Yesterday evening we were treated to an excellent lecture by Tim Stanley, political correspondent for the Daily Telegraph and member of our congregation. Tim used the title ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ to explore the age old tension between faith and politics. With a general election looming he wanted to ask if it is even wise to attempt to build heaven on earth?
You can listen to the talk by clicking on the link above. It is also available here on the page where the previous two lectures in the series can also be found. I commend it to you. Indeed I would liken it to a delicious figgy pudding for the mind; crammed full of interesting morsels to fire the imagination.
We take a break from the Pembury lectures in December due to the heavy demands of Advent and Christmas. The next lecture therefore takes place on January 29th when the guest speaker for ‘Thy Will be done’ is Fr. Alexander Sherbrooke of St. Patrick’s church in Soho.
Tomorrow evening, Wednesday 27th November, we will be hosting our third Pembury lecture in a special series celebrating the canonisation of Saint John Henry Newman and ten years since the announcement of the Ordinariate. Mass at 7pm, refreshments at 7:30pm and lecture at 8pm.
Our third guest speaker is Tim Stanley, religious affairs correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, contributor to Radio 4’s ‘thought of the day’ and regular guest on Newsnight and various other political programmes. Much more impressive, of course, is the fact that he is a member of the congregation, and an altar server, at St. Anselm’s church in Pembury!
The lecture series follows the Lord’s prayer thematically. Being third Tim was handed the title ‘thy kingdom come’ and he intends to use this phrase to launch a reflection on “politics, the general election and the Kingdom of God.” It should certain garner a lively debate. Do come along and bring friends with you. And if you can contribute some cake or biscuits- they are always gratefully received.
You can listen to the previous two lectures in the series by visiting this link. We really have been blessed with wonderful speakers and I am very grateful to each and every one of them. In addition to those listed below we have a bonus lecture to be delivered on June 17th when Edmund Adamus will deliver a final lecture.
Francis Lee, pictured above right, is an incredible seamstress and long standing member of our choir and congregation. A founder member of the Ordinariate she was, for some years prior to that, my organist at St. Barnabas church in Tunbridge Wells. Her son, Aidan, is our cantor and present director of music.
Over the years Francis has produced many wonderful items including a cope for a bishop, vestments for the celebration of Holy Mass, hassocks and more besides. This weekend her work is on display in the Hine Room, our parish hall, and you can pop in today (Saturday) or else tomorrow and enjoy some refreshment and view her work. All are welcome
On Remembrance Day it is easy to romanticise war. To imagine that because many service men and women were heroic and noble that war itself is somehow noble. We can lose sight, in other words, of the sheer evil horror and devastation of war. The waste of human life. So let us briefly recall the human cost of the world wars.
I haven’t counted myself. But a website claims that if one granule of sugar represents a human life you need 1000 bags to represent the loss of life in World War 1. WW2 with 72 million lives lost equals 4,700 bags. Each granule representing a person killed, a family broken apart.
As we pray for the departed today let us embrace the truth that war is unspeakably evil leading, as it always does, to rape, torture, cruelty, genocide and death. Sometimes it can be a necessary evil, but it remains evil nonetheless and Christians should abhor not glorify it. We are not pacifists, because the good needs protecting, but we are ever called to pursue paths of peace not violence. Blessed are the peace makers, said Jesus.
I think what is actually needed is a war to end all wars. Not in the way the world imagined – for a physical war as a cure to end war is a ludicrous idea. How could further violence ever cure violence? An actual war would only spark more horror until both sides of any conflict have reason to hate. No the war to end all wars that I propose is fought with devotion not dynamite, and on the knees not in skirmishes on the battle front. It is the spiritual war that rages in each human soul. The personal battle of every believer to overcome vice and live by grace and virtue.
This is the battle that needs to be conquered if war is to end. Because vice, human sin, is the root cause of every act of violence ever perpetrated. For every one of the deadly sins leads eventually to violence, self destruction and death. Let us consider how:
Ponder lust. To the world just a bit of fun. A good way to market products. Where is the harm? And yet every ‘cheap thrill’ will quickly turn to misery if lust is given in to. When love is not part of the sexual equation a descent to hell and destruction begins. Lewd acts become addictive and shaming. Infidelity discovered causes heart break and shatters lives in the process. As people get objectified they ae stripped of their dignity and a violence is unleashed on the world – what but lust fuels the scourge of modern pornography, many cases of domestic violence, the hideous trade of people trafficking and so many cases of abortion?
Or consider Pride. It too leads to violence by making us not only want to win in life but to crush our opponents into submission. Pride makes us imagine others are inferior so again we strip them of dignity, and this paves a way for tribalism, exclusion, racism and the bloodshed witnessed in any brutal regime where genocide occurs against supposedly inferior people. Pride leads to disempowerment, the putting down of little people.
Envy leads to violence. When envious we murder reputations, we want to bring others down. It is what fuels the hand in the writing of poison letters. Once written in ink now spread across internet forums. It is the cause of many fights in the streets often over a woman. When someone else possesses what we want things turn ugly.
Wrath is more obvious. How many children suffer the rage of unreasonable angry parents? Are told off not because they have wronged but because they sparked their parent’s temper? How many families are damaged by a wrath barely controlled? How many marriages involve fists or harsh words or the equally destructive seething resentment that drives spouses apart?
Greed is economic violence leading, so often, to state sanctioned theft. The taking of what you did not earn. The taking from the poor and thinking nothing of it. The first thing invading troops did in Iraq was surround the oil fields. It was telling. Greed has caused many a war. People imagine wars are motivated by religion. Nonsense! People are roused to war in the name of religion but usually by elites who want plunder the spoils of conquered territories.
Is gluttony violent? Yes. Those who misuse food or drink or drugs are violent towards the self- it is the root cause of addiction. And addicts soon turn violent in pursuit of their hit. How many spouses and children are knocked about by drunken family members? How many cases of domestic abuse centre around drugs and drink?
Even passive sloth is violence against the gift of life. The slothful kill joy, creativity, opportunity. It is sloth that stays silent in the face of evil. Wicked things happen when good people do nothing. Consider the neglected child suffering due to lazy inattentive parents. Or those scores of children failed in Rochdale, or even in the church, when authorities lazily looked the other way for political reasons or in self interest.
7 deadly sins. 7 causes of violence. 7 problems for us all to overcome if violence is ever to be defeated. Remember then that the solution to every vice is found in a corresponding virtue. To combat pride embrace humility. To combat greed embrace generosity. To overcome lust embrace chastity. To thwart wrath embrace meekness. So on and so forth.
Only when the world joins the spiritual battle, and returns to the faith Christ taught us, will we put an end to war. To save the world don’t look for solutions out there look inside your self. The battle of life takes place in the human soul. Salvation arriving for this world one life at a time. Whenever a life is truly given to God and to goodness. Your vice conquered becomes a heroic action. The casting aside of ego in the interest of others. It is nothing less than what Christ commended as the laying down of one’s life for their friends. We must recede that he may proceed.
A couple of years ago we held a competition to design a parish logo. There were some excellent ideas and strong entries. Unfortunately I lacked the technical ability to make any of them work well in digital form. Since then I have been using a temporary crest but it was not really suitable as it lacked any script informing people what the logo actually was.
I am therefore delighted to have finally solved the logo problem having been tipped off about an excellent website called Fiverr that enables people to hire artists for single jobs at competitive prices. There you can flick through a catalogue of work and I was soon drawn to Arialstudios who, once selected, came up with this beautiful design. I absolutely love it!
Here is the homily for All Souls this year which a few people have asked me to reproduce:
One of my favourite books as a child was an old fashioned anthology of short stories for boys. One of them touched me deeply because it was based on a true story. It told of a family who were moving house when their beloved dog went missing. They delayed the move for days searching for him but, alas, to no avail. The dog couldn’t be found. So, with heavy hearts they moved to other side of the country without him. Hundreds of miles away. Two years later a bedraggled, filthy creature appeared on their porch. Painfully thin but impossibly friendly. They decided to care for the stray dog and so washed the creature. It was then they realised, with shock and joy, it was their dear old dog. Somehow, and nobody can explain how, he had found them. A similar tale inspired the film the incredible journey.
In wider society people often view death as tragedy. But we Christians should think differently because we believe death is not the end but rather the time when we, like that bedraggled dog, finally make it home where we belong. When after that long difficult journey that we call life, with all its bumps and bruises, we can finally come before our master with joy.
Death for us is about homecoming. So we do well to remember that the pain loss and horror of death are reserved solely for those who remain behind. For the departed, who died as friends of God, death is a wonderful moment. Perhaps the best. For it is the moment we meet our master face to face, when having been washed in the waters of purgatory, as the bedraggled dog was washed on the porch, we are made clean again that we might claim our place with the Saints in heaven. As the well known hymn puts it:
When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation and take me home- what joy shall fill my heart!
Death for Christians is wonderful news then. But that doesn’t mean we can glib or insensitive in the face of death. As stated, for us who remain behind, there is pain. And if you are presently grieving and struggling with death at present, don’t feel guilty. It is not a sign of bad faith. Such feelings are natural, healthy and normal. Jesus, despite full knowledge of heaven, wept at the death of a friend. And we weep too when loved ones die. Taking our place with Our Lady of Sorrows standing at the foot of the cross.
There is such a thing as holy grief. A period when, because we have loved, we experience the pain, loss and suffering of Good Friday. A time to weep with Mary as we too feel the sword that pierces the heart. And Christ is close to those who mourn, they are, he told us, blessed. The first stage of bereavement then leads us to Calvary. To pray with the suffering Christ and stand vigil at his cross. Trusting in his promise that death is not the end.
Mercifully this time will pass. And eventually, as we are healed by grace, we can move on. After the initial horror of death we then enter Holy Saturday. And it is interesting to ask why God did rise on the third not second day. Clearly time between death and resurrection is important. A time of introspection and coming to terms with loss. A time to look back and remember with fondness. A time when God can perhaps seems absent and we wrestle with feelings of hurt and confusion. As did the disciples on that first Easter Saturday.
This time, which can be dark, mercifully passes. Grief is a process not a permanent state. And the miracle of faith is that death is not the end. The dark tomb that seemed so desolate and impenetrable was later blasted open and Christ triumphant rose. Then the angels sang. Then the disciples understood that the grave was but a resting place on a journey home. Eventually the same disciples who wept at the cross and were bewildered on Holy Saturday rejoiced with hearts of hope. In Christ death lost its sting.
Whichever stage on the Easter journey bereavement finds you in, now or in the future, remember to pray for those you have loved, especially in this month of November which is given over, in the Catholic church, to praying for the faithful departed. And in those prayers thank God that, as he told us, his house has many rooms and, even now, he is preparing a place for us.
Finally let us remember today the one certainty in life. I used to say there were two certainties but since giant corporations found ways to stop paying taxes…One day you will die. This life is given to you in order to prepare for this unavoidable fact. Death can come at any moment. Are you ready to stand before God in judgement? Are you ready to give an account of your life? Make sure you go to confession, work hard on your relationships and seek a life of grace. Make a will to ensure loved ones are cared for. Have a funeral plan ready.