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21 August 2016

Posted by Canon Dakin on 21-09-2016

 

Our Lord is talking about his Church being  catholic. The word catholic is from the Greek phrase kath holen ten gen - literally, ‘over all the earth’.

It doesn’t mean that in fact the whole world will be converted though some people have expressed the urgency of it. St Cyprian, way back in the early days coined the phrase - ‘Outside the Church there is no salvation’ and from time to time people have said that means if you are not s Catholic you won’t get to heaven In the 1950s there was a Fr Feeney in America who insisted that this was true. He had his knuckles rapped. So what does the phrase mean?  There is a hint in today’s gospel. ‘Enter by the narrow door‘ said Our Lord.  He himself is that door. ‘No one can come to the Father except through me’.So what about atheists, Muslims and people who follow ancestral religions? How do they find their way through the narrow door? We know that Christ died for all, for every one who is born into this world... It is true that at Mass we say that he died ‘for many‘. That is a strict translation of the Latin. The Gospels were written in Greek.  All scholars are agreed that the Greek idiom means ‘for all’.  All are subject to the power that comes from the cross, the source of grace..  Any act of generosity, of putting another’s interests before your own, comes from the prompting of a gift of grace. In responding to that grace implicitly people are relating to Christ who died for us.  We may call them ‘anonymous Christians’. They have ‘Baptism of desire‘ and so are connected to the Church. Because of this connection they are not ‘Outside the Church’.          Our Lord in the gospel is addressing the paradox that the people chosen by God rejected Him when He appeared among them. Jesus foresees that his Church, when it takes shape will be mainly a church of the gentiles. They are the last to be called who will be the first to respond.       

 

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14 August 2016

Posted by Canon Dakin on 21-09-2016

 

I was standing in the piazza of St Peter’s in Rome on the day when from the balcony Pope Pius XII formally declared that the Assumption of our Blessed Lady was part of our faith. It had been celebrated as a feast by the Church for centuries. Before the year 600 the feast was made obligatory throughout the Eastern Church. Shortly afterwards it came to Rome and was celebrated with great solemnity, marked by a torchlight procession from the forum up the hill to St Mary Major’s. Taking out the theological jargon what Pius XII said was simply “If we believe it, let’s say so”.

So what does it mean? It means that Mary in heaven shares the condition of her Son, glorified as he is.   Why should she? Because she was - and is - his mother. As his mother, she was sanctified, made special by the presence of God within her. It was respect due to God that such intimacy required that at the end of her life she should not be discarded like a tool that had outlived its use and left to rot. Then there were the purely human implications.  There had been a unique bond of love between mother and Son. There’s a prayer we use at funerals: “The bonds of love that entwine us during life do not unravel in death”.  Jesus in heaven doesn’t point to Mary and say: “Do you see that woman over there, she used to be my mother”.  He would want her by his side, sharing everything he had to give. That, quite simply, is what the Assumption means. But it means more than that. It has meaning for all of us. As Mary is now, one day we shall be. The Second Vatican Council in its document on the Church said: “Mary, the Mother of God, in the glory which she possesses in body and soul in heaven is the image and the beginning of the Church as it is to be perfected in the world to come”.  So Jesus wishes us all to share, body and soul, all he has to give, and the pledge that this will happen is here at Mass when in our bodies we receive the sacrament of the of his self-giving.          

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7 August 2016

Posted by Canon Dakin on 21-09-2016

 

The great Jewish feast was the Passover when they kept the anniversary of their liberation from slavery in Egypt. It is a solemn and joyful occasion with singing of songs and a suggested five glasses of wine. On the table there are various symbols. A lamb bone is a reminder of how they were saved - passed over - by the avenging angel through the signal of the blood of a lamb being sprinkled on their door-posts. In a dish there are bitter herbs - it could be horse-radish sauce - to remind them of the bitterness and hardship of slavery.  There is a mixture of apple, cinnamon, nuts and wine - a sign of the mortar used when they were forced labourers in Egypt. There are other meaningful symbols on the table. Otherwise, within a normal celebration meal, by question and answer, through readings and songs, the story is told of their great escape. The first reading at Mass this morning was inspired by memories of the passover supper long ago.

The same is true of the Gospel with its message of being on the watch during the night for the coming of Christ. The gospels were written, you remember, when the routine of Christian life was beginning to settle down. The great Christian celebration was Easter night, the night of the Jewish Passover, the anniversary of Jesus’ passing over through death to new life, the night of the resurrection when the faithful believed that Jesus would return to the world. So they kept watch all night until dawn when, through the Eucharist, they celebrated the presence of the risen Christ in their midst. An Ester vigil, to be authentic, should pass through the midnight barrier.

A Jewish passover supper is a most effective preparation for Holy Week because the Christian Easter has deep roots in the passover.  The lamb whose blood was sprinkled on the wooden doorposts has become the symbol of Jesus shedding his blood for us on the cross. He is the paschal lamb.  I have some friends who every year celebrate a passover supper at the beginning of Holy Week. If you should fancy gathering a few friends to share the same experience, I will gladly take you through it and supply copies.           

 

           

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31 July 2016

Posted by Canon Dakin on 03-08-2016

 

A couple of weeks ago a cardinal came from Rome to England to address a group who are devoted to the retention of the old Latin Mass. Naturally they had chosen to invite him because they knew that he was sympathetic. The remark which caused a stir was his advice to all priests that from the first Sunday of Advent this year they should recite the Eucharistic Prayer standing with their backs to the people in order to face the conventional East where the rising sun is a symbol of Our Lord rising from the dead. The free-standing altar, with the priest facing the people, is regarded by many as a new-fangled invention. That is a light reading of history.  Many of you have been to             St Peter’s in Rome and, perhaps, attended when the Pope has been celebrating Mass. He doesn’t face the wall. He faces the people. The priest is the host, playing the part of Christ. You don’t turn your back on your guests. There is a cluster of fourth century churches in Rome, all with the chair back centre from where the priest simply walks forward to face the people across the altar.  That was the ground plan of churches in the West for a thousand years.  So after a thousand years how was it that the altar was dragged back against the wall and the chair was slewed to the side?  Relics! It was the popularity of relics that prompted the change round about the thirteenth cent.. At first the altar was not set right against the wall.  It was separated from the wall by a wooden shelf. The relics were placed on the shelf and people would get as close to them as they could by walking under the shelf along the gap between the altar and the wall.  Later the shelf was eliminated and shelves called gradines, were placed on the altar itself.

The next step was taken by the Bishop of Verona in the 16th century. The most precious relic we have, he said, is the Blessed Sacrament and he placedthe tabernacle in thecentreof the high altar.  Rome was not persuaded. There the tabernacle remained in its own chapel as a place of quiet contemplation away from the centre of action. So the design of a church after Vatican II is not a new revolution - it represents an age-old unbroken tradition. When the cardinal got back to Rome he was called to see Pope Francis and it was made clear that what he had said in London was his own private opinion and not the view of the Church. So don’t expect me to be turning my back on you. The focus of our celebration, to which we all turn, is not some vague symbol but the living person of the risen Christ whobecomes present in our midst on the altar. 

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24 July 2016

Posted by Canon Dakin on 03-08-2016

 

There is a special collection today for the Good Shepherd Fund. Our Lord is said once to have looked at a crowd of people and been sorry for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So where do we find our shepherds?

You know I had a birthday recently and I thank you for your kindness and generosity.  I had a conversation then with Brian Carter and he told me that I was forty-two when I came to Thornton. I was surprised to realise that I had spent more than half my life here. Perhaps you are thinking - we knocked him into shape. Well, at forty-two I was already old enough to be a grandfather and, therefore, reasonably mature. You may have added a few dents and scratches and, maybe, a little polish, too, but it is when you are young and impressionable that you may be shaped by people and places.  I am not a Thorntonian. I am a Lancastrian. Lancaster made me. There are two places there in particular that shaped my future.  I was an altar boy at the cathedral. There was no rota. We were all on for everything - which meant three times on Sunday.  Weekdays were for those who were free. Every day at eight 0‘clock, besides Mass at the High Altar there would regularly be Masses to serve in two, sometimes three, side chapels. So we were kept quite busy.  You felt integrated, fully part of the life of the cathedral.  The other place was the Low Moor, a public open space as it is today. We lived only two hundred yards away. It was my playground, where I honed my off-breaks and where I learned to play tennis - but I was conscious all the time that this was the place where our martyrs had been executed. In this environment and with an uncle and three cousins priests, I just seemed naturally to gravitate towards priesthood. There was one obstacle. Did I have a vocation?  I hadn’t a clue!

A vocation implies that you are called by God. I’d never heard a voice in my ear saying ‘I want you’, so what the heck was a vocation.  It was my mother who talked common sense.  You volunteer for the Bishop, if he wishes, to call you to be a priest.  Your vocation actually comes when at your ordination the bishop says: “Ichoose this man”.  I wonder how many young men are put off by the mistaken idea that a vocation is a mystical experience in which you hear a direct call from God. That wrong impression is really something that should be corrected. This week there are three thousand young people from this countryattending World Youth Day, meeting with Pope Francis in Krakow.  Our bishops are hoping that a number of them may be inspired to offer themselves for the priesthood or religious life. If they read The Universe last week, as they set off, they may be in a confused state of mind. The whole of the back page is devoted to the story of a Portuguese nun living presently in London.  She spent a number of years in Africa. For six month she livedas a refugee with refugees - walking with them for weeks on a journey from the war in South Sudan to a camp in the Congo. As a young girl of fifteen, whilst reading a story of missionaries who had been killed in the Congo she felt within her heart a voice saying “Natalia, I need you” and this voice, she said, repeated itself in my heart three times: “I need you in Africa”.  So she went.  This kind of direct call is a genuine but extraordinary experience. It should be made clear that the ordinary way is simply to volunteer to be called by the Bishop. It is appropriate today to pray for the young people attending World Youth Day that they may not be confused but simply opento a unique and privileged experience and whatever inspirationcomes from it.

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17 July 2016

Posted by Canon Dakin on 03-08-2016

 

Colossae was a busy little place, its prosperity being built on the textile industry. There was a famous red cloth known as Colossian. The religious scene seems to have been equally lively. We must remember that in Paul’s day Christianity was struggling to take root. It was new on the scene.  It seems that there was a group in Colossae who were taking bits of Christianity and mixing them with both Jewish and pagan ideas for a small intellectual elite to adopt as their mystery religion. St Paul writes to the community there telling them that the only mystery that counts is Christ in you.  I know that our translation has ‘Christ among you‘ but St Paul says plainly and simply Christos en humin which other translations - the Anglican, for instance -  accept in its straightforward meaning ‘Christ in you’. St Paul is following Our Lord himself who said at the Last Supper: ‘As you, Father, are in me and I am in you may they also be in us... so that they may be one as we are one‘. God is sharing with us the unity which makes him God. He makes us divine. He is in us, empowering us, as our soul is in our body. We know that so often we don’t employ the powers of our soul as we should. We fail, for instance, as we say, to put our minds to it,  so we have to gear ourselves to the power of the indwelling God. That means being aware, being conscious of his presence. Not only when we’re at prayer.  The link to God is permanent and extends through the whole of life. When you are playing dodgems with the traffic on a road where cars are parked on both sides, if you are in partnership with Christ you will drive with patience and courtesy and not curse the brash idiot who dares you to come forward.  That is what being a Christian means. A Christian is not simply one who professes to believe in Christ. He is one who lives as he imagines Christ would choose to live. Our Holy Communion means nothing if it doesn’t imply a renewal of this resolution. 

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3 July 2016

Posted by Canon Dakin on 07-07-2016

 

The kingdom founded by King David with its capital at Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians in the year 587. Some of you ladies when you played your games as children may remember the rhyme: Nabuchadonosor, king of the Jews, bought his wife a pair of shoes and so it went on. Nabuchadnezar, to give him his right name, was not king of the Jews except by conquest.  It was he who did the damage. After he had reduced Jerusalem to ruins, all the people of influence and all those with special skills were taken off into exile in Babylon, modern Iraq.  The Persians, modern Iran, then rose to the top and their kings freed the Jews and helped them to return to Jerusalem. That was the subject of the first reading. Isaiah pictures Jerusalem as a mother welcoming her returning children.  He regards the Persian kings as God’s instruments. The underlying truth is the power of God to restore a broken situation.

I am linking this in my mind to the gospel. Funny number - seventy two! It is symbolic - the Jews believed that the nations of the world numbered seventy or seventy two. Our Lord means his Church to take the gospel to the whole world and he makes it clear that this is God’s work not a human ambition to conquer the world.  ‘Ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest’. ‘The harvest is rich but the labourers are few’.  And when we regard the English scene - you might say the European scene, the few labourers that we have are dwindling in numbers. Last week the papers were reporting rejoicing in the diocese of Aberdeen - the first priest in five years had just been ordained.  When we look at our own diocese I am reminded of King Alfred’s vision of Our Lady in Chesterton’s poem. Her message to Alfred was: ‘I tell y0u naught for your comfort, naught for your desire, save that the sky grows darker yet and the seas rise higher’.  The diocese has contingency plans for one priest to serve the whole of Thornton and Cleveleys. So, what happened? I believe it was the youth culture of the sixties and seventies. The pop idols were hardly encouraging. Their philosophy was ‘If you want it, its right for you. Take it’.  Young people, beginning then to go to university in considerable numbers, were offered a cocktail of Marx, Sartre and Freud.  And being immature they swallowed it. Religion was not part of the recipe. They became detached.  There has been a reaction. Again this year Youth 2000 is organising a camp at Walsingham where twelve hundred young people will make a retreat for a week centred on adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.  There will be fun, of course, but spirituality is the real business.  One hundred and ten young people from our diocese will shortly be attending the World Youth Event in Krakow in the presence of Pope Francis.  If you tot up the diocesan average it will mean that at least 2000 youngsters from England will be there.  It’s from these groups that we may hope for vocations but as Our Lord himself reminded us the call to serve is God’s work. We do have the Exposition on Wednesday for this intention and I appreciate that not everyone is free to attend but we are all free to pray in private. We are not exactly facing the extinction of Christianity in Europe and there are examples in history, notably in Japan and Korea of the faith surviving without priests, but the Mass is so central to the presence of the Church, that we should be taking seriously Our Lord’s admonition: Ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest.

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26 June 2016

Posted by Canon Dakin on 07-07-2016

 

May I remind you of what St Paul said this morning? “If you go on snapping at each other and tearing each other to pieces, you had better watch or you will destroy the whole community”.  A woman was walking her dog and met three other women dog-walkers, with whom she was on Good Day terms. They asked her how she was going to vote in the referendum.  She said she was going to vote leave but that she had nothing but respect for those who wanted to stay in. That provoked a rant in which she was accused, among other things, of being a supporter of the man who murdered Jo Cox.  She was shaken and walked away because they were reaching a point where they might no longer say hello to each other.                                            

                        The people of this country have now decided, by however small a margin, to leave the EU and one hopes that the leaders on both sides of the argument will unpick their rhetoric and take us into calmer waters. It is the function of a democracy that majority opinions are accepted and the minority are respected. The heat of the argument may take some times to cool. To borrow a phrase of Pope Francis: we all have deep roots in the rich soil of collective history: Alfred who burnt the cakes, 1066, Nelson and Trafalgar, the Somme, Dunkirk. We are entering another phase of our long national history.  As a train may rock when it crosses the points before it settles on to a new line, so we may go through a rocky period requiring patience. The Christian law of love of neighbour is not a nebulous abstract. In St Paul’s vision it may keep the community from falling apart. Our civic responsibility is not to be divorced from our profession as Christians.   

 

           

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5 June 2016

Posted by Canon Dakin on 14-06-2016

 

I am not going to talk about the Sunday readings.  Today is June 5th. What is the significance of June 5th? Let me ask another question.  Who is the greatest Englishman ever? I haven’t been able to verify this but I believe that in his History of the English People Churchill nominates a Devon man of the 8th century, Boniface of Crediton. Today is the feast day of St Boniface.  And what do you know about St Boniface? I suggest very little.  Many of you will be familiar with St Walburga’s Road which leads past St Mary’s towards Victoria Hospital. And what would you know about St Walburga? I admit that I myself knew nothinguntil I was appointed to  St Walburga’s church in Preston and even then she only came to life when I went on pilgrimage to Eichstatt in Bavaria where she is buried. There I discovered awhole galaxy of English saints who in the eighth century planted the faith there and who are still powers in the land where their memory is revered.  The inspirer and leader of that missionary movement was Boniface.  He was born at Crediton in Devon shortly before the year 700. His parents christened him Winfrid. He became a monk and was fired with the idea of sharing the faith with his Saxon cousins in Germany.  He did a short apprenticeship with St Willibrord in Holland before going to Rome to be commissioned by the Pope for his work in Germany. He was consecrated bishop on the feast of a Roman martyr, Boniface, and he took Boniface then as his church name. We know a great deal about him through the letters he sent to his friends in England. He asked, for instance, for a copy of the correspondence between Pope Gregory the Great and St Augustine of Canterbury. Gregory himself had carefully planned Augustine’s mission. There were to be two archbishops at York and London each with six diocesan bishops in their care whilst the archbishops were to receive a pallium or badge of office directly from the Pope himself. So the church in England was to have a stable organisation closely bound to Rome.  Boniface took this blueprint and, as Papal Legate, applied it to Germany and France.  He first made sure that he had the support of the local power broker, Charles Martel, whose territory spanned the Rhine. His other tactic was to bring monks and nuns from England whose monasteries and convents became missionary centres. So, if Gregorythe Great was the architect of a united and stable churchin Western Europe, closely bonded to Rome, it was Boniface who built it, creating what became known simply as Christendom. It was because of the work of Boniface that Christopher Dawson, the historian, was able to write that the great turning point in the history of the West was the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons.  It is sad that he is relatively without honour in his own country. In Germany he is revered as the national saint.

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29 May 2016

Posted by Canon Dakin on 06-06-2016

 

If I were to ask you ‘What is the climax of the Mass?” what would you say?      I think you might choose the elevation of the sacred host and the chalice after the words of consecration, when there is a moment of silent adoration, broken only by the tinkling of the bell. I suppose, from the point of view of drama, that moment would be a natural choice. You might be surprised to know that for a thousand years there was no elevation in the Mass. The priest made no gesture whatever as he pronounced the words of consecration as just a paragraph like any other within the Eucharistic Prayer.  It was only after a character called Berengar in the 10th cent. was said to have queried the Real Presence, that the elevation was introduced upsetting the traditional balance in which the action of the Mass came to its climax in Communion when what had been brought to God at the offertory was received back transformed.        A complication was that by this time, for some mysterious reason, people by and large, had stopped coming to Holy Communion, so for them the moment of adoration at the elevation became the climax of the Mass. ‘Lift it higher, Sir Priest’, they would sometimes shout. Or they would try to bribe the priest to prolong the elevation.  This feast of Corpus Christi reflects the atmosphere of the time, the thirteenth cent., when adoration took the place of participation. Nowadays we have the best of both worlds. It seems so natural to us that Communion is our great moment of participation in the mystery of the Mass - our opening our hearts to greater intimacy with Our Lord in proportion to our readiness to share his love with others. We have to guard against being scatter-brained - always to be deepening our appreciation of the immense love that causes Him, our God, to share with us the reality of his personal presence. And that can be the fruit of our contemplation during a time of Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.

           

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