Put those marigolds away. This afternoon the builders went beyond the call of duty and have washed the floor, chairs and kneelers for us. Panic over. There is still, of course, Mass at 9am.
URGENT HELP NEEDED:
The plastering in the church has produced a lot of mess this week leaving everything blanketed in a thick film of dust! To prepare for the liturgy on Sunday we therefore need to call an emergency working party to clean up the mess and get everything ship shape again.
Can you spare an hour this Saturday morning? Mass is at 9am and we aim to start ‘the big clean’ at 9:30am. Tea and biscuits provided. We have some cleaning products but it will be helpful to bring your own washing up gloves and any spare J-cloths. With a few people it will not be onerous and might even be fun. Spread the word please….
The posts on the blog this week have mainly dealt with sex and sexuality. This is hardly surprising given the Irish referendum and its implications for the church and for society. Today a good conclusion to the theme can be found in an article which supports my views but comes from the unlikeliest of sources.
Matthew Parris, a gay atheist, has written a blistering article in the Spectator in which he points out how laughably pathetic the church looks when it seeks to accommodate the world. His logic is flawless. When Christians water down their own teaching to appease societal trends they begin to sound very unconvincing. He writes: Would it have occurred for a moment to Moses (let alone God) that he’d better defer to Moloch-worship because that’s what most of the Israelites wanted to do? Quite!
I want to buy Mr. Parris a pint and thank him for pointing out the obvious. If only the hierarchy of the Church would understand this point. We do not win favour with the world when we bow to its command – we only make ourselves look laughably weak and confused. Integrity demands we stand by the Gospel and its teaching or abandon it and denounce it to be false. Trying to gain popularity with a foot in each camp is just risible.
Why? Because trying to pretend the bible and tradition is silent or unclear on such matters is a lie. And trying to mould the faith to mirror society’s voice is an extradordinary attempt of breathtaking arrogance to project our own faces onto the throne of God. The putting of our favoured words into his mouth at the expense of what has been revealed. An act of such hubris that anyone attempting it must either; A) a secret disbeliever happy to relent for an easy life. B) seriously dim and imagining God needs our help to survive or C) in need of psychiatric help. It is the point C. S. Lewis made when he stated that Jesus was either God or mad or a liar. What he couldn’t be is just a decent chap.
Perhaps it is time for all believers to decide then. Are they for Jesus or against him? For his teaching on life or for the worlds? For I fear that the attempt to be both, the fear inspired choice of comfort over sacrifice, is just not going to wash as we look to the future of faith in the 21st Century.
I have shared a certain belief before. That historians will one day look back on Modernism, the trendy heresy that ravages the church in our day, as a grave threat to the faith on a par with Arianism. The Church will eventually overcome Modernism but not without a fight and not without cost.
Make no mistake this is a big one and schism a possibility. For modernism is now so widespread it informs the thinking of many in the church, including Cardinals. Those who would conform the faith to the world in a heartbeat. Selling the faith of the ages down the river to embrace an amorphous “Christianity Lite” which can change its central beliefs at whim to accommodate popular opinion.
Ahead of the Synod on the Family we see a modernist army preparing its troops. Preparing for a massive assault on traditional belief that will be delivered with the hammer blow of popular opinion and strengthened by a media delighting in its central aims and agenda.
Those clergy who spread its message are not to be trusted. They are hirelings not shepherds. In the language of Jesus Christ, wolves in sheep’s clothing. They speak of mercy but the desire is ever to abandon Christian morality. A shifting to cultural values and therefore the polar opposite approach to those Saints and Martyrs who ever embraced exclusion, exile and even death to cling to the Gospel.
Would the great saints discount scripture to do business with the world? Never! For ‘the world’ is what we promise to fight against, not join, during the baptism liturgy that begins our walk of faith.
So beware those who smile sweetly and find clever and attractive ways of insisting we drop scriptural teaching. The reward they promise- worldly approval and an envisaged greater relevance (actually liberalism always leads to loss) -comes at a cost. In today’s money I estimate it is 30 pieces of silver.
As a member of the Ordinariate there is a strong feeling of Groundhog Day. Those who came to Rome to embrace Catholic truth have been here before. For we once lived in a house of straw and were there when the wolf of modernity came calling. He demanded to be let inside and huffed and puffed and -alas- blew that house down. Anglicanism was not strong enough to resist the onslaught for it lacked a central authority.
And so, as a people of exodus, we ran from that wolf and sought protection in the more ancient house founded on rock. Please God the children’s story is founded on truth.
For now that we are safely in that solid house, a house which has ever stood the test of time, we hear the wolf howling once more. Let me come in! And be warned you only need let him in once- change one tiny aspect of the faith on modernist principle- and he will be there forever. Because if you can ignore scripture and tradition over one thing – say women priests- why not for anything else? The very mechanism for forming doctrine is changed forever.
We do not need to pray that the walls of our house hold firm- our Saviour already promised they will. We must pray instead that the damage to that house is limited. That the mighty storm does not rip out the roof or blow in the windows. The loss of souls who have not cleaved to Christ as they should. The establishment of a false faith and new reformation. It is a spiritual battle that is raging.
Pray then for the forthcoming Synod on the family, for those whose faith has dimmed so as to cave into modernity and pray for the Pope. The battle is now- the Lord needs YOU to enlist in defence of all that he has revealed. No matter the price. It could be high. We may need new Saints and even martyrs to stand up for God’s truth.
Most people imagine, thanks to the polemic of the culture war (that dishonest debate around the redefinition of marriage) that Christianity is hostile to homosexuals. The truth is more complex than that. In fact the church, whilst unable to endorse any sex outside of marriage, has ever been a place of inclusion and welcome. A place where people of same sex attraction, when they were in the closet, felt wanted, welcome and safe. The result being that the percentage of gay people within church circles is much higher, in my experience, than within the general population. So why is the church taking such flak?
The tension arises, not because gay people are unwelcome, but because the church will not budge regarding teaching on sex outside of marriage. It will not, actually it cannot where it is being honest, endorse the blessing of sexual relations between them. It is all about the sex then and not the people or their relationships. For the church has ever held that the procreative dimension of sex can neither be downplayed or ignored in the interests of caring for children, showing fidelity to God’s revelation and respecting the natural law.
And understand that this doesn’t just present challenge to homosexuals. All are open to marry but all who choose not to, for whatever reason, are held to the same standard. The single maiden aunt, the widower, the single teen must also avoid fornication- defined in scripture as sex outside marriage. And doubtless all occasionally stumble, all sin sometimes, but the church- thank goodness- allows for confession, absolution and the forgiveness of sins. A system that, for years, gave comfort to many who genuinely strove for self discipline and purity despite quite the battle for some of them.
But then came the sexual revolution and the hedonism of the late 20th Century, whose ripples continue to permeate society. And, in truth, the working out of this revolution is what is causing carnage for Christians today. Given that so few heterosexual couples live by the teaching of the church why should the unmarried? When so few truly open their sexual lives to the gift of children why shouldn’t the unmarried join the contracepted fun? So called ‘gay marriage’ is only an inevitable conclusion of current societal attitudes to sex in general and should therefore hardly surprise us. But that doesn’t make it less tricky for the church to navigate.
Not least because, during closeted days before pride marches and the like, many gay men found sanctuary in the church. The elephant in the room when this issue raises its head. The priesthood offered a socially acceptable excuse for not marrying, which please mother, and the 19th Century stereotype of the effeminate pastor helped. And- it really must be said -where these men were able to abide by the teaching of the church they proved a great asset proving to be very fine priests indeed. We must be proud of them.
But after the sexual revolution there were also those who proved unable or unwilling to live by the teaching of the church. Some have conducted very private relationships which allowed for the avoidance of scandal. Others were more indiscreet and promiscuous.
As regards homosexuality we see this played out in the abuse crisis where most crimes did not centre on children, as people imagine, but on the abuse of post pubescent young men by priests who were actively gay. This was the worst aspect of the gay subculture hidden within the church- but even where sex was legal (in terms of civil law) problems have arisen. Seminaries became places of scandal at times and in-house datingwas born. A reality many in the hierarchy were aware of but, for whatever reason, blind eyes were turned. A truth within Anglicanism and Catholicism alike.
The Anglican response has been to liberalise. To water down Christian teaching regarding sex outside marriage. We see this in the book permanent, stable and faithful written by former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. In it he set out an argument to encourage the blessing of same sex unions. This liberal approach was in evidence when I trained for the Anglican ministry. I was frankly astonished in my first weeks to discover that at least half the students were gay and that some were not only practising sex but quite open about that fact. Indeed a lesbian couple had even shared one of the married apartments at one time! Even two decades ago then, the Anglican hierarchy said one thing in public but practiced a different policy in private.
The Catholic church has been less liberal publicly but the problem is still there. Pope Francis and Pope Benedict having spoken of a gay mafia pulling strings from as high up as the Vatican. How many of those pushing for communion for the divorced are secretly working towards a release from the closet? How many strangely silent bishops and Cardinals, during debates on marriage, are actually compromised and open to blackmail or tormented by their own demons in this regard? We can only guess but the fate of a Cardinal in Scotland speaks volumes.
All of which leads to a depressing conclusion linked to my thoughts yesterday. The church is in a mess not because of secular strength but because of its own weakness. I say that knowing that I too struggle at times to live a holy life and am all too prone to sin, part of the problem not the cure. Where do we go from here then? How do we confront the current culture in which we are so clearly losing the battle on sex?
Yesterday I said we needed a new Pentecost. Saints to show us the way. A time of healing and holiness in which gay and straight Christians come together to support one another and live as God intended. Sex is a messy and complicated business, a result of the fall, but that mess and complication needs sanctification. Ultimately it leads to a stark choice for the Church in the 21st Century and one which the Synod on the family must hinge on.
Either the church continues to turn the blind eye to widespread ignorance and ignoring of its teaching. A move that will lead to further liberalisation and a flourishing of the sexual revolution. Or it needs to take more seriously the need to endorse its own teaching, clean its house and better support single and married people. Finding a way to genuinely help them navigate the current world and culture which is so passionately wedded to hedonistic values.
Below is a slightly adapted version of the sermon preached this morning on the feast of Pentecost. It helps us reflect on how we might bring about a genuine revival of faith in our day and it also reflects on the vote in Ireland yesterday.
Today we celebrate Pentecost- or Whitsun- when the descent of the Spirit gave birth to the Church. It was, quite literally, a world changing event. The moment the outward mission of the Church began and, miraculously, in just three centuries the Roman Empire, the mightiest in the world, would be won over for Christ by a handful of simple people. A people who had no resources, no contacts, no structure and no plan. In terms of global history it is unique. What happened cannot be explained, I do not think, other than by faith in the power of the Spirit.
And since then the miracle has not died. The Catholic church goes on! The only institution to have survived since the Roman Empire. It may be under attack on these shores, waning in the West, but it still grows year on year and now encompasses over a billion souls. It’s remarkable in human terms, but what is more remarkable- the mystery pointing to the presence of the Spirit- is that it has survived despite being, at times, unbelievably weak, corrupt and chaotic in terms of its organization.
Napoleon famously told the Pope he would destroy the church- the Pope told him to give it his best shot because we Christians had done our best to ruin it for over 1000 years but it just refused to die! And it is true – every crisis of the church should have killed it, every heresy should have corrupted its central message – yet despite everything it marches on- again and again- doing the work of the kingdom. What becomes clear is that the church moves in spite of not because of human involvement! Through it, no matter what befalls, God works his purpose out through the Holy Spirit.
But how to receive the Holy Spirit ourselves? That is the BIG question. How can we ensure we are directed by God’s spirit and not led by the fallen world or our own selfish thinking. What is striking to note about the disciples is that they only received the gift of the Spirit at the end of play. Think about it. They had a solid Jewish upbringing, a knowledge of scripture. All had clearly encountered Jesus Christ, followed Him and learnt from Him. They lived through the Passion and death, the Resurrection and Ascension – but still they had to wait for the Spirit.
We do not have to wait. At baptism the Spirit is given freely and special gifts of the Spirit are imparted through Confirmation. But the necessary waiting of the disciples does suggest something. Namely that the ultimate gift of the Spirit- the thing we deeply yearn for as Christians, sanctification- is not a gift cheaply given but the result of serious prayer. The Holy Spirit comes to devoutly holy souls.
Jesus is there for us. He ate with sinners, even Judas who betrayed him. But the Holy Spirit only descended on the eleven purified by Christ. And it was this which turned them from hopeless cowards into giants of the faith willing and able to spread the Gospel to the world. We might say Pentecost was ‘the moment’ ordinary men became living saints- the reward for years of spiritual preparation.
And this sanctification- this transformation into Saints- is a gift open to all who draw near to Christ. The ultimate gift of God for the believer. With respect to our protestant brethren, who act as though the spirit can be called down at whim and put to work at our command, the evidence in Scripture says otherwise. The Spirit comes only at God’s will to sweep us up and take us to where God has directed. Our duty then is not to demand the Spirit but to prepare our hearts for him. Which we do by living the faith. By taking up the cross and following. Through obedient, humble and holy souls. By actually taking up the challenge of the Gospel. And if we do not do that it should not surprise us when our civilisation starts to falter….
Our Western culture is in a mess today as is a great deal of the church. Not because secularism is strong but because faith is weak. Because few have taken up the challenge of the Gospel. Because few have been conformed to Christ. Consider Ireland where, only this week, the church produced only a limp wristed defence of the family; telling the faithful they were free to vote by conscience without pointing out that only one vote could be made with fidelity to Christ. Doubtless they were scared- trembling behind locked doors. For heaven’s sake some clergy even spoke out for the yes vote! But that just isn’t good enough because Ireland’s faithful needed Saints of God, sanctified men of strength, to speak God’s truth with clarity. But when the time came the saints were absent. And so the victory went the way of the world at a cost to Christian values.
What a farce! And how easy it should have been to speak out! After all the debate was fake. Framed as a crusade for justice, presenting only a choice between loving homosexuals or hating them; when it is perfectly possible to love people without conceding moral ambivalence concerning sexual practice. What was really at stake but never debated was the question of how to order sexual lives given the reality and needs of children. And because the issue of procreation was dodged at best- and wilfully ignored at worst-adult desires now trump a child’s need for a mother and a father in Ireland at every turn. Another nation colludes in the populist nonsense that pretends- against the clear evidence of every baby born- that there is no difference between gay and straight unions.
And understand this whole revolution of gay marriage is more about belief than practice. The reality is that very few gay people want marriage. Most were perfectly content with civil partnerships. Many, like Dolce and Gabbana, quite understand that the needs of children are what make marriage heterosexual by nature. Why then is it pushed with such vigour? For the same reason, I suspect, we don’t see orthodox Jewish bakers taken to court or Muslim nurses disciplined for praying with patients. This is not a fight for gay rights but a culture war against Christian values. The bringing of homosexuality out of the closet that Christians my be put their in their place and the key locked forever.
How could this happen in a land that is supposedly Catholic? Let us return to our thoughts on sanctification for the obvious answer. Alas-sanctification- given only to those souls who prepare a place for Him remember- is woefully lacking for weak, compromised faith has become the norm throughout the West. Saints of God are sorely lacking. Catholic Ireland died long ago in truth as the abuse scandals made clear. Too many hirelings not enough shepherds. A nation raised to be Catholic but not taught the faith or how to be holy. That is the cause of the present malaise.
So if we want a better world, if we want a Christian world. If we want a better church, a church alive for Christ, then first we must win souls for Christ. And the first soul to win is our own.
Yes revival is not rocket science. It simply requires YOU (and me) to draw closer to Christ by means of the sacraments, to learn about the Faith, to pray and repent of sin and sincerely prepare the soul to be a Temple for the Holy Spirit. Then- and only then- will he come. Then and only then will Saints be born again that the church may arise and transform the face of the earth.
Progress on the new hall continues apace and we can now announce the twin celebration that will help us to give thanks to God for this exciting development project. The central vision of which is to create permanent space for worship and devotion at the heart of this community.
On Sunday 14th June the 9:15am Mass will be a low mass because everyone will be encouraged to attend the 11am Mass – a special mass of thanksgiving for the new hall. The celebrant will be Monsignor Keith Newton who will then bless the extension in a special devotion after Mass. We will then remain in the hall to enjoy a glass of something sparkling and a slice of cake.
On Sunday 13th September we will again make the 9:15am a low Mass because everyone will be encouraged to attend the 11am Mass at which Bishop John Hine, formerly our area bishop (who was raised in this village) will be the celebrant. After this mass a special plaque will be unveiled and the hall will be named. People will be invited to stay behind for a bring and share lunch on this day.
All are, of course, very welcome to attend and members of the congregation, especially, are asked to put the date into the diary.
The famous Catholic writer and broadcaster Joanna Bogle, who runs the blog ‘Auntie Joanna writes’, came to Saint Anselm’s on Tuesday bearing a wonderful gift. Another beautiful hassock for the permanent church we are creating. She has made quite a few of these now and we are very grateful. They are such a classic example of English/Anglican patrimony!
Having navigated the obstacles of the building site, Joanna was most impressed with the industry of recent months. The transformed grounds and the hall which is currently under construction. It really is going to transform the site that we have and allow for much more mission and evangelisation. What a sign of God’s blessing on all that has been happening here.
The tour of the site was followed by a simple but delicious lunch in the Camden Arms. Conversation flowed freely before Joanna returned to London for a meeting of the Ladies Ordinariate Group- or LOGS for short. Joanna, being married to a former Anglican, opted to become a member herself and has been a great champion of our cause and patrimony. She is also a great friend to St. Anselm’s in Pembury, calling in whenever she meets up with a local relative. She is writing an article about developments here which I will link to when published.
I have always been deeply moved by the inspirational vision of Jean Vanier, who was awarded the Templeton Prize this week. Vanier is a Canadian Catholic who, being genuinely passionate about equality, set up communities in which people with disability are genuinely loved and valued. The L’Arche movement was born.
Within L’Arche people with disabilities, and those who assist them, are held as equals. They share a communal life together. And everyone involved is believed to have the capacity to grow into adulthood and make a valuable contribution to society. It is a robustly Christian model centred around the home and therefore a radically different model to the cold institutional care that others sometimes endure. That which is client driven and focused on basic needs not seeking to value individual gifts and talents. When picking up the award Vanier stated “People who are not endowed with intellectual gifts have … unique and marvelous gifts of the heart, and can open us to love in a special way,”
It is a lesson I was taught when, fresh out of University, I visited the Taize community. A service was underway and all were given candles. But one chap in a wheelchair, a man with sever disability, had none. So I handed him mine. He could not speak but grabbed it enthusiastically and, to my amusement, snapped it in half. My mirth turned to wonder as he handed one half back and reached for my hand. Here was another believer in equality, a champion of fairness. He opened me to God’s love that night and I came to see, despite severe afflictions, he was full of grace and exuded an authentic inner beauty.
Today, in Great Britain, the disabled are not given a fair deal. What is termed “care in the community” can become “neglect in the community”. A ten minute visit from an over-worked and under-paid carer, driven from on high by a thirst for company profit, is followed by hours of solitude for many of vulnerable people. Furthermore deep cuts to council budgets have hit these people hard. But they are not glamorous so their voice is seldom heard. The disabled of today are hurting. Does anyone care?
The hard truth is that we live in a selfish society so very few people are going to look out for them. Who, in this over busy world, even has the time to get to know them? So it is that a great many vulnerable people do not flourish as they should. And many face bleak lives of isolation and hardship, especially where close family is lacking or uncaring. These people have much to offer but they can be demanding. And the reality is that they frighten many people who have never been shown their value. So few go beyond the obvious pain to seek the hidden gain. Yet those who do come to realise that in caring for such people they often receive far more than they give.
It is because I am aware of serious inequality like this within society (I could as easily have written about the elderly or unborn, the poorest in society or the plight of many overseas) that the the farcical ruling of the Law Courts against those Christian bakers who refused to bake a cake celebrating gay marriage has made me especially angry. When did the fight for equality come to mean neglecting the disabled but loudly rooting for a couple who, though they no doubt felt insulted, had the means and choice to shop elsewhere?
The serious point I am making here is that it is easy, in any given society, to create cause celebres that only serve to divert attention from the less glamorous but more pressing causes. The chattering classes may delight in congratulating themselves for having right on views and being politically correct. But what possible value can this have when the neediest in our communities are being neglected and forgotten? The UK seriously needs to gain some perspective.
On June 10th a special evening is being held at Saint Anselm’s in Pembury in celebration of the sacrament of marriage. A special Low Mass will be held at 7pm for which the intention will be all married couples. There will then follow refreshments at 7:30pm before a special screening of the St. Antony productions new DVD: “Marriage: God’s design for Life and Love at 8pm. At 8:45pm there will be time for questions and reflections before we end the evening at 9:30pm with the Angelus and special devotions.
This event is open to all and we very much hope people will attend. It is an excellent opportunity for prayerful meditation and healthy catechesis ahead of the forthcoming Synod on the family in October. Spread the word…it will also be the first official meeting partly held in our new parish hall.