Lent is fast approaching and now is the time to order the reading material to ensure you spend this devotional season deepening your knowledge and love of the faith. Below are the first suggestions as to what you might read. Do use the comments thread to share your own ideas. More next week.

FICTION

Lord of the world                        Robert Hugh Benson           

A short novel, written in 1908, regarding an apocalyptic vision of the end of the world. Although the predictions of future technology are dated- the insights and warnings about the modern age remain eerily apposite. 

Screwtape letters             C. S. Lewis

A classic work of fiction in which correspondence in shared between a junior demon and his master regarding the desired downfall of his subject – an average man. Contains much wisdom about the nature of sin. 

The Power and the glory Graham Greene

How does good spoil and how can rot be redeemed? That is the central question within this tale of the whiskey priest who, despite his many failings, can’t quite let go of his vocation. It poses many deep and interesting questions regarding the effect of grace on the fallen world.

NON – FICTION

Lent with Pope Benedict XVI   

Daily reflections for Lent written by the greatest living theologian, the Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. 

The Smoke of Satan         Philip Lawler         

A difficult read in that it explores the abuse crisis in the church and corruption and failings in the Vatican. But useful, necessary and containing answers for how the laity can help bring about healing and restoration.

Fires of faith: Catholic England under Mary Tudor Eamon Duffy 

Shorter than his epic ‘Stripping the altars’ this book explores life in England during the tumultuous period of Mary’s rule. Duffy’s gift to academia has been to help untangle truth from the many myths that still perpetuate, due to cultural bias, regarding this most difficult period in English history.

Evangelical Catholicism George Weigel

In this book Weigel argues that the Catholic Church is in a process of historic change and stands on the threshold of a bold new era. The institutional and tribal belonging of previous generations is giving way to an authentic Evangelical Catholicism for the third millennium…bring it on!

Here is today’s sermon which deals with how we might best respond to the abuse crisis. The Gospel passage was the sermon on the mount.

In last week’s Gospel Jesus delivered the first half of his sermon on the mount and gifted us the beatitudes. This Sunday we move to the latter half of the most famous sermon ever preached where Jesus enunciates the laws of his Kingdom, the laws of our Christian faith; and it becomes obvious his laws are different from all that went before. Under Mosaic law people sat as judges to ensure grievances were heard. Debts were paid, sinners punished. Christ offered no such comfort. He said we should forgive not prosecute, turn the other cheek not sue.  This startling difference between the two systems becomes even clearer when we realise the word translated cheek is, I am informed, better translated jaw. Christ was referring not to a little slap but a heavy punch! So even in cases of extreme violence Jesus says God’s will is for retaliatory passion to be subservient to the example of love. 

The reason for responding to hate with love, violence with peace, lust with purity, was explained by Aquinas. He understood that when we respond to evil with evil it’s like fighting fire with fire- the whole world burns. Respond to evil with evil and all that has happened is evil has multiplied, your enemy drags you to their level. Soon both sides in any conflict have grievances and reasons for revenge. And you are no better than them. But meet hatred with love and you lift yourself to higher ground. Now your enemy may, or may not, be changed by your expression of love, regardless you are now in the place of moral, ethical and spiritual superiority. You have become the solution not part of the problem. 

Doubtless you follow the logic. But let us not pretend it’s easy. One only need experience a family quarrel or boundary dispute to recognise the human lust for dominance. We like to get one over other people. And when faced with genuine evil, say murder or abuse, to forgive at such moments requires superhuman strength. Ultimately what we need is grace. Help from God that comes only from being united with him. This underlines the point I made last week- namely that our allegiance to Christ means conforming to his will.- that is to say living by his commands not our own version of that or our own fallen standards. You cannot achieve sanctification with one foot in the church and the other in this fallen world.  Many attempt it but it is always detrimental to faith. Ultimately the gap is too wide to straddle and the problem isn’t that you fall down the middle, rather you always fall back- hard- on the world’s side.  

That has been the main problem for the church in the modern age. Not enough people have been living authentic lives of faith. Too many have attempted to compromise with the world. And the fruit of the compromised 20thCentury Christianity is seen in a widespread loss of supernatural faith, banal and shoddy liturgy, poor catechesis and faith neither lived nor taught well in the home. And at the extreme end of the mess we have the monstrous abuse crisis supposedly being dealt with in Rome this week.

Now I wish I could stand before you and say that I am optimistic of change but, like many who have followed this narrative closely, I cannot. Sadly my trust in the hierarchy is shattered and too many of the figures surrounding Pope Francis seem mired in controversy and scandal. It is depressing. Let me be blunt here – we face a serious crisis. Too many current bishops have duped the faithful, have abandoned Christ and lived double lives, have become worldly, even weasly, managers as opposed to shepherds of the flock; more interested in political narratives than upholding the faith of the ages. Hence we find them silent on abortion but vocal on plastic straws!

Understand that Christ detests these men, in their unrepentant state. We know this for certain because we know that he detested the similar corrupt religious leadership of his own day. Because, and make no mistake about this, these compromised prelates have more in common with the scribes and Pharisees who plotted against Jesus, out of love for wealth and influence, than with the authentic disciples who laid down their lives in humility for the church. Isn’t that the truth? That so many modern clerics are far more like the scribes and pharisees who Jesus called a brood of vipers than the apostles on whom he founded his church?

What is the answer? How do we get the better bishops, better priests and better laity we need? A good place to start is the sermon on the mount. For it was against a background of corrupt religious leadership that Jesus delivered this radical sermon. As an alternative. And note that he did not seek to reform the current leadership, he simply ignored and bypassed them. And sought out instead a new generation of saints. The answer to the corruption in his day would be cultivated from grass roots up.  And it would come one life at a time. As a person answers Christ’s call to live faith authentically so he builds his church, so the solution is made present. For only then are people and homes and children truly transformed and made Christ-like. Only then do we create a fresh generation of saints by grace. 

Understand that we are at a place of deep crisis where sticking plasters are of proving of no use. What we need is drastic reform. We need to start over as a church and go back to basics. Living out the beatitiudes and the sermon on the mount.  For only by grace and authentic holiness can we hope to move away from the squalid standards of this world and begin to see the fruits of the kingdom. Only be bcoming the solution not part of the problem, as Aquinas would say. 

The abuse crisis makes me very angry- I want to respond with violence, rage and hatred. I want to thump a few prelates on the nose. But that will only make me part of the problem. And so I need to be honest and humble and see in my own sins the problem too. Yes my compromise hurts Christ. My sins are contributing to the mess. So I must take myself to confession, and bring my anger to God and respond to the evil we see with love, to the fallen standards of others by seeking a better standard for self. 

It is Sexagesima Sunday. Lent is nearly here. For God’s sake let us use it to deepen our faith, renew commitment and embolden our resolve. We cannot solve the wider church problems in Pembury. But we can, at least, make this little church a place of authentic discipleship. And ultimately that is all Jesus  asks of us. From little acorns grow mighty oaks.  

There is no Mass, today or tomorrow, as I am recovering from a minor back surgery and the groggy after effects of anaesthetic. The good news is that the procedure went well and was only minimally invasive. I return to the specialist in May to see if I need more serious work done later in the year.

What this means in relation to the parish is that there will be Mass on Saturday morning at 9am as planned. And normal service will then resume.

The season of Pre-Lent, once kept by all Christendom, has largely been neglected in the era following the Second Vatican Council. This is a shame because the season of pre-Lent – with its Sundays of Septuagesima, Quinquagesima and sexagesima, schedules time for healthy Lenten preparation. It was, and is, a means of encouraging the faithful to spiritually get ready for the oncoming penitential feast.

Lose pre-Lent and the danger is Lent can rather sneak up on you and, before you know it, it is already half way done and you haven’t purchased your Lent reading, set aside money for almsgiving or prepared a good confession. So I delight in the fact that pre-Lent was fully restored within the Ordinariate. What a precious gift it is. Let us make full use of it.

This coming Sunday is the first in pre Lent. Because it is not yet Lent- the purple frontal will not be erected until Ash Wednesday. However vestments will turn purple as this is the appropriate liturgical colour for the season. The asperges will also be held at bay until Lent is under way but we shall note a penitential tone creeping into the propers and prayers at Divine Worship Mass. Our minds being deliberately turned towards Lent.

To make proper use of Pre-Lent spend the next three weeks ordering your reading material. I will provide some suggestions on this blog in the coming days. You are also encouraged to give thought to what you will forsake during Lent to build up self discipline. To set aside funds for the poor. And to begin preparing for a worthy confession. In other words use pre-Lent to get truly ready- for a good Lent started well leads to a great Easter and the guarantee of blessings in life.

We are living in extraordinary times in the life of the church. A clear and obvious battle is now underway between normative Catholics- who would have the Church stand by the faith of the ages -and a school of modernist thinkers who would lead us down a new road shaped by a desire to make the faith relevant to the whims of the secular culture we inhabit.

The latter offer the easier path , one might say the broad and easy way, beloved of chattering classes; a way heavy in compromise and light in personal fidelity and sacrifice. It is linked to preference for egocentric worship and a disdain of tradition, the turning of blind eyes to morally compromised situations. Whereas the former peddle a hard road to travel, one might say the narrow path, for it demands we follow doctrine faithfully and battle against, instead of conforming too, the world. One tends to find healthy regard for tradition and preference for theocentric worship.

It is into this milieu that Cardinal Mueller, until recently head of the CDF (whose job is to safeguard the faith), has decided to release a ‘manifesto of faith’. You can and should read it here.

Understand it is far from normal for a Cardinal to do this. But these are far from normal times when the faithful fear for a church in the clutches of a modernist mindset. One has to view this manifesto, therefore, not in a vacuum but alongside the explosive testament of Archbishop Vigano, whose claim regarding rot in the hierarchy, though pilloried by those in authority, has not been credibly denied nor disproved.

It also sits alongside the infamous ‘dubia’ – the formal questions put to the Pope (in the wake of controversial passages in the document Amoris Letitia) which, in a break with protocol and tradition, he simply refuses to answer.

And we must sit this manifesto alongside the long list of vile but credible cases of global abuse, 80% of which stem from an unhealthy homosexual subculture within the clergy. Make no mistake a modernist church soft on moral teaching is firmly in the interests of those perverts who perpetrated abuse else chose to cover it up. All roads at present seem to lead us here.

So I am grateful to Cardinal Mueller for injecting clarity into an era of doubt and confusion. We need men of God to steer us through the dangerous waters of our day. And one of the few lights, in this otherwise dark period, is that we are, at least, beginning to see which bishops are true shepherds of Christ and which are merely hirelings in thrall to the world.

Of course life is never so neat as to present us with clear cut ‘goodies and baddies.’ Most bishops, like all of us, are themselves troubled, confused or compromised to different degrees, but it does help to see who- in this time of undeniable crisis- has the courage to stand up for the faith with zeal and who remains silent or else complicit as the scandals progress…

It was announced this morning that Mgr. Edwin Barnes died this morning after a short illness. The thoughts and prayers of our parish are with him, his wife, Jane, and their children. May God welcome him home.

The parishioners of St. Anselm’s will remember Mgr. Barnes fondly. Not only did he volunteer to celebrate our first holy week, refusing to take a penny in recompense, but he and Jane occasionally popped up in the congregation as they have friends in Tunbridge Wells. It was always a pleasure to see them.

The closeness between Jane and Edwin merits a mention because it was a thing both obvious and palpable. Family meant so very much to him and whenever he visited he would speak with warmth about his children and their families. He was, therefore, a fine family man and a fine priest. Managing both so well is no easy feat as any clergy family will tell you.

Mgr. Barnes spent most of his active ministry in the Church of England. During this time he was principal of St. Stephen’s house theological college in Oxford (a seminary to Catholics!) before being consecrated as Bishop of Richborough. He would later be part of the first wave to join the Ordinariate which he supported passionately and loved…despite a rather unhelpful dislike of Divine Worship! Being ‘of his generation’ he was more a Novus Ordo man; done well and with sound preaching mind you.

Throughout his life Edwin was a staunch supporter of orthodoxy and a formidable opponent of those who endorse modernism. Indeed latterly he became the voice of one crying in the wilderness within Anglo-Catholicism where he ever warned of a need to convert to Rome else lose everything the movement stood for.

I like him a lot. He was incredibly supportive of me personally and always asked, with genuine interest, after my family. He goes to his death with a head held high because he ever stood for the Gospel with passion and zeal. I have little doubt the Lord will be delighted to receive him home. Rest in peace my dear friend. You did remarkable work for the Lord.