Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Holy Week 2015, The Five Sorrowful Mysteries:The Scourging at the Pillar

The moment we stand up for something, we feel the first blows of disapproval. Those in the know round on us to tell us that we're wrong and beat us for it. Our Lord is beaten up for daring to challenge the assumed authority of the powers-that-be, powers who forget whence they receive power. They forget that they have no authority save that which is given them from above.

Our Lord's beating is to demonstrate the power of others over Him as they seek to reassert themselves over a preacher who makes wild claims about being the Son of God, that He can and does forgive sins that He can rebuild in three days a temple of God. Such arrogance must surely be stamped out and be seen to be stamped out lest the order of society be destroyed by such nonsense!

The Mystery here is that one man Who has the command of legions of angels, bows His back to the smiters and His cheeks to them that pluck off the hair, in order for that authority to be seen by men who love Him. Likewise, we too must bear the blows of a world who would have us reject the True King and Creator for a vague shadow of true reality with no real existence apart from Him.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Holy Week 2015, The Five Sorrowful Mysteries: The Agony in the Garden

The moment we stand up for something, we are faced with the temptation to forget it. We realise that our stance may not be popular, that it will cost us, that it will set people against us, that it will hurt. It is in this place that we see Our Lord fighting with the same bedevilment that each one of us faces. He knows the full extent of what He must go through and here, the night before it happens, He must face the agony of knowing that He can still run and hide, that if He chooses not to, He will suffer indescribable pain and degradation, and that if He does not do so, then humanity will have no other hope to be saved from evil by being crucified in Him.

Could Our Lord have succumbed to temptation? No, for the Lord's human nature is inextricably bound with His divine nature, the human will with the divine will. Yet His human nature must suffer the same instincts for self-preservation, and so for Our Lord the agony is doubled as Satan himself tries to tear Our Lord apart from within. Of course, he fails for Our Lord wills not that the cup be taken from Him without His Father's will.

The Agony in the Garden is indeed a Mystery of the Personhood of Our Lord. It is a Mystery in which we partake every time we are tempted to fall away into apostasy, apathy and complacency. Our temptation frequently leads us into sin, but it is because of Our Lord's rejection of these miserable demons that we too may find escape from them.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Collects for Palm Sunday

Prayer book
ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who, of thy tender love towards mankind, hast sent thy Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ, to take upon him our flesh, and to suffer death upon the cross, that all mankind should follow the example of his great humility; Mercifully grant, that we may both follow the example of his patience, and also be made partakers of his resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Breviary (Sarum)
Almighty and everlasting God, who hast sent our Saviour to take upon him our flesh, and to suffer death upon the cross, that mankind should follow the example of his humility ; mercifully grant, that we may both follow the example of his patience, and also be made partakers of his resurrection. Through etc.

Archbishop Cranmer wants to emphasise the love that Our Lord has for us. The deliberate choice of the Son of God to be incarnate was, above all, an act of love. Love seeks to close the gap as we saw in last week's reflection, and clearly Our Lord wishes to show beyond all shadow of a doubt that no-one is exempt from this. This is how God can indeed be humble.

Humility is a painstaking honesty, an acknowledgement about what is true. Pride emphasises difference and is always based on a false premise, usually that "I am better than you." God is Love and no-one is better than Love. If pain and suffering are needed in order to close the gap, then Love will embrace that pain and suffering. That does not mean that temptation is never an issue, for Love will be tempted to shrink back. However, shrinking back is precisely a dishonesty about Love's own being and, with a human struggle, Love prevails showing that we human beings have the capacity to overcome temptation if only we will be humble and embrace Love. This is what Holy Week is all about.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Liturgical Eclipses

It's one of those wonderful liturgical clashes as the Lunar season dances with the Solar Kalendar. Here in Passiontide, we celebrate the news of the Christ Child to be born, the very Child who, next week will be crucified. All the statues and paintings of Our Lady are shrouded in our Churches as befits this season of austerity. Our minds, while focused upon the incipient suffering of Our Lord are surprised by joy.

Of course, this gives us conflicting emotions. Should we celebrate this feast, or should we transfer it out of the fasting season?

I'll leave that to the liturgists, content that my Breviary reminds me that the Annunciation is a Double of the first class and thus I commemorate Wednesday in Passion week at Lauds and Vespers.

Yet we have a really, truly wonderful fact that our two Kalendars dance from year to year. I've reflected on this before, but it's worth noting the relationship between the moveable feasts - those bound by the lunar Kalendar - and those that are bound by the solar Kalendar. Saints' days are Solar in nature, but so are Christmas, the Circumcision, Epiphany, the Annunciation, and the Transfiguration. The Triduum, Ascension Day, Pentecost, and Corpus Christi are Lunar in their occurrence. We human beings, in the West at least, usually live and work in the Solar Kalendar. Those of us who celebrate birthdays have them on a fixed date; our diaries work on a January to December basis; our tax year goes from April to April. Yet, Jan 1st is a rather arbitrary day to start a year. It doesn't correspond to any specific event on Earth, or in the Heavens. It just is. Thus the Solar Kalendar is a human Kalendar, born out of human nature.

However, there is a solar event that seems to pass by unnoticed. This is the Vernal Equinox, when the Sun crosses the plane formed by projecting the Equator of the Earth out into space. The days and nights are of equal length, and the date usually signifies the beginning of spring. It is an inconspicuous little day, either March 20th or 21st, which doesn't really relate much to the Solar year. It is how this even corresponds with the Moon that determines the Lunar Kalendar. Easter Day is the Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. This is purely celestial in origin and comes about from the interacting of Lunar and Solar Kalendars. The other moveable feasts align themselves with Easter.

For me, this is a reflection of the inseparability of the Human and Divine Natures of Our Lord. The days of His incarnation are in the Solar Kalendar; the days of His Resurrection are Lunar. Both interact to determine the Triduum and the fulfillment of the Divine mission.

Last Friday (20th March) we would have been treated to an 80% total eclipse of the Sun had the British weather not eclipsed everything else! The Moon passes in front of the Sun causing that wonderful effect that seems to come practically once in a lifetime, yet there are three eclipses each year, both lunar and solar. Liturgically, eclipses happen frequently, but possess the potential for wonder if one takes the trouble to think carefully upon them.

Today is a case in point - a lunar eclipse - in which the Solar Kalendar eclipses the Lunar. We reflect on Our Lord's human nature in which He is conceived by the Holy Ghost and His Mother given the tidings of great joy by the Angel Gabriel. He is conceived in order to redeem us by his blood, to suffer as human beings suffer, and to die as humans die. His humanity is that of His mother taken without change into the Divinity of His Father. The light of God always shines through liturgical eclipses to our enlightenment. We just have to be prepared to use our liturgy for the purpose it was designed for - to bring our consciousness closer to God - and to enjoy any liturgical conflicts that the resulting eclipses engender.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Collect for Passion Sunday, being the fifth Sunday in Lent

Prayer book and Breviary
WE beseech thee, Almighty God, mercifully to look upon thy people; that by thy great goodness they may be governed and preserved evermore, both in body and soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Christianity is not a religion of individuals, and many people forget that. It's usually the "you don't have to go to Church to be a Christian." Yet, if we do not go to Church, how can we possibly obey Our Lord's commandment to celebrate Holy Communion together? How can we possibly see ourselves as being one Body of Christ if we don't take the pains to be part of it? How can we possibly love one another as Christ loved us if we see our faith as being completely separated from other people?

There is nothing wrong with cultivating a private devotion, indeed piety is a bit of an outdated notion at the moment. However, we are one Body in Christ and we cannot forget that. It stands to reason that if Christianity is a genuinely communal religion, then that community must seek to be governed by one single King, namely Our Lord Jesus. The Hebrews cried out for a king and got Saul who, while he did well at first, fell by not ruling Himself after the word of God.

Likewise, we must cry out for a King and, as a community, seek to subject ourselves to the rule of Christ. It is only in His governance that we will find peace and goodness.

Convinced of sin?

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on Passion Sunday 2015

Who tells you that you have sinned? More often than not, we already have some idea in our heads when we’ve done something wrong. Our conscience pricks us and makes us a bit tetchy until we do something about the wrong we have done. This will mean saying sorry to God and seeking to make full amends for any wrong done. We could feel sorry because we honestly love God and have gone against His wishes. We could also feel sorry because we’ve been caught out. If we’re honestly sorry and seeking to make amends and want to do better, then God does forgive us. He desires not the death of a sinner but rather that the sinner turn to Him and live.

However, for this to happen, you do need to know that you’ve sinned. Apart from your conscience, who tells you that you have sinned? Your parents? Your family? A teacher? A priest? A policeman? A High Court Judge? Each of these folk certainly influence your understanding of what sin is, but can they really tell you that you have sinned? It seems clear that if your deeds fit a crime, then you have sinned. If your deeds do not fit a crime then you have not sinned. If only life were this easy!


Our Lord asks this question of the Pharisees. “Which of you convinceth me of sin? And if I say the truth, why do ye not believe me? He that is of God heareth God's words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God.” The fact of the matter is that the Scribes and Pharisees want to get rid of Our Lord but can’t find the crime to fit his deeds. That’s the crucial point here. We know we have sinned when our deeds fit the crime. That’s not the same as fitting the crime to the deeds!

We are probably used most not to see the evil in our own actions, and to seeing evil in what others do. Alternatively, some people are all too ready to see evil in everything that they do and become sad and depressed. We can be usually very judgmental if we’re not careful. We are tempted to judge beyond our abilities.


We do have to remember that God’s judgment is not like ours and if we want to be like God, then we should strive to see how justice works. God is in the unique position to see perfectly what is right and what is wrong, after all, whatever is good is from Him. When you consider that even calling someone a fool puts us in danger of Hellfire, or even looking at a woman with lust in one’s eye is adultery, the Law of God seems beyond our reach.

The temptation here is to see human beings as evil things that are incapable of being good. We forget that God has created us, and God looks at His creation and sees that it is good. We have fallen from Him, but still we must be worth something to Him for Him to want us to come back to Him. We cannot therefore be completely evil, because where God is, no evil can be and vice versa.

It is actually a sin to despise oneself, because if we did, we would be despising something good, something that God actually loves.

Yes, we need to be careful not to sin, but this is so that we allow ourselves to be nearer to God. Yet, if we do sin, we need to make sure we know it and then remember that “if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.”

The route out of temptation is the route of Love which is also the route out of sin. It is a difficult path which is why Our Lord treads it with us. Yes, we sin, but with God, yes we can be forgiven if we seek Him with our whole heart.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Collect for the fourth Sunday in Lent

Prayer book
GRANT, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that we, who for our evil deeds do worthily deserve to be punished, by the comfort of thy grace may mercifully be relieved; through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Breviary (Sarum)
Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that we who for our evil deeds do worthily deserve to be punished, by the comfort of thy grace may be relieved. Through etc.

 These days, many folk seem to be rather hung up on getting what they deserve as part of the "entitlement culture". Of course, these folk are always concerned that they are missing out on something good and will find ways of doing so. If there is some benefit that comes from the government, there are folk who will do anything to try and receive it.

Loosely speaking, as we know, grace is receiving what one does not deserve and mercy is not receiving that which one deserves. Members of the "entitlement culture" would certainly find difficulty with the idea that they might be more entitled to a stiff penalty rather than trying to obtain a government handout. The fact of the matter is that by virtue of the corruption of our nature, the natural end of our lives is Eternal Death also called Hell,  a complete separation from God that comes from rejecting His love and transformation into what He would have us be.

Separation from God is what we deserve. If that's what we want, then that is what God will give, but not before He has shown us His mercy precisely by not giving us that separation immediately. He gives us ample opportunity for reconciliation with Him through His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, an effort that comes solely from Him even though we do not deserve it. The more that we choose to turn towards God, the more we understand just how merciful and gracious He can be. Only by being humble and accepting what He gives us rather than demanding that which we believe to be entitled will we draw any benefit from His love.

Mothers, mountains and molehills

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on the fourth Sunday in Lent

Today is Laetare Sunday. As you know Laetare means “Rejoice!” The odd thing is that it always falls I Lent, which is hardly the most joyful season, yet we find ourselves being told to rejoice. Doesn’t that sound like a contradiction?


Today is also Mothering Sunday which always coincides with Mothers’ Day, though the two are different. It’s a day when we remember our mothers. That’s all well and good, but it’s hard to do when you’ve lost your mother. How can people who have no mothers, or have difficult family relationships rejoice in Mothering Sunday or Mothers’ day? It’s the same problem when we get to Fathers’ Day. How can we celebrate if our family is not a happy place, or if we have lost people we love?

It all sounds a bit glib, a bit of lip-service.

How can we rejoice?


Our walk through Lent brings us into the examination of what tempts us. Remember, the Devil like to tempt us to break as many of the Ten Commandments that we can. This includes the fifth commandment “Honour thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.” Again, this is hard to do if our families are difficult people to be with. Yet, certainly we would see the fifth commandment to be a struggle which we would strive at, but surely celebrating it in these circumstances would be impossible.

The fifth commandment is essentially to ensure that we provide for our parents in their old age and to look after them when they fall ill. That way we can expect to be treated the same by our children. For some people this is not an issue, and looking after an aged parent is difficult at times, but not unpleasant. For other people, though, relationships with parents can be very hard, and the temptation is to leave them to their own devices by cutting the family tie. For many such people, that solves the problem.

However, God presents us with a bit of a challenge. Even if we have the worst possible relationship with our parents as we possibly can, the fifth commandment still applies. How can we honour our parents then? That’s too hard!


We are presented with the feeding of the Five Thousand. Jesus Himself asks, “Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?” And poor Philip has not a clue! “Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little.” Yet from the tiny, tiny offering of a boy’s meal, God makes so much. All that needed to happen was for that tiny meal to be offered to God for the five thousand to be fed.

Notice that we do not know how Our Lord fed the five thousand: that is hidden from our view. Yet, they were fed. If we struggle with relationships with our parents, or even with someone else, we have to offer what little we can and then pray to God to take what we offer and let it grow. Even if it is only a little kindness that we can offer in situations of great difficulty, that kindness is out there for God to take and grow. If we don’t offer anything, then nothing can grow.

Lent teaches us to find little things to rejoice in and that joy is always there for us to find. The temptation we face is to do nothing at all to make rejoicing or healing possible. If we resist this temptation, God can make a mountain out of a molehill in the best way possible!

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Collect for the third Sunday in Lent

Prayer Book and Breviary

WE beseech thee, Almighty God, look upon the hearty desires of thy humble servants, and stretch forth the right hand of thy Majesty, to be our defence against all our enemies; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


A hearty meal - can that be a hearty desire? To be hale and hearty - can that be a hearty desire? Anything hearty must indeed come from the heart, that is clearly the point. A heart meal gives substance so that one can be substantial, i.e. hearty. Our desire is to be substantial, knowing that in our present form we are like ghosts compared with the saints. But do we really know what we're asking for?

This substance is only achieved through our suffering in this life. Our Lord reminds us that the way back to God is the way of the Cross. Our enemies will be the vehicle for that suffering, and there are any that would want us to remain insubstantial and wraith-like. These spectres tempt us with the notion that lack of substance is itself a substance and delight us with the joys of the vapid.

Yet these ruses work all too well, even when we think we know better. Our failure to succumb to this charade is a symptom of our blindness and our own familiarity with the insubstantial. Thus we pray our collect so that our brushes with the Great Insubstance - Evil itself - will have no effect.

Dividing the biccy

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on the third Sunday in Lent 2015

Have your withdrawal symptoms set in yet? Are you now beginning to struggle with having given things up?

It’s a struggle because, on the whole, we’ve given up things that aren’t actually spiritually bad for us. It’s not often that someone gets sent to Hell for eating a chocolate biccy – that’s only the case if you eat the Bishop’s chocolate biccy! What is actually dangerous is a desire for chocolate biccies that consumes us to the exclusion of doing good things. As soon as it begins to take God’s place in our lives, then we are in trouble.

That does raise a good question. How far do things need to go before they start taking God’s place in our lives?


Our Lord talks to us about kingdoms divided among themselves. In this situation, He is explaining to an ever more strident and unpleasant group of Pharisees that He is not driving out demons by the power of Beelzebub but rather with the power of God His Father. It’s interesting to look at the Pharisees here. What amount of hatred they have for a man doing something good for another! Jesus is performing an act of kindness, of charity, of love, and yet this is being dismissed as diabolical. How much hate do you need to have in your life to think a good act is evil?

You see, the Pharisees have their own teaching in their hearts. It is supposed to be based on the law of God given to them by Moses. Yet these scribes and Pharisees have become tempted and actually consumed by the desire to control other people’s lives. God gave the Law of Moses to help people, to give structure to their lives and to point them towards God, but the Pharisees have put that law in the place of God. Even when God is standing before them, curing the sick before their very eyes, they still hold on to what their reading of the Law says.

This shows us how something other than God can take His place in our lives.


If we truly want to ensure that we have nothing in our lives that takes God’s place, we should ask ourselves, “are we willing to give this up should God Himself ask us?” “CAN we give this up should God ask us?”

That puts choccy biccies in perspective, doesn’t it? But could you say the same thing for your job, your house, your family? Our Lord tells us that we should not put even our very lives before God.

Now that’s hard, isn’t it?


It’s only hard if we look at this without God, if we try to separate our desires from God. Yes, we must be willing to give it all up for God, but God gives us grace, and if we co-operate with that grace then we will be able to do it. Love endures all things, and God is Love, so with God we can endure all things, all temptation and stand against evil. When we are with God, we stand. A house divided against itself cannot.

We don’t need to give everything up at once, but we must remember that we must be able to do so, should God ask. The fact is that He may not ever ask us, but when He does, we can be sure that He will be there to catch us should we comply with His will.

Remember, that nothing in this life can be compared with the life that God offers us. If things get tough, remember how much better they will be when we see God face to face.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Convincing conviction

Religious education in schools has gone through many names. Some of us received an O-Level in Scripture, others in Religious Instruction. Some of us sat through periods of Religious Education and then got a GCSE in Religious Studies. Notice that, already in the simple case of nomenclature, there has been a radical shift in what is being taught.

To receive an O-Level in Scripture, one needed to study the Bible, to remember key texts, to understand what a passage was saying with reference to supporting texts. One received Religious Instruction which explained the Established Church and ensured that all schoolchildren understood the doctrine of the State Religion.

Of course, we now live in a society in which there are people of "all faiths and none" and thus we must study other religions and be educated in their practices; this includes those who claim they have no religious faith. What is religiously objective is now religiously subjective. At school, religions are studied as subjective quantities ("some people believe this, others believe that") often to the exclusion of allowing children to think about the implication of their beliefs or lack of them.

However, do we not all have religious belief? Is not-belief is the same as belief-not? Is "I do not believe in X" logically the same as "I believe in not-X"? For then one would have to work out one's religion in the pattern of "I believe not-X". X could be in one of two possible states, either true or false. By saying that one believes that X is not true means that they cannot believe that X is true. If they say that they do not believe that X is true, then they must either believe that X is not true, or ruling out the law of the excluded middle (i.e. believing that X is neither true nor false). Thus, in the situations in which the law of the excluded middle holds, not believing is the same as believing not.

I will admit two things, however. First, from the point of view of expression, to say that one believes there is no God does present a stronger statement of faith than to say that one does not believe that God exists. Second, that believing something to be neither true nor false is possible, but then this produces its own faith system and concomitant religion. Can God exist AND not exist simultaneously? What a lovely question. Perhaps I'll pursue that further in a later post!

What we moderns understand by "free" is that one be allowed to think what one wishes to think, and to believe what one wishes. There are, of course, restrictions on practice. One is free to believe that mass murder is compulsory, but one may not practise that belief in society. Thus "freedom to believe" is not the same as "freedom to practise belief". Society must function as far as possible for the good of everyone, but in practise must realize that it falls short of this. Society believes that to be happy, a person must be alive, and so murder is an obvious no-no. However, this does not bode well for the one facing a slow, agonizing death who believes that he has the right to end it all to prevent that suffering and to die with dignity.

I've just said, "Society must function as far as possible for the good of everyone." Now is that a subjective statement or is it objective? Is it something that must be held by everyone, or is it merely my own point of view? We have two things to bear in mind: first that we all want to be as happy as we possibly can; second, that we have to live with other people and their desires to be happy. Surely it is logical for Society to seek to maximize the happiness of all of its members.

Of course, this is going to be impossible. There are those who wish to have Halal meat, and others who believe that the production of Halal meat is cruel. Does Society opt for Halal meat due to a religious conviction, or does it ban it in regard to those who believe that animals should be treated with dignity as well? There is a third option in that Society allows those who want Halal meat to slaughter their own animals, but to disallow Halal meat for general consumption. This, of course has the danger of marginalizing Halal meat eaters within society and making it seem that the beliefs of non-Halal meat eaters seem more preferable. What does one do?

Quite frankly there is only one thing that Society can do. There must be preferred beliefs ranging from the obvious ("You shall do no murder") to the more disputable ("All meat must be Halal"). Society has to have core beliefs, but it must also have the courage of its convictions in those beliefs. If Society believes that murder is wrong, then it must have the courage to state what murder is and to stick with it. In turn, one should not blame Society from holding that position for the common good, though one should be perfectly free to influence Society in one's own belief. Yet Society can only ever be convinced of its own belief if its members understand the consequences of believing in something.

Too few people actually consider the consequences of their beliefs. They lack a coherent belief system other than beliefs presented as a smorgasbord of possibilities. This is a consequence of our pluralistic society, many faiths claiming "I have the truth! I'm right! Everyone else is wrong!" Indeed, it seems that we are being discouraged from having a religious faith. Society frowns on the one who says "I'm right! Everyone else is wrong!" because it goes against its pluralistic nature. Like Pontius Pilate and Caiaphas, in trying to keep the peace, it is better that one man suffer for his belief than for people to go into uproar from being offended by his utterances. Thus people are discouraged from being convinced, or at least from expressing their convictions. To say that one believes oneself to be right is considered arrogant, close-minded, even fundamentalist. Fundamentalism is now a word that has unpleasant images attached to it, thanks to those whose belief is that anyone who does not adhere to their appalling branch of religion must be beheaded.

The fact of the matter is that British society is founded upon Christian principles and these colour the rules that society follows. Yet, there are signs that those Christian principles are struggling against a new secular law. The Sacrament of Confession relies heavily upon the seal of the confessional whereby no-one may reveal the content of a confession on pain of excommunication. There is an increasing voice that, for example on issues of child-abuse, the seal of the confessional must be broken by law. We now have Christian law against secular law, and secular law will win because Christianity is now on equal footing with other religions and may not take precedence despite the foundation of the secular law upon Christian law. The Christian, of course, has only one course of action that is morally the best in his belief. He must break the secular law and suffer the consequences on the strength of his conviction that the Christian truth is indeed the truth.

Yet we are then faced with a further problem in that, for example of that awful murder of Lee Rigby, those who claim that killing for their religion is justified come up against the weight of the law that killing in such circumstances is unlawful and therefore murder. Lee Rigby's murderers (there's my conviction!) go to prison believing in the righteousness of their actions and suffering for those beliefs.

Now, some of us will find ourselves feeling a little uncomfortable at the equivalence of a Catholic priest going to prison unrepentantly for not breaking the seal of the confession in a case of child-abuse and the killers of Lee Rigby going to prison unrepentantly for murdering a young and innocent soldier. Both go to prison convinced that they are right. Yet, one is hypothetical - the law has not yet been passed to force the breaking of the seal of confession, though the State Church is considering it - the other is real. Are both morally identical imprisonments?

I'm not pretending for one moment that there is going to be a clear answer to this question, but it does raise the question as to how committed one should be for one's beliefs. Is prison worth risking because we hold to the seal of the confessional? The alternative would be for the Sacrament of Confession to be discontinued, and that would be more than a Catholic priest could bear with regard to the spiritual damage it would do to his flock. A good confessor will of course make the absolution of a child-abuser conditional precisely on his giving himself up to the secular law courts and receiving the due punishment. That is a sensible and reasonable attempt for a spiritual situation being reconciled with the spirit of the law in which those who abuse children must receive due and proportionate punishment. If the confessor is then punished because the abuser did not fulfill the satisfaction given to him in confession, then the moral guilt for that lies squarely on the abuser who does not receive absolution but accrues a further list of sins of great gravity.

What we are faced with here is the question of the locus of true justice. The secular law courts deal with temporal justice. Other religions hold to the locus of true justice lying beyond the temporal. For the Christian, the only true judge is God. For the Moslem too, the true judge is God. For the IS militant, the true judge is God. If one's locus of true justice lies beyond the secular, then one must be prepared for miscarriages of justice which will be resolved beyond the secular sphere.

Abortion is a great evil in that it mortally damages two people, mother and baby. It is still perfectly possible for an innocent baby to be aborted just because they are the wrong sex, not to mention the use of abortifacients as a means of casual contraception due to an "inconvenient" pregnancy conceived by consenting adults! However, I think it a general case that many people in the United Kingdom find the whole idea abhorrent and would actively seek to avoid such a situation as far as they humanly could. Most people, I am sure, would be horrified to consider it as a soft option. However, it may be that, by legalizing it, such a number of people who would be so horrified is falling.

However, rape is also a great evil which affects not only the person being raped but the family and any child conceived as a result of that violation. If a nine-year old conceives from rape and is not physically able to carry the child and so is taken to an abortion clinic by her mother to save her life, how evil is the abortion and who is to blame? If anyone thinks this is an easy question to answer, then I would kindly invite them to put themselves in the positions of each person in this scenario and then consider. The Catholic, while pleading in anguish that such an act be not committed, would believe that this situation would eventually be judged perfectly and precisely by God. A secular society which permits Abortion would clearly permit this regardless of loci of true justice that would not, much to the frustration and horror of all Catholics.

On the other hand, as is the case in secular societies that forbid abortion by law, it is the case that women whose baby dies in utero are not permitted to receive an abortion in order to save her life from the incipient infections. Similarly, things can and have gone so far that women who miscarry are found guilty of abortion and duly punished. Is this morally right?

Let us be clear, Human Justice is never perfect and the Catholic Church should, and in most cases I believe does, agonise over all these situations. They are not clear cut, nor can they be clear cut. There will be innocent found guilty and guilty allowed to be free. If we believe then we will have to suffer injustice regardless. No Secular Law Court will get things right in difficult cases and, indeed, set precedents which make future judgments less certain. To my mind, this gives a very good reason to believe in God who will judge things according to true righteousness that only He possesses and we only possess by imperfect reflection. If the Secular Authority is all, then Timothy Evans and John Christie both lost their lives, one justly the other unjustly but there is no way that Evans can be compensated. If there is only Human Law, then there is no true justice, but only that which is arbitrary. If there is God's Law then we can expect true justice.

I started this waffle thinking about how we are teaching children about religion. It seems that we teach them that there are no absolutes and that everything is relative and subjective. If everything is relative, then there are no miscarriages of justice just differences of opinion, and therefore no true justice. The Secular Law would then exist to preserve order only by promoting one legitimate opinion over another equally legitimate opinion. Do we teach children about how to have a conviction about a belief to the extent that they would be willing to lose their liberty for it? If not, then perhaps we see why our Churches are emptying as just one opinion in a million. If we believe in absolutes, then do we pass them on to our children?

Of course, people do not believe in the same absolute, but that is no reason for Society to fall apart. If all parties are willing to allow people to be wrong, and give them space to be wrong, even to the extent of choosing their own damnation (after all, God allows us to choose our own damnation by rejecting Him!) then there will be some order for society. True secularism does not destroy belief but provides an arena in which all beliefs can vie for the common good - but then, is the common good an objective moral value?

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Collect for the second Sunday in Lent

Prayer Book and Breviary

ALMIGHTY God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves; Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


The trouble is that human beings are so tiny. Between body and soul, there seems to be nothing much of us. We exist with Free-Will and yet are unable to free ourselves from the mire of sin. We can desire to be free of our sin, but without God we cannot in act be free of our sin. We find salvation only in the arms of Christ.

Our salvation is never complete before we die. Yeshua - the Hebrew form of Jesus - means "God is saving." It is a present and continuous tense, meaning that, all the time we are in time, we are being saved through that one perfect sacrifice with its promise of atonement. Thus we are still beset with adversity from the outside and evil thoughts from within which can still threaten to drag us away from that Salvation, if we allow this to happen.

Our recourse is simple. We need to keep in conversation with God, just as one who is being pulled out of the mire keeps conversation with his saviours to ensure that he is en route to safety. As we purify our intentions during Lent, so shall we find that conversation becoming clearer as our ears are opened from the mirey clogs of sin and Death.

Tempting the Paternoster

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on the second Sunday in Lent 2015

It’s probably the most prayed prayer in the world. You pray it about six times when you say the rosary. According to the Church Fathers, you should be praying it at least three times a day – morning, noon and night. It’s the prayer that Our Lord teaches us. It seems quite simple in its form, but is it?


Our Father who art in Heaven,
Hallowed be Thy Name,
Thy Kingdom come,
Thy Will be done
on Earth as it is in Heaven.

There are big ideas there, but at the very least in our prayer we recognise the sovereignty and familiarity of God the Father. We should spend more time unpacking these ideas, but let’s move on for now.

Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive them that trespass against us.
Still so far so good. We recognise that we are in need of God to provide all that is necessary to live. We also recognise the need to be forgiven and that our forgiveness depends on how much we are willing to forgive. Again, we should think about this a bit more. It’s the next statements that cause us some trouble.

Lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
Does God really lead us into temptation? Does He really want us to suffer Evil?


The fact of the matter is that we are tempted. Even Jesus, Our God is tempted! If that’s the case, why do we pray not to be led into temptation? If it’s going to happen, why not put a brave face on it and just let it happen? We have to remember that Our Lord Jesus suffers an agony in the garden over precisely this issue. Hear Him as He says, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” He is talking of His impending crucifixion where He will be subjected to torture and to pain and death. This is what has to happen for human beings to be reconciled with God. The human nature in Jesus is frightened, as each and every one of us would be, and yet He recognises the Will of His Father as being supreme.

He is praying for strength, and He is given strength.


When we pray “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil” we are recognising that we cannot stand up against sin, the world and the devil without the assistance of Almighty God. We may want to do the will of God, but we also know that we shall fall. We pray for the strength to avoid temptation, to flee from those near occasions of sin, and, when tempted, to look honestly and earnestly for the will of God in that situation.

We pray that we may be delivered from evil, not that we won’t feel the side-effects, but that we won’t succumb to it. We are praying for the strength to trust God, even in the darkest, most wretched and miserable hour as we wrestle with the Evils that beset us. Our deliverance from Evil IS our salvation which is being worked out now with God. That working out of our salvation comes with fear and trembling, but, recognising that God is there for us, anything against us will fall.

May God the Father, indeed, lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil, and may we find in Him greater strength and trust, so that we come to that wonderful promise of Eternal Life that God has prepared for all who truly love Him.