Two special things are happening this week in the parish.

On Wednesday evening, after 7pm Mass, those wishing to support our ‘Year of Evangelisation’ are invited to attend a short meeting. From this meeting a group will then form to proceed, in the coming weeks, to reflect on Sherry Weddell’s book “Forming intentional disciples” This shared reflection will become a catalyst to….who knows? The point being that the canvas is being kept bare for you the lay faithful evangelists of our parish to write on…

If you wish to be a part of this group then you might wish to purchase a copy of the book. You don’t need one by Wednesday but will need one moving forwards. They are available, new and second hand, via Amazon and if anybody needs financial assistance do contact me.

If you are not able to attend meetings you can, of course, nevertheless read the book and support us by private prayer. We hope you will consider this as the book has challenges and ideas for all who profess to be Christian.

On Thursday evening we are holding our Candlemas celebration. A sung Mass will take place at 8pm. This is always a lovely feast which marks the end of the Christmas and Epiphany season. Mass will be celebrated by candlelight. After the service we will put away the crib for another year and remove the trees from the sanctuary. A little help would be gratefully appreciated.

If Brexit and Trumpism taught the world anything it is that the Western world is experiencing a winter of discontent. All around are signs of polarisation and fracture which, if they are not addressed, will surely lead to trouble.

Those in authority must therefore unite, seek common ground and begin the hard work of bringing people ‘back together’; an act of re-membrance which cannot occur if blind to your own faults. Humility is needed to listen and respond. Forging ahead with your own agenda, whilst leaving people behind, will not cut the mustard anymore. We stand at the brink of real crisis in the world and peacemakers- on all sides of the political spectrum-are going to be needed if civility is to triumph.

I want to reflect on a few examples of current societal dis-connect before considering if this malady is also hurting the church. Should our bishops be mindful of a growing disconnect between what they envision and what the faithful actually need? Are they becoming as out of touch with grass root parish life as Hollywood stars clearly are with those struggling on low wages and zero hour contracts?

The most obvious example of dis-connect in society is economic. In recent years elites have pushed a new global era..but have not shared the spoils. The result is a massive rise in corporate profits but slump in wages. Those at the top experience steep rise in living conditions- all else feel the pinch. Globalisation has, in its present form, benefited the rich and those foreign markets they exploit, at cost to the middle classes back home. And this was the main reason, I believe, for the whipping up of the whirlwind; something had to give. Thus the EU got the boot (to the rage of the British establishment) and Donald Trump got elected (to the rage of the American establishment). Less selfishness and greed might have helped.

And nothing summed up this disconnect better than the photograph above of highly privileged pop star, Bob Geldof, sticking up his fingers at lowly pro-leave fishermen. He and the fishermen living lives as far apart as it is possible to imagine. How do we help to bring them together that they might better understand and serve the other? How can we help an electorate trust those in authority, and foster a sense of national pride and togetherness, when CEOs in large companies earn more than the average worker’s wage in a couple of days? There will always be rich and poor but unfairness of opportunity is something else entirely.

This leads to the next obvious division in modern society between the generations. Turn on Classic FM and most every advertisement is for luxury cruises and aimed at the boomers. That generation now retiring were able to work hard and succeed. They benefited from virtually free university education, with grants worth enough to survive and could later purchase family homes cheaply compared with today. A far cry from millennials who face crippling student debt and cannot even afford single bedroom flats. How can their opportunities be so stunted in comparison?

How do we expect future generations to raise families paying off unreasonably steep mortgages and student debts? The only realistic answer, unless something changes, is via inheritance and not, as it should be, via hard work. Society is being ever more skewed in favour of those from wealthy backgrounds, whose families can help, and this simply will not do. It needs to be skewed in favour of those who have worked hard. We need free markets and level playing fields not stitched up systems. So how can it be dealt with before the losers rise up and show their ire? Peace cannot flourish for long when unreasonable yolks are placed on shoulders.


And so to the church where we also find signs of worrying disconnect; between clerics who set the agenda and the faithful in the pews. We seem to have inherited a generation of bishops, formed in the seminaries of the 60’s and 70’s, hellbent on ‘bringing in a new era’…or more truthfully an era that claims to be new but is actually passe and spent. The tedious return to “Spirit of Vatican II’ mentality heavy on sentiment, light on doctrinal integrity. The pushing of reforms at odds with what is actually bringing growth and renewal at parish level.

Consider the noise around the footnote of Amoris Laetitia. It is clear the intention of the Year of Mercy and Synod on the family was to encourage liberalisation of teaching. Yet all the latest evidence confirms churches with liberalising agendas decline, whilst those upholding orthodoxy flourish.  Why then is liberalisation still being peddled at all costs? Is it not because those who champion it are out of touch and cannot see beyond yesterday’s agenda?

It leaves many on the ground, especially younger priests, in frustration. Our future jeopardised via failing methodology that, in the fifty years it has already been attempted, emptied seminaries and closed parishes!! Why are we looking  backwards not forwards? Why does it feel like 1970 again? Even Cardinals long since put out to pasture have been raised back from the dead under this current leadership. By all means promote mercy but can we get with the times?

How can we help the episcopate see that the world is unconvinced by poor liturgy, watered down doctrine and wishy washy preaching? That tribal and  institutional models of belonging are dead? People dont need or want or respond well to a church that embraces popularism and caves into political agendas. They want a church of integrity and fidelity to God’s word; alive in the Spirit and therefore not only catechising and sacramentalising but also evangelising.

My experience also tell me that people are tired of left wing activist clergy they want authentic priests; those who can bring about a living relationship with Christ. Enough of vanilla establishment men chosen to be  bishops and later exposed as perverts and thieves. We need the inspirational and zealous priests promoted- those who hunger for the kingdom and challenge the world with the Gospel. We want and need bishops close to their people not business men whose days are spent in meetings dreaming up strategies on business models.

If prelates are to save us from further fracture and loss they must get out of their bubble and re-connect on the ground. The tired old battles currently being faught in the Vatican only threaten division.When only our favoured agendas and voices are listened to blindness and deafness inevitably occur. What we need is authenticity and holiness and much less disconnect. An end of the establishment model based on secular business and a return to the bishop found amongst his people.

Tomorrow evening Fr. Marcus Holden is giving a talk in church about ‘grace and miracles’. As ever the format for a Wednesday talk is Mass at 7pm followed by refreshments and a talk at 8pm.

On Wednesday 1st February we are holding a special meeting for those wanting to help during our year of evangelisation. It is hoped a good number will respond to this request as we gather to consider how we might improve our welcome, outreach and live as better disciples.

On Ash Wednesday, March 1st, we begin our adult confirmation classes. The course is also open to those  who simply want a refresher course on what the Catholic church teaches.

On Saturday March 4th the children attending this year’s first communion course gather together. We will be using the Dora Nash resource ‘Jesus Comes to Me’. Any child aged 7 and over, and who has not yet been prepared for communion, is invited to attend.

This is to be a year of evangelisation within our parish. So it was fortuitous that a  day conference on that very subject was run today, at St. Patrick’s Church in Soho Square, by the Guild of Our Lady and St. Joseph in collaboration with the School of the Annunciation in Buckfast.

The speakers were Fr. Jon Bielawski, Episcopal Vicar for Evangelisation in the Diocese of Plymouth, and Michele Thompson, a Fieldworker for Evangelisation in same Diocese. Together they shared lots of advice on how to begin changing the mindset of congregations to begin the active work of sharing faith. They base the work that they do on a book by Sherry Weddell called Forming Intentional Disciples.

I was accompanied by both church wardens and we left feeling that there was much for us to reflect on as we ponder how evangelisation might develop within our own setting in Pembury. A most worthwhile day with lots of food for thought. Watch this space for how things develop….

You will be pleased to hear that this Sunday the homily will last for less than a minute! The reason being that a guest speaker is visiting our parish to talk to us directly after Mass about the work of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children. SPUC exists to support life from conception to the grave with special emphasis on protecting children in the womb and helping parents in meaningful ways, to ensure dignity and hope in life no matter the circumstances of conception. Please bring an offering, if you can afford to, as a collection will be taken.

When the papal document Amoris Laetitia was released scholars, on all sides of the spectrum,  honed in on chapter 8 and a very ambiguous footnote. It soon became explosive, so much so that it now threatens to blow apart the  unity of the church. How will Pope Francis choose to respond is the key Catholic question of 2017.

Within weeks modernist prelates were claiming the footnote a green light to enable the divorced and re-married, in certain cases, to receive communion without need of annulment. More traditionally minded Catholics attacked this claim- they insist the Pope has no authority to contradict the teaching of the church especially when this teaching comes from Christ himself.

Interestingly we reach the impasse which blew Anglicanism apart; between those who believe God’s revelation open to change and interpretation by man- and those who believe it fixed, the same yesterday, today and forever. Those ‘for change’ have the culture and world behind them. Those for ‘an unchanged position’ hold the clearer arguments from scripture and tradition.

Fast forward and today we face the ludicrous situation that in some dioceses the faithful- who are divorced and remarried -are encouraged to receive communion ‘so long as they feel at one with God’. In other dioceses bishops are claiming no change in praxis exists because there has been no change in teaching. What a mess.

Seeking some much needed clarity four Cardinals wrote ‘a dubia’ to Pope Francis; a document seeking yes/no answers to blunt questions. They submitted it in private and in full accordance with the customs of the church. Dubia have been submitted throughout history and the the norm is for an answer to be given.

To date Pope Francis has broken convention and refused to answer. This forced the Cardinals to go public. The Pope then set about labelling as ‘rigid’ those who seek fidelity to Catholic teaching, at the same time giving a nudge to those interpreting the document in a modernist manner. The Pope’s refusal to comply with convention, coupled with his tendency to demonise critics, has caused eyebrows to be raised. What is going on in the Vatican at present?

There is little doubt Bergoglio wants change. But what are the faithful to make of his  unwillingness (inability?) to bring about change by convention that can satisfy reason, scripture and tradition, as it must?  Why does he cause tension by encouraging change of praxis but not doctrine? I don’t have answers but I do offer observations…

The Dubia serves everyone whose desire is honest

No matter your personal opinion, everyone should congratulate the Cardinals who raised the dubia. Nobody is served when bishops are contradicting one another. If an unraveling of unity is to be avoided clarity must arrive and quickly.

It isnt about divorce!

The presenting issue might be divorce but it isn’t what the struggle is about. The same dance occurred within Anglicanism over women priests and contraception. Divorce may be the arena then but the actual meat of the struggle centres on how the church is run and does it’s business. What is at stake is the nature of revelation and how flexible it is to change. Should the church follow the culture or stick to its own teaching and that of Jesus Christ?

In reality there are few ‘rigid’ and ‘uncaring’ priests. Most understand full well the difficulty of the modern world and pain in people’s lives. But traditionalists believe they must respect the teaching of Christ and the teaching of the church in all ages. The modernists want to re-boot the church for the 21st Century and are using this issue as a testing ground. Should they succeed the way will be cleared for all other hot button topics.

As we saw within Anglicanism- when you abandon scripture and tradition once- artificial contraception was first within Anglicanism- soon there is no logical reason to stop other changes argued from sentiment. The church is then guided by popular opinion and the prevailing culture. Catholicity and authority are sacrificed to appease the world. Martin Luther wins.

Change via footnotes and winks rings alarm bells

If there is a proper way to progress, in keeping with church teaching, then those pushing for this change should come out in the open and explain it. Else they should apologise and retract the footnote. That many words are offered to fudge the issue is suspicious. Something is clearly off when fair questions are ignored, questioners demonised, but change occur anyway.

Why is the current hierarchy forging ahead via nods, winks and footnotes? That is not how Catholicism works but hints rather at a dangerous totalitarian and worldly mindset. Nobody standing for truth fears or dodges legitimate questions.

Ambiguity is not Catholic 

This fall out from Amoris Laetitia is very reminiscent of Anglican days. For there a lack of central authority has long caused confusion and disagreement to the point that local churches now often contradict each other on vital matters of faith. But this has never been the Catholic way- and Pope Francis MUST respond sooner or later. It could prove an interesting year…not least as the Cardinals concerned about Amoris Laetitia have suggested a formal correction of the Pope might be necessary. Pray it doesn’t come to this.

There is a schism; it needs sorting

Since Vatican II division has bubbled away in the Catholic church. In one camp are those who view the council as a rupture– who created a modern expression of Catholicism based on liberal protestant models. Evangelical worship songs replaced Catholic hymnody. Altar rails and statues were replaced by guitars and felt banners. This group delights in Pope Francis, as does the secular media and nominal and protestant Christians. They are a group, in other words, who have long challenged Catholic teaching. Pope Francis is a product of this school of thinking and their poster boy.

Meanwhile others have viewed (correctly if you read the documents) Vatican II as continuation and have attempted to uphold Catholic teaching despite a widespread shift in culture within most dioceses that has favoured the model of rupture. They embraced Pope Benedict’s reform of the reform; the bringing back of altar rails and good liturgy. This group wants a church confronting the world not being conformed by it.

Clearly caricatures are simplistic but the division is real and that is what is causing the problem. The division- not the footnote-causes the squabbles over Amoris Laetitia. For these two groups have diametrically opposed understanding of revelation and the centre cannot hold. The fight was held off in recent pontificates because JPII and Benedict XVI sought some common ground. But Francis is cut from different cloth. His leadership style was not crafted in the liberal heartlands of Europe but the volatile world of South American dictators. He cares little for convention, office or tradition. It makes him a polarising figure at present and the fears of a schism under his watch are gaining traction.

Let us pray for those bishops bravely calling for clarity. Let us pray for Pope Francis that he might be humble and obedient to the teaching of the church in all ages and not swayed by popularism and political causes. Let us pray that the dubia is answered. So much depends on it being answered well.

How will Pope Francis respond? It is the key Catholic question of 2017.

The steering committee met last night and, as well as discussing parish vision and business, set dates for social and fund raising events in the coming year. The three main events worthy of your consideration at this time are below. Please get them into the diary and commit to them.

On 20th May a parish fayre will be held in the hall and grounds of the church. This is to be a major fund raising event and people are asked to get involved in the planning and running of it. Details to follow. Will the Fr. Nicholas Gin Stall return? I very much hope so.

On 16th July we will hold our annual parish BBQ. This is always a fun event for people of all ages which includes the novelty hat competition. Can Robert be knocked of his champions perch?

The pre-Christmas dinner will be held on Saturday 9th December. Because Cornford House have requested carols in addition to Hazeldene House next year, the carol singing will take place on a different date to avoid exhaustion!

During Christmas and Epiphany two excellent theological books have arrived at church in packages addressed to me. How lovely! Unfortunately there is no hint as to who sent them. So I post here my gratitude in the hope that whoever is the ‘Secret Santa’ receives news of my thanksgiving. If you are reading- thank you!