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15 November 2015

Posted by Canon Dakin on 16-11-2015

 

The world is in a mess. There are civil wars in Africa and the Middle East. In many countries minorities are being persecuted on account of religion or race. Natural disasters are commonplace; earthquakes, floods, drought. Ethiopia is presently experiencing the worst drought ever recorded; millions there are needing food aid. There has been the Ebola crisis. Global warming is menacing our climate.

This state of things is simply an historic variation. I have been reading a life of St Thomas a Becket.  If you were thinking of the Middle Ages as an age of chivalry - forget it. The myth of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table was a romantic creation. Thereality was brutal. The business of kings and barons was to go to war to enrich themselves by enlarging their territory. It was the ordinary people, defenceless, who suffered- their homes destroyed, their crops burned. Plague was ever present - notoriously the Black Death. Amidst the doom and gloom, wars and rumours of wars, plagues and famine, there have been those who have matched their experience with the gospel and claimed to see the signs of the end of the world, in spiteof our being told that speculation is a waste of time. Our Lord gives a broad tip using the image of the fig tree. You know that a change is coming. Just be ready for when it comes. 

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8 November 2015

Posted by Canon Dakin on 15-11-2015

 

The passage from the story of Elijah was chosen because it shows a widow with the same generous disposition as the widow in the gospel. It is the second reading that catches my eye. Christ, our High Priest, does not have to offer himself again and again, he offers himself only once to take the faults of many on himself.  That once only offering of Christ on Calvary became a point of contention at the Reformation.  The Reformers accused Catholics of having Christ repeating the offering of himself in the sacrifice of the Mass. They failed to appreciate what a sacrament is.  It is the once and for all sacrifice of Calvary that Our Lord makes present sacramentally under the signs of bread and wine. He does nothing. It is for us to take all the love expressed in his death for us on the cross, re-presented here, and offer it to the Father for the sake of the world. It is the one sacrifice of Calvary that now becomes our offering.

 

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25 October 2015

Posted by Canon Dakin on 15-11-2015

 

Jesus was appointed High Priest of mankind. “No one takes this honour on him but each one is called by God”. To be called is to receive a vocation. Now there’s a word we are familiar with. We pray for vocations to the priesthood. - that is the purpose of our Holy Hour on Wednesdays. Do we know exactly what we are praying for? What is a vocation? You would be wasting tine waiting for an angel to whisper in your ear ‘I want you’. Nothing so exotic. The vocation comes within the rite of ordination when the Bishop says: “I choose this man”.  So what are we praying for? We are praying that young men may have the generosity and courage to have a go - to offer themselves to be formed to be chosen by the Bishop for priesthood. The discernment by the bishop is not confined to the day of ordination. It takes place all during the years of preparation, a great deal of it being self-discernment - ‘Am I up for it?’’ Is this really what I want? ‘There are far fewer who are now coming forward. Ushaw, the great northern seminary, the successor to Cardinal Allen’s College at Douay, has been closed. There is a crisis of vocations. Why should this be? One can only make suggestions; there have been great developments in the field of education. In the past fifty years there have successful universities founded at Lancaster, Preston and in Cumbria. They are fed by a natural transition from 6th Form Colleges where students may mix and match hundreds of academic courses.  Quite a dazzling prospect for potential Fr Plod who would be contemplating two or three years of philosophy to be followed by four years of theology. That might deepen your cultural life but would hardly sit well on your CV if you needed to apply for a job. So is it insecurity that may be putting people off? Do you remember Alistaire Cooke’s Letter from America?  The Catholic Times publishes every week a Catholic Letter from America. It is by an English woman who is married to an American. They live in New York State. This week she was telling the story of a once fine church in a rundown area of Chicago, The church became decidedly scruffy and was closed in 2002, Cardinal George came to the rescue when he entrusted it to the Institute of Christ the Sovereign Priest, an international order of priests with a special mission to revive the Latin liturgy, traditional music and architecture and to restore historic churches. She knew that here in England they had taken over the church in Birkenhead known as the Dome of Home She may not have been aware that they had also accepted St Walburge’s in Preston. So where do they find their priests? Their seminary is full.  What is the attraction?  Is there a sense of status ministering through Latin?  Is there a sense of nostalgia attached to the old liturgy? But I believe the fundamental structure of worship is to say Amen to what you have understood.  Perhaps we do need more formality in worship. It would seem that the problem of vocations is not to be solved by slicker advertising. It does need a prayerful review.

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18 October 2015

Posted by Canon Dakin on 29-10-2015

 

In a rural area of Pakistan, Asia Bibi, the mother of five children and a Christian, was picking berries when she heard a crowd of people approaching. They had come to accuse her of blasphemy. She had been drinking water from a well with some Muslim women who had apparently objected to her presence calling her an unclean Christian. “I believe in my religion”, she replied, “and in Jesus Christ who died on a cross for the sins of mankind.  What did your prophet Mahomed ever do to save mankind”? For this she was arrested and spent a year in goal before being sentenced to death for blasphemy. She is still in goal pending appeal. The governor of Punjab and a Christian cabinet minister who spoke up for her and for a reform of the blasphemy law have both been shot dead. Attacks on churches are frequent. Christians live on a knife edge.  The government is slow to protect them. We are familiar with the situation in Iraq and Syria where ISIS is determined to eliminate Christianity and is being so effective that the Church is on the verge of extinction in the places where it was first established.   In Nigeria ISIS has its equivalent in Boko Haram, which came into prominence with the abduction of two hundred school girls. Their declared intention is to kill all infidels. Fifty thousand Christians have taken refuge in neighbouring Cameroon. In China and North Korea Christians are second class citizens, being suspect because Christianity is considered to be a decadent Western influence. In Saudi Arabia the practice of any faith other than Islam is to be kept entirely private.

In the House of Lords last Tuesday Aid to the Church in Need made a presentation on the persecution of Christians all over the world in the last two years. Mr. Cameron is appreciative of the report and deplores what is happening but does not propose any action when actually there is scope for government initiative.  Pakistan, for instance, receives millions of pounds in aid from Britain. It could be made a condition of aid that the government there does more to protect religious minorities. But what is our attitude? Some politicians say that our ability to take in refugees is limited because there would be danger of upsetting the country’s cultural balance, but there are men and women and children from Syria and parts of Africa who are simply running for their lives. One young woman was asked: “Don’t you realise that you are risking your life trying to get to Europe?” “It is better”, she said. “than waiting to be killed at home”.

Our Lord in today’s gospel seems to imply that his Church is a Church that would have to suffer: ‘The cup that I must drink you shall drink’. Historically it has proved to be true - but not everywhere and all the time.

A participant in the Family Synod in Rome has suggested that Catholics today may be divided into two groups: “the suffering Church” and the “comfortable Church”. There’s no doubt to which we belong. Once here in England we were the suffering Church and many went into exile abroad to be helped by their brothers and sisters in Christ. Many of these Syrians are our baptismal family. One day we shall come face to face with Our Lord. What if he should say: “I as running for my life in your direction - and you just looked away”! 

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11 October 2015

Posted by Canon Dakin on 29-10-2015

 

Today’s readings are in harmony. The first made the point that nothing you may possess is more valuable than wisdom.  The Letter to the Hebrews is a warning that conversion is not the end game; to allow oneself to become bored and indifferent to what God teaches through the Church is to put oneself under the judgement of God, whilst in the gospel Our Lord warns against the superficiality of chasing riches. It’s not just being obsessed with making money that can cloud one’s judgement; hankering after a convenient modern lifestyle can also lead to skating over deeper truth.

Before the Synod on the Family now meeting in Rome a questionnaire was circulated to which all were invited to respond. The responses from most of the English dioceses were published before the synod began. Some of the comments were superficial.  How can a crowd of celibates, with no experience of marriage, presume to dictate to married people how they should live their lives? They don’t. It is for them to point out how the gospel impinges on marriage. It is then for those who are living within marriage to apply the gospel to their lives. The trouble is - some don’t listen. There were comments about contraception: the Church should waken up to the reality of life in the 21st century and give the green light to a modern and convenient way of spacing births. This issuperficial. It follows from what I was saying last week that the act of marriage is sacramental; the language of the body as male and female is designed to signify the mystery of God’s life-giving love. Contraception is a counter sign. Ultimately it was invented to skirt the sacrifice required by the spirituality proper to marriage, which consists in recognising the whole truth of the language of the body expressed in the act of union. That said, we are talking about the ideal. In reality a woman may be subjected to a selfishness totally contrary to that love of the person which is essential to the sacramental character of marriage. No valid sign exists in this case to be negated by a contraceptive. Such a woman, in using a contraceptive, would be defending herself from the consequences of a lie. It may be that the Church in strongly proposing a principle has not been sufficiently clear about exceptional circumstances. It will be for the Synod to find a balance.  

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4 October 2015

Posted by Canon Dakin on 12-10-2015

 

The word ‘mystic‘ means hidden or concealed.  The word was used in the Early Church to describe the Eucharist.  What met the eye was bread and wine but hidden or concealed under those appearances was the true presence of Christ. Similarly we are all mystics.  Our lives conceal the presence of God. Our lives are sacramental - they are outward signs of inward grace and the grace is the presence of God himself, present to us as light and warmth are signs of the presence of the sun. The equivalent of light and warmth is the love in our lives. The human relationship which above all is sacramental. God revealing, is marriage.  The story of Adam and Eve is not a folk tale.  Man and woman were designed by God for each other to reflect the relationships which make God what God is.  God is love and it is love that constitutes marriage. “I take thee ... to love and to cherish till death do us part”. Cherish means to hold dear, to value. How far, how much? St Paul has no doubt: the mystery of marriage is enveloped in the love of Christ for his bride the Church. He so valued, so cherished the Church that he choose to die to secure her happiness. This means that married love is expressed in self-sacrifice for the good of the other; it implies a gift of self not selfish taking.

Right from the beginning of his pontificate Pope John Paul II hammered away at this concept of our finding ourselves male and female because we are made in the image of God and he spoke of the generosityand restraint that should characterise married love.  A woman in America told him to get real.    “Fromthe time Americans reach adolescence”, she wrote, “lust is the lifeforce”. That is the drift of modern culture. It has guided the story-line of The Archers, I believe, recently. If you want it then it’s good for you. The glue which makes a marriage is not lust but a generosity which is a gift of self.   The sacramentis not in the exchange of vows. What is sacramentalis the quality of their life together. A loveless marriage gives no sign of the inner life of God, it is not sacramental and therefore, it would seem, not a marriage at all. The judgement of the quality of life, the quality of love which makes a marriage may come up for discussion at the Synod on the Family beginning today in Rome. What we have to do to save marriage is to change the culture of our time which regards sex as mainly for fun. That is a tough assignment but what we can offer is a vision of stability that does appeal.  Cultures are constantly changing. Christianity tamed the hedonistic society of ancient Rome and if you imagine that in modern times we had to wait for the 1960s to declare a free for all you should read the diaries of Samuel Pepys to discover the low life ofthe 18th cent. which was turned around by the Victorians. Young people are idealists. We have to show them the ideal.

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27 September 2015

Posted by Canon Dakin on 29-09-2015

 

You must be aware that last week Pope Francis was in the United States. He addressed both the American Congress and the United Nations Assembly - but what would have been his message to the Catholics of America? I am confident that it would have been a variation on the wish expressed by Moses this morning: “If only the whole people were prophets”. To prophesy is not to foretell the future it is to speak out on behalf of God.  In his first encyclical, The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis wrote: “In virtue of their baptism all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples. All the baptised, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith are agents of evangelisation”. So, says the Pope, “What are we waiting for?” He points to the way in which a mother, with quiet confidence, can speak of her faith to her child.

Last week we heard a letter from our bishops telling us about a conference in Birmingham attended by delegates from all the dioceses to share ideas about how at parish level we might become missionary communities.  The group from our diocese was led by Sr Mary Ekman. She is one of three American nuns invited into the diocese by the Bishop. Next month she is coming to talk to our Deanery Pastoral Council.  From that meeting we may pick up some ideas.  Our faith is God’s gift to us to be shared and the country is in need of a new openness on our part.  In a recent survey 57%, just over half the people questioned, professed to being Christian but of them two out of five didn’t think that Jesus was real -  they thought that the gospel was a fairy story. Where England is concerned Christianity has become a thin veneer.  

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30 August 2015

Posted by Canon Dakin on 03-09-2015

 

“Early morning explosions have become a daily occurrence... and abduction or death is an ever present danger. It is not easy to live in such a risky place. You can’t comfortably move from your home to your work. You expect to be killed at any moment either due to the air-raids or to the war in the streets.”

That is a description of life in Syria.  For Christians in Syria it is especially hard. They are caught in a war between different Muslim factions. They have no friends on either side.

For me the image of the week  was on the news last Sunday evening - families with little children running across fields to get over the border into Hungary  and then the scene on the platform at the railway station in Bucharest as they tried to move further into Western Europe.  These people had not risked the crossing by sea - they had taken the long route overland through the Balkans. A young woman was interviewed. She hoped to be allowed to study medicine. To remain at home there would have been no hope of achieving her ambition but would presumably have been to face death or worse. These people were genuine refugees who by international law had a right to asylum in a safe country. What is our attitude? The strong current of opinion expressed in the media would seem to be to keep them out and to label all who wish to come here as spivs out to take unfair advantage.  And since it takes a strong politician to go against popular opinion, official policy is extremely negative.

Newspapers are far from basing themselves on Christian principles; they lean towards what they perceive to be readers‘ self-interest. What about Christian themselves? They tend to keep their faith in their pockets to be unfolded for an hour on Sundays. Are we critical of newspaper opinion in the light of our faith?  What is our attitude to refugees? Did you pay attention to St Paul this morning? “Pure unspoilt religion in the eyes of God our Father is this: coming to the help of orphans and widows when they need it.”  One is reminded immediately of Our Lord’s own criteria: When I was hungry did you feed me, when I was thirsty did you offer me a drink? It is so simple but absolutely critical. What is there that we can do? Very little. These refugees are not on our doorstep. They are lost in statistics. You must be aware of the 300,00o quoted as last year’s excess immigration.  Of those 300,000 only 4% were refugees. The majority were here on a student visa, the others had been attracted by our relatively buoyant economy. The Christian voice must not let those in genuine, desperate need be overlooked. We must counter the constant negative tone of the media. I am not talking politics and I am far from proposing a practical solution but I am asking you to adapt, yourselves, the prescription for a good sermon: Take the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. What we read in newspapers or view on the screen is not faith-based. We need to refract it through the prism of our faith.     

 

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23 August 2015

Posted by Canon Dakin on 03-09-2015

 

St John was writing the gospel we have just heard about 60 years after the death of Our Lord; he was writing for the second generation of Christians, cementing their faith. For sixty years they had been meeting for the ‘breaking of bread’, the Eucharist. He was expressing what it meant for them: the presence among them of their risen Lord under the appearance of bread and wine. This has been the constant belief of Christians East and West. This is not a belief that sticks out like a sore thumb, uncomfortably isolated.  It fits like a glove into what we believe happens in baptism. In baptism we are molded by the Spirit into the likeness of the Son so that we may relate to the Father as his children, sharing the life of God. We live within the presence of the Trinity.  The presence of Christ in the Eucharist fits into the pattern. The question is not so much do we believe in the real presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist as do we believe in the whole story. That is for us to decide. We must make a decision. We must choose to believe.

I tell my friend “My car will do 120 mph”. He says “I don’t believe it”. “ O.K.     I dare you to come with me on the motorway”. So he comes. He watches the speedometer. If it reaches 120 he has no choice. He must accept the fact.         He has the evidence before his eyes. It is compelling.  When I say: I believe’, I am choosing to take a step on evidence which is sufficient but not compelling. Some people tie themselves up in knots. I have an acquaintance who has declared himself to be agnostic because he is all the time wrestling with St Thomas Aquinas’ philosophical proofs of the existence of God and failing to see the point. If only he would step outside the ring and look with the simplicity of Bernadette at the experience of Lourdes, or at the courage and persistence of the children at Fatima testifying to their vision. Basically, for us, the question is why would twelve ordinary men walk away from family, friends and a good job to spend the rest of their lives witnessing to what they had seen and heard of Jesus of Nazareth, whilst waiting in the wings is a man called Paul whose life was turned upside down when he was confronted by the risen Jesus. You take it or leave it. It is a question not so much of opening our minds as of opening our hearts. Actually to take the step and to say ‘I believe’ we need a nudge, we need to be disposed towards the truth, a disposition which is within God’s gift. That is why conversion is a matter not so much of argument as of prayer.    

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9 August 2015

Posted by Canon Dakin on 16-08-2015

 

‘And the bread which I will give is my flesh for the life of the world’.

Until this point he has offered his teaching as the bread from heaven which would nourish their spiritual lives. He now moves into another key and he begins speaking about the Eucharist.  He will speak with clarity and insistence because the people understand what he is saying and they have a problem with it. Next Sunday is the feast of the Assumption and I am going to read from what would have been next Sunday’s gospel. ‘Then the Jews... will live for ever.’ Then they more or less say to each other ‘He’s crackers’ and begin to drift away. What does he do?  Does he shout after them: ‘Hi! Come back! I’ve been talking in riddles. Come back and I will explain”.  No. He simply turns to his disciples: ‘Do you want to go away, too?’ He will not withdraw a word of what he has said.  It is at the Last Supper that the disciples will hear his words fulfilled, when they will make sense of them in the context of his talk when he speaks of our being bonded with him to share his relationship with the Father, to share his life as God.

I went to Lancaster on Friday to visit the place where nearly four hundred years ago on that date three priests had been put to death by a Puritan government - it was the era of Cromwell - simply because of their priesthood. It was fitting that it was after Mass that a group walked up to the Moor from the Cathedral because it was for the Mass that the martyrs died.  It was in the same period, the 1640s, that a Franciscan, Thomas Bullaker, was celebrating Mass in London when an apostate, a pretend-Catholic, came up to the altar and arrested him. He began to take off his vestments but the man said ‘No, I want you as you are’. It would make a more dramatic and convincing presentation to the magistrate.  The magistrate remarked that the vestments were rather shabby. That’s not surprising. At Claughton there’s a tiny chalice used in penal times, called a riding chalice because it had to be carried inside a saddle- bag. You may imagine that a vestment which had to be stuffed into a saddle- bag would not be of best appearance. ‘Though the vestments are poor’, said the magistrate, ‘they do well enough for use in idolatry’. ‘What idolatry’?, Fr Bullaker asked. ‘Is it not idolatry’, said the magistrate, ‘to worship bread as God?’ ‘We do not worship the bread and wine as God. We worship Jesus Christ under the appearance of bread and wine as the Church has always done since the days of the Apostles’.  To which the magistrate had no answer - perhaps implicitly acknowledging that the priest was right. The Protestants had a problem in squaring their ideas with the history of early Christianity.

The Catholic church was not peculiarin its belief in the real presence - theyhad been the common belief of Christians everywhere, East and West, Catholic and Orthodox, down the ages. Even Luther held to it. It was the more radical Calvin, withhis pessimistic view of human nature, for whom it was too good to be true. It was Calvinism from Strasbourg and Geneva which had entered into England. That is why our priests faced death.  The Calvinists had abolished priesthood. If they were handling only bread and wine, a priest was superfluous. The Catholics needed priests. There were men brave enough to volunteer. Three hundred came into England during Elizabeth’s reign, having been ordained abroad. Over a hundred of these were caught and executed - a one in three chance of survival. Households showed great devotion in receiving them; death was also the penalty for harbouring a priest. The last executions werein 1679. The death penalty was commuted to life imprisonment from 1700. If you take 1535, the martyrdom of the Carthusians, with Sts Thomas More and John Fisher, as the starting point, the Catholic community had endured 150 years of risking death as the price of being faithful, not to mention severe financial penalties and social exclusion. It is a remarkable tale of courage and fidelity. Are we, their successors, such wimps that, living in freedom we are unable to inspire young men to offer themselves to serve the community as priests?  The least we can do is get on our knees and show God that we care. Do we? 

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