Father Ed's Blog

A Catholic priest reflects…

Month: December 2017

Carol Service

A reminder that the St. Anselm’s pre-Christmas Carol concert takes place this evening at 6:30pm. Come and sing all the well known Christmas carols and hear again the readings about our Saviour’s birth. After the service we will enjoy mulled wine, minced pies and a delicious fruit cake in the Hine Room. Everyone is welcome – bring friends and family.

This time of year sees our university students returning home. It is always lovely to have them back in the congregation and boosting our choir and serving team. We would also love to see you tonight – so come along and support the carol service!

Congratulations down under!

Congratulations to former St. Anselm’s chorister Luke Pitts, whose father Antony was Director of Music here before taking up a fantastic job opportunity in Sydney Australia. Luke, who is enhancing his musical gifts singing in the choir of St. Mary’s Cathedral,  has appeared as cover boy of the North Shore Times and you can read the article via this link. Just click on the cover and it takes you to the article.

A special day in prison

This evening I am attending the annual Carol Service at East Sutton Park Prison where I serve as Catholic Chaplain one day a week. This year it is going to be a particularly special celebration because one of the ladies is being received into full communion with the Catholic church and receiving the sacrament of confirmation. This comes after a course of small group catechesis each week over many months when we followed the Evangelium course together. The other members of the group will be acting as sponsors.

I cannot give further details for reasons of confidentiality but please pray for this lady who has found hope and comfort in the Christian Gospel and in the promises of the Catholic faith. We have chosen the carol service because it is the one time that we enter into a proper church (not a multi-faith room) and the whole community are gathered. It is days like this that make priesthood such a joy.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel!

The difference between life outside the church and life within it never differs more radically than in the run up to Christmas. Outside the weeks before the 25th December are a whirl of frenzied activity; a time for parties, excess, consumerism and frivolity. So that, by the end of December, most people are partied out, broke and ready for the detox in January! Christmas, in other words, comes early which makes the season of Advent utterly redundant. Perversely the early celebration also makes redundant the actual 12 days of Christmas which is really when the office should be holding the party, etc, etc…

Meanwhile in church we are asked to prepare by readying ourselves spiritually for a coming encounter with the divine. Advent is a time for reflection and confessing sins. A time for surveying the darkness of this world that we might recognise our need for the light- for that gift of grace. We ponder end times, the four last things; death, judgment, heaven and hell. We pray and hold off the celebration until the feast arrives…only THEN do we launch into the turkey, fizz and fun. Enjoying that long season of Christmastide which runs into Epiphany.

At least that is the theory. In practice it is difficult. We do not live in a vacuum and  compromise has become necessity. We can try to hold off celebrations but often recognise a need also not to be curmudgeonly. If you wait until Christmas Eve to buy the tree… chances are they sold out! If you want a good carol service in the week after Christmas- good luck with that! Unless you live in a bubble, in other words, or voluntarily miss out on the fun,  it becomes important to cultivate an ability to mix and match. Go to the office party and enjoy it- but find time also to kneel before the sacrament in prayer. By all means take the children to see Father Christmas. But also talk to them about Advent and help them have a sense of anticipation that the really good thing is yet to happen.

However you juggle it what is imperative is that you do not do away with Advent. The world may have commercialised a Christian feast and moved it to the 100 days before Christmas rather than 12 after…but we who are Christian cannot afford to give up on Advent so easily. Which is to suggest the world CAN afford to party because all it is doing is marking a date. Big deal. In church we cannot be so flippant, for if we truly believe, we have more to do. We must prepare souls for genuine encounter. Ready ourselves for a God who transcends with grace. A grace that can only be received, and this is the crucial point, if we are ready to embrace it. Not if we are spiritually lazy and bloated with all the excess.

God is waiting to embrace you this Christmas. But it is all too easy to lose sight of him entirely amidst all the tinsel and turkey.

Turkey & trimmings

Yesterday enormous fun was had by all, certainly by me, as we hosted the annual pre-Christmas dinner for the over 60’s. Our guests are gathered together from local alms houses, care homes and the wider community and we try to provide them with a hearty turkey dinner, complete with all the trimmings, and some afternoon entertainment.

Such endeavour is only possible because our congregation pull together and produce fantastic team work. The entire team deserve hearty praise but special mention goes to Sue Lobben who always serves as chief cook and to Trudy and Janet who sort the shopping and organisation in general. Well done!

The usual custom at the lunch is for the Sunday School to lead guests in carol singing. But this year our lunch clashed with St. Augustine’s school fayre meaning the children were busy visiting Father Christmas…

So we abandoned youth and turned instead to the talents of William and Diane;  members of the village U3A Ukulele band! And they were absolutely fantastic leading us in a good old fashioned sing-song which encompassed seasonal carols and songs and some real old favourites. Next year I am thinking of a bringing together of children and ukuleles….

Singing was followed by Bingo- yours truly the caller complete with an array of truly dreadful Christmas jokes. Such as – I went to the doctor having swallowed the Christmas decorations. He said I have tinselitis. Groan…

Once lunch was over and the clear up was done several of us gathered again at 5pm to sing carols outside Tesco in aid of the hospice. This is an annual ‘Hope churches together’ event. It was fun and festive as always…if a little demanding on the vocal chords. After this a few members of St. Anselm’s visited Hazeldene House care home and sang on each of the floors for the residents. Most loved it and sang along. One less happy listener told us to shut up and get out! By then we were ready to take the hint and so ended a very busy but enjoyable Saturday in Advent.

Supper was taken at the Black Horse with the best looking date in town- my daughter Jemima. She tucked into ham, egg and chips, having missed the Christmas lunch due to the school fayre. I opted for a little liquid refreshment – well that throat was hoarse by then!

 

He is coming and he is here!

Sunday’s homily

Advent is topsy-turvy. It begins with an end; the annual reflection of Christ’s return and the end of the world. Then ends with a beginning –the birth of Christ. So before Christmas comes crashing in early, as it tends to every year, we pause this morning to consider the end. Jesus turning our attention from this life to the next- warning us to be prepared, spiritually, at all times- for we know not the hour of his return nor of our death. Remain in grace, is the message, have faith, lest we die and fall foul of God’s judgement.

That aspect of Christian teaching- that we will stand before God to be judged is unnerving. Perhaps that is a good thing for fallen man often needs such warning to consider his true vocation. So be challenged by this Gospel… but don’t tremble too much or despair. Remember that this judgement of God is good news. The message of our faith being that we are worth saving. Why else was he born in Bethlehem? Jesus came not to condemn but to save. To bring salvation if we would but fulfil our true vocation and respond to God’s love. We need not fear judgment if we live as God desires.

And don’t confuse Advent with Lent. They can appear the same; but where Lent is all about turning inwards in an act of self examination, Advent is the opposite. It is about looking beyond self as we seek the Lord in hope. We are to look to the heavens expectantly, hungering for Christ’s coming. We are to cry out for our salvation. We must hope! But such hope isn’t easy in a world as frequently disappointing and corrupt as this. Well- take courage- it has ever been thus. Just listen to Isaiah’s lament in our first reading. Why do you let us wander, O LORD, so that we fear you not? Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down!!

Lamentation- crying out to God- is very much part of our spiritual heritage. The Old Testament teaching us that the believer has always cried out to God in time of frustration. It can be cathartic to cry out from time to time. To question where God has been? Why is He silent in the face of injustice? Why absent when disaster strikes? Where is God’s wrath when the poor are oppressed? Why do those who abuse and enslave get away with it?

Advent isn’t only about hope then. It is a time for complaining. For having a good moan. A time to survey the squalor of this world and genuinely lament it. Naming sin for what it is. Opening eyes to all that is damaging. A time to acknowledge the mess, recognise the failings, lament the indifference and apathy. For when we lament we recognise truth. We discern how very desperately this world, ourselves, the church, needs God’s love. Yes only when we acknowledge the darkness do we appreciate the need for the light of Christ coming into the world. The realisation that we need a help that is beyond ourselves helps us to abandon any pretence of self sufficiency. Humbled we listen, afresh, to his voice. We seek the life of grace.

Advent is short and soon followed by Christmas; a time to realise God is not actually absent or silent or disinterested but, in fact, already here amongst us. There in the tabernacle day by day. He has provided His presence and it is there- for us to use- if we would but draw closer to him. If we would accept the gift he came to bring- the gift of personal sanctification. Perhaps the problem is not his absence in this world so much as our absence here- kneeling before him?

As I look back at this past year lamentation is easy. Much seems gravely wrong at present. In the political realm. In the culture. Especially in the church. But when honest I must accept that the wrongness, the apathy, also dwells in me. So as I lament, throwing out questions at God, I must embrace his response; the questions he throws back at me. God says, but what of your faith? What was your response to this world? When did you seek to be the solution you claim to desire? If you really want me why do you hold back? Why are you not yet sanctified?

The most frightening verse in all of scripture is where Jesus asks if- when he returns – He will find any faith on earth? A chilling thought. Though he will never abandon us, it seems we might- all of us- choose to abandon him. So God asks for a little faith…..because faith breeds hope and hope compels us to keep going. To trust that he is working his purpose out. To trust that in the end all will be reconciled in him.

One of my favourite saints is Pope St. John Paul II. For he was a living embodiment of hope in the face of darkness. Suffering through Nazism and Communism he never gave up his faith. Never lost hope in God. And so he triumphed! Whenever you face darkness remember that despair is satanic. It seeps into hearts and souls causing depression, disillusionment and defeat – chief weapons of the devil leading only to denial of God’s goodness and spiritual death. But faith breeds hope and hope brings confidence. It is a thing patient and filled with forbearance –and willing to suffer. As in these grave and uncertain times I think it must. But it wins in the end. So do not despair- he is coming. In fact- he is already here. And you can receive him by faith at this very altar. Nobody is stopping your path to sanctification but you…

(NB: This homily was inspired by an article I found on the internet but couldnt find again! So credit for some of the outline should be with someone else- then I over worked it heavily)

Pembury transformed

I have created a youtube video to chronicle and celebrate the development of St. Anselm’s parish since the inception of the Ordinariate. Click the bottom corner of the view screen to have it enlarged.

The journey has been  incredible for all involved. There have been challenges and frustrations, especially in early days,  and much by way of joy and celebration. Today ours is a united happy parish in which Ordinariate members and diocesan Catholic have grown together as one family. This video celebrates that journey and achievement.

God has been good to us. Our budget was pretty much zero and most everything procured was purchased cheaply from salvage, donated or was due to be thrown away. It shows that you don’t need much to achieve a great deal in terms of ecclesial beauty. May it inspire others to bring back the beauty of Catholic tradition.

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