Father Ed's Blog

A Catholic priest reflects…

Month: January 2016 (Page 1 of 2)

Your liberation is at hand!

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We have entered the ‘Year of Mercy’ – a Jubilee year. A tradition with ancient roots. By the time of Christ it was long established. The Jews would celebrate a Jubilee every 50 years, and for 12 months all kinds of extraordinary things occurred. No crops were sown or harvested. Slaves were set free. Land lost through debt was returned. Bad debts cancelled. It was an important time for the whole community. The acceptable year of the Lord; whose high point was ‘the day of liberation’. Unless we understand this we cannot make much sense of today’s gospel reading- for it took place on the day of liberation in the year of the Lord.

Crowds would  gather before the tabernacle. The High Priest placed his hands on a goat, which was then offered in sacrifice for the sins of the people. Its blood was taken into the holy of holies where a second goat was waiting. This one had the blood of the first smeared onto it and was then driven out into the wilderness, to take the sins away from the people. A literal scape-goat, from where we get the phrase, as depicted in the famous painting by Holman Hunt (above).

Only when the atonement was made, only when the sacramental act of forgiveness had taken place, could the priest nod approval. And then all the men, many standing in the hills waiting for this moment, would proclaim the year of the Lord with a trumpet blast- the message going out to the nation. Slaves were free.

Certain things stand out. First the jubilee, the joy, began with redemption. Trumpets were silent until forgiveness occurred. A metaphor for Christian life where we cannot know the joy of the Lord until we come to him for forgiveness.

Second, during the 49 previous years, and the 49 following years, law took precedent over grace. It demanded slaves remain in bondage, debts be paid, agreements honoured. But then came this window in which grace supersedes law. So laws were abrogated and underserving men found forgiveness.

Thirdly no crops were planted. Why? Because people had to learn to trust in God alone. Not in economic systems or governments or their own strength. Another valuable lesson which we also need to learn in our journey of faith.

Fourthly this was a time of great opportunity. Slaves could lay a foundation for a new life. But such opportunity was reliant on the generosity of others. Masters had to agree to the liberation, creditors had to accept the wiping away of debts. There was cost involved. There always is where mercy is concerned.

Finally there was risk. If men spurned the opportunity given, and mounted new debt, they fell back into bondage. Just as we, if we do not make use of this transitory life to embrace God’s mercy, will face the eternal consequences of our decisions and actions. And so we need to be wise and determined to make the most of this life God has given; to love neighbour as self and God above all things.

This then is the background, not only to our Gospel reading but to the Year of Mercy which we celebrate. It was the Sabbath -the synagogue was packed. Every eye focussed on the presiding Rabbi- this was his moment of glory….when suddenly his thunder was stolen. A young man stood up and filled the temple with the beauty of his teaching. People were transfixed, despite the break in protocol. They heard him say ‘the Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he hath appointed me to preach…THE ACCEPTABLE YEAR OF THE LORD. He then added, “today in your hearing this text has come true.’

After 2000 years of Christian teaching we get it. But sympathise with the Pharisees. They did not know of the resurrection or ascension. They did not know Jesus came to fulfil what the Year of Jubilee foreshadowed. That he would accomplish on the cross freedom for his people. Offering a break from the slavery of sin to a new life of grace and opportunity. Little wonder they turfed him out and tried to chuck him down the hill. Imagine a member of the public standing up during a coronation and claiming the crown for himself. He too would be strongarmed out! Nevertheless he warned them; this opportunity being offered would not last forever.

Redemption; it is a big word meaning more than mere forgiveness of sins. Reconciliation was obtained through the goats, but the liberation was felt in the whole land. Similarly the redemption obtained by the blood of Christ and present in the sacraments of the church, must reach into every part of our life. Which is to say body and soul must be given to him. But as the newly released slaves often discovered that is easier said than done. For in spite of our redemption, we remain in bondage. Alas our bodies are not yet free from the limitations of the flesh. And so the spiritual battle begins for the believer. It is against the body that the battle so often must be won. We cannot only believe in him we must learn to overcome the weakness of the flesh. The healing of a man’s soul is glorious but his body must also know the transforming touch of God if he is to be fully conformed to the image of Christ. Which, when it occurs, we recognise as Sainthood.

So we have this Year of Mercy and Lent approaches. Never has the need for confession been greater than now! Now is the time to get control of life- and learn the virtue necessary to offer body and soul to God. We must mark our own need for mercy if we are to celebrate the Year of mercy.

It is fitting then that, thanks to the generosity of another,I have acquired for St. Anselm’s a new confessional. It is to be placed in the coming days within the Sacred Heart chapel. Understand it is not there for decoration! Make use of it. For this is the year of the Lord and our liberation really is at hand.

And if we use it well, if we confess and ask for mercy from God, then the very trumpets of heaven will sound our liberation, its gates opened to us, but only if we accept the freedom offered. Only if we take seriously this year of the Lord and remove the shackles of sin that we may truly become a liberated people.

Sexagesima Sunday

Tomorrow is Sexagesima Sunday, which we will be celebrating during our 9:15am Mass. Being part of the ancient season of pre-Lent there will be no Gloria, the vestments will be purple and there will be a focus on our need for redemption and forgiveness and amendment of life before we can truly know joy in the Lord. At the 11am Mass, kept according to the Novus Ordo, the vestments remain green and we observe the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time instead. But the pre-Lent themes remain. For all of us need to be getting ready to keep a good Lent.

On Tuesday of next week falls Candlemas, the feast also known as the Presentation of the Lord. At St. Anselm’s we will not be observing the  modern custom of  translating the feast to the nearest Sunday but keeping it on its proper day; that is 40 days after Christmas. Keeping feasts on their actual day is a practice encouraged within the Ordinariate where it is allowed. It is hoped that as many parishioners as possible will be present to support the Mass which begins at 8pm. Let us celebrate as we mark the end of the Christmas and Epiphany season.

Surface ecumenism vs. lasting ecumenism

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There are two different approaches to ecumenism floating around the church today. Both have the same good intention at heart; the bringing together of the fractured body of Christ. But that is where similarity ends. Let us examine.

‘Papering the cracks’ approach: 

The first approach is to brush historic difficulty under the carpet. This allows for a rosy picture of imagined harmony to emerge. The press photo of Catholic and Anglican counterparts is made possible. They grin from ear to ear, looking like the greatest of chums… even though they are not actually in communion at all, remaining deeply divided on any number of fundamental issues of doctrine.

The benefit of the approach is that it is profoundly easy. Little demand is being made. You share sandwiches, clap each other on the back but can then retreat to the safety of your comfort zone; delighting in a mutually convenient fantasy- that unity  somehow occurred. And the bonus is that, because you didn’t bring up the pain of the past or present, nobody gets hurt or need face up to uncomfortable truth.

The weakness of the approach is obvious then. Any gain is very slight in concrete terms. Friendship may emerge, and that is good, but no actual reconciliation of differences can occur. It is a triumph for political relations and good manners but so often a complete failure on all other counts. And those are the ones that matter if we are to reconcile our differences.

Deep down I suspect the approach- which is reliant on watered down liturgy and inoffensive teaching- is based on fear. Hence the desire to ever remain in the shallows; a search for surface gloss not lasting walks of unity. A more timid approach because its adherents do not actually believe unity is possible or desirable. The hope is not to bring people into one fold so much as to celebrate one another’s closed doors- presented as ‘a celebration of diversity’- but of course…

Only that is NOT what Jesus called for. He he said- we should be one as the Father and He are one. So whilst it may prove a useful approach for the FIRST stage of creating unity- the building of friendship- it is deficient as the ultimate means.

‘Widening the doors’ approach:

The other approach, favoured by Pope Benedict when he launched the Ordinariate, is to move things to a deeper but more challenging level. But one that at least has a realistic hope of achieving the unity people desire.

Now if the first approach is akin to expecting a separated couple to get on at a daughter’s wedding, this approach is more like getting them to sit down before a marriage guidance counsellor to reconcile differences and save the broken marriage. A more frightening request certainly but a vital one if friendship is restored and authentic reconciliation is actually hoped for.

So instead of brushing difficulty under the carpet you confront it; but in the most generous way possible. A call to unity is actually made but a celebration of differences is also present. We see immediately why those entering the Ordinariate had to sign up to the catechism- the necessary demand- but were gifted their own liturgy- the celebration of healthy difference. The right sort of diversity.

This serious approach to unity rests, as it must, on shared proclamation of truth. Gesture and appearance is not enough here. There must be a working out of house rules. A doctrinal base must emerge on which to build a common future. It is a riskier approach then. Because bluffs will be called when a real call to unity is issued. The fakes are soon spotted. Those who only ever wanted the photo opportunity and who were perfectly happy to exist apart for personal and corporate reasons. For them the first approach must continue but not at a cost to the second. For the Ordinariates are proving daily- this more meaningful approach really does create unity. No longer is it all talk, talk; one also witnesses genuine walk, walk.

A final thought

All of this has been on my mind because it is being reported that Pope Francis wishes to be present at a Lutheran celebration of the reformation. This does not sit at all comfortably with me. Not because it is a very clear example of the first approach. As stated that approach has uses. But because it could seriously send out the wrong message and thereby damage the second, more meaningful approach.

Not that I am surprised. This pontificate has been all about photo opportunity and political gesture at the cost of doctrinal certainty. Hence the use of ambiguous messages and media pleasing; a rescuing of a battered reputation, one suspects, in the wake of the abuse crisis. Be that as it may- THIS photo opportunity seems one too many. For whilst it would be fitting for the Pope to celebrate aspects of Lutherism, how can he possibly celebrate the moment of schism itself given that it caused so much death and division? Given that it stopped the church speaking clearly to the world which, in turn, led to the rise of secularisation.

The Pope is of a generation who only tend to endorse the first approach to ecumenism. But too much will be swept under the carpet here if Rome is not careful. If Francis is seen to ‘celebrate’ the reformation…what does this say about the deeper reality of disunity? What does it say about the sacrifice of reformation martyrs? Are they to be forgotten? More importantly, is what they stood for and died for to be ignored and downplayed?

I have no doubt the intention is good. But what if disunity is blessed and not challenged? So that the world imagines God delights in diversity of a fractured  body, though he called us to be one via shared proclamation of the faith he revealed.

Lent reading…

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Last Sunday was Septuagesima Sunday meaning that we have entered pre-Lent. Now is the time for the faithful to plan their Lent disciplines. How much money should be set aside for almsgiving? When will I make my confession and how will I ensure I make a good one? When will I attend the Stations of the Cross or make time for extra prayer and devotion? And, of course, there is devotional reading which is to be encouraged in Lent that we grow in our knowledge of Christ. After all it was St. Anselm himself who taught that we cannot love what we do not know!

So I thought it might be good to open this post and allow you, the readers, to recommend good devotional material for this coming Lent. My own suggestions would be:

Jesus of Nazareth:Pope Benedict XVI  From the brain of the greatest living theologian comes this work which is a great choice for those who like a little bit of academic weight to go with the devotional inspiration.

Journey to Easter:Pope Benedict XVI Another might work from my favourite Pope this was the result of a Lent retreat which a younger Joseph Ratzinger delivered for JPII. It is good.

The Priest is not his own: Fulton Sheen An absolute classic and especially good as a reminder to priests of the nature of their vocation. Fulton Sheen had a deep intellect and wisdom that belied his television personality. A gem.

Lent with St. Benedict: Bede Frost. A good book for Lent because it breaks the reading down into daily chunks. It is full of Benedictine insight to delight the soul.

The interior Castle: Teresa of Avila Many people will have read this incredible work full of spiritual insight. But if you have not….do so!

7 secrets of confession: Vinny Flynn A brilliant choice for those nervous about confession, or who have drifted from it. It is a best seller and an easy read. It really helped several people I know.

There are a few from me. And what I have ordered for myself this year is

He leadeth me: Walter Ciszek This autobiographical account of the author’s wrongful imprisonment in Russia has been recommended to me as a powerful and worthwhile read. I will have to let you know…

Do add your own suggestions in the comments…

Who was Melchizedek?

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Any regular and attentive attender of Mass will notice that the name of Melchizedek arises often, in biblical readings and the Canon of the Mass. A parishioner recently asked, therefore, an obvious but rare question. Who is Melchizedek? The answer is steeped in mystery….so let us explore it a little.

Melchizedek is first mentioned in Genesis 14. During a war between Cana and Mesopotamia Abraham’s nephew Lot is captured. He and his family are then taken hostage but one escapes and brings the news to Abraham, who bravely pursues the invaders and rescues his family. On Abraham’s return we are introduced to the mysterious priestly figure of Melchizedek. Who, scripture informs us, was ‘the prophet of God.’ Whatever that may mean at this time?

Melchizedek then ministers to Abraham and, fascinatingly, not only blesses him but feeds him with bread and wine. The symbolism of this act cannot be lost on any Christian audience. What on earth is going on here?

“Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High. And he blessed him [Abraham] and said, ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!’ And Abram gave Melchizedek a tenth of everything” 

Melchizedek is next mentioned in Psalm 110:4; where David is speaking prophetically about the Christ who is to come. The psalmist states: “The Eternal hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”

And finally he is presented to us with great significance in the New Testament. Where, in the letter to the Hebrews, Jesus  is named our eternal High Priest… “after the order of Melchizedek.” A third time then a very clear link is being drawn between Melchizedek and Christ. Curious and curiouser…

Alas we do not have enough historic fact to ever really know who Melchizedek was. Why, even if there was a bloke called Melchizedek who performed some sort of priestly function for Abraham, a problem arises. Because, within  the scriptural narrative, he is being presented to us as so much more than that. Unlike any other Old Testament figure, Melchizedek seems to be a sort of archetype of perfect priesthood. We have before us then a very mysterious figure whose role in scripture makes a lot more sense spiritually than it does historically.

We might go so far as to suggest Melchizedek is a supernatural figure. Because he does not seem to have existed in the sense that you and I exist. The few facts we have about him being extraordinary. First Genesis says he was  king of Salem (Jerusalem). Yet this seems unlikely, after all Abraham was a nomadic man living in a nomadic time and the Jewish religion was not yet established in any solid sense.

But don’t discard the mention of “Salem” because, in Hebrew, that word means “peace.” So Melchizedek is shown to us as “King of Peace” not just some earthly city. Furthermore his very name -Melchizedek- translates “King of Righteousness”. So we have before us- the King of peace and righteousness. A link is again being forged, we might conclude, between Melchizedek and Christ himself.

“This Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him; to whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace” (Hebrews 7:1-2).

The mystery of Melchizedek then takes a stranger turn. For the bible also says that he was “without mother, without father, without descent.” Eh? Again we face a reference imbued with supernatural emphasis. What is this telling us of the King of peace and righteousness? The one who fed Abraham with bread and wine…..Was he mortal or not? What is this link with Christ? Why is he presented to us as “having neither beginning of days, nor end of life?”

In conclusion two things seem unarguable. Firstly that Melchizedek of old is a figure intentionally shrouded in mystery. Secondly his is intentionally linked, within sacred scripture, to the figure of Christ himself. Why is this? Who was he really? What would we have witnessed if we were present when Abraham was blessed? Who can say?  Your guess is as good as mine….

But whatever the historic facts might be- Melchizedek performs a very sacred role. His appearing in scripture being some sort of manifestation of God to man; a vision glorious in which we see a foretaste of Christ. Melchizedek stands then- as all priest- in persona Christi. And is thus able to give to Abraham, founder of the Jewish faith, the blessing of God Almighty. Christ present at the start of the story of salvation.

It is mind blowing. That Christ himself was being revealed in and through this ancient priest.  Evidence, I believe, that the Word really was always with God and of God and that nothing came to be without him.

So why stick to 12?

Footwashing

Pope Francis, after careful consideration we are told, has changed the rules for the rite of foot washing so that women as well as men may number amongst the 12. The Pope has clear authority to do this and we must accept the change in good grace. But it does leave me with a question. But first an explanation of the two views that have come to exist within the church surrounding the foot washing ceremony…

The traditional teaching, which I would have strongly emphasised until yesterday, recalls that Jesus did not wash the feet of all his general disciples but specifically chose the apostolic 12. He was thus being an exemplar – teaching them that loving service must always be at the heart of the priesthood. This link to the priesthood makes obvious why the representatives were male.

A more modern understanding, the one which Pope Francis clearly favours,  encourages us to look beyond priesthood to emphasise that this call to loving service exists for all the faithful. Clearly we may, under this understanding, include women as well as men amongst the feet being washed.

I have no real issue with either point because both are obviously true. Priests do need to remember they are called to serve in love in a special way. The faithful also need reminding that this call to loving service does not end in the sanctuary. So no sweat there…

My question is more nuanced. Now the Pope has done away with the former teaching to emphasis the more recent idea…. then why do we still choose 12? A number so clearly pointing us to consideration of the priestly ministry.

It seems a very confusing oversight to me. The risk being that the symbolism and the action are now in conflict with each other resulting in mixed messages being sent out. It doesn’t take a genius to realise it will be jumped on by modernists to push for women priests. If they can represent a man amongst the 12 on Maundy Thursday why not at the altar when celebrating the sacraments themselves?

If we have 12 because Jesus chose 12, it strikes me they should be men as well. For Jesus also did that.  But if the point is not about the 12 then we should presumably wash everyone’s feet or any arbitrary number for practical purposes. But not 12.

Does anyone have a satisfactory answer? Because people in my congregation are going to be unsettled by this change. Our experience of innovations in the Anglican church was not a happy experience that built up our faith. We are therefore, understandably, a little fearful of changes to sacred tradition and biblical witness.

Changes to praxis

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My wife tells me, no, I may not spend this Lent enthusiastically searching for suitable ladies to invite to St. Anselm’s for the foot washing on Maundy Thursday. I had thought it might be a good idea following news that Pope Francis has relaxed the rules regarding the ancient ritual so that women may now be included.

For the last 2000 years men were chosen for the reason that it was the 12 apostles whose feet Jesus washed, and the rite therefore emphasised the servile aspect of their priestly ministry. But the new emphasis is to be on a more general understanding of the words of Christ, specifically the call to love and serve others. For this reason all and any can now take part.

A fresh emphasis in the Year of Mercy reminding us that we are all called to service in the Church. Clergy and laity alike.

The return of Septuagesima!

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This Sunday is an unusual one at St. Anselm’s. Because it is one of the rare occasions when Divine Worship (the liturgy of the Ordinariate) requires something markedly different to the Novus Ordo. We will therefore need different liturgical colours for the 9:15am and 11am Mass and a different set of rules governs each. What fun it will be…especially for the sacristans!

The reason for the difference is that Divine Worship brings a return to Septuagesima Sunday. A word derived from the Latin for “seventieth” which marks the start of a special liturgical season in preparation for Lent. A time for prayerfully planning how a good Lent is to be kept. In other parts of the world Septuagesima also marks the start of Mardi Gras- the great Carnival culminating in Shrove Tuesday. After Septuagesima comes Sexagesima, Quinquagesima and Quadragesima which mean “sixtieth,” “fiftieth,” and “fortieth” respectively.

At the 9:15am Mass then, as during Advent and Lent, the Gloria and Alleluia are no longer said. Septuagesima also marks a return for the Ordinariate to the liturgical colour of violet. But because the liturgical books revised after the Second Vatican Council omitted Septuagesima, Sexagesima and Quinquagesima Sundays, and treat this period as part of Ordinary Time, it will be quite different at 11am. Here we will still wear green vestments and the omissions are held off until Ash Wednesday.

The propers also bring  a different focus to each mass. For those interested in liturgy I offer a small sample of the texts for comparison:

THE INTROIT (sung in Latin at St. Anselms for the 9:15am only)

Divine Worship: The sorrows of  death came about me, the pains of hell got hold upon me,  and in my tribulation I made my prayer unto the Lord, and he regarded my supplication out of his holy temple.

Novus Ordo: O sing a new song to the Lord; sing to the Lord, all the earth. In his presence are majesty and splendour, Strength and honour in his holy place.

THE COLLECT

Divine Worship: O Lord, we beseech thee favourably to hear the prayers of thy people: that we, who are justly punished for our offences, may be mercifully delivered by thy goodness, for the glory of thy name; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end.

Novus Ordo: Almighty ever living God, direct our actions according to your good pleasure, that in the name of your beloved Son we may abound in good works. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever.

THE PRAYER OVER THE OFFERINGS

Divine Worship: We beseech thee, O Lord, graciously to accept these our prayers and oblations: that we being cleansed by these heavenly mysteries, may obtain of thy great mercy the fulfillment of all our desires; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Novus Ordo: Accept our offerings, O Lord, we pray, and in sanctifying them grant that they may profit us for salvation. Through Christ our Lord. Amen

THE COMMUNION ANTIPHON (sung in Latin at the 9:15am only)

Divine Worship: Show thy servant the light of thy countenance, and save me for thy mercy’s sake: let me not be confounded, O Lord, for I have called upon thee.

Novus Ordo: Look toward the Lord and be radiant; Let your faces not be abashed.

Reflecting on marriage…

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Five people asked me to publish Sunday’s sermon. Here it is:

In the Gospel, by his divine presence, Jesus blesses a marriage. Something modern society steadfastly refuses to do because it has embraced, instead, the worst excesses of the sexual revolution. Meaning men and women are no longer called to serve one another in love but taught instead to engage in a battle of the sexes via the upholding of self. Boys and girls are not taught that true equality means valuing God given intended differences, but that there is no difference to celebrate. So that even basic and obvious biological fact is ignored; 2015’s “Woman of the Year” in America …was a bloke called Bruce. The poor man needs psychiatric help not a national colluding in his mental struggle to accept his true identity. 

This modern rebellion, which goes against Christian teaching and the natural order, is now  spreading its poison into our very understanding of relationships. For the many today sex exists only for pleasure (which is important by the way!) meaning there is little recognition of its ultimate procreative purpose. A tendency which has moulded society to delight in erotic feeling and cheap romance- consider Hollywood- but mocks the essential virtues necessary to authentic marriage; chastity, purity, fidelity, obedience. How far from God’s plan we have drifted.

Because, whilst not everyone is called to a married life, marriage is nevertheless central to Christian faith. It runs like a river through scripture; beginning with man and woman created for each another; and ending with that ultimate marriage of Christ and his bride the church. Not that all the biblical examples of marriage are positive! What about Solomon’s concubines or Abraham’s adulterous love for his servant?

To understand we must stand back and consider the entire scriptural narrative. Where marriage does not cut an obvious path for an obvious reason; fallible lives intertwine with God’s divine plan; and so, like mankind itself, marriage needs redeeming in Christ. Explaining why the fallen examples are found before Jesus, in the Old Testament, but in the New Testament- only one model emerges. The Christian model of monogamous life long union between one man and one woman. 

John Paul II understood marriage and family life is central to Christian faith. So he championed both throughout his pontificate. His response to the sexual revolution being his ‘theology on the body’; do please read it because it is brilliant. But sadly the world, and many in the church, have chosen instead to ignore it. And that is why we hear of many demanding a relaxation of the rules regarding sexual morality. This is what was being played out in the Anglican crisis meeting last week. And at our own Synod on the family the scale of the crisis within Catholicism became obvious. All of Christendom stands at a crossroads. Little wonder given the prevailing culture of the declining West.  

Either the church must hold to divine revelation or capitulate to the sexual revolution. It is as simple as that. Now the Christian choice here is, of course, very easy to work out. But it isn’t an easy one to take, escpecially if you are a little too fond of worldly plaudits, because the path is narrow. I have no doubt then that the Catholic church will make the right decision long term; it always does. But short term it could get rocky. Many priests and bishops will fail us. For the philosophy of the sexual revolution is mutating into an inflexible ideology. And it is dangerous to even suggest marriage is for man and woman alone. Political suicide for those who speak up for the Christian way…

But resist the insanity we must. Not only because the sexual revolution contradicts two thousand years of solid Christian teaching but because it is damaging us all. Just consider societal change since 1963, when the poet Philip Larkin tells us ‘sex was invented’, if you doubt me.

Marriage itself has been gradually eroded and is now being redefined.  It is no longer viewed as lifelong; the majority prefer to uphold serial monogamy. And it is no longer the foundation of  family life. And both these facts damage children women and men.

Children because the millions of abortions since 1963 are the obvious price we pay for ignoring what sex is actually for. Then there is the terrible rise in divorce and separation. Today nearly half of children are raised outside lifelong marriage.

Now some of you have experienced this pain of divorce. It is there in my family too. Fortunately you know that we always stress here that the church is a hospital for sinners not a club for the perfect. And so you will have heard me speak with passion about God’s redemptive and healing love. You will now that through confession he can bring complete healing to your life and the lives of your loved ones. And yet we also need to be grown up enough to accept the uncomfortable truth. That no matter the power of God’s mercy we cannot deny the negative impact separation has on families, society and children. People suffer when we fall short of God’s ideal. And there is no getting out of that one.

And women suffer. For a society that promotes battle between the sexes and an androgynous notion of humanity, cannot respect and love women as it should. Feminist thinking raised some very valid questions but its own answers, being linked with that sexual revolution, were fallen. And so it has not led to freedom but a new form of slavery. So that 21st Century Women no longer have choice, unless wealthy, but are forced into a servile life in the work place via the steep rise in property prices, dual income mortgages, state run nurseries and the scant societal regard for women in the home. Compare that reality with Christian teaching about motherhood summed up by the theologian Mindszenty:

The most important Person on earth is a mother. She cannot claim the honour of having built Notre Dame. She need not. She has built something more magnificent than any Cathedral- a dwelling for an immortal soul, the tiny perfection of her baby’s body…The angels have not been blessed with such grace. They cannot share God’s creative miracle to bring new Saints to heaven. Only a human mother can. Mothers are closer to God the creator than any other creature…what on God’s earth is more glorious than this: to be a Mother?

And men suffer. First because there has been a war on masculinity since the 1960’s. Men are either to be mocked or demonised. In the media strong but violent thugs or total wimps. A challenge then; name me just one figure from film or television who depicts a strong, impressive and loving alpha male who is faithful to his spouse and delights in his children. Good luck with that!

And men suffer because of pornography. That corrosive aspect of modern life. Actually I think all of us are, to some extent, damaged by this because sex is everywhere presented to us and displayed as something quite detached from what it should be- on magazine covers, television, etc.. I love the quote that pornography isn’t wrong because it shows too much but because it shows too little. We see nothing of the sacred being who is of infinite value to God.

See how children, women and men all suffer then because of this working out of the sexual revolution. And to point this out is not an exercise in demonising those who have suffered because of it. All of us have in one way or another. That is the problem when a degenerate philosophy is embraced by society- very decent people unwittingly fall into dangerous beliefs and behaviours and are then duped into making poor decisions. I know I have repeatedly.

 You need not be prudish then, or rigid, to see that the sexual revolution has seriously diminished our understanding of sexuality and relationships; to the point that marriage and family life are in a terrible crisis. And that we find ourselves struggling to bless it as Jesus did. Or even to define it as he did when he spoke of a man leaving his parents and cleaving to their spouse. It is imperative then, no matter our own life story or circumstance, that we stand up for Christ by being passionately pro-family, pro-marriage, pro-children and pro-life as we look to the future. We will not heal the society until we heal the church. And we will not heal the church until we heal the family.

In the bleak midwinter

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Pembury awoke to a sprinkling of wet snow. Enough to make the village look beautiful (do click on the images to enlarge) and enough for a little bit of play this morning. But it did mean that many of our less mobile church members did not venture out.

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Despite a dip in numbers mass was celebrated with devotion by all. Epiphany II was kept according to Divine Worship at 9:15am the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time was kept at 11am according to the Novus Ordo. At both services the sermon focused on marriage, given the Gospel reading, and a reflection on why the institution /sacrament is in crisis today. It will be published on this blog tomorrow.

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After Mass the clergy threw snowballs at each other before joining forces and rounding on the laity. Fortunately our aim was on the poor side, especially when close to people we like! It ensured a smile spread on many faces. Such is the horseplay one expects of rigid orthodox clerics…

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The children delighted in the challenge. They not only threw a good number of snowballs themselves but made a mini snowman. I fear he will not last till Evensong and nor will they given the excitement levels. There could be tears before teatime…and that is just me!!

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