Monsignor Keith Newton was our celebrant at 11am this morning at a Mass which saw one of our parishioners, Roy Cavey, admitted to the office of acolyte, a stage on his journey to becoming a permanent deacon. Monsignor Keith also admitted one of our parish children, Shay Haughian, to communion for the very first time.

After the Mass, which was uplifting and joyful, we held a BBQ. Despite it not being quite as sunny as we would have liked, the rain held off and the food and ale was excellent. Tonbridge Coppernob being our choice of beer for the second year running.

A big thank you to Mgr Newton and Gill for driving down from London and to all who helped cater, set up, organise things etc.. It will not be long until Mgr. Newton returns to Pembury as he will be present for the thanksgiving Evensong on July 1st when we will bless the new window and thank God for the development of our parish in recent years.

This Sunday our 8am and 9:15am Masses will be said because we are encouraging everyone to come along and support Shay Haughian as he makes his first communion at 11am; at a Sung Mass to be celebrated by Mgr. Keith Newton. After this we shall be rolling out the barrel- of ale- and firing up the coals as we host our annual summer BBQ. Those attending are asked to bring a salad or desert for the table and a donation of £5 per head to affray the cost of meat is appreciated. The crazy hat competition will take place as normal and the Ordinary will be the judge whose decision is final. Can Robert land a record third title in a row?

This weekend we shall be unveiling the new lighting in church. A huge thank you to everyone who donated for this cause. The old system was tired and not fit for purpose. Partly because it comprised a series of old fashioned strip lights only half of which functioned and partly because they were set up for a hall not a church. The system has transformed the ambience and quality of light. We are extremely grateful to Jake our electrician whose skill, dedication and attention to detail are first rate.

Having reflected on the need for better bishops and priests, men of God who exude confident leadership, loving zeal and authentic holiness, attention must turn to the laity. For the pews are the pool from which clerics are drawn, meaning that when the laity are not living the faith in the home the sanctity of the entire church comes under threat.

If parents are not raising virtuous holy children, through family devotions and teaching faith and morals, the quality of priest will suffer. We might ponder that seminaries today teach a basic level of theology on entry that would have insulted previous generations raised in homes where faith was taken seriously. They arrived in the adult world formed in faith with spiritual maturity. This generation is barely literate in terms of Christian faith. Now factor in how secular universities and modern school curriculums have failed people of faith as the culture all but abandoned virtues, like chastity, purity, self control and mortification, and a perfect storm emerges as regards the early formation of candidates for the priesthood.

So the collapse of the domestic church is the heart of the crisis. Few parents stand by traditional belief and transmit it to their offspring. The more usual pattern is lax church attending grandparents whose children barely practice and certainly don’t believe and whose grandchildren don’t bother with faith at all. That is the situation from which we must turn things round. It is a colossal challenge and quick fix solutions don’t exist. This needs surgery not sticking plasters. So let us identify where things went wrong in the hope of then putting them right. Three things stand out.

First the rise of a powerful modern media which the church failed to grasp or be part of. Television and radio came under control of those in thrall to the sexual revolution whose liberal ideology now dominates air waves as a direct confrontation to historic Christian belief. To understand how devastating this was read ‘the death of Christian Britain’ by Callum Brown.

Once magazines of the 1950’s stopped celebrating family life and turned to rampant individualism, sexual permissiveness and libertarianism, via magazines like Jackie and Cosmopolitan, the cultural revolution of the 1960’s began. And because the modern media streamed into homes 24/7 the competition was unfair. How could a ten minute Sunday sermon compete? Portrayals of cruel, dour, stuffy Christians set against an enlightened, kind, liberalised people became the norm. Christianity fell from fashion and even those remaining in church got into the habit of watching the television with children as family prayer time and faith instruction fell by the wayside. Soon the cultural changes led to breakdown of the family. A huge blow to faith.

The second factor was that radicalised ideologues did not stop at control of the media. Soon the education system fell under their power. Robust theology fell out of fashion in universities; a programme of doubt and confusion took its place. Campus life revolved around hedonism. I went to college in the 1990’s and the first thing I was handed was a welcome pack containing free condoms and a pamphlet instructing me to have fun but be safe! As the culture abandoned faith so our Catholic schools were hollowed out. Fifty years ago most every Catholic teacher was practising. Today our local “Catholic” Secondary has only a handful who attend Mass rarely. The number of practising Catholic pupils is no better. So even our faith schools, within the present education system, are hardly on the side of Christian praxis and belief.

And finally we have Vatican II which, however necessary, arrived at the worst possible moment because the working out of that seismic council became ensnared within the sixties revolution. Thus instead of a faithful working out of the council’s vision, to ensure historic Christianity was equipped to transform secular culture (the documents of Vatican II anticipate ad orientem worship, kneeling for communion on the tongue, use of plainsong and Latin, etc) the enterprise was hijacked by those who felt the emerging secular culture should transform the church. A generation more passionate about the various ‘isms’ than Christian doctrine was born. Soon they were ripping out altar rails, installing guitar stands, throwing out statues and raising rainbow flags in their place. Naturally it led to an historic decline in vocations, youth and piety. Yet the ageing revolutionaries cannot bear to admit defeat and, being in the positions of power due to age, continue to push hard for revolution. Ever undermining authentic Catholic faith to endorse subjectivity, virtue signalling and sentimentality. Their attempts to water down faith to appease the world is obvious suicide, all the data backs this, yet they continue to push for reconciliation of the impossible; the church and the world that at baptism we promise to resist.

How then to counter the three things which led to rampant decline in the pews? The answer is obvious. First we must work really hard to grow afresh the domestic church. Supporting the family, upholding marriage and encouraging mothers and fathers to pray in the home, teach their young and resist the cultural cues. Next we must relinquish or reform those schools and colleges that are Catholic in history and name only. An easy going cultural Catholicism is not going to evangelise the world. So we need radical authentic Catholic schools and universities where faith is taught and practiced with confidence. And finally we must look again at Vatican II and especially at the numerous errors that arose in its wake. It is surely time for a reform of the reform or  a third council. One that ensures liturgy is performed to good standard and focused on God not man. Without these things hope of change is futile. It begins with babes in arms then – we must grow the solution organically. This is the work for radical committed Catholics only. Application forms will be found in the parishes still taking faith seriously.

In the last post addressing the threat of modernism in the life of the church I reflected on the episcopacy asking how it might be reformed to give us bishops better equipped to lead the church in holiness. In this second post I want to reflect on the priesthood.

In the early days of the church clergy were known for heroic bravery. We might think of St. Dominic- called the ‘hammer of heretics’ -or St. Nicholas who used his fists to silence Arias whose flawed rhetoric had no place in Christian debate. Before you chastise his use of violence note how he was rewarded by a visit from Our Lady. We might think of many strong men of God who helped forge the life of the church including those who laid down their lives -especially here in England when, following the reformation, to return to these shores a cleric was to invite a death sentence.

How sad that heroic courage and strong leadership are rarely associated with priests today. Many of whom chase comfort and popularity in this life not the next; never rocking the boat, never challenging heresy, never speaking out for Christ where it rubs against consensus, never doing anything to offend when challenge is sorely needed. They are akin to overly-lax parents who ruin children by seeking to be friends instead of taking responsibility for their formation. Under their watch holy zeal ebbs away and parishes are surrendered to ideologues within the laity; the unaccountable rulers who soon censor pulpits, control liturgy, bully priests and ensure cultural marxism dominates as it does. Christianity-lite is the fruit of wet leadership; the celebration of community at cost to supernatural worship of God. The faith cherry picked to promote the zeitgeist.

A tragedy so common now that the very archetype of the priest has been turned on its head. Ss. Dominic and Nicholas and the martyrs are all but forgotten. Instead the media lampoon our clergy with depictions of bucked toothed wets and good hearted effeminate drips. It is hard to argue when so few speak out with boldness or take up a cross to follow Christ. The result is a culture of wetness endorsed from on high. A church in which poor liturgical standards and shoddy preaching are ever tolerated and prevalent but in which rocking the boat in defence of the faith soon lands you in trouble.

If this does not seem concerning consider how the loss of masculinity, zeal and strength from within the priesthood, seen in a culture of compliant and non challenging clergy, enabled the abuse abuse crisis. Space was given to the devil once clergy were emasculated and asleep on their watch.  I assure you my rugby club, which is a zealous and masculine environment, would have taken any filthy pervert who molests young children and thrown them physically out with deeply blackened eyes. If lucky. But within the clergy, where one finds a hugely disproportionate number of homosexual men, a different culture arose. One in which people looked the other way, refused to act, and failed to confront evil at cost to children.

Of course not all homosexuals are abusers. Nor does being homosexual bar you from being a fabulous priest, and those faithful to priestly vows are often a credit to the church. Nor is child abuse homosexual in nature, far from it, most abuse occurs in the home. Yet within the church it was with most every case coming out of the gay sub-culture I have mentioned in which a minority of priests were anything but chaste and faithful to their vows.  And the point is that nobody was man enough to stop them- again because this same effeminate non-masculine culture tends to affect the whole.

To reform the priesthood then, and better equip it against modernism, the clerical culture must change. The archetype needs reverting to former glory. We need more hammers of heretics and courageous young men to act as fathers of their flocks by confronting corruption and evil and living by grace and zeal. We need to empower not emasculate priests by encouraging them to be brave and rewarding them for speaking out for the faith. In contrast to modern practice of promoting safe hands and moving the outspoken to flounder on the margins.

And, as controversial and countercultural as it might be within a world undergoing rainbow revolution, we must quash the worst aspects of the homosexual sub-culture that currently exists within the clergy. For it is a cancer in the body of Christ. Not because it is homosexual but because it exists in contradiction to priestly vows of celibacy, chastity, virtue and godliness. The same would be true were the subculture heterosexual. What we need are holy men of God. We need better priests. Men of virtue not of vice. And men strong enough to resist evil and confront heresy not to look the other way.

To overcome the assault on faith posed by the modernist heresy we need a fresh generation of Christians displaying greater fidelity to Christ, renewed zeal for the Gospel and living lives of obvious holiness in pursuit of sanctification. And nowhere is this need greater than amongst the church hierarchy. A flourishing church needs bishops who are un-compromised men of God.

It has been said that every church crisis is a crisis of bishops. Because bishops exist to guard the deposit of faith, preserve the church from error and thereby ensure  unity and peace. Confusion and division only take root when bishops fail in their duty. A bishop should be a shepherd who lays down his life for the flock, not a hireling who slips away to the shadows when the wolf strikes. Bishops should be pastors to clergy and laity; supporting, guiding, disciplining and encouraging that parishes might flourish in accordance with God’s will. They should be amongst their people, speaking for the faith and standing up for Christ.

It is sad then, and a major factor in the present crisis, that bishops have largely lost sight of these most basic spiritual functions. Only a handful speak for the faith- witness the silence when gay marriage was debated or during the recent Irish referendum. On matters of morality and faith, when bishops should speak out, there is often nothing. But on matters of politics, when bishops should be silent, there is noise; modern bishops seem very comfortable banging on about the environment, immigration issues and/or favoured political agendas. Why do so many seem to care less for traditional faith than left leaning causes?

And few bishops today get amongst their people regularly. The modern prelate is tied up in meetings because the trend is to turn what should be a primarily spiritual office into an administrative function. Thus bishops are turned into men of the human institution of the church at a cost to being true men of God. And that has ramifications. When a bishops is akin to a business manager then the decision to close St. Edna’s and cash in on the land- to boost diocesan coffers -makes sense. The spiritual value of sacrificially keeping open a place in which the faithful worship and a Christian presence is at least visible is dimmed. This corporate model of Episcopal life is unhealthy and has led to the promotion of ‘safe hands’ and men whose first love is their own ambition. A vanilla presence emerges that ensures the boat is never rocked, and the world is flattered – for the supper invitations are pleasant- but at cost to speaking out for Christ with zeal.

We must pray for our bishops. Many of whom are good men trapped in a poor working out of what this office means. Our bishops must be freed from a corporate working out of sacred ministry. Let the laity take on that task! Then they might be enabled to be true men of God, living first for Christ and second for the world. Then they might care less about rubbing up against the elites and enjoying the perks of high office than preaching the Gospel to the world. We do have some wonderful prelates but too many seem devoid of burning faith and integrity. We really do need better bishops.

The Western church is in crisis, struggling to both evangelise and retain her members. The reasons are complex but the most obvious problem is the rise of modernism, a new form of Gnosticism, which manifests as theological liberalism; encouraging the faithful to lose confidence in the historic and objective Christian truths in favour of a subjective interpretation of faith, imparted by “experts” -who consider only themselves progressive and enlightened- and in vogue with the secular consensus.

The church battling heresy is not new. Heresy has ever existed and is akin to a spiritual cancer that attacks the body of Christ- the church. How effective a heresy proves to be depends largely on the spiritual health of the church at the given moment; if the church is in good health, and the people united by a shared proclamation of truth, heresy is soon quashed. But when faith is flagging then heresy takes root, dividing the faithful and causing confusion and error. It is then that heroic saints and martyrs tend to arise to lead souls back to Christ. Thank God- the devil may win the odd battle but the overall victory is Christ’s.

For the first 1000 years of church history confusion centred on the nature of God. Was Jesus fully divine? Was Jesus really human? Does the Spirit proceed from Father and Son or just from the Father? Was Mary Virgin or not? As each heresy was defeated teaching on the nature of God was settled. Today hardly anybody gets vexed by these issues what tends to divide people instead, and raise the ire of the non-Christian world, and cause widespread confusion, are issues relating to the nature of man…the devil has switched bait!

Is every person really an embodied soul precious to God or are we just clumps of cells that can be ripped from the womb if inconvenient? Are we really created male and female by God or can we choose a gender for ourselves? Was marriage really ordained as the lifelong union between one man and one woman in the interest of children or can we re-invent it to indulge adult wants and desires? Are chastity, continence and celibacy virtues worth pursuing or can we  delight in sex as recreation? And so on and so forth. Always the hot button issues centre on anthropological understanding.

The church will only overcome the present crisis, and settle understanding on the nature of man, by defeating the modernist heresy of our day. In pursuit of this sacred task there is a pressing need for a new generation of saints. A people willing and able to resist temptation, to stand by the Gospel and not count the cost. Winning arguments will not be enough, for without love we are but clanging cymbals competing in a world already deafened by the cacophony of competing ideologies and agendas. What is needed is the witness and proof of authentic holiness-  a life lived for God. Only better bishops, better priests and better laity will help us sort out the mess. So how do we get them?

Over the next few blog posts I want to reflect on these vocations separately; bishop, priest and laity. Asking where the present models are failing and how they might be honed and improved. Watch this space….

St. Anselm’s has a long established link with Ghana, courtesy of Fr. Joseph Aduse, a Ghanaian priest and great friend to the parish. Via Fr. Joseph, parishioners have supported several Ghanaian children and young people through education. This week one of those young people, Lawrence Akanzoe, wrote to update me on his situation.

He writes: “Greetings Father. I’m sending greetings to you & the entire parish from Ghana. I’m now doing my National Service with the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) which will end on August, 2018. Apart from the CHRAJ office work, I sometimes go to schools to educate the public on the laws of children. Children’s rights. These are some of the picturs of me and the children with their teachers.I want to be a Lawyer in the future. But it is very unfortunate that there  is a massive graduates unemployment here in Ghana which is a cause for worry. I also pray fervently for you and the entire Parish.”

It was really good to hear from Lawrence and we really hope he gets the break he needs to progress with his plans to become a lawyer. He is a very bright, hard working and able lad and has really proved himself worth investing in. We have been trying to get Fr Joseph back to Pembury for our special evensong in July, but VISAs are proving stupidly difficult at present. Do please continue to pray for Fr. Joe and the church in Ghana. We will undoubtedly look to support them further in the near future.

We are processing again this Sunday, at both the 9:15am and 11am Mass, as we celebrate the great feast of Corpus Christi. The Procession will take place after communion and we finish our devotions with Benediction. It is an ancient custom of the church that petals are strewn before the Sacrament on this day- so please bring petals from the garden to church with you. At St Anselm’s we encourage the children to do the scattering as we process singing songs of devotion.

June is also the month for first communions. Having had a bumper number of children in recent years we have just one this year, Shay. He will receive the blessed sacrament for the first time on June 17th when Monsignor Keith Newton will be the celebrant at Mass. We ask people to try and attend the 11am Mass on this day when we will also be holding our parish summer BBQ. Tickets will be £5 per adult and £20 per family (parents and school aged offspring) to affray the cost of meat. People are asked to provide a salad dish or desert for the table. The annual silly hat competition will take place in the afternoon and Mgr Newton will be the judge. The drinks on offer at the BBQ will be less daunting than this gin concoction invented last year by Father Nicholas as I have ordered a barrel of ale from the rugby club.

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.