head

Today the church celebrates the Passion of John the Baptist. The Gospel at Mass recounting that most lurid scriptural passage in which two men lose their head. One metaphorically the other literally. These men stand in stark contrast. John the Baptist a radical herald of a kingdom yet to come. Herod a herald and ruler of this fallen world.

As the drama unfolds we discover that the Baptist has nothing in worldly terms. Having lived his life for God he is now penniless and in prison. His crime to have spoken moral truth to power regarding the marriage of Herod to his brother’s wife. And yet despite his poverty and plight in human terms he is upstanding and proud. A courageous paragon of virtue whose integrity and personal holiness even the wicked acknowledge and admire; despite finding his words deeply unsettling Herod is mesmerised by him. John lived for Christ and his inner beauty shone forth for all to see.

Meanwhile Herod has everything in worldly terms. A palace, power, incredible wealth, his brother’s wife…and her daughter to dance for him. Yet despite holding the aces he cannot hold a candle to John. We learn he is morally compromised and pathetically weak. His problem is twofold:

I.  He is a slave to his passions; he cannot control his lust. This leads him to make rash promises and behave in a way he later regrets.

II. He is in thrall to the popular consensus: unable to stand up for what he believes because he fears offending his guests. It stops him from doing what is right and paves the way for violence and murder.

As I listened to the Gospel this evening I was struck by it’s relevance. Catholicism finding itself in crisis today precisely because we have too many Cardinal Herods and not enough Cardinal Johns! Which is to state huge and lasting damage has been dealt to Christian credibility because sinful bishops, priests and deacons have found themselves incapacitated by the exact same flaws as that scoundrel Herod.

Those unable to control their passions dealt the first and heaviest blow. How sickening to hear of so many depraved sins visited on children and adults alike. From the repugnant brutes who degraded innocent little children to pervy prelates who preyed on their seminarians. The caving in to lust by those in holy orders has created a scandal crying out to heaven for justice!

And it was the second flaw, fear of losing face in the world, that enabled these sinners to go unpunished so long. Too many Cardinals and bishops (even the present pontiff if whistle blowing Cardinals are to be believed) having efused to confront the excesses of an unhealthy homosexual subculture (which is at the root of over 80% of the abuse) because they put careers and the institution first and the divine law second. We might also consider the legion of modern bishops who, unlike the baptist, never speak moral truth to the world because they hunger for secular approval, seeming to care more for human politics and comfort in this life than the salvation of souls in the next.

Whatever your theological leaning there is no denying it is a terrible mess. It is high time then that people were held to account regardless of seniority. The brood of vipers must be removed and a new generation of authentic apostles recruited.

The current problems are beyond the pay grade of laity and priests. Pray then that God might stir the remaining men of God, from amongst the Episcopacy, into firm action. Enough with the banal and meaningless apologies drafted in the wake of abuse by lawyers! Enough of looking the other way and not holding people to account. Enough of soft retirements for wicked men funded by the cash of humble church goers. We need the true shepherds to arise and come to our aid. NOW is the time for new saints and martyrs to deliver us from the hands of wicked men. John the Baptist pray for us.

In this morning’s Gospel we discover an unnerving fact. Even amongst those who walked with Jesus were a number who, despite claiming to be his followers, were actually his betrayers. Not that Jesus was  fooled by them; He knew that in their hearts they neither believed nor loved him sufficiently. That despite counting themselves amongst his disciples they did not belong to him but rather to this fallen world and to the enemy. It has ever been thus which is why the name Judas is infamous. Which is why we face, once again, disgusting reports in the media regarding clerical sexual abuse and its cover up by those in authority.

It is easy to lose perspective in life. To get so wrapped up in the wrong stuff that we lose sight of the bigger picture altogether. The danger is that life then gets frittered away with pointless distraction or worse. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day had this problem; they scrutinised the Jewish law in minute detail but often forgot the overall purpose of faith- to grow in love and holiness. So when a Pharisee attempted to draw Jesus into a long winded theological debate, asking ‘what is the greatest commandment?’ Jesus shut him up by cutting to the chase: “love God with all your heart and neighbor as yourself.” Our Lord wanted us to understand that our faith and our salvation ultimately boils down to how well we fulfill these two simple commandments.

For Jesus the very meaning of life is to cultivate, in the few short years given to us, sincere love of God and neighbor. Do this and you will flourish in accordance with His will. Refuse and you will soon fall into sin and misery. Understand then that all the law and prophets, all the external trappings of faith, all the creeds, devotions and rules, important as they are, only exist to direct us into a living relationship with God. Authenticity of faith – not how well we keep rules- is what really matters.

Why? Because only authentic love of God brings the necessary super-natural grace to enable us to be transformed, to overcome sin and learn to love others as he loves us. Which is to state that Sanctification is the point of religion. The process of our our becoming holy. And only when we understand this can we realise that our life is given as an opportunity to grow in personal holiness. To choose God. The point of Mass, of private devotion, of fasting and feasting, charity, marriage and family, of business and recreation; it all boils down to this; an opportunity to grow in holiness. Each day presented as an opportunity to demonstrate a love of God and neighbor. But do we take them? Do we choose them? Do we seek them out? Do we act on them? Or is our love selfish, twisted and miserly. Are we simply too busy serving self and seeking hedonistic pleasure of the sort that leads away from God’s love? Away from sincere holiness of life?

Nobody likes financial crashes but they do at least remind us life isn’t about money. We are foolish if we seek fulfillment in material possessions. There is nothing wrong with riches but every miserable millionaire reminds us wealth doesn’t ultimately buy happiness. For we are spiritual creatures; made to love God and care for others. And so it is only when we choose a life of virtue over vice, the path of inner holiness, that we find joy. True peace belongs to those who become a living icon of Christ.

Whenever we put someone else first, or are generous with time or resources, even in small ways, we grow in divine likeness. But the opposite is also true. When we choose to serve self alone, or turn from God’s revealed truth, we diminish. The purpose of life is to choose. No matter our age, occupation, or circumstance, we get to decide, each day, where our heart belongs. We can love God and grow in holiness or grow in selfishness and come to hate him and his Word.

Let me end with a grave warning for all who claim to be Christian but are not growing in personal holiness. The Pharisees lost their faith, and Judas damned his soul to hell, even whilst they claimed to believe in God and follow him! So don’t become the idiot who imagines ‘being Catholic’ is about belonging to the institution not offering a heart of love to the Lord. Don’t be the hypocrite who subscribes to faith verbally but with insufficient love for it to make a difference in the way their life is lived. And above all do not become the monster, many of whom seem to have been ordained in recent years, who behave one way at Mass but another (even abusively or in a way that hides abuse) outside of mass.

Such people are not friends of God who slipped up. They are enemies of the faith whose hearts are obviously set on things not of God. Frauds whose hearts belong to this fallen world not to Christ. For no heart beating with authentic love for Jesus could sexually abuse a child, or cover it up, and then enter the sanctuary to offer Mass. It seems many clergy have been charlatans who profit from the body of Christ but whose faith is sham. In them we discern none of the authentic holiness Jesus called for. They must be rooted out.

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day, like the compromised and Christians of our day, were religious but had no living faith in God. It made for a sorry situation because religion without faith is utterly rotten. It stinks every bit as much as a marriage without love. How easy to go through the motions of faith but without the one thing that can save you; sincere love of God and neighbour.

So when you pray, when you go to Mass, when you humbly confess your sins or prepare conscientiously to receive Communion; when you wrestle with your passions through fasting and self-denial; when you try to live your faith-  in other words—however imperfectly— do it for love of Him. Else you might as well leave and not come back. God sees into your heart and soul. And it is only those who really do love him with sincerity who count as his disciples.

My prayer in these dark and difficult days for the church is that our little parish, made up of sinners though it is, will be a place of authentic devotion and faith. That we may keep alive what is being lost elsewhere. Let us do our best to love God and our neighbour as our self. Let us strive to be authentic followers of him.

News from the far east where Fr. Nicholas, and his wife Mary, are spending August. It is their favoured destination each summer due to the fact that their eldest resides in Hong Kong. This year he joins our intrepid duo in Borneo where they soon plan to set off in canoes to hunt out Orang-utan. But before the pith helmet and giant shorts of the missionary priest can be donned time is being spent in the Cameron Highlands from where he sent me this wonderful photograph and news of his escapades thus far.

It transpires that Fr. Nicholas celebrated and preached Mass there on Sunday morning. This was followed by a visit to the farm of Joseph the Crysanthemum grower who requested a solemn blessing for a motor car and two flats. Father Nicholas assures me he remembered the precise sequence of blessing in Latin and English and flourished the aspergillum with aplomb. Perhaps it is fortunate that Joseph the Crysanthemum grower is neither a liturgist nor fluent in either language…

Being less flippant- Father Nicholas timed his visit well given that the duty cleric that day was an 84 year old French mission priest who was recovering from a hip operation five weeks ago! He, in turn, was covering for the parish priest who was away in Kuala Lumpur on annual leave. Given that the recovering priest was not very mobile an enthusiastic and energetic eccentric from England to trek off on parish duties was just what the doctor ordered.

And after the blessings of car and flats Father was driven up into the hills, in a distinctly unroadworthy jeep, to give the last rites to a brain damaged grandmother incapable of speech, movement or sight. Father Nicholas tells me it was unusually humbling even for a priest of the Ordinariate. He adds that he will “never again complain about life in Pembury, Wateringbury and school in a single day”. His point is apposite- we in the West really do take our privilege for granted sometimes.

Please pray for all our holidaying congregation. Pray that families may have much needed quality time together- they do not get enough of it in the modern world. I myself am off to the Ordinariate lay conference in Worth Abbey this afternoon to deliver a talk. Then I shall drop the workload and head to the Loire Valley in France with tent and family in tow. I am grateful to a friend who is residing in the presbytery in our absence to care for the dog. And to Fr. Des of the Mill Hill Fathers who is offering cover this Sunday and making an appeal. Finally do pray for the Orang-utan of Borneo who must now brace themselves for a visit from dear Father Nicholas…

A little late but time to share some of the wonderful photographs taken at our children’s holiday club: Catholics in the Wild West. It was a brilliant week and everyone seemed to thoroughly enjoy it, from the youngest children to the oldest helpers!

Cactus are being painted here by one of the youngest groups. The children having been grouped by age into various Indian Tribes- the Comanches, the Sioux, the Novajo and the Cherokee. Each began the camp by decorating a teepee in which they could gather each day for instruction.

As ever the craft was first rate; all of it having been meticulously planned by Hayley who puts a great deal of energy into leading it each year. Having burned the candle at both ends in the run up to the club she is deserving of much thanks and praise. Below we see the children creating a modern take on native American jewellery.

In between craft activities and games in the paddock there was time for relaxation and laughter. Here we see Father Nicholas, ever eccentric, being taught, at his request, to state “can I buy some coconut water from your cousin’s stall” in Malayalam. It proved no problem to our talented children!

The clergy dogs were also in attendance on the first day. Coco and Aeschylus receiving an awful lot of fuss and a goodly proportion of most sandwich lunches.

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Each day the children listened to a talk on the history and culture of the Wild West era. They also had a short talk from me on the faith and how it unfolded in that place. We chose three amazing people from that era, two saints and a blessed, and also considered how the primitive animism of the native Americans, whilst faulty from a Catholic viewpoint, demonstrates man’s desire to know God. This animism inspired the Totem Poles and we thoroughly enjoyed making our own.

The children also made puppet horses. These were great fun and painted in a wild array of different colours. Including pink stripes?!?!

All in all it was a fabulous three days and it is little wonder that the club is now over-subscribed each year. In three packed days we managed to do a huge amount of children’s work as a parish. A massive thank you to all who helped in any way. And also to the children who behaved impeccably and helped make it all a lot of fun.