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30 March 2014

Posted by Canon Dakin on 04-04-2014

 

4th Sunday of Lent

Why are we saying the Apostles Creed during Lent? It is because of what happened today in Rome during the 4th and 5th cent. There are two strands to Lent, reception and reconciliation: the reception of new Christians and the reconciliation of those who, once baptised, had fallen away.  The preparation of new converts was the first concern.  Baptism, seen as dying and rising with Christ to a new life, was originally limited to the night of the Resurrection, the celebration of Easter.  Those who had shown an interest in learning about Christianity found someone to sponsor them and for two years would have been allowed to attend Mass only as far as the homily. The Church would have appointed a godparent to help them to understand what they were hearing and to encourage them in living a Christian life. On the first Sunday of Lent they were brought before the bishop who would question the godparent about their progress. If the answers were favourable they were chosen for baptism at Easter and called the elect. Today. to define their faith more exactly and let them know precisely what they would be professing to believe as Christians, they heard for the first time the summary of faith we call the Apostles Creed. Then the bishop told them to go and learn it. It was not a matter of going into a corner with a book or a slip of paper. The creed was never written down. They would have to pick it up, by repetition, from their godparents. They needed to be word perfect because next Sunday they would have to take their turn to stand up and recite it aloud. Otherwise the creed in those days was never heard at Mass. It was only in the 9th cent. in response to a suggestion by the German Emperor that the creed appeared at Mass in Rome and then it was the Nicene Creed. Our new missal has given us the opportunity of using the Apostles Creed as an alternative and that is especially fitting today and next Sunday whilst the gospel today is full of significance for those preparing for baptism. They were called the ‘enlightened’- those who had once been blind to the truth and had come to see the light. In our cathedrals this year on the first Sunday of Lent over three thousand men and women presented themselves to their bishop in anticipation of being received into the Church at Easter. We will pray for them.    

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23 March 2014

Posted by Canon Dakin on 30-03-2014

 

3rd Sunday of Lent

Love is a fuzzy word. Last week I watched Law and Order UK.   A woman murdered her husband because she loved him. Her love would seem to have been possessive though, as with so much modern drama, the story-line was not always clear. I take refuge sometimes in repeats of older programmes like Heartbeat. You know the opening song about your heart missing a beat.    That refers to love as an emotion. St Paul this morning speaks of the Holy Spirit pouring love into our hearts.  That is a love which is deeper than emotion.  It is a love that God shares with us.  God is love. God is a cluster of relationships held in tension by a total gift of one self to another. There is no emotion in God. No change or fluctuation. God is eternally the same. We are introduced by the Spirit into that exchange of love. The Father relates to us as to his Son with a total self-giving which we call our state of grace and we are to relate to the Father as the Son does, but when we say we love God we are disappointed because the heart doesn’t miss a beat. That’s not surprising.         A man and a woman have been married for twenty years. He goes to meet her off a bus. As she steps down to the pavement his heart is hardly likely to miss a beat.   There is no reason why it should because we are not talking here about love as emotion but as devotion, as a mindset. As soon as we speak of devotion we are in the sphere of God-talk. October Devotions, Lenten Devotions - imply doing something for God. Why should we? We didn’t ask to be created; we didn’t ask to be born. But we were created out of love and God is looking for our response. There is a prayer which begins: My God I love you because you loved me first.  The whole balance of our lives depends on convincing ourselves of God’s love. It’s not rocket science. What more could God have done to convince us than by sending his Son to earth. What is in your mind when you come to the altar to receive the bread transformed into the God who died for you? Do we reflect on the humility that is driven by his love, on the generosity of his desire to share with us what is his as God.  How many times has it been said of humans: If you knew him, you would love him, too”. We get to know God by reflecting on what Jesus did. Lent is when we turn our minds to it.    

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16 March 2014

Posted by Canon Dakin on 21-03-2014

 

2nd Sunday of Lent

The Dream of Gerontius is a poem by Cardinal Newman. It was brilliantly set to music by Edward Elgar. It is the story of a man’s passing over, through death, into the presence of God, lovingly attended by his guardian angel. As he lies dying Gerontius speaks of the ‘dissolution of all that makes me man’.

We can’t imagine the experience of dying; we have only the experience of living. Death may happen in so many unexpected ways that it may be superfluous to speculate; better simply left to God. “Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit”. If our imaginations are troubled by the prospect of death we may identify with Our Lord.      The Transfiguration was the turning point of his public life. It is not apparent in Matthew’s account, which we heard this morning, but St Luke tells us what his conversation with Moses and Elijah was about. They were discussing his death. They were telling him: the time has come and St Luke describes how then he set his face towards Jerusalem expressing his determination to walk towards crucifixion. This was not the beginning of his awareness. There were some spiritual writers who said that because he was God, and therefore could look into the future, he was oppressed by the shadow of the cross whilst still in his crib, but the majority agree that, accepting the limitations of being perfectly human, he only gradually came to appreciate that he was the Servant of God, described by Isaiah, who was to die to save his people. A judicial death, he knew, meant crucifixion.  Just imagine how many sleepless nights a man with his sensitivity would have endured even years before the revelation on the mountain. If ever we are troubled by thoughts of dying we may share them with him. But that is rather negative.  Abraham’s call to leave home we may translate into God’s call to us to leave our earthly home. It must have been a wrench to Abraham to leave his familiar home and take to the road. He lived in Ur of the Chaldees. I would say that the highlight of a visit I once made to the British Museum was coming across some domestic articles from Ur going back to Abraham’s time. There was a comb, for instance, that might have been used by Sarah, Abraham’s wife.  He abandoned all the cosy domesticity of a rich civilisation to live in a tent. He set out because he had been promised by God that his journey would be worthwhile. And he believed.  So by faith we believe that our passage from this world will bring us to the fulfillment of God’s promise of sharing his life forever. It is a worthwhile journey. That is not all. It may be a painful departure but that is where St Paul becomes relevant. ‘Bear the hardship for the sake of the Good News”. We don’t die on our own. We share the death of Christ. We die in his arms and so our death, united to his, takes on some the power of his death to save the world.

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2 March 2014

Posted by Canon Dakin on 08-03-2014

 

Feast of Nicholas Owen

St Nicholas Owen was a victim of the Gunpowder Plot. He served Fr Garnet, the Superior of the Jesuits. The Goverment ws aware that Fr Garnet had been in touch with the plotters. He had. He had been so determined in his efforts to dissuade them that he had written to the Pope asking for a message to be sent forbidding violence of any kind. The fanatical plotters were not to be deterred but the plot was foiled. We who live at a time when we have to be on our guard against terrorists may imagine the shocked reaction of English people generally and how inevitably all Catholis became tarred with the same brush. It didn’t help that Engalnd’s enemies in those days, first Spain, then France, were Catholic powers, so the English who clung to their Cathoic faith were regarded as potential traitors. The penal laws were tightened.  So at the beginning of the 18th cent. Catholics had to pay a double land tax; they were debarred from all professions; they were legally unable to inherit or to purchase land; they were forbidden to keep arms or own a horse worth more than £5; they were subject to a fine if they sent their children to be educated abroad.

So take the case of an eldest son. Normally he would inherit the family property at the death of his father, but he has a Protestant cousin who is just waiting to step into his shoes. The only way he can ensure his inheritance is by defecting,  and becoming an Anglican. Take the case of a younger son. His education abroad at St Omers or Doui would have fit him to enter a profession He was barred because he would have had to take an oath which involved a denial of his Catholic faith.  In order to acquire an income which would enablr him to marry he would have to ditch his faith. What would you have done? It wasn’t just men who were affected. If you travel through Lunesdale on the road which follows the river between Lancaster and Hornby you pass thrugh the village of Claughton where, apart from the brickworks, the most prominent building is the Fenwick Arms.  In the 18th cent. Anne Fenwick, a Catholic, had been happily married to a Protestant, for a short time only - he died young. A Protestant cousin of his claimed the property which otherwise would have been hers as a widow. It was the law. She took her case to the House of Lords and won but it was precarious to be a faithful Catholic in those days and there were sensible people who could foresee that, after all the years of defiance, the faith might die out in England because of the pressure on young people to defect. A watchful governement made it clear, meanwhile, that there were good jobs waiting for defectors. Unexpectedly the Church  did not fade away and revived in the 19th century with fresh vigour.

 

I am flying a kite. I intend to give three talks during Lent on what it was like to be a Catholic in England when Jane Austen, for instance, was writing Pride and Predjudice, because, I think, there are parallels with our situation today.  

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23 February 2014

Posted by Canon Dakin on 27-02-2014

 

You have a son. He is being bullied at school. What advice do you give him?  You want him, of course, to have the highest Christian standards. Do you say: “Just offer it up”? Or do you say: “All bullies are cowards, hit him back and, you’ll see, he will stop”? Or do you go up to school, asking the teacher to put a stop to what is going on?  Remember what we heard in the first reading: “You must openly tell him, your neighbour, of his offence”. It is no form of love just to close your eyes to another’s selfishness. There may be an opportunity of his bettering himself if he is told that what he is doing is objectionable.

Pacifism is a form of turning the other cheek. Pacifists may give an impression of being wets but a pacifist is literally a peacemaker. There have been many dramatic and distressing images of the conflict in Kiev. The Orthodox cathedral stands on the square occupied by the protestors. One of the strongest and most memorable of the pictures coming from there was of the Orthodox Patriarch, in the dignity of his full liturgical vestments, his cross in his hand, standing between the two sides, keeping them apart, and asking for a peaceful confrontation.  In the end he was ignored but that memory may still linger with effect in the minds of some.

Our Lord is not asking us just to lie down and allow ourselves to be trampled on. In Christian ethics it is possible to fight a just war 

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16 February 2014

Posted by Canon Dakin on 27-02-2014

 

Michelangelo would have a shape in his mind. He would then go to a quarry to search for a block of marble that might contain that shape. Having found what he wanted he would set to work to produce first a rough outline. Then he would begin to refine it.  That is what Our Lord is doing in his Sermon on the Mount of which we had a section in the gospel this morning. In the Old Testament, through those He inspired, God produced a rough sketch of the relationship He planned between Him and us.  Jesus refines it. He gives ultimate expression to that relationship on the night before he dies. We are to share his own relationship to his Father. Father, Son and Spirit share the same power source.  We are plugged in to that source of power. We become simply one with God.  Which means that the first reading this morning needs refinement? The aim of Ben Syra, that is the name of the man who wrote the book we know as Ecclesiasticus, is to show that God is not the source of evil. He says: “If you wish you can keep the commandments, to behave faithfully is within your power”. A Christian today would have a problem with those words. Taken as they stand they would favour a heresy called Pelagianism. Christianity came to Britain with the Roman legions and Pelagius was the most distinguished of the ancient British Christians.  Unfortunately he was rather too enthusiastic about what he thought we could do without being directly linked to God. He is said to have taught that we could lead a good life just by putting our minds to it.  He came up against St Augustine who was already a bit of a pessimist in regard to human nature.  The Church reflected and has taught ever since that unless we are geared to God our bias towards selfishness may not be corrected.   The lesson is to realise the meaning of our Holy Communion.  We are being drawn into the most intimate union with God, our empowerment to make those choices which will lead to our doing some good in the world. 

 

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9 February 2014

Posted by Canon Dakin on 12-02-2014

 

God had formed the people of Israel. He had settled them on land he had chosen. They were his people, He was their God. As a sign of his ownership and dominion over them, every first-born male was to be presented  to Him in the temple and bought back, as it were, by an offering.  Feminists might rage that females were overlooked but here at the presentation of Jesus we are moving from the Old Testament into the New. ‘Your own soul a sword shall pierce’. The offering which Mary carried into the temple was her Son to be handed over to death so that God’s plan for the world might be fulfilled.    Mary stands for humanity handing over someone who was totally ours, and therefore within our gift, to die on a cross that we might be totally his as the Son of God.   Jesus, being fully human, offered himself as humanity’s gift to God. There was a further offering - the offering of Mary herself to share through suffering in the work of her Son.  We, too, are linked to Jesus by our baptism. His father has become our Father. We may, therefore, in union with Jesus, make an offering of whatever we do and whatever  we suffer and as we are children of God, in whom He sees his Son, our doing and our suffering may share some of the effectiveness of that of the Son. So let’s not be negative about suffering and death.  Let us remember St Paul who tells us that in our bodies we can fill up what is wanting to the sufferings of Christ. We may turn to Our Lady to help us to make an offering of our life and our death to God. This is implicit in our Holy Communion when we unite ourselves to Our Lord in the mystery of his death and resurrection. ‘If we die with him we shall live with him.’ To meditate on this feast of the presentation is to vindicate our Morning Offering: “O Jesus, through the most pure heart of Mary, I offer all the prayers, works, sufferings and joys of this day, for all the intentions of your divine heart in the Holy Mass”.

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26 January 2014

Posted by Canon Dakin on 29-01-2014

 

The people that walked in darkness has seen a great light. We heard those words at Christmas when the Church applied them to the birth of Jesus, a light in our darkness. Now St Mt applies them to Our Lord’s teaching which enlightens the darkness of our unknowing.  Zabulun and Naphtali - who or where are they? You remember that Jacob had twelve sons. They founded the twelve tribes of Israel.  Rescued from slavery in Egypt under Moses the twelve tribes were brought into the Promised Land by Josua and  when Josua divided the land between them the tribes of Zabulun and Naphtali were settled in Galilee. So Matthew talks about Galilee as the land of Zabulun and Naphtali. But why is there reference to Galilee of the nations? As time went on the Jews had their ups an downs and about five hundred years before Our Lord was born the Assyrians  took over Palestine and into the northern part, that is Galilee, they brought in some of their own people. So Mt speaks about Galilee of the nations. What was Our Lord doing in Galilee? It  was his home.He was a Galilean. Nazareth was in Galilee.  The ruler of Galilee was Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great, the one who had tried to eliminate the infant Jesus by the slaughter of the Holy Innocents.  Herod Antipas had just beheaded John the Baptist and Mt seems to suggest that prudence caused Jesus to move his headquarters to Capernaum. This was still in Galilee, still within Herod’s jurusdiction, but it was a border town and if necessary Jesus would have been able to slip across the border into the territory of Philip, no friend of Herod who had taken Philip’s wife. When we come to the calling of the disciples it is noticeable how promptly they respond.  I began thinking how sluggish, by comparison, is the response of young men today to the call to priesthood. Why should this be? Quite honestly, I don’t know.  It has been claimed that young people these days are chary of commitment. You may read in the latest edition of The Voice POPE FRANCIS talking to young peoole about marriage: “Today there are those who say that marriage is out of fashion;.... many preach the importance of ‘enjoying’ the moment. They say that it is not worth making a life-long commitment, making a definitive decision, ‘forever’, because we do not know what tomorrow will bring”.   And he urges them to have the courage to swim against the tide. Priesthood, too, is a life-long commitment, ‘forever’, and, perhaps, not being able to see into the future young men are hesitating. We certainly need them. According to the most recent figures the period between 2010 and 2012 saw a drop of 15% in the number of priests serving parishes in England, caused by older men moving into retirement and not being replaced. The whole cultural scene has changed. It was only in the 1950s that Oxford and Cambridge dropped Latin and Greek as a condition of university entry. Grammar schools therefore had Latin and Greek as basic subjcts. A lad finishing his Sixth Form studies in a Catholic Grammar School would view the priesthood as a possibility knowing that he was equipped for a study of theology.  Not so these days - the classics are rarely on offer even in Catholic schools. The choice facing young men may be more demanding but God’s grace is more than adequate. It  simply means that our prayers must be more sincre and persevering.

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19 January 2014

Posted by Canon Dakin on 21-01-2014

 

Yesterday began the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. It has been going now for over 100 years - the idea, in the first place, of two Anglicans then taken up by a French priest, Paul Couturier. It is a response to Our Lord’s prayer at the Last Supper: “I pray not only for these, but for those also who through their words will believe in me. May they all be one. Father, may they be one in us, as you are in me and I am in you, so that the world may believe that it was you who sent me”.  So our visible unity is to be a motive for believing. But it’s not, is it?  It’s reason for disbelieving. If one person is pedalling one brand of Christianity whilst the man in the other church down the road is spouting another an enquirer would hardly be inclined to believe either.

The biggest split between Christians occurred about 1000 years ago between East and West, a result of Roman arrogance and Crusaders‘ barbarism. But here the prospect of reunion is better today than it has ever been.  The Eastern Orthodox have the Mass and the sacraments, we share the same faith.

When Pope Francis goes to the Holy Land in May, there he has arranged to meet the Patriarch of Constantinople and they will pray together at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

We are more familiar with divisions at home where Christians are divided between Catholic, Anglican, Methodist and others.  We can be a bit snooty. They left us. Let them come back.  The truth is that we pushed them away.  The Church in the fifteenth century was in a poor state. The papacy was a perk to be fought over by rival families in order to enrich themselves and for that purpose they indulged in simony - putting a price on what is spiritual - indulgences, for instance. Luther had good reason to rebel but he threw the baby out with the bath water.  The Council of Trent put the Church on the right course again but by that time the Lutherans and Calvinists were well establshed. In England Queen Elizabeth put a Protestant heart into a Cathoic framework and so caused tensions which are reflected among High and Low Anglicans today.  These differences between us are deeply engrained and seem to be growing wider - as in the Anglican decision to have women bishops.  But nothing is impossible to God. If Our Lord prayed for visible Christian Unity then he did so as the Head of the Body to which we all belong by baptism. We, too, therefore, must pray as He did.

St Paul today is telling the Corinthians that they should not be imagining themselves to be the Church forgetful of all other Christians, but thry are called to relate to all who everywhere pray to Our Lord Jesus Christ, for he is their Lord no less than ours.  This afternoon we will be host to the other Churches in Thornton and we will pray together that Our Lord’s dream of unity may be fulfilled. That is at 3.00 today.   

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12 Jan 2014

Posted by Canon Dakin on 15-01-2014

 

Here in England, in the 7th cent., a king of Northumbria married a princess from Kent.  He had received his faith from Lindisfarne, she from Rome. They found they were due to celebrate Easter on different dates. The difference was resolved in favour of Rome. On a much larger scale the Greeks and Latins were at variance about the date of Our Lord’s death. And this had implications for Christmas.  The convention was that a great man would leave the world on the anniversary of his coming into it. So, if you fixed the date of Our Lord’s death as March 25th, that day would also be the anniversary of  the Annunciation when Jesus came into our world and his birthday would be nine months later, December 25th.  But in the East they computed the date of Our Lord’s death a little differently - so for them his birthday was January 6th. As time went on East and West swopped feasts; we took on the Epiphany in addition to our Christmas whilst the Easterns added Christmas to their calendar.

The feast of Our Lord’s birthday in the East, January 6th, never lingered as we did on the details of the stable in Bethlehem with the visits of the shepherds and the kings, more important to them was the epiphany or manifestation we are remembering today - the voice at Jesus’ baptism: ‘You are my Son, the beloved’. They had a particular reason for bringing into prominence the flowing water of the Jordan. In the East it ws so importnt that the rains should come to cause the river Nile to flood and bring down a deposit of fresh earth on which to grow their crops. So if in the West our background to Christmas is light in our darkness, in the East it was the new life that comes through water.  We may think of Christmas in simple terms: the coming of God into the world as a little child, but it is a mystery so rich in meaning that we need to stretch it out. The pity is that the commercialisation of Christmas cuts short the time we should have to deepen our thinking.  In Catholic counries like Italy and Spain Christmas Day is only the beginning of a period that reaches its climax on the Epiphany when the children receive their presents. So this feast today of the baptism of Jesus is not the beginning of a new chapter; it is the essence of the Epiphany, the climax of Christmas. It is only tomorrow, not today, that we go back to ordinary time.   

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