10th December 2023

Today we meet the scary character of John the Baptist, just the sort of person you’d cross the road to avoid, especially if you happened to be a Pharisee! John’s tough and direct message of preparation is one of faithful humility; it is a prophetic and uncompromising call for repentance and forgiveness. He reminds us that we are not readying ourselves to change the world alone; rather we are preparing to witness, and cooperate with, the grace and love of Jesus that alone can transform our world. Any change we want to effect begins with us.

But if we rely only on ourselves, each day is encumbered with myriad “winding roads” and “rough ways”: a teacher struggles with managing an unruly class with diverse needs; a parent faces redundancy; a spouse is worried about the health of The Loved One. As much as we try to tackle these obstacles individually, it is imperative that we have the wisdom to recognize our own limited humanity. The job is impossible, and we are inadequate.  The season of Advent is driven by this essential truth of our humanity: we are deeply, indeed completely, dependent on God and the sooner we recognize this the easier life and its trials become. We need God’s grace, His help.

The beauty of Christian discipleship, and of Advent, lies not only in Jesus’ saving grace, but also in Jesus’ invitation. We are not passive spectators of Christ’s mighty works. Jesus wants us co-piloting the craft with Him. This season we do not only witness the salvation of God, but Jesus calls us to join in his mission. Our call is not, by ourselves, to straighten the winding roads nor make smooth the rough ways of our broken world or to solve our own personal crisis or even to bear the burden of our personal struggles alone. That job is for a love and a manner of ‘being’ much deeper than our hearts can comprehend. In Advent, rather, we prepare to join in the work of Christ with zeal and compassion, to witness and share the vibrant kinship and radical hospitality of Jesus. Indeed, what could be a more profound preparation this Advent than opening ourselves more willingly to participate in the saving mission of Jesus for our own good and the good of all the world? It’s not an easy thing to begin to do because it involves a change and there a precious few of us who are good at grasping that nettle. I find that as I slog my way through mid-life ‘change’ becomes harder. I also recognize that it is becoming more necessary.

If there are struggles that you are having to shoulder, have you brought them to prayer? Have you offered them during Mass? Have you been to Confession to receive more grace to help you? Have you asked me or another parishioner to pray with you, not just for you? What have you to lose? Nowt, that’s what!

Last Laugh: Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read. Groucho Marx

3rd December 2023

And so we enter Advent once again. I’m almost breathless at how quickly we seem to have arrived at this point. Not alone does it seem two minutes since I was moving into St Paul’s Presbytery on a hot summer’s day in August (one of the few!), but it doesn’t seem two minutes since I was negotiating the overt celebrations that attend a Californian Christmas!

Recently, I revisited one of my favourite films of all time, Dead Poet’s Society, starring the late, great Robin Williams. If you haven’t seen it, you must. Somehow, its story seems to suit this time of year. In a very quirky introduction to the study of English literature, Mr Keating (played by Williams) has his students (a class of teenage boys) read the opening lines of Robert Herrick’s poem “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time”. They read: Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, Old Time is still a-flying; and this same flower which flowers today tomorrow will be dying. Now admittedly, Herrick is giving blunt advice to 16th century maidens about the need to get themselves a fella, and quick. In the film, Mr Keating broadens the theme with the aphorism Carpe Diem (seize the day) and this become the central premise of the film. The film demonstrates the need to ‘seize the day’ and that whilst a great price may have to be paid in the act of seizing, a much deadlier one (of a living death) is paid by not taking those important decisions/risks & gambles/opportunities that come our way. Some of us already know what that feels like.

Holy Mother Church, in fidelity to Her Saviour, invites Her children to do the same again and again throughout the year, but it seems most keen at this time of the year as we begin anew the liturgical cycle. Our ‘carpe diem’ isn’t the rash grasping of a teenager, though; rather, it’s the steady reflection on the past and a determined moving forward – even if that makes us anxious – all the while confident that Christ moves along with us at each step. Whilst we can do this as a community, we must also acknowledge that our community determination is a collective reflection of our individual determination; and this is secured for us Catholics through the reception of the grace of the sacraments, especially the sacrament of reconciliation (Confession). If we’re not prepared to embolden our Faith by the power of Christ’s forgiveness, then we cannot move forward. And if we deprive ourselves of that power then we deprive the wider community and our families of its power too. Charity begins at home, the say. It does, it begins with you and the Lord looking under your own stairs first. Do not be afraid. CARPE DIEM!

Last laugh: The plumber asked the lady: “So where’s the drip?” She replied, “He’s in the bathroom trying to fix the leak.” Tommy Cooper.

26th November 2023

During this past week we celebrated the feast of St Cecilia, virgin and martyr and patroness of musicians. Happy feast, if you’re a musician. Almost nothing (except an approximate date of her death) is known about her. It was some 200 years after her death which took place during the persecutions of the Roman Emperors that a strong cult grew up around her, so strong that a basilica was erected to her honour in the mid 5th century. Some of the greatest composers in history have written about her and she seems to be a sort of muse for the virginal-like flowering of a new piece of music in the mind of a musical genius.

Anyway, because of the conviction of the newly-liberated church of the post-Roman empire, we can be pretty certain that she was both a virgin and a martyr who died because of her all-consuming love for Jesus. To our sophisticated ears, those terms can seem somewhat archaic themselves and thus ‘discardable’. But they are vitally important to the life of Faith as they express the marriage bond that the exists between God and His people. The Old and New Testament scriptures abound with examples of the imagery of a wedding feast and indeed, in our actual wedding liturgies we talk of how the newly weds are symbols of Christ’s love for the Church, His Bride. This is not about some goody-two-shoes lass who’s never been kissed; it’s much deeper than that. It’s about the absolute giving of Christ Himself to His people and our feeble attempts to do the same back. It’s a call to us to get our act together and to put Christ at the centre of our lives.

Easier said than done; trust me, I know! Maybe you’re like me and you’re wondering where the year has gone? This time last year I was serving on a parish in the Diocese of Sacramento in California. This time last year, just like this year, I’m marvelling at ‘what a difference a year can make’! As we watch time speed by, as we enter into December and the First Sunday of Advent in this coming week, we can perhaps find ourselves wondering (not marvelling) at the missed opportunities to deepen our Faith in and love for Christ, our King. This year, we have enthroned an earthly king in Westminster Abbey, but have we enthroned our Heavenly King in the depth of our hearts? St Cecilia and many others are presented to us by Holy Mother Church to remind us of this most important task, namely embracing Our Lord as the centre of our lives and, in the way spouses do, preferring absolutely nothing to Him. When He is at the centre of our universe everyone and everything else can fall into its rightful place and God’s creative genius can be seen in everyone and everything. Last year, I learnt from my Mexican parishioners that such a conviction drove the Cristeros martyrs at the beginning of the 20th century who, as they were shot for insisting on Jesus’ law against an atheistic law, shouted out: VIVA CRISTO REI! Would I be that courageous? Yes, but only if Jesus is enthroned in my hearts core as my love, my Saviour and my King.

Last laugh: I’m not saying he was a heavy drinker but the only thing that grew on his grave were hops! Les Dawson

19th November 2023

It barely seems possible that we are over halfway through November already. Many of us have lost dear family and friends in the last year, some expected, some shockingly quick. Our parish family has lost some of its oldest and most faithful people during this last year. You hear some people say that the one thing we all have in common is that we shall all die one day. It’s a bleak thought and it’s true in part; but actually, it’s not the only thing we have in common. We can only die if we have first lived and been present in this world and so, in common, we all live and we all die. But FIRST, we live.

Too many people spend too much time worrying about fending off the inevitability of death. It’s going to happen and Jesus, who knows what it is to die (and even to die in awful circumstances) assures us that we don’t need to worry as long as we keep our eyes fixed on Him and our trust in God’s mercy. That established, we can get on with the sometimes tedious, sometimes exciting prospect of being a (wo)man fully alive. St Iranneus said that “The glory of God is a human-being fully alive”. We can only be fully alive if we are fully in the present moment and don’t spend too much time worrying about the manner of our death. Perhaps this was one of the reasons why the Church used to promote prayer to St Joseph, the Patron of a happy death. I say ‘used to’ because the insidious evil of Relativism has ensured that our community and especially our children should fear death, unless of course it’s commercialised at Halloween. This is bound to happen when you insist on removing the fullness of God from as much of life as possible. Well, I can assure you it aint happening in any parish placed in my care, not even over my very dead body! Below are two prayers for a happy death, one seeking the intercession of St Joseph and one seeking the comfort of the Holy Family. Pray them, shock your trendy neighbours, send the politically correct into spasms of objection and then stop worrying about the end of your life and get stuck into enjoying your life as it is right now because right now, just like the Holy Souls, you are in God’s hands and you will be at the moment of your death and way beyond as long as you are prepared to trust Him.

O Blessed Joseph, you gave your last breath in the loving embrace of Jesus and Mary.
When the seal of death shall close my life, come with Jesus and Mary to aid me.
Obtain for me this solace for that hour – to die with their holy arms around me.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I commend my soul, living and dying, into your sacred arms. Amen

Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I give you my heart and my soul.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, assist me in my last agony.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, may I breath forth my soul with thee. Amen.

Last Laugh: And God said: “Let there be Satan, so people don’t blame everything on me. And let there be politicians, so people don’t blame everything on Satan.” George Burns

12th November 2023

During this last week, I met with a number of our young people and their parents as they plan for the young ones to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation from the Bishop in February next year. You will remember that a few years ago, Bishop Stock reduced the age of Confirmation from 13/14-year-old to 10/11. For some time, it seemed that Confirmation completed the Sacraments of Initiation whereby we mark the journey to spiritual adulthood in our young people. It has nothing to do with that at all. That model has created a sort of ‘rite of passage’ which has more in common with a Jewish Bar-Mitzvah than one of the seven Sacraments. Confirmation doesn’t complete the initiation into the life of Faith, Holy Communion does and if you go to the Easter Vigil and watch adults being received into the Church you will see them being first baptised (or formally received if they have belonged to another Christian denomination) then Confirmed and then, later in the Mass, making their First Holy Communion. Even with the Bishop’s renewed structure we’re still getting things out of sync.

When a person is Confirmed, they are given the gifts of the Holy Spirit by which they are enabled to live the Sacramental life of a Catholic Christian. Without those gifts none of us can hope to grow to full spiritual maturity in our lives of Faith. The Bishop wishes to move the Sacrament closer to the celebration of the Sacraments of Penance and Holy Communion so as to ensure that more children have the opportunity to receive these gifts and so begin to live by the graces they promise. You might say that they have this opportunity now: they can choose to petition for the reception of the Sacrament if they’re that bothered. The modern reality is that by the age of 13/14/15 they are running out of steam and are being massively pressured to abandon their Faith by their peers. (And this pressure happens as much in our Catholic high schools as it does in any other school, so let’s not kid ourselves otherwise. ) It is hoped that with the grace of the Sacrament working within them they have at least a slim chance of resisting such forces.

Christ needs foot soldiers for the work of grace and mercy that is so necessary in this modern world. The majority of that work is done, not by priests and religious, but by the laity. Our bishop is making sure that the spiritual soldiers under his command are suitably equipped and prepared to meet the battles that must be fought. They are battles for souls: our own and everyone else’s. If you don’t believe in a spiritual life then that last statement is pure tosh and you may as well dress the children up in posh frocks and throw cake at them…oh, wait…that’s what happens to many of our children at Holy Communion-time, isn’t it?! But if the spiritual life means anything to us then we need to roll up our sleeves, assess the task and all it needs and then get cracking with the work in hand. We have been appalled when the government has sent our soldiers into war zones poorly armed and supported. Last year we Confirmed about a dozen young people from this parish. According to the records that ‘baptism year’ we should have been Confirming nearer 50. We have allowed too many of our young people to go out into a tumultuous world with less than we can give them. Please pray for the young people of our communities, and their families, as they embark on this journey of grace.

Last Laugh: I love to sing and drink scotch. Most people would rather hear me drink scotch. George Burns

5th November 2023

This weekend there’ll be bonfires and fireworks a-plenty around our two towns. Bonfire Night was always a big ‘do’ at our house when we were kids. I distinctly remember making a fantastic Guy Fawkes one year with a mate of mine and we made a fortune on ‘penny for the Guy’. That was the year when I realised through my history lessons that I was sponsoring the burning of an effigy of a Catholic and that’s when I stopped making Guys. Admittedly, Guy Fawkes wasn’t exactly playing by the Catechism of the Catholic Church when he and others plotted to blow up the king and parliament along with members of the royal family. But, if you know a little bit about history, you’ll know that parliament and the monarchy hadn’t exactly been playing fair with Catholics for many a year up to that point. Little wonder that to some of the Catholics of his day, Guy Fawkes was a martyr? Certainly, the Church has never recognised him as such. But, anyway, it’s all a long time ago, isn’t it? And we’re not so primitive in our manners, are we? Hmmm.

This weekend, the goodly people in the Bonfire capital of the world, Lewes, will not only burn an effigy of Guy Fawkes but, as they do every year, they will also burn an effigy of the Pope. (Technically, it’s Pope Paul V who became Pope in 1605, but an effigy of the pope is an effigy of the pope, innit?!) I was thinking of burning an effigy of the current Ayatollah on the green in Heckmondwike this weekend. I wonder how that might go down? The protestants of Lewes remember their 17 martyrs who were put to death by Queen Mary and you have to hand it to their ‘remembering’: it’s a prolific thing to keep such hatred going for 500 years. But we have not a few Catholics who play fast and loose with the memory of our own martyrs. I wonder if the goodly protestants of Lewes or our own righteous Catholics tut-tut at how those Gazans and Israelis just can’t seem to bury the past.

The most persecuted religion in the world at present is Christianity, the majority of whom are Catholics, though that fact is barely ever reported by the main news outlets. And how should we respond to the institutional prejudice of our own country (i.e. the monarch cannot marry a Catholic nor can a Catholic PM advise the King on the appointment of Bishops) and the violent bigotry directed to our brethren in the Middle East, South East Asia and China? Should we respond with gunpowder, burnings, butchery and more bigotry? No. It is to be met by the Bonfire of Love that burns in the Heart of Jesus, that His disciples are asked to imitate. That being the case, is it any wonder that few take up Jesus’ challenge to live non-violently to its maximum effect? And yet, where our forebears have done so, and maybe even lost their lives in the process, it has a far greater effect than the brute elemental fire that only destroys. Jesus’ Heart on Fire consumes hatred and makes converts who begin their lives anew. Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, make our hearts like unto Thine.

Last Laugh: My mother always used to say “The older you get, the better you get. Unless you’re a banana.” Rose from the Golden Girls.

29th October 2023


Last Saturday, we had our Parish Thinking Day. There were about 40 people in attendance and I was delighted to see that there was a good cross-section from both churches. I know more would have been present if they were able. Speaking for myself, it was a strong, inspiring day and I am excited about my future ministry in this neck of the woods.

The meeting was asked if they wished me to press ahead with a letter to the Bishop asking him to formally amalgamate the 2 parishes. After some discussion and reminder of the salient points which I outlined to you at Mass and in the bulletin back in early September, I was instructed to write the letter to Bishop Stock. It went off on Thursday to await his return from Rome. I’d like to thank all those people who took the time to make their thoughts known; the comments were all positive. This has inspired me because it shows me I am ministering in a community that honours the past, is naturally sad about the way things have tumbled in recent years but is still looking towards its future mission in the district. I shall keep you posted when I hear something from the Bishop.

I also asked the meeting to consider what I should do in respect of the Saturday Vigil Masses. I am confident that Mass attendance will increase, but even were it to double it would not justify 4 Sunday Masses for a parish this size, especially when every parish we border on to has a vigil Mass. We need to be realistic. My first responsibility is to our parish, but with the shortage of priests I need to be available to provide emergency cover for priests who are ill or away. I can’t do that on a Saturday evening or Sunday morning. I know why we have the set-up currently in operation and I would have set-up something of the same some years ago. But now, it’s simply not sustainable. The Sunday morning Mass attendances are relatively strong and I don’t want to fiddle around with them but one of the vigil Masses will have to go. So, I’m asking you, what would you do if you were in my position? I haven’t made any decisions as yet and I’m asking because you might see a way of approaching this that I’ve missed. Obviously, I will have to make the final decision (which will need the Bishop’s approval) but I want all the help I can get to make that decision. Email me, write to me, talk to me. (I’m interested to hear YOUR opinions, not ‘what other people are saying’. If they can’t address me themselves, I’m not interested.) Remember, this isn’t the end of the world; it’s not a disaster. Those adjectives are real and applicable to families across the Holy Land and elsewhere. Our situation is an inconvenience and ‘a bit sad’. Let’s keep discussion mature, befitting of our Christianity and in its proper context, please. We’ll take the month of November to chew this over. We could do a lot worse than to pray to the great heroes of Faith who have had to make much tougher decisions before us.

Last laugh: Michael Parkinson: What does your doctor think about you smoking and drinking at your great age? George Burns: My doctor? My doctor’s dead!

22nd October 2023

All this week I’ve been thinking of Grandad Lodge and his consistent phrases at this time of year “Ey up! Night’s are drawing in! Winter draws on (and very nice they are too!); not many shopping days to Christmas”. I think he did it as much to wind Grandma Lodge up as anything else. She was an eternal optimist and had no time for her husband’s doom-laden phrases. As we come to the end of October, we’re likely to be wondering where the time has gone; this year is almost over. It is true that as we get older we become aware that life is truly a ‘fleeting’ experience. The psalmist says that our life is like grass: In the morning it springs up and flowers, by evening it withers and fades. And the writer prays to God that He Make us know the shortness of our lives that we may gain wisdom of heart.

This isn’t a bad meditation for me, to be honest. I flourish in the sun (and get burnt, too) but I’m learning that I flourish even more when I am confronted with autumn and winter. In the past I have done anything I can to avoid the ‘dying seasons’ but as I get older, I realise that a sense of mortality has as much to teach me as does the zest for life. In fact, a proper, non-morbid, sense of mortality thrusts me back into a deeper appreciation of life and its ceaseless glories. Having watched the flowers of summer blossom and flourish I am learning to take satisfaction and comfort in the stillness of the autumn garden which has ceased to grow and now quietly prepares itself for death and later, resurrection.

It is all too easy for me to succumb to the negative press ‘associated’ with autumn/winter and start buying into a phraseology of despondence. Jesus teaches us that the signs of the Kingdom can be found in the flowers of the fields and the birds of the air, but it can also be found in the darker side of life such as physical suffering, crushed seeds in the ground etc. The key for Jesus is that God is ever creative; He is not bound by times and seasons nor even death. God is constantly making all things new and that includes me. And you.

True wisdom is found in the one who knows s/he is passing through and who doesn’t want to waste any time being dragged down by despondency and negativity. True, there are times and situations where we feel like our heart is breaking and our lives are fracturing before our very eyes and it is hard to feel anything other than despondency or negativity. It is then that the Church comes into Her own as a body of people gathered to nurture and support the weak and those who are struggling. It’s not a matter of covering somebody’s pain with cheap platitudes but rather being there with practical support so that the weak and suffering will know that God’s mercies do not come to an end. Dame Julian of Norwich said We rise and we fall and both are the mercy of God. The key is to see the mercy of God in everything and to rejoice that He is most certainly with us, encouraging us now to rest awhile before He recreates us ever-new.

Last laugh: I get up every morning and read the obituary column. If my name’s not there, I eat breakfast. George Burns.

15th October 2023

The events of last weekend in Our Lord’s earthly homeland have deeply troubled many, if not all of us. For me, it has been a double ‘punch in the guts’. Firstly, like many of you, I find it hard to process the barbarity of this action especially where it has involved the elderly and children. The savagery is utterly overwhelming. Secondly – and I suspect I’m not alone in this – I am disturbed to have found myself easily moved to something of the same kind of vengeful language that trips so easily (and well calibrated) from the lips of politicians and pundits across the world, whilst at the same time feeling deeply uneasy about that language. We know it’s an understandable response, an acceptable response; but we also know from experience that vengeful rhetoric and action is not going to solve long-standing problems for reasons that are as much to do with temperament as they are politics. If anything, it’s only going to make it worse, much worse.

That second ‘punch in the guts’ is, personally speaking, the more disturbing. It has shown me how very far from the mind of Jesus I actually am. In the mind of Jesus, which is what we should all be aiming to attain according to St Paul, there is no room for vengeance and violence. In His teaching, Our Blessed Lord, doesn’t suggest for one minute that we should roll over and let the savagery of our enemies have free reign (contrary to popular opinion, that is emphatically NOT what the teaching on ‘turn the other cheek’ means). Our Blessed Lord knows that we have been hardwired for violence and vengeance and that it’s deeply ingrained in our societies with very few exceptions. Only a completely ‘new way’ is going to change the status quo which brings so much misery and suffering. This is why he prefaces his teaching on nonviolence in St Matthew’s Gospel again and again with the phrase, “You have heard how it was said…But I say to you….” Jesus has little, if anything, to say about the ‘hot sins’ of homosexuality, abortion, euthanasia (except via that which is implicit) but He DOES make it crystal clear what he thinks about my notions of retribution and violence.

So where does this leave me? Floundering, for want of a better word. How can I preach that message on the streets of this country, never mind in Israel and Gaza? How can I be faithful to Jesus’ teaching and not look like I’m playing fast and loose with the reality of abducted mothers and children, slaughtered Holocaust survivors, butchered families, innocent Gazan children and civilians who are being used as human shields? The answer is simple: I don’t know. But I do know that to jump on either bandwagon is to betray the heart of Jesus which is already sore-wounded by the horrors of these last days. I do believe that the very First Responder at the scene of a massacred family in Israel or a bombed street in Gaza was the God of Jesus Christ, bending down to enfold His beloved children in His arms and to wash away their pain with His tears. The only way I can be more like that, rather than the faux righteousness of outraged politicians and pundits, is to pray. This war erupted on the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. Again, I urge you, pick up your beads and ask Our Lady to make us more like her Son in our responses to evil. We shall make that our very special intention at Rosary & Benediction this weekend (Sunday, St Paul’s 3:30pm)

A WORD OF WISDOM: An eye for an eye and the whole world goes blind. Ghandi.

10th September 2023

On Friday the Universal Church celebrated the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. During the coming week Holy Mother Church celebrates the Most Holy Name of Mary. Both of these feasts have overtones of feasts ascribed to Our Blessed Lord: His Nativity and The Most Holy Name of Jesus. This is in no way meant to put Our Lady on a par with her Son, but rather is meant to accentuate her supremely important role in the great Theo-drama of salvation. It is also a salutary reminder to the People of God that devotion to the Blessed Mother is not an optional extra in the life of a faithful Catholic. It is integral, and without it our spiritual lives are somewhat… oh, what’s the word?…hopeless!!

To avoid a life that is without hope, there are a multitude of ways in which a faithful Catholic can engage with Our Lady; the rosary is but one of them. The Church doesn’t proscribe any particular way for us, nor does She insist that all Catholics must ‘believe’ in Lourdes or Fatima or Knock etc. We are told, after due investigation, that there is nothing attached to these apparition sites or devotions which is injurious to the soul of the faithful. It is up to us to find our ‘level’ (we may do this – wisely – with the help of A.N.Other), and I would say it is crucially important to do so. Jesus saw fit to give His Blessed Mother to us (and us to her) as He hung upon the Cross. It takes some brass-neck on our part to suggest to the Crucified Saviour, “No thanks. I’ll manage without her.” Our Lord could have managed without her but He chose not to. Let us take Him as our example and embrace (in whatever manner we choose) the one who is both Mother of God and our Mother too. It is a great blessing for us that part of the dedication of our parish belongs to Our Lady of Unfailing Help. Be honest, is there ever a time when we are not in need of the help of heaven?

Fr Simon

LAST LAUGH: I spent three weeks pushing a pan scrubber in the baby’s face. I want him to get used to kissing his grandmother. Les Dawson