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6 March 2016

Posted by Canon Dakin on 14-03-2016


4th Sunday of Lent

A Lent of forty days came into the church after the Council of Nicea in the fourth century. Previously in Rome there had been three weeks of fasting before Easter when the emphasis was on preparing the catechumens for their baptism on Easter night. On those three Sundays the catechumens were required to present themselves for scrutiny. What was being scrutinised? Their life-style. In those days a conversion was a strong one - from the standards of a pagan culture to the values of a Christian life. The bishop wanted to be sure you were up to it. Your god-parent - appointed by the Church - was your monitor. So what kind of things did the bishop want to know? Here’s a list from the 4th century. The godparent must attest that the applicant has been zealous for the commandments during his catechumenate,  that he has visited the sick or given to the needy, that he has kept himself from every wicked and disgraceful word,  that he has despised pride and chosen for himself humility.  The bishop is responsible for this man’s admission, so the bishop asks him: “Are you in two minds or under pressure from anything, or driven by convention? For nobody mocks the kingdom of heaven but it is given to those who live it with all their heart”.  The emphasis there is not so much on the ten commandments as on the beatitudes - visiting the sick, helping those in need; the pure in heart, the meek. We are approaching the renewal of our baptismal vows at Easter. If we were subject to scrutiny under those headings would we be judged ready for a sincere renewal of the vows of our baptism? Lent is the time for self-scrutiny. Are we whole-hearted or found to be in two minds about our faith values? Our Lord’s standards are plain enough - are we under pressure to compromise? There will be an opportunity for heart-searching when we celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation on Palm Sunday afternoon.  

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28 February 2016

Posted by Canon Dakin on 14-03-2016


3rd Sunday of Lent

Abraham lived about 2000 years before our Lord; Moses we may put about 700 years later, so round about 1300. The stories that were told about both of them were not written down until about 800 years after the death of Moses. Looking back over the Old Testament there were two outstanding incidents in the history of the Jews: the escape from slavery in Egypt under the leadership of Moses and the destruction of Jerusalem in the 6th century when the people were taken off into exile in Babylon. The Babylonian exile we remember during Advent because it was then that the prophets directed their attention to the coming of the Messiah who would restore their kingdom and the Messiah, we believe, was born on Christmas Day to be the founder of a spiritual kingdom. It is during Lent that we think of Moses who led the Israelites to freedom by crossing over water which Christians saw as a symbol of Baptism.  Before they left Egypt they were saved from death by the blood of a lamb sprinkled on their door posts - which has become for Christians a symbol of the blood of Christ shed on the cross.  Our Lord’s crucifixion took place on Jewish feast of Passover which marked the anniversary of their escape from Egypt - when they passed over from slavery to freedom after the avenging angel had passed over their houses sprinkled with the blood of the lamb.

God used the people of Israeland their history to prepare for the coming of his Son. Their hope of a Messiah created an air of expectancy, whilst the feast of Passoverwas the setting for the death of Jesus; he became the paschal lamb whose blood saved his people as he passed over through death into a new world which now is our world.                  

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21 February 2016

Posted by Canon Dakin on 03-03-2016


2nd Sunday of Lent

In this week’s Catholic Herald Ann Widdecombe writes: We are Lenten wimps. What standards of comparison might there be? Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim calendar.  During that month Muslims fast from food and drink from dawn till dusk. They keep the fast in memory of the revelation they believe God made to Mohammed.  That is a serious fast: they take nothing whatever during the hours of daylight and since it is a law for the whole community they support each other in observing it.  Our Lent was once comparable. The Roman Lent centred on the Mass which was celebrated by the Pope at 3.00 every afternoon in a different church each day. The people fasted all day until they returned home after Mass. Not everyone could fit into the one church and priests in the various parish churches would start their Mass a little later so that an acolyte would have time to bring from the Pope’s Mass a fragment of the Host the Pope had consecrated to be placed in the priest’s chalice as a sign of their unity in Christ. For us, our Lenten fast is an individual choice - if we choose to fast at all. Ours is the easy option.  Fasting is significant, a hint that we are not locked into the things of this world. We have a vision that takes us beyond the stars. Our Lord’s transfiguration contains a promise of our future when through death and resurrection we shall enter into a new sphere and Moses and Elijah on the mountain were discussing the way that future life would be made possible for us.  They were telling Jesus that now was the time when he was to set in motion the events that would lead to his death. When Jesus came down from the mountain, St Luke tells us that he set his face towards Jerusalem. There he was to meet the challenge of voluntary crucifixion. How many sleepless nights did he have, oppressed by images of that terrible death. Fasting is good, especially if connected with charitable giving, but it can be rather self-centred. An alternative, perhaps, would be to discipline our minds. When you are waiting for a bus, when you are walking alone along a road - what do you think about? A decade of the rosary takes just two minutes. To use those spare moments during the day, emptying the mind of its musings, to contemplate the sufferings of Our Lord, using the Rosary to advantage, would be a spiritual fast that would be so appropriate to this time of Lent when we accompany Our Lord on his way to Jerusalem and death, Moved possibly by his loving generosity in giving up his life for us we might be inspired to respond by putting ourselves out for others. That is the spirit of Lent.

In any case we tend to go through the day switched off from God. To have snatches of God centredness during the moments when we are quiet and alone can give us the motivation we need to make more consistently right choices.                                           


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31 January 2016

Posted by Canon Dakin on 06-02-2016


That eloquent reading from St Paul is popular at weddings.  No wonder. It is a paean of praise for the place of love in our lives. This is not surprising since the God who made us, and who by his creation intends to share his goodness, is best described as a relationship of love. The third person of the Blessed Trinity, the Holy Spirit, proceeds from and personifies the love of Father and Son just as a child proceeds from and personifies the love of man and wife. The family is a sacrament of the Blessed Trinity - by grace- assisted love, meaning a giftof self as opposed to selfish assertion;the family is privileged to shadow and to share the life of the Trinity. The recent synod in Rome brought out the importance of love in marriage, love as defined by Christ, a sacrificial love, devoted to the good of the other.  The question left hanging inthe air during and after the synod concerned the admission of the divorced and remarried to Holy Communion. You marry; the marriage breaks up and y0u divorce. The Church admits divorce as a means of regularising your separated status in civil law buta presumption remains in favour of your marriage unless you can obtain a decree of nullity in a church court and until you do y0u are not free to marry again. The Church court examines the contract. When you contracted marriage did you understand what you were undertaking, was your choice perfectly free, did you or the other person have the personality to support what the Church believes marriage to be? Was the marriage consummated?  The marriage only becomes sacramental, sign of the inner life of the Trinity, when it is consummated - and consummation means more than the physical act. There are loveless marriages. A loveless marriage is not sacramental and therefore no marriage at all. But who has ever measured love? Could a tribunal make a judgement?  Might there be room here for greater weight to be given to the judgement of the parties themselves? We shall have to wait for Pope Francis’ response to the work of the synod.  Meanwhile there is no doubt about the importance of love in creating a sacramental marriage.  

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17 January 2016

Posted by Canon Dakin on 22-01-2016


Green vestments means Ordinary time. On ordinary Sundays - thirty three of them, the readings are planned in a three year cycle - each of the three years being given in turn to Mathew, Mark and Luke.  An exception is this Sunday, today, the Sunday which follows the Baptism of Jesus. The gospel today is always from St John, the story of the miracle at Cana. We are still within the shadow of the Epiphany.  The feast of the Epiphany, the revealing of Jesus, recalls three occasions - the coming of the Magi with their revealing gifts, the voice from heaven at Jesus’ baptism - ‘This is my beloved Son”  and the marriage feast at Cana when he revealed his glory and his disciples believed in him. How did Cana reveal the glory of Jesus?  This is possibly the most flashy of his miracles - as much as twenty-five gallons of water changed into wine. Impressive! But St John’s intention runs deeper. Cana occurs early in his gospel. Jesus has just gathered his first disciples, men who were full of messianic expectation. The messiah was the great king promised by God who would restore the kingdom of Israel. They knew their Old Testament.  The prophets had spoken of an abundance of fine wine as a sign of messianic times. ‘You have kept the choice wine till now’ is a proclamation that the era of the Messiah had arrived. The disciples are confirmed in their faith. They are also prepared for future development. The water required by Jewish rules of purification is changed into wine. Jesus had come to transform the old law into something new and of a different order.

Just a word to the wine buffs.  This explanation shows that Our Lord was not giving a blessing to binge drinking but he does accept wine as part of our culture

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10 January 2016

Posted by Canon Dakin on 16-01-2016


For a thousand years the Church, East and West, Greek and Roman, was one united Church. They were not isolated. The Emperor at Constantinople maintained a diplomatic presence in Rome. North Africa was Rome’s bread basket and religious ideas flowed between Rome and places like Alexandria. So, to start with, in the West there was Christmas Day and no Epiphany whilst in the East there was the Epiphany and no Christmas Day. After a time each accepted the other’s feast into its calendar.  Whilst we in the West celebrated Jesus as the light of the world, being aware of the days gradually beginning to lengthen, in the East they were concerned about water, as they waited anxiously for the rain which would flood the Nile delta bringing down fresh soil on which to grow their crops. So together with the birth of Jesus, they celebrated who he was in his manifestation as the beloved Son of God at his baptism in the river Jordan. In baptism as you surrender to the water you surrender your heart to God and to the power of the Holy Spirit. This was Jesus‘ dedication to the work for which he had been born. Our baptism, too, even though we were infants, was our dedication to the work that Jesus had designed for us as members of his body, the Church. We renew that dedication solemnly at Easter but the whole point of dipping our finger into holy water and blessing ourselves as we enter church is to be reminded of our baptism - to make ourselves aware that it is as baptised people that we are coming to be re-energised in our engagement to cooperate in Christ’s saving work.        

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20 December 2015

Posted by Canon Dakin on 25-12-2015


We had a deanery conference on Tuesday. One of the priests had just bought a new copier and the young rep who handled the sale was very attentive. In conversation he asked the priest: ‘When do you break up for Christmas? ‘‘Whatdo you mean - break up?’. ‘Well, do you break up when the school does?’  ‘No, I’m in church at Christmas time’.’Oh’, he said.  Christmas, in his mind, simply did not connect with church. Perhaps it didn’t connect even with Christ.  Christmas, for some, meanspresents and a special meal to defy the dark and cold of winter.  Then, perhaps, there’s a second stage when they sing of baby Jesus lying on the straw in a manger but on the level of the little girl who asked ‘Why is it always a boy?’Finally we are among those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God come down from heaven but stop at asking themselves why he came. The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews gets round to giving us an answer but very much from a Jewish point of view. The old catechism, if you remember, had a question: Why did Jesus Christ become man? To save us from sin and death and to teach us the way to heaven. Like a frame in a film which gets stuck we tend to halt on Calvary. The child in the manger was born to die. That is not the whole truth: he was born to die and to rise from death into a new existence and taking us over into thisnew world is how he shaped our destiny. His dying on the cross was the great lesson he gave on how we are to qualify to enter his new world.  His being born as a little child in Bethlehem was first a most wonderfulexpression of God’s loveand compassion.  And love was his simplemessage, his essential teaching.  There is only one way to follow him to heaven. Love one anotheras I have loved you - and his death on the cross for love of us was the supreme lesson he chose to give.     

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13 December 2015

Posted by Canon Dakin on 19-12-2015


3rd Sunday  of Advent

John the Baptist preached repentance for the forgiveness of sins, but he was not obsessed with sin. The tax collectors, in some people’s eyes, were sinners by definition.  They were regarded as traitors and blasphemers since the tax went to support the occupying power and the worship of the false gods of Rome.  John doesn’t say that they must give up their job only that they should take no more than was due. He doesn’t tell the soldiers that they must resign from the army - only no extortion, no pillaging. John was relaxed.  Christians sometimes have been uptight.  St Augustine, an outstanding thinker and writer, cast a shadow over the West. In reaction to his own past he took a dim view of human nature and tended to see sin everywhere. It’s no coincidence that Luther, who also was obsessed by sin, was an Augustian Friar.  

                 A dark cloud of scrupulosity, reaching down to our own time, was spread by a movement called Jansenism which came across the channel from France - and this was inspired by St Augustine. We are saved from our miserable state because Christ payed the price for our sins on the cross - as though God the Father were Shylock demanding his pound of flesh. Being the divine person that he was Our Lord could have atoned for our sins just by lifting his little finger. His laying down his life in such a memorable way would seem to have another reason and the clue we may find, perhaps, in his talk at the Last Supper.

The blessing he was born to bring was for us to share the life of God. The life of God is one of mutual love, each living totally for the other. After describing his gift to us Jesus said: I am giving you now a new commandment - love one another as I have loved you - adding - greater love no man has than this - than to lay down his life for his friend. Laying down his life for us so dramatically on Calvary was his way of driving home his message. If as St Leo put it: Christ became man to make man God, we must then live like God - loving to the limit.  So it’snot for us to go through life, beating our breast and moaning about sin. We are to walk tall, aware of our dignity as childrenof God andnot letting ourselves down by any lack of openness and generosity. It is Our Lord’s birth which brings this possibility of our leading a life worthwhile. The optimism of Christmas is the birthright of our baptism. This is why St Paul could write: I want you to be happy, always happy in the Lord.

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6 December 2015

Posted by Canon Dakin on 19-12-2015


2nd Sunday of Advent

When I was a student, for two weeks of the year we were allowed to roam. Three or four of us would often take a bus into the hills east of Rome and just begin walking. The area is called Abruzzo, a large part of it now being a national  park. It was countryside filled with country folk and if you met one of them on the road the greeting would not be ‘Buon giorno’.Good day, but ‘Sia lodato Gesu Christo’, Praised be Jeus Christ, to which the response was ‘Sempre sia lodato’, May He be praised for ever more. So now you know the meaning of the title of Pope Francis’ latest encyclical Lodato si - Praised be.  

The reference is to St Francis’ Canticle in which God is praised for all creation - the sun and moon and stars, herbs and plants and all living things.  The Pope is saying that the world, our home, is in need of loving care, in desperate need of remedial care.  For generations we have been pouring smoke into the sky.  Industry  was driven by coal-fired energy. then came gas, which still produces smoke. It was not only the mills that belched smoke. Many of us remember living in homes where the coal fire in the kitchen was not only the source of heat and hot water but where kettles and pans were boiled and from which the oven was heated. Imagine mllions of homes all over the country  which depended on wood or coal, their chimneys carrying gasses up into the stmosphere, where they don’t just disappear; they acumulate and become the cause of dangerous global warming causing floods and droughts which could eventually make the earth uninhabitable. There is a conference of representatives of nearly two hundred nations meeing presently in Paris to decide on a plan on which all might agree to at least halt an increase in global warming. Pope Francis said on his flight back to Rome from Africa: “We are on the verge of suicide, to use a strong word, and I’m sure that people in Paris are aware of this and want to do something about it”.  Previously in Nairobi he had said it would be a catastrophe if world leaders did not face up to the need  to do something to protect the environment. We can’t afford to be indifferent, for the sake of future generations.

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22 November 2015

Posted by Canon Dakin on 01-12-2015


Handel composed an oratorio about the events of Christmas and Easter. He called it: The Messiah. Messiah means ‘the anointed one’. Since among the Jews the simple rite by which a man was made king was anointing with oil he was messiah. More broadly messiah stands for liberator. Jews of our Lord’s time were looking for a liberator who would establish their independence. They believed he would be a descendant of David, their greatest king. Our Lord had constantly to be dodging their expectations. By his parables he tried to get across the idea of a kingdom that was not earthly but spiritual.

He was not successful. The charge against him attached to the cross was ‘Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews’. He had been accused of being a revolutionary, challenging Caesar. He accepts the title messiah or king when being quizzed by Pilate but insists that he is operating in another world to that of marching armies. It is on the cross, in his death, at the moment of seeming failure, that he becomes our liberator, that he makes the world free to attain his kingdom.

This feast of Christ the King was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925 togive people confidence to assert their faith when society was drifting further and further in the direction of a life-style without any reference to God. This may have been one of the effects of the Great War. We are remembering the centenary of battles that entailed a terrible loss of life. The idealism with which men went to war was replaced by a deep cynicism and bitterness.  God was discredited.  We have since been through a Second World WarIt seems to happen that relief from hardship and suffering induces people to take their pleasure where and when they can without looking for a deeper meaning in life. The 21st century shows an even stronger drift away from faith. In a recent survey 67% of people interviewed said that Christ was irrelevant to their Christmas and a third of childrenhad no answer to the question ‘Whose birthday was on Christmas Day? ‘.  It would seem that the Christmas treewith its gaudies has driven out the crib. So we have a bigger challenge than in the 1920s. Christmas - Christ Mass - without Christ is meaningless. So how do we assert his relevance?There’s one simple way to do it.  We send only religious Christmas cards - especially to those people who would never send a religious one themselves.

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