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When Jemima began school I was thrilled to discover that transport from Pembury was provided. Thus for the last three years she has jumped onto the Catholic bus that meanders through Kent villages and drops off at both the Catholic Primary and Secondary School. An Anglican bus ran alongside it for the same purpose dropping off at the Anglican secondary school.

These buses ran – until this year- because law stipulated that where a child lives a certain distance away from their nearest appropriate school then assistance must be given. A sensible provision that proved a great help to generations of faith school children.

But when Benedict applied this year his application was turned down. The reason being that policy has changed so that faith is no longer taken into account. A blow to faith schools the nation over. The head teacher of our local secondary school informing me of the sudden loss of many pupils affected by this change. Those whose families are unable to drive them in due to work commitments and who cannot afford to spend hundreds of pounds a year on transport.

So I decided to appeal the decision. Not with a personal interest so much as a broader interest. On what grounds was this being defended? Did those in authority really think that the local village school was most appropriate for Benedict given his Catholic faith? The question I have is really very simple. How can the local Catholic school not be the “appropriate” school for local Catholic children…who else do they imagine Catholic schools exist for?

The panel I faced was four strong comprised of councillors. They soon realised I was less interested in pleading Benedict’s specific case than seeking joined up thinking regarding all faith school provision. And though they were helpful in explaining process – the key question remained unanswered. Apparently it boils down to money. Which is hard to swallow when a recent KCC employee walked away with a £460,000 pay off after less than two years work. That would have funded our lovely bus for a century and more!

Then another possible agenda reared its head as a councillor stated firmly that, despite her own Anglican convictions, KCC’s education office is secular. I asked her when the constitution of Great Britain had changed? Does KCC not serve the realm? A realm imagined was still Christian in fact if not in practice. This led to another awkward pause. I then asked the panel to consider how England once flourished when faith was at the heart of its educational policy. Oxford and Cambridge being Christian foundations alongside the entire University system and most public schools. At this point I was kindly asked to stop preaching! Fair enough….

But what do we make of the sudden removal of travel assistance to faith children? Is this simply a financial move or is the creeping secular agenda behind this nationwide shift? What is the point of faith schools if not to help members of that faith make use of them? Do you know if this is being tackled by our bishops at the higher level? Do you agree with me it must be? For I fear secular forces are moving towards our schools and if we do not robustly defend our rights as Christians then we could well lose them.

As to the appeal. A victory of sorts. Benny can utilise the spare seat in the reduced taxi service until a more deserving applicant arrives or the service is axed altogether. (It remains for those granted help under the old policy) This is certainly helpful to the family, and it ends the daft scenario  whereby I was expected to follow the half empty taxi Jemima was in to get Benny to the same destination! But not a victory for the point being raised. My children are assured a Catholic education- it is those on the fringes I am concerned about. What can be done to help faith schools provide for faith families?

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There has been a tremendous hullabaloo going on since the release of a midway document from the Synod on the family. I understand why- the document is confused and poorly written. And so it is that those hungering for change are jumping for joy claiming a massive shift regarding the Catholic approach to a raft of issues revolving around sex and the family.  Whilst those wanting to stand by the faith of the ages are confused wondering how such a very Anglican looking document could be the fruit of a truly Catholic gathering. So what do we make of it all?

First I urge caution. Do not let the media form your opinions because they have a clear agenda in all of this. And the truth is that this report changes nothing.  And history teaches that the last time everyone was adamant change was en route regarding sexual life they ended up wrong. I speak of humane vitae Then as now the world was convinced changes would happen but the hermeneutic of continuity not rapture was, as ever, the ultimate order of the day.

Secondly change, such as is anticipated, is simply not possible. A shift in language could happen, helpfully or  unhelpfully. But the nature of the church, the way it is set up, just does not allow for innovation that contradicts scripture and tradition. This is not a synodical voting body. If teaching on masturbation hasn’t shifted in 2000 years then it is highly unlikely teaching on other matters concerning sexual morality are going to change either!

Thirdly the Holy Father has, I think, asked for “cards on the table” for a reason. I get a hunch he wants liberals to form the questions because, if you consider what he has previously stated, he wants to bring about robust catechesis to answer these critics. The process has therefore been about listening to where the world is at to ponder how best to bring people closer to Christ. Meaning we have the world’s questions before us. Not the answers that will be given.

And I have a sneaky feeling the two will not chime because the purpose of the church is to transform the world and not itself be transformed by the world. And Pope Francis may be low church but he is manifestly not a modernist liberal if all his previous statements on family life are taken at face value. Remember this is the man whose effigy was burnt by secularists for his defence of the family.

A sensible voice at present then is that of Fr. George Ganswein who has close ties to Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict. He has stated clearly that the synod must be based on the Gospel not the thinking of the secular world. Let us hold before us then that the conclusions are still a year away.

The media is wrong . There is nothing to see at present save an open discussion.  There is no earthquake and it is quite possible the Pope wants all this out in the open that it may be dealt with head on. At least that is my prayer because the alternative would be, frankly, extraordinary and profoundly serious.

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We are hearing the Synod on the family is listening to the voices of a great many people. It begs a question. Who is speaking for children? Those whose voice was almost entirely absent in the debate surrounding so called “gay marriage” as it was forced through parliament in the least democratic change I ever witnessed. It was as if human relationships in the 21st Century centre only on adults desires with children an afterthought to be dealt with not protected.

I trust then that their voice, their undeniable emotional and spiritual needs, are not only heard but clearly expressed and placed at the forefront of every decision this Synod will make. For procreation lies at the heart of marriage. And if their voice is suppressed it would constitute the gravest scandal in the history of the church. Divorce should never be easy or condoned if only for their sake.

Of course sexual revolutionists deny the procreative purpose at the heart of family life. “What of Aunt Gladys who can’t conceive?” as if it settles the matter for good. A daft  argument given that marriage is not about individuals but wider society. We all have common interest in the raising of the next generation. Aunt Gladys might not conceive but she can witness to the union of one man and one woman which in the overwhelming majority of cases does produce life.  Thereby pointing nieces and nephews and neighbours toward the common good. Her entering marriage, as properly understood, supports the institution.

Almost always sex between man and woman produces life. Life that is not just precious but holy. Which cannot be ignored or downplayed. You cannot just flush this life down the waste unit of the abortion clinic because it inconveniences. You cannot just pretend divorce will not deeply damage this life. You cannot engage in sex with a good conscience if you deny space for that life, the intended birth (that nature proclaims and scripture teaches) should necessarily spring forth from such intimate union.

Which is why the reasonable person, yes gay or straight, will understand that  marriage is all about man and woman and the raising of the young. That children thrive best in a loving home upheld by their own biological parents. The gold standard, no matter how heroic single parents or same sex couples might be. The gold standard historically named “marriage”. The gold standard that is life-giving and life long to reflect its intended purpose. The gold standard so damaged when sin enters the equation. Which is why you cannot speak meaningfully of divorce in terms of mercy alone. There must also be talk of justice, penitence and reconciliation.

But too often people do debate the admitting of divorced and remarried people to communion as if divorce is no big deal. Move on, they suggest, who are we to judge? It is as if the couple are the only ones involved. But isn’t this to deny the reality of others- the jilted ones in the background? The broken hearted spouse whose heart and trust in humanity was shattered by the act of infidelity. The hurt children who no longer see one or other parent as much as they should? Where is mercy for them if we simply ignore the sin? If we act as though divorce is a private affair and not, as in the case of Aunt Gladys, something affecting the wider society.

Considering those in the background always leads us to the children. Those who seldom have a choice as they are dragged through the courts. Those who inevitably suffer the most where divorce rears its ugly head. Unsurprisingly then most every child wants mummy and daddy held together in life long union. Children do not endorse divorce – they tend to have much higher ideals and expectations than we adults who have grown cynical in this world of sin.

This is not to say we ignore mercy. Forgiveness is vital. We must serve as a hospital to those damaged by the pain of broken families. But so too we must stress reality, however painful to hear, ensuring divorce is ever seen in the negative. A process of scrutiny then put in place to ensure divorce is never easy-that all parties ALL are ever considered. A process we have, in truth, contained in the annulment procedure. It can be improved, it must not be removed.

As the synod progresses my prayer is that we will hear, not only from the divorced and remarried, but from their children as well. What testimony these little ones would give if recounting the effect on them of mummy and daddy separating. When they were no longer held secure by vows made for better or worse, till death do us do part… I say this not to wag a finger of blame and induce guilt but because healing cannot occur if the cause of our pain is ignored. Mercy requires justice. We cannot sweep some things under the carpet. Any surgeon knows that.

And in fairness to the divorced people I know, all seem fully aware that sin played its part. Most live with terrible guilt and wish things had been different. Most fully understand that the past must be healed for new life to emerge.  I am all for compassion and mercy then but not at the cost of truth or grace. We cannot downplay the damage divorce causes. And we must, must, must, must, MUST put the needs of children FIRST. A rare thing in todays society of self. An entirely absent thing in those scandalous cases of abuse we keep discovering throughout society since the dawn of the sexual revolution. What of the voice and needs of our children? That is THE QUESTION for this synod if it really is centred on family needs.

None of us can point fingers at others. We are all broken sinners in need of Christ’s help. Be that as it may we must strive for the ideal in the hope of getting close and not simply lower ideals to meet fallen standards. The history of civilisation teaches us this.

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It is still far too early to discern what will come from the Synod on the family being held in Rome. Reports suggest agreement on the fact that the clear teaching of Jesus cannot be changed. What may be up for debate is the best way to convey that teaching to a damaged world left reeling by the sexual revolution; a culture in which the family has been so seriously damaged by high rates of divorce, abortion, a loss of value for virtues of chastity and purity, loss of personal dignity , loneliness etc, etc..

The media claim that use of language is being spoken about. Could we better address issues in a way that does not hurt or seem to condemn those in need of healing and evangelisation? This sounds sensible, so long as truth is not lost. It is therefore to be welcomed.

Another suggestion is that we need to better meet people where they are so that we might then gently lead them, by the hand as it were, to the truth. A process labelled as “gradualism”. The concept makes sense but there is an obvious risk. Will clergy be faithful enough to ensure they do lead people to the truth? Or will they just use the pastoral “meeting people where they are” bit to quietly brush things under the carpet and leave sin unresolved?

If gradualism is adopted  (I would be wary of second guessing at this point) then I suggest an essential caveat. Those implementing it must ensure everyone fully understands the process between  the initial meeting of people where they are and the ultimate goal of leading them to the truth. A period of time could then be fixed after which such a novel approach could be evaluated against hard evidence of success or failure. That way fudging of issues could be avoided and people held to account. Accountability being the thing so often missing in the life of the church.

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Yesterday it was back to work for the men of the parish as we continued to fell the unsightly Leylandii which have grown completely out of control on our site. This will free up space for the builders to woek in when they arrive for works on the new parish room, after which we shall be planting new bushes and laying new turf to create a much, much better environment for the church and preschool children who use the paddock for recreation.

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We did allow some time out from the lugging & limbing of logs, shredding of branches and felling of trees. Here you see a well earned rest being taken following a most delicious lunch. One of the parish ladies, Sue, having kindly cooked a huge shepherds pie and fruit crumble for us all. What a superstar!

The removal of the Leylandii has really allowed the other trees to be viewed in all their glory. Just look at the chestnut in the picture above which had been jostling for space for years. Things look a little sparse at present but the end result will be well worth it. A massive thank you to all the chaps who worked so hard yesterday.

And now its off to Maryvale, Oscott for me for a much needed tutorial as I turn again to the task of finishing off the MA- which I am really enjoying. One more essay and then the dissertation beckons. The subject of which will be- of course- the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. Specifically what Pope Benedict’s visit to England might tell us about it.

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When I first came to Kent, to serve as vicar of Saint Barnabas parish in Tunbridge Wells, my bishop was Rt. Revd. Michael Nazir Ali, then of Rochester. He proved to be a fine bishop- always friendly and supportive when called upon and solid when it came to matters of faith. No wishy washy liberal this man! Today he has stepped down from his role as bishop of Rochester to engage in work supporting persecuted Christians throughout the world.

It was therefore wonderful to see him again last week, when he was guest speaker at the plenary session in London for Ordinariate clergy. A good write up can be found here. Sadly I missed some of his address due to lateness caused by a hospital appointment (a checkup following needles in the back – ouch!) but what I did catch showed him to be at his best. Delivering a fine talk without notes about the threat of radical Islam.

After the talk there was time for questions and, being naughty, I delighted in asking him if he felt the name “Monsignor Nazir-Ali” had a certain ring to it? The cheeky affront brought a smile to his face and he was very open in explaining both his fulsome support for the Ordinariate vision as well as his reasons, at this time, for not having joined. He then accepted my invitation to visit Saint Anselm’s in Pembury one Sunday to experience Ordinariate life at grass roots level. Watch this space…

Bishop Nazir Ali is a deep thinking man who has much to offer Christians of all denominations. He was also instrumental, it is rumoured, in having put the Ordinariate together in the first place. What is certain is that he is a great friend to the Ordinariate and we very much appreciated his time with us.

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There were good numbers at Mass yesterday as we celebrated Harvest Festival. This involved singing the great harvest hymns with gusto and gathering up non perishable produce just prior to the singing of the Angelus which was then blessed for distribution to local people in need.

In the afternoon there was a delightful baptism in church with one of our youngest members the recipient of grace. I then popped in for a toast and some truly delicious courgette cake at the family home before returning to church for Harvest Evensong & Benediction.

A normal happy and busy Sunday at Saint Anselm’s then, with special  praise due to a choir who, as ever, punch well above their weight for a parish this size. This week we return to pulling down trees ahead of the building project and there is advertising being sent out concerning our latest course of catechesis.

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My mind is on apples. Firstly because we are celebrating Harvest Festival on Sunday and Pembury’s harvest is all about local apples. Secondly because I have recently acquired a cider press which is soon to swing into action. So a post about apples to help us ponder a modern conundrum.

Too often these days well intentioned people state that they are “against discrimination!” I wonder what they can possibly mean? For who could really be against discrimination? If you doubt me take a look at the picture of apples accompanying this post. Then tell me you wouldn’t discriminate against the rotten apple if asked to select a snack…the point being that healthy discrimination is not just unavoidable but actually desirable. It doesn’t only apply to apples…

We must learn to discriminate between people too. When my children enter the adult world I want them to be discriminatory in choice of spouse. I would hope they turn away unsuitable suitors, not least the untrustworthy and corrupt. Surely every loving parent would  encourage such obvious discrimination? So again logic salutes  healthy discrimination.

We begin to see what intellectual garbage hides behind the double speak slogans of our day. Those that simply say ” say no to discrimination”. These soundbites exist to close discussion rather than facilitate and guide wise discernment. What we need then is to end the blanket statements and open up debate and use our brains So  that we learn the difference, as individuals and as a society, between healthy and unhealthy discrimination. Raising important questions about what should  inform our moral decisions.

Reason must come to the fore. Some cases are simple. You hardly need much reason to explain why it is wrong to discriminate due to skin colour. Racism is moronic. Melanin levels do not shape who we are or the choices we make. Disability is also fairly straight forward- though a little harder because you might need to discriminate if a job endangered somebody because of that disability. But wherever possible logic demands we help such people because they have such obvious intrinsic worth and much ability.

So logic inspired by virtue is what must inform attitudes.  But logic also teaches us that challenges arising due to race and disability are not the same thing.  An important distinction but one that seems to be missing in a world where “minorities” are often treated the same, with other issues thrown in for good measure. We are simply told to “be inclusive” of whatever is deemed in need of inclusion. Reason left at the door…just look at how so called “gay marriage” was forced on us with little debate and all in the name of ‘inclusion’.

Why is the slogan slinging world so determined to group together hugely diverse issues under one umbrella?  Suggesting our attitude or beliefs regarding racism must be identical to those regarding any in “a minority”. Again it is to close down debate. For most people are silenced if made to feel that an opposition to “same sex marriage” or abortion is somehow the same thing as racism.

So to my point.  I believe discrimination is more vital than ever in matters sexual. Were somebody offered marriage by a promiscuous person riddled with disease one should make a different choice than if presented with a chaste person believing in the sanctity of marriage. For unlike disability or skin colour -sexual behaviour is something we control to a degree. Our choices affecting the people we become, informing both spiritual and moral development.

Which is why it is grossly unfair when people balk at Christians who wish to make a distinction between inclination and behaviour. As an example why is it logically unreasonable for a bed and breakfast owner to offer single rooms in their home to two men and not a double bed?

Are the B& B owners bigots? They might be!  Only informed discussion would prove this. We might want to ask if the couple offer double beds to cohabiting heterosexuals? What about a swinging couple wanting the same room? There are points we can examine.  But what is not reasonable, but which is fast becoming the norm, is to simply shout discrimination and avoid a debate altogether.

This refusal for reasoned debate impacts on the life of the church. For many people, led by false understanding about “discrimination”. imagine there is some battle between those who would show love to gay people and those who would not. It is not true. What is actually bubbling away is a serious debate. What does it mean to love? More importantly it is about sex. What is it for? Can sex be divorced from its procreative function with moral neutrality or not? A question  also informing  the current debate on divorce and remarriage and communion.

Do you see why the modern world needs much  less political posturing and bullying. Less slogan slinging and more genuine discernment and thought. We need to stop lumping disconnected issues together and start judging each by its own merits. That is why I am praying fervently for the Synod on the family which I hope will bette explain Catholic teaching to a very confused Western culture.

But understand the tensions within the church are all the result of the sexual revolution. What sex is and what it is not. What it is for and what it is not for….and those who say they are fighting against “discrimination” are not being very honest or fair. Permissiveness regarding issues of sex is what they are actually calling for- not a place in church for those of a certain inclination who are already made welcome and form a vital part of Christ’s body on earth.

03Oct

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What is Why?

A ten session course covering the basics of the Catholic faith.

Where is Why?

Saint Anselm’s Catholic church in Pembury

When is Why?

Sessions run 9:45-10:45 on Saturday during term times-

from 1st November. Refreshments at 9:30am and Mass 9am.

How is Why?

There will be no demands made of anyone. Come to all ten sessions or just try one as a taster. You are free to turn up on the day or else book a place with Father Ed 01892 825009

Why is Why?

To help deepen people’s understanding of the Catholic faith. And to help prepare some adults for reception into the Catholic Church. Could you invite a friend to attend?

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Last week it emerged that the bishop of Brighton & Arandul is stepping down due to sexual scandal. It has fuelled much speculation across the blogosphere. Which, at worst, descended into people using the bad news to simply push their political agendas. The  traditional gossip suggesting his liberal theology was the reason for the fall, the liberal gossip claiming infidelity was hardly his fault due to the unreasonable demands of clerical celibacy. Yawn…

Both are wrong. A similar scandal in Scotland last year, regarding Cardinal Keith O’Brien, proved traditional bishops fall just as easily as their liberal counterparts. And the fact that most sexual affairs are conducted by married people puts the other crazy notion to bed. Sorry but there is only one reason these tragic cases occur and will inevitably happen again. Sin. We are all of us pathetic sinners quite capable of falling spectacularly from grace.

Thank God then for the crucifix at the centre of our faith. A sign of hope to the fallen – the means of our redemption. A reminder Christ instituted his church as a hospital for sinners  not a club for the perfect. Bishop, priest, religious or lay  – none of us can point a finger at others with much confidence- given that three fingers then point back at ourselves. We must be gracious, avoid gossip, and that delusional  sense of superiority that leads us to judge others harshly.

That isn’t to say we should not be scandalised. For on one level it is natural to feel dismay. The bible tells us to expect much of our bishops. But this sense of shock must not propel us into sin but bring us to our knees. For at the heart of this sorry tale we find real people in genuine need. A shattered family and a bishop who has lost his way with Jesus. What a mess. Compassion, love and understanding are needed in this is a tale of human breakdown and disfunction, and well outside the salacious glare of media gossip.

So it is not my intention to cast judgment on any person. My own sins are enough to ponder. I do however want to consider the bishop’s words– that statement made in defence. Because I worry his claim, that he was a “good bishop”, might lead to a shoddy understanding about what constitutes success for the Christian. Now had the bishop stated “I am often bad yet, by God’s grace, I was an able administrator” fine. But what is he trying to convey suggesting to the world that he was a “good?”  Who is good but God alone?

A more sensible line for the Christian leader is to say “take the faith I profess seriously but do not take me  seriously at all”.  Because clerical pedestals tell lies. What use the cult of the ego to the servant of Christ? I am not good. Like you a tedious, predictable and habitual sinner. A soul in regular need of formal confession. All I can really do therefore is point to one who is perfect. Jesus my Saviour. 

Understand the Christian life cannot be judged by worldly standard. What is good in the world means little on the journey of faith. Hence the greatest historical flop in seminary (St. John Vianney) would go onto become the most saintly of priests. The quality of our relationship with Jesus Christ is what matters. Honestly it is ALL that matters. An ability to raise funds, speak powerfully or dazzle the world – what are these skills compared with that? In the end its only Jesus, all for Jesus or not for Jesus at all.

A challenge which often leaves this sinful clergyman staring at his shoes… A prayer of Padre Pio:

Stay with me, Lord, for it is necessary to have You present so that I do not forget You. You know how easily I abandon You. Stay with me, Lord, because I am weak and I need Your strength, that I may not fall so often.

Stay with me, Lord, for You are my life, and without You, I am without fervour. Stay with me, Lord, for You are my light, and without You, I am in darkness. Stay with me, Lord, to show me Your will.

Stay with me, Lord, so that I hear Your voice and follow You. Stay with me, Lord, for I desire to love You very much, and always be in Your company. Stay with me, Lord, if You wish me to be faithful to You. Stay with me, Lord, for as poor as my soul is, I wish it to be a place of consolation for You, a nest of Love.

Stay with me, Jesus, for it is getting late and the day is coming to a close, and life passes, death, judgement, eternity approaches. It is necessary to renew my strength, so that I will not stop along the way and for that, I need You. It is getting late and death approaches. I fear the darkness, the temptations, the dryness, the cross, the sorrows. O how I need You, my Jesus, in this night of exile!

Stay with me tonight, Jesus, in life with all its dangers, I need You. Let me recognise You as Your disciples did at the breaking of bread, so that the Eucharistic Communion be the light which disperses the darkness, the force which sustains me, the unique joy of my heart. Stay with me, Lord, because at the hour of my death, I want to remain united to You, if not by Communion, at least by grace and love.

Stay with me, Jesus, I do not ask for divine consolation, because I do not merit it, but, the gift of Your Presence, oh yes, I ask this of You! Stay with me, Lord, for it is You alone I look for. Your Love, Your Grace, Your Will, Your Heart, Your Spirit, because I love You and ask no other reward but to love You more and more.

With a firm love, I will love You with all my heart while on earth and continue to love You perfectly during all eternity.

Amen