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There is an amusing story concerning the great evangelist Fulton Sheen. During one of his famous speeches a heckler interjected with a deliberately obtuse question regarding a man who had died. Wanting to deal with the interruption politely but quickly Sheen said “I will ask him when I get to heaven.” The heckler shouted back “But what if he isn’t in heaven?” Without skipping a beat Sheen replied “then you can ask him for me!”

The theme of judgement is always unsettling. Who wants to be judged? But we are idiots to imagine salvation could exist without it. For if we remove judgement from the story of salvation only two realities could possibly emerge. Either God would have to force himself onto sinners- a form of abuse that would change his nature. Or we would have to put up with eternity in anarchy. With heaven resembling earth. A place in which unrepentant sinners carry on regardless allowing for all the misery caused by sin to flourish.

We see how judgement is vital to the concept of eternal justice. And which of us, if we are honest, wouldn’t want justice where the prolific pedophile or serial rapist is concerned?  The fact is then that we like to pick and choose where justice is concerned. So that when people voice discomfort with the theological teaching on judgement they are often being selective. They want condemnation of the sins they find revolting but lenience for the ones they rejoice in! Which is why God is a better guide in life than fallen man…

But what should we expect regarding judgement. The Catholic church teaches two judgements. First a ‘Particular judgement’ which occurs at the moment of death. Here sentence is passed.  Virtuous souls are admitted into God’s presence whilst those that reject God are condemned to hell. Souls in a state of grace but not yet pure, are sent to purgatory. A transitory place where purification via temporal punishment takes place. It is these souls we can support by our prayers and by having mass offered. Then, on the last day, ‘final judgement’ takes place. God will judge the living and the dead. And at this point the fate of the body- which is raised- joins that of the soul. For a full explanation backed by scripture  go here. 

This can sound alarming and, to be honest, it should be. God is merciful and just and hopes for each one of us to be saved. But because he is loving he will not force himself on us. So we must  ultimately decide what we want. An eternity with him or else one separated from him. Yes- this is a gift which is ours to accept or refuse. So there is not point blaming God if we do not inherit the crown he has prepared for us. By our own actions and decisions are we to be judged. And we all have time to build a relationship with God, to care for one another and this world. Or not….

But hold onto the fact that we will be judged by a perfect judge who loves us dearly. The unfair laws and standard we put up with on earth will not be that of the creator. And which of us would not smile to see somebody who loves us casting the vote on us if we stood in the dock? And God loves us more than any human can. So much so he died for us to get us into heaven. The judge we face being the source of life and love. He offers us every chance of salvation. It really does come down to us.

 

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Amidst the Christmas preparations Advent calls us to contemplate the Second Coming and End Times. A theme which leads to prayerful consideration of our own death  and of the Four Last Things: Death- Judgement- Heaven and Hell.

Today let us consider death. That natural process that each must one day embrace. But how to embrace it? In fear and trepidation? With enormous doubt? With horror and terror? Or with sincere joy? The answer we give will reflect the condition of our soul. For one thing I have noticed, in my pastoral dealings with the dying, is that death greets each according to conscience. And those who truly love God, and are at peace with others, have by far the better deaths.

A couple of years ago Father Paul Gibbons, of the Maidstone Ordinariate Group, was concelebrating Mass in Pembury and leading intercessions. A member of the congregation had died, so Fr. Paul prayed for his soul and added these wonderful words. “We must not be jealous, our time will come”

It brought tears to people’s eyes and clearly surprised them. Death was, they imagined, a lamentable thing, yet here was a priest delighting in it. But that was the point being made. Death is to be greeted by the friends of Jesus for it leads to some place else. And I know, because he often tells me, that Fr. Paul really is looking forward to his death with a great deal of excitement. A man of advanced years with a twinkle in his eyes, he is close to God and that living faith leads him to trust completely in the promises of Christ.

How different this attitude compared with that of most people today. We live in a culture of death, routinely murdering children in the womb and pushing for euthanasia for the vulnerable, yet death is held up as something to fear. In many ways it is taboo. Just look at how sanitised we have made the process of dying. Coffin lids locked firmly down and corpses seldom seen. People clearly fear death and it is so often greeted by the living with a tremendous sense of sorrow. How bleak to lose a loved one but not have living faith!

Find a few moments this Advent to picture your own death. Recall that only the body dies not the soul and that this death might hit you quicker than you realise! Few, if any, who have died on the road imagined they would that day! And then ask yourself the following questions. Are there sins that still need forgiving? If so go to confession now. And are there relationships in your life that are in need of healing? The one with God and those with our neighbours, family and friends. If so work on them today. Don’t leave undone things which need to be done. And try to ensure you put a plan in place to help loved ones. They might not put together the funeral you want and who wants the State to seize assets?

As you bring your death to God in prayer, use it to inspire a deeper walk with him. That you may live this present life to the full, whilst ever being ready to greet death when it comes with an equal enthusiasm. Remember good lives lead to good deaths.

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Cardinal Burke recently gave a candid interview in which he highlights his clear concern regarding the modernist attack on Catholic faith. The bold highlights are my own.

Q. Your Eminence, you grew up before the Second Vatican Council. How do you remember those times?

A. I grew up in a very beautiful time in the Church, in which we were carefully instructed in the faith, both at home and in the Catholic school, especially with the Baltimore Catechism. I remember the great beauty of the Sacred Liturgy, even in our little farming town, with beautiful Masses. And then, I’m of course most grateful for my parents who gave me a very sound up-bringing in how to live as a Catholic. So they were beautiful years.

Q. A friend of mine who was born after the Council used to say, “Not everything was good in the old days, but everything was better.” What do you think about this?

A. Well, we have to live in whatever time the Lord gives us. Certainly, I have very good memories of growing up in the 1950’s and early 1960’s. I think what is most important is that we appreciate the organic nature of our Catholic Faith and appreciate the Tradition to which we belong and by which the Faith has come to us.

Q. Did you embrace the big changes after the Council with enthusiasm?

A. What happened soon after the Council – I was in the minor seminary at that time, and we followed what was happening at the Council – but the experience after the Council was so strong and even in some cases violent, that I have to say that, even as a young man, I began to question some things – whether this was really what was intended by the Council – because I saw many beautiful things that were in the Church suddenly no longer present and even considered no longer beautiful. I think, for instance, of the great tradition of Gregorian Chant or the use of Latin in the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy. Then also, of course, the so-called ‘Spirit of Vatican II’ influenced other areas – for instance, the moral life, the teaching of the Faith – and then we saw so many priest abandoning their priestly ministry, so many religious sisters abandoning religious life. So, there were definitely aspects about the post-conciliar period that raised questions.

Q. You were ordained a priest in 1975. Did you think that something in the Church had gone wrong?

A. Yes, I believe so. In some way, we lost a strong sense of the centrality of the Sacred Liturgy and, therefore, of the priestly office and ministry in the Church. I have to say, I was so strongly raised in the Faith, and had such a strong understanding of vocation, that I never could refuse to do what Our Lord was asking. But I saw that there was something that had definitely gone wrong. I witnessed, for instance, as a young priest the emptiness of the catachesis. The catechetical texts were so poor. Then I witnessed the liturgical experimentations – some of which I just don’t even want to remember – the loss of the devotional life, the attendance at Sunday Mass began to steadily decrease: all of those were signs to me that something had gone wrong.

On the Two Forms of Holy Mass

Q. Would you have imagined in 1975 that, one day, you would offer Mass in the rite that was abandoned for the sake of renewal?

A. No, I would not have imagined it. Although, I also have to say that I find it very normal, because it was such a beautiful rite, and that the Church recovered it seems to me to be a very healthy sign. But, at the time, I must say that the liturgical reform in particular was very radical and, as I said before, even violent, and so the the thought of a restoration didn’t seem possible, really. But, thanks be to God, it happened.

Q. Juridically, the Novus Ordo and the Traditional Latin Mass are the same rite. Is this also your factual experience when you celebrate a Pontifical High Mass in the new or the old rite?

A. Yes, I understand that they are the same rite, and I believe that, when the so-called New Rite or the Ordinary Form is celebrated with great care and with a strong sense that the Holy Liturgy is the action of God, one can see more clearly the unity of the two forms of the same rite. On the other hand, I do hope that – with time – some of the elements which unwisely were removed from the rite of the Mass, which has now become the Ordinary Form, could be restored, because the difference between the two forms is very stark.

Q. In what sense?

A. The rich articulation of the Extraordinary Form, all of which is always pointing to the theocentric nature of the liturgy, is practically diminished to the lowest possible degree in the Ordinary Form.

On the 2014 Synod

Q. The Synod on the Family has been a shock and sometimes even a scandal, especially for young Catholic families who are the future of the Church. Do they have reasons to worry?

A. Yes, they do. I think that the report that was given at the mid-point of the session of the Synod, which just ended October 18th, is perhaps one of the most shocking public documents of the Church that I could imagine. And, so, it is a cause for very serious alarm and it’s especially important that good Catholic families who are living the beauty of the Sacrament of Matrimony rededicate themselves to a sound married life and that also they use whatever occasions they have to give witness to the beauty of the truth about marriage which they are experiencing daily in their married life.

Q. High-ranking prelates keep giving the impression that “progress” in the Church lays in promoting the gay agenda and divorce ideology. Do they believe that these things will lead to a new springtime in the Church?

A. I don’t know how they could believe such a thing, because, how could it be that, for instance, divorce – which the Pastoral Constitution on the Church Gaudium et Spes called a plague in society – how could it be that the promotion of homosexual acts, which are intrinsically evil, how could any good come from either? And, in fact, what we witness is that both result in a destruction of society, a breakdown of the family, the breakdown of the fiber of society, and, of course, in the case of unnatural acts, the corruption of human sexuality which is essentially ordered to marriage and to the procreation of children.

Q. Do you think that the main problem in vast territories of the Church is the lack of Catholic families and especially the lack of Catholic children? Should that not have been the focus of the Synod?

A. I believe so, very much so. The Church depends on sound Catholic family life, and it depends on sound Catholic families . I do believe that, where the Church is suffering most, there also marriage and family life is suffering. We see that when in marriage couples are not generous in bringing new human life into the world, their own marriages diminish, as well as society itself. We witness in many countries that the local population, which in many cases would be Christian, is disappearing because the birthrate is so low. And some of these places – for instance, where there is also a strong presence of individuals who belong to Islam – we find that the Muslim life is taking over in countries which were formerly Christian.

On the Society of St. Pius X

Q. In many parts of Western Europe and the U.S., the only parishes who still have children belong to the Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X, while whole dioceses are deserted. Do the bishops take notice of this?

A. I would imagine so. I do not have direct experience of what you are describing. From my own time as bishop of La Crosse, Wisconsin and as archbishop of Saint Louis, Missouri, I have heard this said about dioceses in certain European nations where the dioceses are practically unable to continue, yet there is a strong presence of those who belong to the Society of St. Pius X. I cannot help but think that the bishops in those places must take note of it and must reflect upon it.

On Young Catholics

Q. Most practicing Catholics in an average parish in Western Europe and the U.S. are those who were baptized and catechized before the Council. Is the Church in these countries living from her past?

A. I think that my generation, for instance, was blessed to grow up at a time in which there was a strong practice of the Catholic Faith, a strong tradition of participation in Sunday Mass and the Sacred Liturgy, a strong devotional life, a strong teaching of the Faith- But in some way, I believe, we sadly took it for granted, and the same attention was not given to pass on the Faith as we had come to know it to the success of generations. Now what I see it that many young people are hungering and thirsting – and this already for some time – to know the Catholic Faith at its roots and to experience many aspects of the richness of the tradition of the Faith. So I believe that there is a recovery precisely of what had been for a period of time lost or not cared for in a proper manner. I think that now there is a rebirth at work among the young Catholics.

Q. Does the Synod on the Family have any plans to promote marriage and to encourage and support families with many children?

A. I sincerely hope so. I’m not part of the central direction or the group of cardinals and bishops who assist in the organization and direction of the Synod of Bishops. But I would certainly hope so.

On the Kasper Proposal

Q. Many Catholics fear that, in the end, the Synod of Bishops will resort to doublespeak. “Pastoral” reasons are used to de facto change doctrine. Are such fears justified?

A. Yes, they are. In fact, one of the most insidious arguments used at the Synod to promote practices which are contrary to the doctrine of the Faith is the argument that, “We are not touching the doctrine; we believe in marriage as the Church has always believed in it; but we are only making changes in discipline.” But in the Catholic Church, this can never be, because in the Catholic Church, her discipline is always directly related to her teaching. In other words: the discipline is at the service of the truth of the Faith, of life in general in the Catholic Church. And so, you cannot say that you are changing a discipline not having some effect on the doctrine which it protects or safeguards or promotes.

Q. The term “mercy” is used to change Church doctrine and even the New Testament in order to condone sin. Was this dishonest use of the term “mercy” exposed during the Synod?

A. Yes, it was. There were Synod Fathers who spoke about a false sense of mercy which would not take into account the reality of sin. I remember one Synod Father said, “Does sin no longer exist? Do we no longer recognize it?” So, I believe that was very strongly addressed by certain Synod Fathers. The German Protestant – Lutheran – pastor who died during the Second World War, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, used an interesting analogy. He talked about “costly” grace and “cheap” grace. Well, there is no “cheap” grace. When God’s life is given to us as it is in the Church, it demands of us a new way of life, a daily conversion to Christ, and we know God’s mercy to the degree that we embrace that conversion and strive to turn every day our lives over again to Christ and to overcome our sinfulness and our weaknesses.

Q. Why is the term “mercy” used for adulterers, but not for pedophiles? In other words: Does the media decide when the Church is allowed to apply “mercy” and when not?

A. This, too, is a point that was made during the Synod. Mercy has to do with the person who, for whatever reason, is committing sin. One must always call forth in that person the good – in other words, call that person to be who or she really is: a child of God. But at the same time, one must recognize the sins, whether they be adultery or pedophilia or theft or murder – whatever it may be – as a great evils, as mortal sins and therefore as repellent to us. We can’t accept them. The greatest charity, the greatest mercy that we can show to the sinner is to recognize the evil of the acts which he or she is committing and to call that person to the truth.

On the Power and Authority of the Pope

Q. Do we still have to believe that the Bible is the supreme authority in the Church and cannot be manipulated – not even by bishops or the Pope?

A. Absolutely! The word of Christ is the truth to which we are all called to be obedient and, first and foremost, to which the Holy Father is called to be obedient. Sometime during the Synod, there was reference made to the fullness of the power of the Holy Father, which we call in Latin plenitudo potestatis, giving the sense that the Holy Father could even, for instance, dissolve a valid marriage that had been consummated. And that’s not true. The “fullness of power” is not absolute power. It’s the “fullness of power” to do what Christ commands of us in obedience to Him. So we all follow Our Lord Jesus Christ, beginning with the Holy Father.

Q. An archbishop recently said, “We obviously follow the Church’s doctrine on the family.” Then he added, “…until the Pope decides otherwise.” Does the Pope have the power to change doctrine?

A. No. This is impossible. We know what the teaching of the Church has been consistently. It was, for instance, expressed by Pope Pius XI in his encyclical letter Casti connubii. It was expressed by Pope Paul VI in Humanae vitae. It was expressed in a wonderful way by Pope St. John Paul II in Familiaris consortio. That teaching is unchanging. The Holy Father gives the service of upholding that teaching and presenting it with a newness and a freshness, but not changing it.

Q. Cardinals are said to wear crimson in order to represent the blood of the martyrs who died for Christ. Except for John Fisher, who was made a cardinal when he already was in jail, no cardinal has ever died for the Faith. What is the reason for this?

A. I don’t know, I can’t explain it. Certainly some cardinals have suffered greatly for the Faith. We think of Cardinal Mindszenty (1892-1975), for example, in Hungary, or we think of Cardinal Stepinac (1898-1960) in what was Yugoslavia. And we think of other cardinals of different periods in the history of the Church who had to suffer greatly to uphold the Faith. Martyrdom can take more than the bloody form. We talk about red martyrdom, but there is also a white martyrdom which involves faithfully teaching the truth of the Faith and upholding it, and perhaps being sent into exile as some cardinals have been, or suffering in other ways. But the important thing for the cardinal is to defend the Faith usque ad effusionem sanguinis – even to the outpouring of blood. So, the cardinal has to do everything he can to defend the Faith, even if it means the shedding of blood. But also all that goes before that.

On Cardinal Burke’s Favorite Things, Fondest Memories, and Fear of Judgment

Q. Your Eminence, a few quick observations: Who is four favorite Saint?

A. Well, the Blessed Mother obviously is the favorite of us all.

Q. That doesn’t count!

A. [Laughs] I also have a great devotion to St.Joseph. But one Saint who has really helped me a great deal during my life, since the time I was a child and in the seminary, is St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower. Her Little Way continues to be, for me, very helpful in my spiritual life.

Q. What is your favorite prayer?

A. The rosary.

Q. What is your favorite book?

A. I suppose the Catechism doesn’t count. [Laughs]

Q. No, neither does the Bible.

A. I like also very much the writings of Blessed Columba Marmio (1858-1923), spiritual writings, and I’m also fond of the writings of Archbishop Fulton Sheen (1895-1979).

Q. What was your greatest moment as a priest?

A. I think my ordination to the priesthood itself. I keep thinking back to that and everything was there, everything has unfolded from there. What I found most beautiful on the priesthood was that, in the first five years of my priesthood, I hade a very intense priestly service in a parish with the Sacrament of Confession, with many confessions, and the celebration – obviously – of the Holy Mass, and then the teaching of the children in the Faith. Those memories – and then, for a brief period of three years, I taught in a Catholic high school – those are really, for me, treasured memories of my priesthood.

Q. Do you fear the Last Judgment?

A. Of course I do. One thinks, for instance, of all the responsibility that was mine, first as a priest, but even more so as a bishop and a cardinal, and it causes one to examine his conscience. I know there are things that I did that I could have done much better, and that causes me to be afraid. But I hope that the Lord will have mercy on me and I pray for that.

Q. Thank you, Your Eminence.

A. You’re welcome.

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This poem makes me quite emotional at present. For I stand at it’s door and every single word resonates!

A Poem for old rugby players………..

When the battle scars have faded
And the truth becomes a lie
And the weekend smell of liniment
Could almost make you cry.

When the last rucks well behind you
And the man that ran now walks
It doesn’t matter who you are
The mirror sometimes talks

Have a good hard look old son!
The melons not that great
The snoz that takes a sharp turn sideways
Used to be dead straight

You’re an advert for arthritis
You’re a thoroughbred gone lame
Then you ask yourself the question
Why the hell you played the game?

Was there logic in the head knocks?
In the corks and in the cuts?
Did common sense get pushed aside?
By manliness and guts?

Do you sometimes sit and wonder
Why your time would often pass
In a tangled mess of bodies
With your head up someone’s……?

With a thumb hooked up your nostril
Scratching gently on your brain
And an overgrown Neanderthal
Rejoicing in your pain!

Mate – you must recall the jersey
That was shredded into rags
Then the soothing sting of Dettol
On a back engraved with tags!

It’s almost worth admitting
Though with some degree of shame
That your wife was right in asking
Why the hell you played the game?

Why you’d always rock home legless
Like a cow on roller skates
After drinking at the clubhouse
With your low down drunken mates

Then you’d wake up – check your wallet
Not a solitary coin
Drink Berocca by the bucket
Throw an ice pack on your groin

Copping Sunday morning sermons
About boozers being losers
While you limped like Quasimodo
With a half a thousand bruises!

Yes – an urge to hug the porcelain
And curse Sambuca’s name
Would always pose the question
Why the hell you played the game!

And yet with every wound re-opened
As you grimly reminisce it
Comes the most compelling feeling yet
God, you bloody miss it!

From the first time that you laced a boot
And tightened every stud
That virus known as rugby
Has been living in your blood

When you dreamt it when you played it
All the rest took second fiddle
Now you’re standing on the sideline
But your hearts still in the middle

And no matter where you travel
You can take it as expected
There will always be a breed of people
Hopelessly infected

If there’s a teammate, then you’ll find him
Like a gravitating force
With a common understanding
And a beer or three, of course

And as you stand there telling lies
Like it was yesterday old friend
You’ll know that if you had the chance
You’d do it all again

You see – that’s the thing with rugby
It will always be the same
And that, I guarantee
Is why the hell you played the game!

Isn’t age cruel. A smashed back, various scars, sore knees and other niggles now plague me. So I guess, if I go on a fitness drive in the New Year, I can squeeze just a couple more seasons out.

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A reminder to locals that we are singing carols outside Tesco (Pembury branch) today from 5pm-6pm. We will be joined by Anglicans and Baptists from across the village and will be raising money for the Hospice in the Weald. Our very own Tom Davis is playing the keyboard – so bad singers can be masked!

Enthusiasm is the only requirement then. So come and join the fun- last year it was delightful seeing how we raised not only a good total for a worthy cause but also a great many smiles from local shoppers.

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Having spent the last year traveling the globe, in an attempt to reconcile huge differences of belief and practice that now exist within Anglicanism, Archbishop Justin Welby has reached a sad conclusion. He does not believe reconciliation is possible and is therefore warning that schism is inevitable, if not a present reality.

He doesn’t use the word schism of course, it rarely is used when schisms begin, but it is the point being made. With the usual understated emphasis of the English he says “I think, realistically, we’ve got to say that despite all efforts there is a possibility that we will not hold together, or not hold together for a while,” He went onto state that there would therefore be “a sort of temporary separation” (what is that but schism?) and admitted to personally disagreeing “profoundly” with views held by other churches within the union.

This lack of unity is nothing new of course. Anglicanism has always encouraged the ‘break away attitude’ because it lacks a defined authority such as the magesterium. We might consider how the Episcopal church in America has split in recent years into dozens of “continuing bodies” in the wake of a fight over moral theology. This fighting has now spread and it means  the famous Lambeth Conference is not going to happen again for the forseeable future. The very notion of global Anglicanism dies then leaving in its wake separated national bodies with only a historic tie to the Church of England. It is really rather sad.

I am surprised this news hasn’t received more coverage for the implications on the Church of England are huge and devastating. The issue of women priests & bishops already caused upheaval, broken communion/unity within the body and led to the loss of many members. But it will be as nothing compared to the damage now that the battle over homosexuality comes to the fore. And the global separation will only encourage further division at home.

Expect disillusioned evangelicals to break from Canterbury and ally themselves with African prelates, those who hold to biblical teaching. Meanwhile expect the liberal hierarchy and synod to follow the permissive trail already blazed by the fractured Episcopalians. When ecclesial division comes it often takes years not months and leads not to two neat parts but to dozens of splintered groups, each claiming the historic authority. A mess in other words.

We must pray for Anglicans as they now walk  this painful road of internal disunity, understanding the damage it must also cause to  hopes for external unity. And we must pray that Rome looks to Canterbury and learns some lessons. After all Catholicism is also feeling the pain of difference of opinion due to the schismatic intentions and actions of modern day liberals.  With others I lament that the Church of England I was raised in no longer exists. Archbishop Welby hopes that -one day- the communion might come back together. I share the hope but history suggests otherwise. RIP the Anglican Communion.

During Advent we spiritually prepare for the coming of Christ at Christmas. The Christian world is full of expectation and hope as the last days of Mary’s miraculous pregnancy are leading us towards the apex of history. And it is worth pondering the significance of that womb made tabernacle. Of pondering Mary’s role in the story of salvation. Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.

Tonight there is Mass at 8pm as we honour the Immaculate Conception of Mary. The belief that Mary, by grace of God, was conceived without stain of original sin. Leaving her in a state of grace throughout life and thereby equipping her to say yes to God and become the living tabernacle of the Word made flesh.

Protestants can struggle with such teaching. Often because Mary became a figure of controversy following the reformation- a tool to divide and not unite. So here are some explanations to counter common questions/misunderstandings that people tend to have.

First we must counter any accusation that this teaching is not biblical. For there is, in fact, clear evidence in scripture. And it is found in that moment when the Angel Gabriel visits Mary and proclaims her to be… “full of grace”.  How could she be full of grace without  the immaculate conception? Think about it.

Salvation had not yet come in Christ. And following the the fall none were in a state of grace- hence the need for salvation. Hence Christ had to salvage hell betwixt his death and resurection. The only way to make sense of this greeting then is through the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. Which is to say Mary was “full of grace” because God had freed her from the stain of original sin. She was given a foretaste of what would soon be offered to all.

The second struggle I hear voiced concerns the elevation of Mary. People worry that any praise of Mary might raise her to a status that is ‘beyond human’. But such  fear is  dispelled as we recall that Mary was the effect of this act of grace not its cause.  Mary is not elevated by her own action but by God and at His command. Which means she is as beholden to Him as the rest of us, even if she is set apart to be the exemplar of Christian living. The image of life without stain of sin. Of life that is fully human yet lived totally in and for the maker.

A third question often raised is that of unfair advantage. Why should Mary be given a head start? Does it mean she didn’t need saving?  Not at all. To understand how Mary remains utterly dependent on God imagine the following scenario. I have two friends, Larry and Barry. Larry falls down a hole and I rescue him by throwing a rope to him. Barry is about to fall in -and would without me- only I call to him and tell him to walk round it. BOTH are saved by me- albeit by different methods. We see clearly how Mary is still saved by God event though it is in a unique way.

On the 4th Sunday in Advent I shall be preaching on the doctrines of Mary, using information gleaned from Fr. Hemer’s recent talk to clergy. I will post the sermon here as it further explores these themes and shows how all teaching about Mary actually leads us closer to God.

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Today was a great success as we hosted our annual pre-Christmas lunch for the over 60’s. Members of the congregation joining with guests as we offered a hot Christmas dinner to many of the elderly residents of the village.

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We could not have done it without a lot of hard work from an able team of volunteers. But it wasn’t all hard work- here are some of them sitting down to enjoy some of the dinner.

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It is also fair to say that not everyone was over 60! Some of our Sunday School coming along to sing carols for us all and to help with serving the food to the tables. They always bring joy and energy with them and the older people love to have them around.

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Robert, who is a very faithful member of the congregation in Pembury, had lots of fun. He was also one of the few to sport his cracker hat for the duration of the anticipatory festivities. Which included a raffle and some games of bingo. My jokes were voted even worse than normal this year!

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This evening offers more pre-Christmas rejoicing as I attend the Hospice Carol Service with its theme of “light up a life”- each light on the tree representing the life of somebody who has died in the last year. It is always a poignant service which reminds me of the need to pray for the many people for whom this isn’t an easy time of year.

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I love St. Nicholas, aka Father Christmas. A man in every sense of the word. Today is his feast. My two favourite stories about him are well known but worth revisiting.

As bishop of Smyrna, Nicholas was perturbed by the plight of a local family living in poverty. The father’s debts could not be paid and his children were going to be taken, as payment, and put to work in a local brothel.Nicholas decided he must help but wanted his charitable giving to be done anonymously.

So it was, on Christmas Eve, that the red hand of a cardinal came through the window of that impoverished family, placing money to pay the debt into the children’s stockings which were drying by the hearth. It doesn’t take much imagination to realise how this simple act of charity came to inspire Western folklore, forever linking children, stockings and the giving of gifts at Christmas.

The other delightful tale concerning St. Nicholas involves his refusal to put up with nonsense. How would we have reacted if Cardinal Pell had jumped to his feet, at the recent Synod in Rome, and slapped those promoting  teaching  so clearly at odds with the Catholic faith? Well that is exactly what happened when St. Nicholas had enough of Arius who was spouting nonsense from the floor in Nicaea. He jumped to his feet, head butted Arius and tugged hard on his beard. An action that resulted in a night in the cells during which Nicholas was told to calm down.

But that was not the message from God. The Blessed Virgin appearing in a vision and thanking him for defending truth from error and being a  guardian of faith. St. Nicholas underlining, in his act of aggression, a point Pope Benedict XVI made more recently:

In a social milieu that encourages the expression of a variety of opinions on every question that arises, it is important to recognize dissent for what it is, and not to mistake it for a mature contribution to a balanced and wide-ranging debate. It is the truth revealed through Scripture and Tradition and articulated by the Church’s Magisterium that sets us free.

As the church continues to be buffeted by the rebellious “Spirit of the 70’s”, that hippy-esque spirituality which promotes dissent on so many issues , my prayer is that God would raise up bishops like St. Nicholas. Those man enough to say “NO” to the world and the devil in defence of that which comes from Christ.

Father Christmas was a man’s man. Certainly at odds with our wet and insipid age of aquarius. But a soldier of Christ, a friend of God and one who stood for truth over error.