This Wednesday marks the beginning of a busy Lent in the parish. I shall be celebrating Mass in prison during the day. The parish Mass with the imposition of the ashes will be held in church at 7pm. This year’s Lent charity will be Aid to the Church in Need. Next Sunday a representative of that charity will attend Mass to speak about the work they are doing in war torn countries.
This Lent we are also running three courses which may be of interest to you. On Ash Wednesday this year’s confirmation class begins following the Mass at 7pm. As ever we open up these classes to anyone interested in having a refresher course on the faith. We shall be using the Evangelium course and all are welcome.
On Saturday mornings our first communion candidates meet from 11am-11:45am. We have a lovely group again this year and we will be following Dora Nash’s course ‘Jesus comes to me.’ The course is still open to any child aged 7+ who has not been prepared for holy communion. The confirmations and first communions take place on July 16th when Mgr. Newton will be the celebrant at Mass. It is the same day as our summer BBQ so it should be a great celebration for all. Keep it free!
And finally, as far as study courses go, we have something new for 2017. Lay members of our parish will be leading a discipleship class; meeting together to explore Sherry Weddell’s book ‘Forming intentional disciples’. The course will begin on 8th March and then run in tandem with the confirmation course – the two groups meeting together for devotions prior to discussion. One of our church wardens, Geoffrey Ravenhill, is kindly heading up this venture. I am excited about it.
And as far as the liturgy goes we shall again be celebrating the Asperges Me prior to each Sunday Mass and singing the Lent Prose during the distribution of communion. Stations of the Cross replace Evensong on Sunday evenings at 6:30pm and we will use a variety of meditations as we journey towards the cross. Confessions are every Wednesday from 6pm-7pm and by appointment. Let us make this the best Lent ever for our parish.
When my daughter Jemima was a tiny girl she asked when I would take her to Rome. In an attempt to kick the football down the road I said ‘when you are 10’ imagining the matter would be forgotten. It wasn’t! So, this being her 10th year, daddy had to put his money where his mouth is and the last few days have been spent in the eternal city. What a wonderful time it was as she enjoyed a belated birthday present.
As you can see we didn’t travel alone but were accompanied by the infamous Fr. Inlaw (not a cleric but Jemima’s grandfather!) And over the course of four days we trekked around 40 miles taking in the greatest sights that this fabulous city has to offer. We checked off St. John Lateran, St Paul beyond the Walls, St Peters, the Catacombs of St. Callistus, the Colosseum, St. Clemente, St. Georgio en Velabro, St, Andrew of the Valley, St. Bartholomew, St. Maria in Minerva and many more! We also enjoyed plenty of ice-creams and pizzas- thanks Grandad!
And there was time to meet friends. On Wednesday evening we caught up with two fine English priests in the Piazza Novona, Fr. Sherbrook of St. Patrick’s Soho and Fr. Neil Brett of Our Lady of Compassion in Upton Park. We also met up with our friend from our link parish in Ghana, Fr. Joseph Aduse, who is currently working in Rome on a three year placement. An excellent supper followed with much laughter and just a little ice cold Limoncello.
Now it is back to the parish and head down for Lent….
I was asked to share yesterday’s sermon. Credit is due to St. Thomas Aquinas and Fr. Andrew Pinsent, both of whom I pinched ideas from. With a smattering of my own conclusions…
“love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you,” A simple command yet notoriously tricky to keep and one which can cause the eyes of Christian critics to roll. Partly because we Christians have failed to practice it. But also because it goes against human instinct. Why should we love an enemy? St Thomas Aquinas answered well.
Aquinas argued that evil is not a thing to hate, because it isnt a thing at all. Rather evil is the absence of something, the moral good. At it’s heart then evil is empty and parasitical. Evil people/states may rise up and appear powerful if unchecked but because they are built on nothing substantial, will ever collapse on themselves like rotten fruit. Hating evil is stupid then in a philosophical sense. We aim anger at nothing – at the absence of what is needed – the moral good. So we should oppose evil but never feed it. To counter an enemy the choice is simple; either multiply his hate with your own or defeat that hate with love, the wrong with right.
We humans love trade “I’ll do this for you, you do this for me” yet in reverse it causes problems. “You did this to me- so I do it to you”. See how the cycle of evil/hate arises? An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Jesus says break the cycle. That is why we turn the cheek. Jesus is not endorsing pacifism -suggesting we don’t oppose evil- only stressing the cycle must be broken by those who, by grace, rise above hatred.
This distinction is crucial. Because evil thrives when good people do nothing. When ‘turn the other cheek’ becomes an excuse for moral cowardice. Abuse survivors know that abuse occurs within triangular relationships. You don’t just have victim and aggressor but also passive observers. Those who know evil is occurring but do nothing to help. We might consider those institutions (and it was not only the church) which, to their eternal shame, did nothing as children reported abuse in the 20th Century. Or how German citizens looked the other way when Jews, Christians and other hated people were sent to their death. I find it unthinkable but many a parent has known a child is in danger from a spouse but done nothing.
This past week Mary Doolan, the Scottish midwife sacked for refusing to perform abortions, gave a talk to the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy. She lamented how Christians today have so often become passive observers to widespread abuse in society. Most remain silent, not only in the face of abortion, but weapons sold to terrorists, the breakdown of the family, the assault on marriage, the rise of a puerile and violent entertainment industry and so forth. So many evils have grown up in the last fifty years, within a supposedly Christian culture, because Christians surrendered without a fight. ‘Looked the other way’ as vice was declared virtue by a sick and indulgent culture. And what of the decline of the Church in this era? The same rings true. Turgid lukewarm bishops, the type who assault the faith from within, only remain in post when propped up by silence from the pews. When we do nothing in the face of evil we are complicit in it. The evil goes unchecked and it grows.
As Christians we have a duty to God; a two-fold response to the Gospel. First we must cultivate the ability to rise above the level of hatred. To stand authentically for holiness, truth and love, that we might then use this ‘better way’ as a weapon in the fight against evil; standing for truth against error, for God against the world/devil. And if this fight is lacking – we are not about God’s work. And if we slip into resentment, bitterness, aggression or any other vice- we are not about God’s work. If we are silent when evil is growing we are not about God’s work.
So we have a choice. Be passive observers as the church falls further to the atheistic secular culture of our day without and internal threats to the faith within. And you only need look at the rising division and hatred in current politics to see what a bad idea a nation without faith is. Or wake from our slumber, put on the armour of Christ and become the sort of intentional disciples who converted England once before and formed our Western Culture. A missionary church of martyrs and saints. People living out the faith with passion and prepared to suffer, if necessary, to proclaim Christ crucified. A people upholding virtue and fighting vice.
What you will be is up to you. But I know this. The era of comfortable Christianity is now over (thank goodness -it was ever a wicked sham fuelled by intolerable compromise with the world). And the the battle for the future of Western culture is upon us. And if Christianity is to triumph, over radical Islam and militant secularism, then Sunday only Christians are no good. We need intentional disciples. Those who will actually battle the threats. So who is really for Christ?
My hope, in this year of evangelisation within the parish, is that we will each do our little bit, in however small a way, in this place for Christ. That we might be part of the solution to the problems in our day. I hope we will hold together for Christ, seeking to authentically live out of faith by ever turning the other cheek but never being so weak or ineffectual as Christians that we embrace moral cowardice.
In the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel we learn of the moment Jesus lost credibility in the eyes of the people. The crowds stopped following, and began to plot his death, when he claimed divinity. It seems people were happy endorsing him as a prophet but his claim to be ‘the bread of life’ who had ‘come down from heaven to do the will of the one who sent me’ left them cold.
This echoes our day; many respect Jesus as one ‘good prophet’ amongst many but grow hostile at the idea of Jesus’ supremacy, a belief so central to authentic Christian faith. State that Christ is God incarnate, thus rendering all other faiths and creeds less credible, and modern man backs off and grows hostile. Pluralism, syncretism and relativism are the favoured positions of the secular age. Not unshakable confidence in divine revelation located in Jesus Christ.
There are two lessons I wish the modern church would learn from Christ’s failure in terms of worldly popularity. Because when we seek the popular vote and seek to court the world on her terms then fear soon prompts self defeating thinking.
1. Jesus did not run after them
When the crowds revolt Jesus accepts that decision, albeit with a heavy heart. Christ did not run after people in desperation, pathetically offering to water down God’s truth to appease them. Which is what certain prelates seem to be doing today in an attempt to placate a hostile culture. Jesus came to reveal God’s will not to win popularity contests. Therefore he told people what they needed to hear not what they wanted to hear and he stood by this quite regardless of whether the entire crowd cheered for him or bayed for his blood.
Here is a lesson for those challenging established doctrine in our day in a bid to look trendy and/or more compassionate. The Christian vocation is not to appease the world, watering down divine revelation that people might applaud. Our duty is to proclaim Christ crucified no matter the cost. And history backs this. It is saints and martyrs who stood by the Gospel who ever convinced the world of God’s truth. Not self serving and/or mealy mouthed politicians who sit light to faith and seek popularity and/or comfort; who play politics with the church.
2. Jesus has the words of eternal life
When the crowds abandoned him Jesus turned to the disciples and challenged them. This sacred challenge is, again, pertinent to our day. For Christ noted how even amongst his own followers were those grumbling about his teaching, believing it too hard to either accept or follow. Still Jesus did not cave into them but gave them, instead, the opportunity to leave as well. He knew that those grumbling did not really believe in him but would only later betray him. And they did.
Does this scripture not shed terrible light on those demanding the church change her established teaching to endorse modern values? It would seem we might still have disciples, even amongst clergy, who have lost faith and zeal in the Gospel. Who, having grown more convinced by the culture we inhabit, believe Christ’s teaching too rigid and hard and therefore impossible. John’s Gospel reveals they were always with us but they did not speak for Jesus Christ then, so I cannot see how they speak for him now. We must not be taken in by them.
Perhaps those claiming to be Christian but yet endorsing the thinking of the sexual revolution in truth need ponder afresh this challenge of Jesus? Can they accept his harder teachings or not? If not the honest thing would be to leave the church and admit you follow the world. The Gospel certainly suggests Jesus prefered to let them go than remain promoting false truth. Ultimately he chose a small but authentic following, the little handful gathered at the foot of the cross and who later gathered in an upper room, over endorsing a cheering crowd of semi-believers.
Simon Peter was different. He understood what was required. So he movingly turned to Jesus and said “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life“. Jesus not the crowd. Jesus not the culture. Jesus not me. Jesus alone. This is a vital moment revealing what intentional discipleship is about. Peter rejects all others voices and roots himself in Christ alone. He looks to the WORDS OF JESUS and they become the foundation of his faith.
What concerns me about the present crisis in the church is that we have amongst us prelates, in very high places, who would tell us that a need for mercy dictates change in doctrine; in favour of societal thinking and away from the words of Jesus Christ, (as regards remarriage after divorce). I do not doubt these men have good intentions. I do not doubt they speak with sincerity. Certainly they appeal to the world and the press and the modern political elites. What I doubt is fidelity to the Gospel. For, in truth, there has been a creeping schism since Vatican II than is now threatening to split the church in two. And it is ever those taking the supposedly “progressive” path who look more and more like liberal protestants and less and less like Catholics in the conventional sense. Not only in their beliefs but in practice and worship and increasingly worldly arguments, suppositions and agendas.
Put aside the appeal to mercy, that is not what this is about. My own desire for mercy means I would wholeheartedly support a change of practice in annulment procedure making them free to access, quick to make judgement and generous in helping people discern truth in their situation. But I cannot endorse abandonment of teaching rooted in the actual words of Jesus Christ. His teaching may be hard, even unpopular, but scripture it was ever thus. And if we stand for Christ then God will give us grace to fulfil his will. That is what having faith is all about.
I hope this shows why I applaud the Cardinals who have raised the dubia. Because, like them, I am suspicious of the motives of those seeking to put aside the words of Jesus in favour of pleasing the world. Such voices do not seem to resonate with Peter, the rock on whom the church is built. And given that St. Peter himself, and all the saints and martyrs, stand in the tradition of believers who rigidly cleaved themselves to the words of Jesus, who am I to dismiss them? Who is anyone proclaiming the name Christian?
Those pushing for change need to do much, much better then to convince. And it would help their cause if they simply answered the dubia, for every day it goes unanswered it is only reasonable that people’s suspicions grow in intensity. That the feeling of naughtiness at play becomes more certain. For what are we to make of those pushing for change but who avoid clear explanation? Who operate only in the shadows of footnotes and not in the plain light of magisterial teaching. To quote Hamlet, something seems rotten in the state of Denmark..well the Vatican anyway. And we must pray it gets sorted soon. Would the silent bishops please stand up.
Tell us who has the words of eternal life? I say Jesus Christ.
Do you know of anybody who would be interested in being an au pair in New Zealand until the end of the year? It would entail helping out with a 5 and 3 year old, who attend nursery and school during the day, whilst mum looks after baby twins! The position pays 200 NZ dollars a week board as well as board and lodging. There is also access to a car. This would suit a gap year student perfectly….
Today is Septuagesima, the start of pre-Lent; that liturgical season lost at Vatican II but resurrected within the Ordinariate. A time, as Father Nicholas reminded us, to prepare to keep a holy Lent. Professional rugby players warm up that they might fly out of the traps when the whistle blows, so pre-Lent is a time for buying devotional books, making examination of conscience, planning mortifications and generally plotting how Lent will be used wisely that it might not catch us unprepared.
Father Nicholas went on to preach a first rate sermon, drawing together the readings for the day which are, intentionally, hard hitting. The first point he stressed was our having to take responsibility for our decisions in life. The prophet Sirach makes clear. “to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice…before a man are life and death, and whichever he chooses will be given to him…if you will then you can keep the commandments”
It is no good our blaming others. It is not the fault of the wider culture, or the social worker, or our upbringing- life may have played us a good hand or a bad one- nonetheless how we choose to respond is down to us. God simply honours what we choose. A life lived with him or without him. And because the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God as St Paul reminded us, we cannot hide, we cannot cheat him. He knows and we know when we deliberately do wrong.
Father Nicholas then warned against that sentimental lie so prevalent today; that all are magically going to heaven. A lovely idea but not according to Jesus Christ. He spoke of hell as a real destination where wicked people go. Is that uncomfortable? Yes, but it is the teaching of Christ and must be taken seriously; especially as we prepare for Lent. Remember God does not send people there- sinners choose it for themselves. He simply honours their decision to absent him. So are we choosing the way of God or the world? St. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, reminds us there is this clear distinction. “we impart a wisdom of God… none of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” Our duty is to stand by the teaching of God not appease the whims of our culture. We are called to live by the Gospel not secular modernism.
Father then looked at Jesus hard hitting words about sin. Clearly God takes it seriously even if our culture does not. God has revealed truth to the world yet, all too often, we ignore this revelation, or cherry-pick it, finding ingenious ways to circumnavigate what was plainly said. Not because that truth is hard to understand but because we find the teaching unwelcome and do not wish to live that way.
We might consider here, I think, the current furore around communion for the divorced and remarried. Why do some speak as if sexual morality is different today than yesterday? Why are certain voices calling for radical change in practice on matters settled and unchanging? In the Gospel Jesus says: I say to you that every one who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, makes her an adulteress; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Clearly we must be compassionate to those whose marriages have failed, indeed I am pleased we have a generous means for seeking annulment where possible, but we cannot simply ignore what Jesus said, acting as if the abandonment of wedding vows to remain faithful ‘until death do us part’ doesn’t have serious consequences.
So exercise caution with those peddling clever arguments leading away from certainty about God’s word into doubt. Be they politicians or popes, those who encourage ingenious ways around the plain meaning of scripture lead us away from the light. It will not do, hence Jesus also taught that we must not complicate and obscure what is simple. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; for anything more than this comes from the evil one. Here is a warning- from the lips of God incarnate -against the use of sophistry to obscure divine revelation.
This use of sophistry, I mused as Father preached, seems especially tempting to the learned and the clever; the religious leaders then and now, especially the sort who hunger for popularism. The church must, of course, be the compassionate field hospital Pope Francis calls for… but we can not ignore our need for the medicine! We cannot refuse to diagnose and bring to God things desperately in need of healing. Because, back to Jesus, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
So yes the divorced need pastoral care but this needs to be balanced with a fidelity to scriptural teaching. We have to not only acknowledge the needs and desires of the divorced and re-married but also consider the needs of abandoned spouses and children; accepting that the breakdown of any marriage and family is a disaster. A sin causing deep wounds and much destruction. We cannot brush such devastation under the carpet even if do now live in a culture endorsing serial monogamy over life long marital fidelity. We have to reflect what “for better and worse” actually means. That is tough- nobody disputes it- but we must champion, within the church and society, that which encourages virtue not vice; upholding marriage and the family for the good of children, not indulging the societal permissiveness that encourages us to pretend sexual morality is not a big deal. The bible says it is.
So as we approach Lent let us look afresh to the Lord. Let us stop pretending that living by God’s standard is impossible or more complicated than it is; stop overly rejoicing in the grey areas of life as a sly way of hiding from what is, in fact, perfectly straightforward. Let us stand by God’s truth no matter the cost. Knowing that there is a cost, of one sort or another, for each of us. For those unable to get an annulment, it might mean being a precious part of God’s church but unable to receive communion personally. A sacrifice offered that God’s word might be preserved. I am grateful for the courage and witness of such people.
Let us be kind and gentle with all who have fallen, ourselves included, looking to him who revealed to us his way. Deep down we do know the difference between right and wrong. If we will, we can keep the commandments. So let us stop pretending we are somehow special, different from all the saints and sinners who went before us. Cultures might change human nature does not. It is not a case of being rigid or unkind, nobody doubts the need to reach out to those in failed marriages and assist them, but we must do so being honest about what God has revealed in sacred scripture. Mercy is important but God does not offer it detached from justice and truth. Those two things must embrace for blessing to follow.
This evening a special film will be shown at 8pm called Poverty inc. Produced by the excellent Acton Institute it seeks to challenge the way we approach charitable giving and ask if our reasoning matches our sentiment where giving is concerned. It is a very thought provoking film, and quite moving in places. All are welcome.
NB: Please note there was a printing error on the news bulletin this week. Mass on Thursday is not Sung at 8pm, that was a throw back to Candlemas last week, but at the usual time of 10am.
The greatest lie of the 20th Century, still duping the majority of Western civilisation, is the whopper on which the entire sexual revolution was based. Namely that repression of sexuality is ever harmful whilst liberalised expressions of sexuality are ever healthy. It is simply not true even if psychological issues can arise when a person is not at peace with their sexual identity.
The thinking is deeply flawed because it denies proven virtues of purity, chastity, monogamy and self control and encourages instead promiscuity, sex for gratification alone and a denial of what sex is actually for; the making of babies and building up of family life. Once you cease believing that self control in regard to sex is either possible or desirable you end up with bonkers thinking…
Was there an abuse crisis in the church? Under the great lie it cannot be because wicked men excused themselves sacred vows of celibacy and indulged sick fantasy- it is because a nasty church denied them the joy of sex. Does the fault of the Aids crisis lie with partners who refuse to remain faithful? No it must be the fault of a crusty old church refusing to bless the use of artificial contraception.
You also hear the lie when it is suggested a married priesthood would have rescued the church from scandals. Leaving aside the monstrous notion that pedophiles might then have married and raised children, what is suggested is that fulfilled sexual souls (in marriage) exist at one end of a spectrum with repressed singletons at the other. Ergo the fulfilled will behave nicely whilst the repressed become perverts. To the sexual revolution any denial of sex is an affront to life itself- like refusing food or water. We fight for the right- to be genitally active.
But the church- throughout her history- denies this reasoning emphatically. Indeed Christianity was built on a denial of pagan thinking in such regard. How ludicrous to make genital activity the defining principal of human flourishing! Christianity suggests instead that chaste marriage and celibacy exist together at one end of a spectrum (if lived well) for both require commitment, self control, and the ability to say no to temptation. At the other end is the vice of lust- the fruit of the sexual revolution. Sex primarily for gratification leading to disregard for its intended purpose- witness the massive rise in abortion and family breakdown.
The church believes marriage or celibacy, whilst demanding, are paths to happiness. Get either right and you will be fulfilled. Get either wrong and disaster inevitably follows. A wise Cardinal said once that the proof of church teaching in this regard is the chaos, confusion and mess in the lives of those who don’t practice it! We begin to see why, in contradiction to the big lie- marriages can fail due to infidelity and plenty of religious can thrive in celibacy. It isn’t ultimately about what we do with our genitals but about beliefs, practice and integrity. It is about the mastering of our passions that we might not be enslaved by them. Trouble is that can be a very tricky thing. Especially in the over sexualised culture we now inhabit.
This sane reasoning helps us better understand the world we inhabit. Where few live by the teaching of the church, alas, but equally few actually encourage total sexual licence. We are between worlds in truth, moving away from the Judea-Christian understanding of sex and marriage into a pagan one. Hence many want to endorse life long marriage but have settled for a divorce culture and serial monogamy. Most would still prefer children to be chaste but nevertheless support them when they co-habit because, well, at least it isn’t promiscuity. In short we are living amidst the tension of a Christian past and secular future. And this is causing so much misunderstanding and confusion. Little wonder we have a culture that, in one breath, defends a march ‘for women’ but, in the other breath, denies that that women even exist in terms of biology when transexuals come along…what is that but a sign of confusion?
Ultimately the West needs to decide what it is and what it wants and where it is moving to. The tension cannot hold forever. We need firm philosophical basis on which to build our culture – a strong hook on which to hang moral thinking. But we don’t have that at present and lurch instead between diametrically opposed thinking as regards human sexuality, identity and the family. And it is not doing the culture any good at all.
Celibacy and marriage are not poles apart but two two sides of the Judea-Christian coin of sexual fidelity being pitted, at present, against the different pagan thinking of the world. And where church politics is concerned huge problems arise when Christians seek to hold onto certain core beliefs about God whilst shifting their moral thinking to that of the sexual revolution. It will not do and does not work. To save the church and culture we must kill the lie that sexual permissiveness leads to great joy and fulfilment- it does not. More usually it leads to a culture of death and to pain lived out in people’s lives. Who in the current debate about communion for those in second marriages are speaking of jilted spouses or the children of divorce?
Clearly we need compassion and mercy – no matter where people find themselves in life- but we first need greater clarity of thinking. We need more honesty about what the breakdown of the family is actually doing, and has done, to our failing culture and a serious consideration regarding the oft believed lies of the sexual revolution. Standing up for things like chastity and self control were never going to win the popularist vote for the church but might they have been right all along?
This morning, during second Mass (but not at it- phew!) Sebastian Stewart Walduck was born. He is the son of Olivia and Stewart, who used to worship with us regularly before they moved to the north of England, and grandson of Mark and Karen Stewart, who still worship with us regularly.
What a bonny little chap. Congratulations to the whole family!