Father Nicholas preached a belter this morning on the feast of the Most Holy Trinity. What follows is a mish-mash of his main points embellished a little with my own!

Citing chunks of the Athanasian Creed Fr reminded us that the doctrine of the Trinity is foundational to Christian faith. Meaning we must not neglect it just because it is difficult to fully comprehend; for when the church stops taking theology seriously it invariably falls into heresy and error. As proof he asked us consider the modernists of recent time who justify radical departure from traditional teaching by suggesting the Spirit ‘is doing a new thing’ in order to bring about a new paradigm. Now one only needs a rudimentary understanding of Trinitarian theology to expose the argument as sham. This suggestion of division and contradiction within the Godhead is impossible. The persons of the Trinity are one and God’s truth eternal.

Father then urged caution in making definitive statements about God. These are dangerous and invariably fail, he explained, because they soon lead to our creating God in our favoured  image. We select statements which best suit our agendas. Ultimately we cannot know God for he is beyond human understanding. We can only glimpse through a glass dimly at that which he has chosen to reveal. And thus we are wise to obey what has  been revealed not ever claim to know his mind. A lesson in humility before God which is so obviously lacking in our current generation.

Father Nicholas then lamented what has been a terribly sad fortnight for Christianity in the U.K. First he pondered that Royal Wedding, held in the presence of the most senior cleric of both the Church of England and Episcopal Church of America. Everyone cheered and smiled, he noted, and took the easy path thus avoiding the difficult but obvious question. How could consent for this marriage be given when the bride is, in fact, already married to another man? Do ’till death us do part’ and ‘for better and for worse’ not mean today what they meant yesterday? And, if so, how can God’s blessing be given on such a union when no annulment has been granted given Christ’s own explicit teaching on the matter? What gives?

Not that Catholics can point fingers regarding fidelity to God’s word given the diabolical vote in Ireland two days ago which now paves the way for the slaughter of innocents. Here again we witnessed a cataclysmic failure to uphold the teaching of the church; this time as regards the sanctity of life. A shame deepened by the inaction and silence of most of the current hierarchy. And who cannot fear that when the Pope now visits Ireland in August the red carpet will be rolled out to cement the ridiculous but populist notion that one can be robustly pro-Catholic but not pro-life. It was a sorry day indeed.

In both the Royal wedding and the abortion vote one witnesses further evidence of an erosion of doctrinal fidelity on behalf of the faithful. The church falling into grave error due to a refusal to do theology and accept the unchanging truth of Christ. How apt then that the wedding sermon, itself massively populist and devoid of depth, centred on a sentimental and whimsical notion that ‘all you need is love.’ What drivel, Father Nicholas suggested, when you consider how crucial a mundane washing machine also is to domestic family life. One needs many things beside sentimental love to make a marriage work. Not least adherence to solemnly professed vows that pertain to lifelong fidelity.

Father Nicholas concluded by suggesting we have reached a pivotal moment. The tide has gone out on Christianity in the West and what is exposed is revealing. The most obvious lesson is that modernist Christianity, the sort that sprang into life in the wake of Vatican II, has proved an abject failure. Touchy feely safe religion, the sort that cosies up to the culture, has killed authentic faith in Christ. A truth writ large in Anglican and Catholic church alike. What good a sacramentalised but uncatachised faithful whose tribal belonging knows nothing of intentional discipleship? What good a timid Christian hierarchy that ever appeases the crocodile in hope it eats them last? The sooner this experiment ends the better…

And what Ireland showed us is that it is drawing to an end. The modernists might have had the ascendency for the last half century, they might hold all the aces in the present. But tomorrow does not belong to them. So as the institutional church all but collapses around us we must embrace that death and prepare for resurrection. That out of the ashes of the failed modernist experiment a more emboldened and authentic Catholicism might once more arise. The reform of the reform suggested by Pope Benedict wherein sound teaching, good liturgy and beauty in holiness combine to forge a renewed but ancient faith for the next generation. Move over tired corrupt liberal hieararchs- true Catholics want their church back.

The Gospel reading, on the feast of Pentecost, contained a superb three step guide to living faith. It is, I suggest, the answer to all modern ills.

Jesus stood among them.

The disciples were hapless and dejected after Christ’s crucifixion. Hidden behind locked doors and looking inwards in fear. But once the risen Lord appeared they were transformed by that encounter. Doors were unlocked, fear faced and they went out with zeal to transform a fallen world for the sake of the Kingdom.

Clearly we need this personal encounter with the risen Lord if our faith is to be authentic and life changing. We need a conversion of heart not just catechesis if our faith is to be more than merely tribal or intellectual and deeper than a mere interest in the outward trappings of religious observance. Through personal prayer, private devotion and public worship we must connect with the supernatural presence of God, forming a living relationship with him lest we also turn inwards in fear and introspection.

Jesus showed them his hands and his side

If Marvel had invented a risen Saviour then His wounds would have magically vanished at the resurrection. Instead Christ chose to bear the signs of his passion as an eternal reminder that there is no crown without the cross. Clearly the divine encounter must lead to sacrifice in love. Nobody can truly come to Christ serving self and living by the fallen standards of this world. We must turn from sin and be faithful to the Gospel and this is always costly whilst the spiritual battles for life exist. Which is why genuine encounter always did lead to radical witness. To the taking up of a cross in love.

So the true believer is one who lays down a life for Christ; their attitudes, beliefs and behaviour being formed by a desire to be faithful to the Gospel in all things. Is your faith sacrificial? Aside from attending Mass how does it manifest? Do your attitudes, beliefs and behaviour make clear that Jesus is Lord? If you were arrested for being Christian would there be evidence to convict you? Or are you foolishly attempting to have your cake and eat it, paying lip service to Christ will endorsing the fallen philosophies of this world?

Jesus said receive the Holy Spirit

Only when step one and two are completed can we ever progress to step three. For it is a thing dependent on the first two. The first two were centred on our response to God whereas this final stage is centred on his response to us. It is the reward of living faith which brings joy to the believer. The life of grace. Jesus said Receive the Holy Spirit’ and since then, whenever a human soul (1) encounters the Lord and (2) gives themselves to him, they are (3) transformed by grace. Beatified. Sanctified. The gift of the Spirit is given to them. The indwelling of God in the human soul. That is how Saints are made!

At Pentecost barriers were shattered. First the barrier between God and man, caused by original sin, and second the barriers that exist between men. In the power of the Spirit, ‘each heard in his own language’. God’s power brought people together, uniting them in shared truth and experience. The universal church was born.

If we want to know how to heal the obvious broken church and culture of the 21st Century, I suggest, we need start the three step plan once more. For only when enough people encounter the risen Christ, and unite in the objective truth of the Gospel, will we transform again the face of the earth. Without God man cannot flourish or be free. Only with him do we rise above our fallen nature. The steps are simple but none can be avoided. Will you help begin again the revolution? It occurs one life at a time.

It was amusing when Fr. Richard Whinder stood up to welcome our guest speaker, Jacob Rees-Mogg, at the latest meeting of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy -given that the two look so alike. Thank goodness one wore dog-collar and the other a tie else we might not have told them apart!

Mr. Rees-Mogg proved a considered and engaging speaker. He gave an address rich in praise for the Catholic faith in which he vocalised genuine desire that clerics would learn to be bolder in taking a spiritual lead within the nation. For he believes our nation is not as militantly atheistic and secular as the media would have us believe but that most British people retain a deep seated respect for their Christian heritage. Furthermore a strong spiritual and moral leadership is needed at present.

Mr. Rees-Mogg also gave sound advice warning clergy to steer clear of political meddling. If we are outspoken on subjective matters relating solely to political policy, not objective truth relating to the next life, the danger is we can be mistaken and lose credibility to speak on God’s behalf. Though clearly some political matters touch on moral and ethical questions becoming spiritual matters too.

I agree- there is nothing as disappointing to authentic Christian witness as that cleric, especially if it is a bishop, who remains silent on matters like abortion but vocal on populist political causes like the environment. Yet such clergy, who are short on supernatural faith but strong on political theory, seem two a penny today. And, of course, it is equally lamentable when politicians do the same in the opposite direction- failing to get public policy right whilst stepping into the religious domain by instructing us on how we should think and believe. Let priests be priests and politicians be politicians!

There were plenty of other interesting points but it is not my place to share the details of private talks in a public forum. So let me share instead how I was struck by Mr. Rees- Mogg’s integrity. Whatever your  party political views, if you are a Christian JRM deserves your prayers and support. He is  a man of deep personal faith whose passion for the family, the church and pro-life causes is vital in the current political landscape. Indeed we must pray for Christian politicians of all shades and parties as they walk a difficult path at present. We need them to represent our faith.

Last Sunday we held our May Devotion. At 8am Mass we ended with the Salve Regina and offered prayers before the image of Our Lady in church. At 9:15am Mass, and at the 11am, we processed the church grounds, sang Marian hymns and ended with Solemn Benediction. It was a good Sunday with clouds of incense, hearty hymns and lots of smiles.

The May Devotion is a grass roots phenomenon stemming from the 18th Century when, in Rome, a peasant child gathered his friends, one balmy May evening, and led them to an image of Our Lady in the city to sing a litany. The children decided to do it again the following night and brought more friends. Soon the crowd was swelled by mothers, fathers and local clergy. A tradition was born. And now across the world Catholics offer heightened devotion to the Mother of Our Lord in this month of May. A month which in the UK, due to the lush growth of Spring, chimes with the Eastertide themes of birth and fresh hope.

The May devotion is a source of encouragement in times of hardship for the church. It reminds us that we are not dependent on a human hierarchy for grace. We need not ask permission to build up the life of faith so long as we remain obedient to the magisterium. And it reminds us that the long term health of the church is not ultimately dependent on better bishops but better laity. For it is only when our families and communities put devotion front and centre that healthy vocations are born and faith begins to bear fruit. Pray that this holy month might embolden us to live the faith as God intended.

Many moons ago, in Anglican days when I was curate of St. Thomas of Canterbury Church in Brentwood, I met one of those inspiring Christians whose virtue is manifest and whose devotion is obviously deep. That person was Ruth Pye and she became not only a parishioner but a friend.

Ever since I knew Ruth she was a walking miracle. Through prayer, determination and grit she overcame a virulent form of cancer, being nursed in an isolation on several occasions,amazing medics in the process. She would go on to live for years beyond what was anticipated which was a blessing to her family and friends and especially her children.

Around the time that the Ordinariate sprang into life, Ruth converted to the Catholic church. Unable to join an Ordinariate group locally she became a member of the Catholic Cathedral in Brentwood. Her support for the Ordinariate was evident by her prayers, her love of this blog and the gift she regularly gave to our parish here in Pembury.

Last week Ruth lost her battle with cancer but, I strongly suspect, won the battle of life. She will not have feared death but will have been excited at the prospect of meeting God face to face. The 9:15am Mass in Pembury, this morning, was offered for the repose of her soul. Please pray for her and for her family.

Jesu mercy, Mary pray. Rest in peace a genuine friend of Jesus and a friend of mine. A stellar example of faith lived out.

At the Ascension, celebrated yesterday, we witness a handover of epic proportion. Christ took his earthly body into the heavenly realm leaving the disciples to become his active body on earth. The ones charged with responsibility for preserving the faith and growing his kingdom. He did not abandon us, like an absent landlord, for he soon sent his Spirit to guide and made himself present in every tabernacle where the true church gathers. But we no longer behold his human form. It was time for the apostles to take up the reigns. What trust God shows his people! What a responsibility we face as the church on earth.

That the Lord was ‘received from sight’ in a cloud is fascinating. Because that was how God appeared to his people in the Old Testament when he led them from Egypt into the promised land. What are we to make of this intertwining of God’s ancient form with his Christological form? Surely it is a firm reminder that the Ascension was no moment of innovative rupture but one of deep intended continuity. As all authentic change in the church must be. If it is to remain faithful to what went before. The faith is centred on objective truth, divinely revealed, not on the subjective opinions of man.

The Gospel is not ours for changing then. God does not do U-turns because he has been working his purpose out from eternity. He is, to quote scripture, the same yesterday, today and forever. So whilst we are called to become His body on earth- we are not called to tinker with the deposit entrusted to us. Christ remains the head. We are to be stewards not kings. Meaning paradigm shifts in established teaching are out because there is but one eternal paradigm. We must recall whose faith we profess and remain obedient to the Master who ascended.

The ascension was a time when God entrusted the deposit of faith to His Church for safekeeping. History shows sometimes it has been done well- sometimes badly. In 2018, sad to say, given widespread confusion and apostasy in our day, we seem to be enduring a most lamentable era. One senses many hirelings and not nearly enough authentic shepherds. So be it. Don’t let weak faith in others, no matter their seniority, no matter how widespread, ever get you down.

Because the authentic church often has dwelt in backwater stables not in the palaces of the powerful. And it often has been upheld not by the many but the few. An indisputable fact when one ponder the lives of Saints and the Martyrs. Learn from them. That when others are losing their heads and abandoning Christ you may remain steadfast. Even if the whole world apostatises you have the freedom to remain close to Christ. And in times of trouble and confusion such simple lowly fidelity is a precious gift to God. It presents him with at least one life to work through. St. Athanasius had it right when he wrote “Even if Catholics faithful to tradition are reduced to a handful they will be the ones who are the true Church of Jesus Christ”

On this Ascension day let us pledge to be part of that true eternal mystical church, as we seek to remain faithful to Christ in all things, as we await the return of our Master. To him be the glory. Amen.

Last Friday the family travelled to the Cotswolds for a long weekend of camping. The journey however was predictably complicated by an unwritten law that governs Tomlinson family holidays; motor failure must play some part! This time the fault being a wheel, broken beyond repair by one of Kent’s numerous potholes. With no replacement available until after the bank holiday, the only solution was for Hayley to pile her tiny Citroen with the sleeping bags et al, whilst I took the children over by train. Rush hour with children is not for the feint hearted- but being in holiday spirit we enjoyed it nevertheless.

The weekend proved bitter sweet. The low of motor failure was compensated by glorious weather. We joined several of Hayley’s university friends and also spent some time alone. Our family excursion being to a crocodile zoo, which the boys absolutely loved. Feeding time was the highlight and any suggestions that the boys themselves might be dinner were laughed off.

We had planned to drive to one of the Ordinariate groups in the Oxford area for Sunday Mass but a fraught journey meant we opted instead for the local church in Charlbury. It turned out to be charming. A small faithful congregation whose liturgy was identical to our 11am in Pembury. I was incognito, having travelled light, but was soon rumbled by the parish server who reads this blog. A former Anglican priest, now senior staff member at the Reading Oratory school, it transpired he had employed my predecessor at St. Barnabas, Fr. Kenneth McNab, following his earlier conversion to Rome!

The nice thing about joining with other families on a campsite is that the children have lots of friends to play with. And with the sun shining they were having a blast. But the wonderful weekend took a sudden turn for the worst when Gussy fell awkwardly from a climbing frame and hurt himself badly.

Poor little chap was rushed to a local emergency room where a nasty fracture close to the shoulder was discovered. Fearing he might need an operation to align the bones the medics booked him into the trauma unit at the John Radcliff hospital for further analysis the following morning. An uncomfortable night ensued with only Calpol to dull the pain.

The photograph above shows a little boy’s face when he is being extremely brave in the face of pain because he wants to earn some ‘brave boy’s lego’. And earn it he did as we watched a much older child acting hysterically in the hospital whilst Gus bore his own suffering with stoic heroism…and a large packet of fruit pastilles. A masculine show that soon won over the nurses and ensured he was very much the centre of attention.

Meanwhile I  had a serious logistical problem to solve. Here you see me discussing plans with a brighter person, or were we discussing the pitfalls of subjective Hegelian theology? I forget. Either way the problem was that Gussy would need one adult and a free car, lest he be kept in overnight, but the other family members needed to get home with a good deal of camping equipment. The train option was no longer feasible.

Step forward dear Father Nicholas who volunteered to drive from Kent and collect family and equipment, freeing me to focus on Gussy. What a star! In the end Gus did not need the manipulation, thank the Lord, and so was soon home and tucked up on the sofa where he can recover at leisure from his ordeal . Meanwhile I must now get about the business of ordering wheels and try to avoid Fr. Nicholas in the ale houses of Kent- I owe him more beers than my stipend affords!