate, then I am returning to the Church of England!”  The folly was, of course, all mine. It is something of a tradition that I now gift Fr. Nicholas with something tacky on Christmas morning to add to his class and gravitas.

Christmas went well. Numbers were a little down at Midnight, compared to last year, but much higher on Christmas morning. The crib service was up on last year and the vigil Mass much the same. Meaning we had a similar number of people through the doors as last year but with people spread across the services in a different way.

This morning there is the Mass of St. Stephen at 9am. And then there will be no daily Mass until Saturday 3rd January as I take my post Christmas break. This Sunday both services will be offered by Fr. Simon Heans, a Catholic priest of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. Thank you to him! Please make him welcome and be there to support him.

Finally good news for the parish as the following statement was read out at our services on Christmas Eve/day. Things are, God willing, about to get going as regards transforming our dual use hall into a permanent space for worship…

The Building Committee has now agreed, in principle, to proceed with the construction of the new parish room, which will provide the space we need at a cost we can afford.

However, the planning permission, already granted, stipulates that we have to ‘avoid damage to the existing trees, including their root systems.’

This means that a method whereby this can be achieved has to be agreed in writing with the Local Planning Authority.

Once we have this agreement, which we hope will be early in the New Year, orders can then be placed.

A blessed Christmas to all readers

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This photograph was taken during the children’s crib service which took place this afternoon. As well as this re-enactment of the Christmas story, we had devotions before the crib and sang several carols. It is always a lovely time as our Sunday School children come together amidst much excitement at the approaching festivities.

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The vigil Mass also went really well with some fifty people in attendance. Next is the jewell of the crown tonight’s Midnight Mass at which we pull out all the stops and rejoice in the birth of our Saviour Jesus Christ. A blessed Christmas one and all. May you not only kneel in adoration before his crib but let him be born in you afresh, that he might walk with you throughout this coming year.

Christmas at St. Anselms

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Preparations spiritual and practical

Tomorrow from 9am-12pm people will be dropping into church to help decorate, flower arrange, erect the tree, hang the lights, polish the brass, dust, clean and generally get everything ready for the Christmas devotions. Carols will be piped as we do this happy industry. And Father Nicholas and myself will be available in the quiet of the side chapel to hear confessions. During the morning and in the early afternoon the priests will visit the sick and bring Christmas communion to the housebound.

The Crib Service

3pm we hold our crib service which is open to everyone but focused on the children. They will perform a simple nativity play (arrive at 2pm for rehearsal if you want to be in it!) and some favourite carols will be sung. The lights will be blown onto the Christmas tree with a little bit of festive magic and we will end with devotions around the crib in candlelight.

Vigil Mass

5pm we open our doors for the first Christmas Mass. Carols replace the hymns for a service that is particularly suitable for those who are unable to get out late at night. At the end of the Mass we visit the crib which is incensed and blessed with holy water.

Midnight Mass

11:30pm is the start of Midnight Mass and the jewel in the crown of our Christmas celebrations. All the stops are pulled out and the choir will lead the singing of carols. We end with a visit to the crib for adoration of the Christ child. After Mass corks are popped and a glass of something sparkling is enjoyed by those present. This is a night of celebration and rejoicing. Then it is home to bed ahead of…

Mass of the Day

At 10am we celebrate the Mass of the day, bleary eyed but happy no doubt from all that has gone before! Carols are sung and children are invited to bring a small gift to open. What will Father Nicholas have to open this year?

Understanding Donatism

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The Diocletian persecution of Christians in the 4th Century was every bit as vile as the Isis persecution of Christians today. People routinely butchered and caused to suffer simply for faith in Jesus Christ. A time of anguish for the faithful.

It is not a surprising footnote of history, therefore, that whilst some proved heroic in standing up for the faith, others did not. Many of the faithful opting to recant their faith or simply disappear under the radar.  I don’t like to ponder which camp I would have fallen into. I have huge admiration for the brave and much sympathy for the cowards. Nobody should have been put in that place.

The problem for the church was not the persecution itself. Such things cause tremendous suffering but do little to challenge faith. No, the problem arrived in the fallout afterwards, once the situation had calmed and recanters crawled out of the woodwork.  They returned to church but were not flavour of the month amongst those who had stood firm and suffered as a result. These people felt that the recanters were cowardly traitors who had abandoned them in time of need. Very understandable on the human level.

The Donatist heresy was born. Not because people were hostile understand. But because those who had suffered began to deny the validity of those returning EVEN AFTER THEY HAD BEEN TO CONFESSION! That is to say they were denying the validity of the Sacraments. They even went so far as to suggest the baptism of those who had caved in was invalid. Acting as if certain sins cannot be forgiven when the Church plainly teaches that all sins can be forgiven by God. Acting as if baptism can wear off. St. Augustine had to step in and tick them off!

It strikes me that those pushing for relaxation of church teaching today, especially as regards admitting to communion non-penitent people, might be dubbed modern day Donatists! For where the originals denied the validity of confession, modernists now deny the indissoluble validity of Marriage.

St. Augustine would suggest here a need for greater fidelity and courage. Reminding us that our duty as Christians is never to reconcile Christ to the fallen standards of this world but to reconcile the world to Christ. The church has much mercy to offer sinners who repent, which is why the Donatists were in error. What it cannot offer is mercy to those who do not repent! For that would mean turning a blind eye to ongoing sin thereby leaving souls in peril.

It is bewildering then, even upsetting, to hear about serious documents emanating from high places that cast faithful Catholics, if they presume to uphold historic teaching concerning marriage, as “Donatists”. I hope my understanding of what is being said is mistaken. For it would seem to suggest that some of the episcopate in England and Wales imagine the heresy of the Donatists centred on their refusal to show mercy to backsliders when, as I have explained, it so clearly centred on a denial of church teaching regarding the efficacy of the sacraments.

We live in an age of crisis. The relativist idealism of the sixties generation threatens to undermine the deposit of faith. I witnessed this destructive agenda as an Anglican and it is upsetting to see it in Rome. And the threat is high, and will be for a decade, because the revolutionary proponents of such idealism currently occupy seats of tremendous power and influence.

Where defenders of the faith should sit, we can sometimes find those with a worldly agenda based on modernist notions of political correctness. Meaning bishops who do stand by the faith need our prayers and support. They are going to need tremendous courage to speak out for Christ against the spirit of the age. As are we little people in the parishes and at the grassroots.

Mercy does not mean we turn the blind eye to sin. It does not mean we divorce doctrine from practice. Mercy is about honesty before God. I think this prayer from the Ordinariate Rite Mass puts it rather beautifully. Making it very clear that mercy requires decisive action on the part of the penitent.

Ye that do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbours, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways: Draw near with faith, and make your humble confession to Almighty God, meekly kneeling upon your knees.

God wants us all to be immaculate

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This morning I preached the following sermon strongly influenced by notes taken at the Advent talk given by Fr. John Hemer for clergy in the diocese. As mentioned previously his address was inspirational.

Sometimes one meets a dysfunctional family where the parents behave in a way that is horrific and destructive. Yet the children, because it’s all they have known, do not understand the behaviour is exceptional. They grow up imagining violence or drunkenness, neglect or abuse is perfectly normal. It is only later that they realise something was deeply wrong, that things were not normal at all.

Today we honour Mary. The one woman in history who was, if the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception teaches us anything, raised as God intended us to be. Free from sin and its corrosive effect. Meaning she, not us, is the normal one. Whilst we, tainted by original sin as we are, must be- to one degree or other, the dysfunction in our families; the problems for our communities. For we are damaged by sin. Romans puts it this way: All have sinned and lack the glory of God. But that’s not how God intended it to be remember, hence Ephesians says “he chose us to be holy and blameless before him”. That word ‘blameless’ being in Latin immaculati. So scripture is saying quite explicitly that God wanted us all to be immaculate- like Mary!

But we lost our immaculate nature at the fall. So that today sinfulness has become so inevitable as to seem normal, we imagine its part of human nature. But no, the bible says sin is part of fallen nature, damaged nature. Meaning every sin, no matter how small, is deeply unnatural. It makes us less human. Mary is the normal one- we the broken versions. For Mary, from her conception, by grace of God, lived free from the stain of original sin.

Original sin means our desires are disordered. That we want in life what make us less than human, and have done ever since Eve sinned and Adam copied her. We treat God as rival, imagine obedience curtails freedom and fun. But Mary’s Immaculate nature means she never treated God as rival or hungered for the inappropriate. God made her the example of normality for us. A human life lived by grace alone.

Usually when the Church defines dogmas it’s because there is dispute. But in 1854 Pius IX defined the IC without any dispute but it proved prophetic. For in the 19th century Europe started down a path that would prove destructive to humanity. Darwin teaching there was no purpose to creation save procreation and survival. That we are not children of God only products of harsh natural selection. And Nietzsche was determined to win the struggle. For him, God was dead and the man, should now take over and impose his will on the world. Two ideas which formed the philosophical underpinning of both Nazism and Communism. Those regimes that showed no regard for the dignity of man leading to the deaths of millions.

So, just as people said we are cells with no purpose, the Church held up the icon of Mary Immaculate- an image of goodness and love. Held up the IC just as the foundations were being laid for the modern culture of death. As man turned in on himself- the Church held up the one life that is normal. Mary our standard for human behaviour. An image offered to a broken world, a world so distorted by sin that sin is now believed to be normal even desirable. Consider how even the most natural and obvious statement of all-that man and woman belong together in marriage for the benefit of children – is challenged and even dismissed.

Interestingly there are four Dogmas concerning Mary. The first two came when the world was confused about the nature of God. So “Mary Mother of God” and “Her perpetual virginity” helped us understand who God is. The next two dogmas arrived relatively recently, as we have become confused about the nature of man. So the Immaculate Conception and Assumption help us understand what a human being really is.

So that, in 1950 the Church defines the assumption of Mary following two world wars. Which is to say the seeds planted in the 19th century bore deadly fruit in the 20th. Those ideas about life without purpose came true. 2 wars doing more to damage faith than any atheist propaganda. So via Mary, assumed body and soul into heaven, the Church proposes a different vision. Despite all that people had seen the Church was saying our destiny is not in a trench or a gas chamber or gulag, the victim of survival of the fittest. Nor is it in the dignitas or abortion sluice of today. No- God’s will is for each of us, like Mary, to have great dignity and worth on earth before we are raised to be with him in heaven. For God each and every life is to be held as precious and sacred.

In the years following the two world wars things have only got worse. There is now, if it is possible, an even more pessimistic view of life and its purpose, or lack of it. So much work for the Church to do then. But even that church  is in crisis due to the fall out caused by the doubts and fears of this generation. The liberal agenda, with its false sense of mercy, ever wanting to conform the church to the world rather than to lead the world in faith to Christ for transformation.

But in Mary- mother of God, ever virgin, conceived immaculate and assumed into heaven- the Church posseses an alternative view. The view of firm faith. Of God’s vision of human life. A natural life whose destiny ends in heaven. And that message has never been more needed than it is today. Which is why we must learn to celebrate it with courage. To stand up for the faith we hold dear. Meaning that when Christmas comes again- we don’t only delight in the baby lying in a manger. But lift him from it and take him into our hearts. That he might, by grace, make us normal and lead our souls to heaven.

Christmas at Saint Anselm’s

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SUNDAY 21st DECEMBER

A SERVICE OF 9 LESSONS & CAROLS           6:30pm

CHRISTMAS EVE

Crib Service                        3pm

VIGIL MASS                       5pm

MIDNIGHT MASS             11:30pm

CHRISTMAS DAY

MASS OF THE DAY          10am

The Four Last Things: Hell

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The Catechism of the Catholic church says: The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fire. The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.” CCC 1035

That is frightening so it is little  wonder that, throughout history, attempts have been made to water down this aspect of Christ’s message that it no longer represents such a serious threat. Some like to suggest the wicked will simply be annihilated. Others vote for universalism- arguing hell exists but that it will be empty because all will eventually accept God’s love. Even the devil! Nice idea but sadly at odds with what Jesus revealed. And we must surely listen to him not to those attempting to spin bad news into something palatable. 

Understand, if it were up to me, I would choose a soft version of hell. A temporal place not an eternal one. One of annihilation not eternal  suffering. Not least because I could end up there!! But were I to support such theory you could accuse me of the worst hubris. Of teaching the Gospel of me,  not the Gospel of Christ. And there would be a high chance that, in my limited wisdom, I messed up. Perhaps souls really are immortal and cannot be annihilated? What if I led you to false comfort- how you would hate me on the way to hell. So we really do need to look at what has been revealed.

So open the scriptures and consider how often the eternal nature of hell is stressed. Jesus warns, “It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where the worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” And in Revelation 14:11, “And the smoke of their torment goes up for ever and ever; and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.” I wish the teaching was vague. But really it isn’t. Read every reference yourself if you doubt me. So either we accept Christian teaching or reject it all.

Jesus had an awful lot to say about Hell and, whenever he did, he ensured people understood that it was not just a theoretical possibility but a real place where people will be sent if they reject God’s offer of salvation.  “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matt. 7:13–14).

We begin to see how integral to the Gospel the reality of hell is. Little wonder those who have historically believed in it have been passionate about mission and evangelisation. They want nothing more than to save souls. One of these was Pope John Paul II who, in his book ‘Crossing the Threshold of Hope’ wrote that too often “preachers, catechists, teachers . . . no longer have the courage to preach the threat of hell”  He goes on to say “The ancient councils rejected the theory . . . that every creature would be saved; a theory which abolished hell. . . . the words of Christ are unequivocal. In Matthew’s Gospel he speaks clearly of those who will go to eternal punishment (cf. Matt. 25:46). Who will these be? The Church has never made any pronouncement in this regard” 

Thus we know for certain that some souls go to hell, but the issue of who is undecided. Certainly no person is predestined. If that is where we end up it will only be because we opted to live separated from God and he, with profound sorrow, honours that decision. It will be a place for the wicked, a place for those who hate God and who, despite hearing his Word, chose to reject it.

Finally take comfort in this fact. If you do what you were created for -by building a relationship with God and remaining in his grace, loving yourself and other people, and caring for the world in which you live- then you need not fear. A far better destination is available and entry is free.

“O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, and lead all souls to Heaven, especially those in most need of Your Mercy”.

Four Last Things: Heaven

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It is not easy to speak about heaven because it is beyond our limited comprehension.  We can say  that heaven is our eternal home. We can state God will share his divine life with us there. We can state that created order will be free from the stain of sin and suffering. And we can state that the souls who enter heaven will be completely at peace and will know indescribable joy. We can say all these things as Christians for they have been revealed in scripture.

What we cannot do is actually describe heaven. Because our experience of happiness thus far is severely limited due to our fallen natures and sinful world. Think of it this way. Dogs delight in having a stick thrown for them in the local park. Each time they dash off to gather the stick you discern joy. But we humans, being more enlightened and intelligent, would find the exercise dull. If you throw a stick for your best friend to fetch- unless he or she is playing the fool- the task will cause offence. Asking us to picture heaven before we get there is akin to asking a man who has only ever tasted porridge to describe the taste of chocolate.

I am certain then that what delights us now will seem banal and pointless in heaven, once we have tasted its true joy. Currently we lack the experience to discern its joys until its doors are opened to us. We might love eating chips- but an eternity of chip eating would be miserable. We might love listening to Palestrina- but an eternity of that would be insufferable. Indeed any activity we currently love would become tortuous within an eternity.  We begin to see how heaven’s joy is beyond our imagining. All we can do is trust God’s promise that those who enter heaven will be deeply content. And trust that our vision of heaven will be lacking…

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And a final thought on heaven for liturgical modernists to ponder. Sometimes people tell me they do not like the smell of incense. I do love to point out to them how, given that all the biblical descriptions of heaven speak of clouds of incense around God’s throne, they ought to get used to it. After all it is preferable to sulphur. But more on that tomorrow….

 

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