A reminder that the St. Anselm’s Christmas Carol service, which follows the form of 9 lessons and carols made famous by Kings College in Cambridge will take place this coming Sunday, 23rd December, at 6:30pm.

This service will begin our Christmas devotions in the parish and I am delighted to announce that Mike Blande and Hayley are busy preparing some seasonal Mulled wine and minced pies for us to enjoy when the carol service finishes. Do come along and bring friends and relatives.

CHRISTMAS EVE: On Christmas Eve morning we shall be decorating the trees and cleaning the church. The clergy will be in the confessional so that people may make a good confession as part of the preparation for the feast. Then at 3pm we hold our children’s crib service during which the lights are turned on for the first time. The centre piece of this service is a nativity play performed by the children- little ones need to arrive at 2pm for a rehearsal if they wish to be in it.

At 5pm we hold a vigil mass of Christmas Eve which counts as your Christmas obligation. It is particularly suitable for the frail and the very young. Carols replace hymns and we process to the crib and bless it. Then at 11:30pm is the jewel in the crown of the Christmas season – our Midnight Mass at the end of which the christ child is processed to the crib and blessed. We end this beautiful service with a glass of something bubbly!

CHRISTMAS DAY: On Christmas morning our Mass begins at 10am. Carols replace hymns and this year we have the additional joy of admitting two young people to holy communion for the very first time. We ask children to bring a present to open at this service and again end with a glass of something bubbly to toast our Saviours birth. All are very welcome.

Yesterday evening, in the glorious Cathedral of Arundel, Jack Lusted was ordained a priest within the Catholic church by Bishop Moth. Some four years after he and his family were received into the church here at St. Anselm’s in Pembury. It was a wonderful night and a truly beautiful liturgy. And I was delighted that several members of the congregation here were in attendance to show our support and love.

Jack is pictured here with two of his close friends. The three know each other from days in an Anglican theological college and all are now serving as Catholic priests. Father Jack will continue, for a short period of time, to serve at Crowborough before moving on to a new post at some point in the future. May God richly bless him.

There is a lovely story about a member of the aristocracy in Norfolk, during the 18thCentury, who was impatient with the length of preaching in church. So each Sunday he placed ten coins on the pulpit, explaining to the vicar they were for him at the end of Mass…but that one would be removed every minute he preached that morning.   

As a curate I soon learnt that the benchmark of success was mass within an hour. It didn’t matter what I said; 59 minutes was good- anything more caused grumbling. Which was strange because the same people sat happily for two hours and more for musical concerts. Perhaps us priests are boring? I have certainly endured a few tedious sermons and crushing bores in pulpits. But I think the real reason people hunger to shorten worship goes deeper than that and is a matter spiritual. 

A wise priest once said to me that people need to have had a personal experience of God before they can hear the word of God with joy or enthusiasm. And that proclaiming the word of God to those who lack grace is rather like reading sophisticated poetry to the uneducated. People get bored quickly and wont appreciate what is offered. It is an interesting thought- that our tolerance for sermons and devotions and Mass might be linked to the health of our Soul, and openness to God, at any given moment.  

It would certainly explain why some people get so much out of mass whilst others find it tedious. Or why some pray in silence before Mass whilst others just gossip. Why some are so energized by adoration before the sacrament and others shuffle and cannot wait for it to end. 

the word of God came to John in the wilderness; and he went into the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” 

Our Gospel today provides four steps to transform anybody from a lukewarm believer to one with genuine zeal for Christ. 

The steps are (a) John went into the desert, (b) the word of God came to him, (c) he preached repentance (c) John left the desert and proclaimed the faith. 

Take note because we must all pass through these stages to find joy in worshipping God. 

Stage 1- Go into the desert. Our desert being any space where we can shut out the world and be with God. The time away from the to do list and technology. The place where we can pray and read devotionally, where we spend time with him. If we have not built that into our daily life our faith is going to flounder. 

Stage 2 – repentance of sin. Simply being with God is not enough because the spirit cannot flow into hearts that have blockages in the way. This is where confession comes in. We have to root out sin because it blocks grace. Have any of you had to unplug the shower by pulling a disgusting clump of hair from the depths of darkness? That is what sin is like in the Christian life- it mounts up and blocks the Holy Spirit. Hence Confession is not optional if we want to clear the way for the Lord. A point many have forgotten or ignore. Again if we have not built confession into our lives our faith will flounder. 

Stage 3 – The word comes to us. Once we enter that desert of silence, once we confess our need for forgiveness, God removes the obstructions and enters our heart. A wise saint said -when we take one step to God, God takes two steps to us. God renews us, transform us, remoulds us into the image he created us to be. This is the stage called sanctification if you are Catholic, being born again if you are protestant. The moment of grace. The interior conversion of heart as we truly experience God’s love. Then we delight spending time with Him. We delight in his word and sacraments. 

Which leads us to stage (4) like John we must proclaim the faith.  Having experienced God’s love in our lives, our next desire is to share it authentically with others. People must look at us and see the joy and peace that radiates from us.  They need to see authentic holiness. Authentic faithfulness. Something built on obedience and trust not sentiment. 

I have said before that the true crisis in the church today is a crisis of Saints. Not enough people are discovering true grace and living the life of faith. We have many church goers but so few authentic Christians. Which is catastrophic to the life of the church. Because without holiness our words ring hollow. People see there is no change in us and cease to believe in the power of the Gospel.  

Brethren the kingdom of God is, again, at hand. Repent this Advent formally and make time for Jesus. For nothing else will bring His joy to your heart this Christmas. He is coming…but are you ready for him? 

The abuse crisis reared its putrid head again this year and I am concerned lessons have not been learnt regarding how it is dealt with. The latest scandal began with a revelation that Cardinal McCarrick, ironically once in charge of dealing with abuse in America, was himself a serial abuser. He has since stepped down from public office but seems to be enjoying a pleasant retirement rather than being disciplined, punished and defrocked. That he remains an Archbishop is damning proof that bishops seem unable or unwilling to discipline their own.  A large part of the problem. To whom are they accountable?

It is a serious question because the ultimate authority, Pope Francis, despite many strengths, has a shocking record when it comes to handling abuse. And sadly he has this past year broken several golden rules of child protection policy. He has stonewalled complainers, refused to answer credible allegations, attacked victims of abuse in Chile (later apologising) and sent investigators after the whistleblower, Archbishop Vigano, rather than the abusers. This despite the fact that Vigano was a cleric in good standing whose reputation was never questioned before he came forward. That he is now in hiding is appalling. Such methods of dealing with abuse and speaking out on abuse belong to a bygone era and are causing serious damage. I know many clergy and laity who are both angry and demoralised at present.

Now factor in that several of Pope Francis’ close advisors are themselves linked to scandals involving corruption and homosexual sins, see here and it begins to look  worse. The lamentable impression then given shifts from mere incompetence to possible collusion. A feeling exacerbated when Cardinal Cupich was recently named leader of a summit to deal with abuse. Many are outraged by this appointment because Cupich is the protege of disgraced McCarrick and an outspoken supporter of the LGBT agenda. Can you imagine the outrage if a BBC investigation into abuse was placed in the hands of somebody elevated by Saville? How tone deaf can you be? Of course Cupich may be innocent of crimes but his links to those disgraced make him a woeful choice for engendering trust.

It has led many to ask if Pope Francis obfuscates deliberately? Some say he isn’t himself involved but is affected because he rose to power with the backing of the ‘lavender mob’ at the heart of the crisis. That is the claim of the book ‘Dictator Pope’. Others suggest Pope Benedict and Mueller were forced out by the lobby and that Francis protects them. I have no idea if such rumours hold truth, I hope not, but they certainly appear ever more credible each time sexual abuse allegations are downplayed and those mired in controversy and scandal are handed positions of influence. This week, to be fair, Pope Francis did finally acknowledge the homosexual aspect of the present crisis and stated ordination should be closed to those who struggle with sexuality. But such words lack force when his actions seem to contradict them. Let us hope he is waking up to the full implications and not just offering some plausible deniability for the audit trail. Time will tell and history will judge.

His denouncing of homosexuality whole-scale leads to a second problem. One centring on ideology. Put bluntly many, including Cupich, do acknowledge the abuse problem but get irate, and even shutdown debate, when homosexuality is cited as a major cause of it. Here let me make two important points. First sex abuse is not predominantly homosexual within the outside world. However it is within the church. Secondly, just as we differentiate between healthy and unhealthy heterosexuals, swingers are less socially acceptable than married folk, so we should be mature enough to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy homosexual behaviours. To criticise a particular homosexual abusive subculture is not to criticise all homosexuals. But such nuance is getting lost at present because LGBT is so very fashionable and people are defensive of any hint of criticism whatsoever.

Understand over 80% of global clerical abuse was not technically paedophilic but involved teenage lads hit on by older men. Understand that of the many cases cited none yet cover numerous other cases of priests hitting on adults, seminarians, other priests, etc. Yet still the denial continues. Some suggest abuse is about power not sex and orientation isn’t a factor. Which any truly heterosexual (probably homosexual) man can laugh off. Others suggest prison mentality sets in because priests only have access to young men. Another farcical claim given that parishes are crammed full of women and most sanctuaries contain female servers. Prisoners have no access to women – priests definitely do. So let us first admit, whether we ourselves are gay or straight, that homosexuality is clearly statistically significant where clerical abuse is concerned. It cannot therefore be ignored.

But having done that let us not veer off into over reaction or witch-hunts. Which is why I am not sure blanket bans on all same sex attracted men is helpful. Maybe it would be productive therefore to switch the focus away from the controversial issue of sexuality and focus instead on the Christian virtue of chastity? It is not helpful to speak of celibacy, since that simply means not being married and many use that to excuse sins, but if attention turned to chastity we might begin to go after the right people.

We could then differentiate between the healthy and chaste priest, who happens to be same sex attracted, and the vile predator whose roving hands are a serious menace. We could note a huge difference, in terms of public damage to the church, between a homosexual cleric who has a close friend but strives for holiness and turns to the confessional in moments of weakness, and one who goes straight from sacristy to gay or straight bar (or seminary) to cruise for sexual conquest. In other words we would find a way to chart a careful course between expecting perfection from imperfect men and covering up what should never be hidden. Indeed such a focus could help the hierarchy find nuance. In short we might start to deal with the mess without getting side-railed by political footballs. I hope the hierarchy come to this realisation sooner rather than later.