Canon Dakin on 27-07-2015
This year we have been following the gospel of St Mark. It is the shortest of the gospels, and so we have been given an interlude from St John and the passage we have heard today is not so much a news report as an icon, to be contemplated, with every detail having significance. Jesus on a hillside -recalls Moses on Sinai. St John is writing for mature 2nd cent. Christians, meeting every Sunday for the Breaking of Bread, as the Eucharist then was called. Imagine the resonance of hearing about Jesus taking bread, giving thanks, breaking it and giving it out. Moses fed the people miraculously with manna, bread from heaven. The people here in a desert place are aware of the miracle of Jesus feeding more than five thousand people from five loaves of barley. They acclaim him as the new liberator, a second Moses. Jesus packs the apostles off to the other side of the lake to keep them from being infected by these wild ideas. The stage is set for Jesus’ discourse on the bread of life in which at the end he will give a promise of the Eucharist.
Today is a Day for Life. I had an odd phone call during the week. ‘According to our records you once worked in industry’ ‘Your records must be wrong. I am a priest and have always been a priest.’ ‘Well. What did you do on weekdays?’ ‘Being a priest is a full-time job. Don’t you know what a priest is?’ ‘No, I’m not a God-person’. That echoes a famous remark by someone in politics: ‘We don’t do God’. The country, broadly speaking, has become de-christianised. It’s not that people have become aggressively atheistic - they have just selected neutral and coast along with no other reference but themselves.
They apply notions of design, purpose and meaning to gadgets but don’t have the detachment to ask the same questions of themselves. They are stuck in a rut of consumerism which is now so deep that they may opt to abort a child who happens not to be of the gender they prefer on the grounds of the stress they would endure if the child were to be born. ‘It’s not what we would have ordered’. So we have a Day for Life to assert the dignity of the human person, a dignity and a value which transcends human preference. The special collection today is for the support of the Anscombe Centre for Bio-ethics which provides the Bishops’ Conference with the scientific advice it may need in defending our concept of the dignity of human life.
Canon Dakin on 22-07-2015
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. Our Lord is reported in the gospels of having once had pity on the people because they were like sheep without a shepherd.
I suppose few of us would have heard of Mosul in Iraq before it was occupied by fighters carving out an Islamic state. The significant number of Christians in Mosul had to leave their homes and trek for safety into Kurdish territory. Those Christians are Catholic, as we are, Chaldean Catholics, one of the oldest Christian communities, whose liturgical language is Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus and his apostles. It would seem that for centuries they have had married priests.
The Greek and Russian Orthodox have their own Eastern rite, older than our Latin rite. Many of the Orthodox are called Uniate, because they are in union with Rome. Their priests are Catholic priests - and many of them are married as is the custom in the Eastern Churches. It has been estimated. therefore, that up to 20% of Catholic priests throughout the world are married men.
So why in the West do we restrict priesthood to unmarried men? A priest by ordination shares the relationship of Jesus to his people. Our Lord, St Paul tells us, relates to his Church as bridegroom to his bride with total and exclusive devotion. The celibate or unmarried priest would seem to have a stronger sacrament reality. Even among the Orthodox, the bishop who possesses the fullness of priesthood must be unmarried.
However, it appears that in Europe and in some other parts of the Catholic world, priesthood is in crisis. Churches are closing simply because of a shortage of priests. Sunday Mass is fundamental to the practice of our faith. How are we to make provision? In last week’s Catholic weekly, The Tablet, three of our retired bishops wrote letters expressing the need in this country to ordain married men. One wrote: “Access to the Eucharist trumps the line in defence of a celibate priesthood.” Pope Francis has indicated his willingness to consider requests from Bishops’ Conferences who consider they have a need to move towards the ordination of married men. In England we are already accustomed to the ordination of former Anglican clergy who were previously married. So -watch this space.
Canon Dakin on 07-07-2015
The title of Pope Francis’ recent encyclical is Lodato si - Praised be. Sixty, seventy years ago, if you had been walking through the Italian countryside and you met someone on the road the greeting you might have expected to give or to receive would not have been Buon giorno - Good Day - but Sia lodato Gesu Christo - Praised be Jesus Christ. To which the reply would have been - Sempre sia lodato - Praised for evermore. Nowadays, I guess, the response would be Cosa dice? - You what? Europe has drifted from its Christian anchorage. The culture of Europe was once interwoven with our Catholic faith. Modern opinion makers are busy unravelling any connection. The Italian government attempted to remove the crucifix from State schools. A few weeks ago a small town in the south of France erected a war memorial surmounted by a cross. Paris ordered the cross to be removed. France is officially a lay state. You wonder why they haven’t demolished the church of Notre Dame. In England we have had councils attempting to suppress Christmas in favour of a Winter Festival. Marriage has been redefined in a way which is unacceptable to Christians with no room left for conscientious evasion. I told you about the Belfast baker who was taken to court and fined because he refused to bake a cake to be the centre piece of a propaganda event for gay marriage. Respectful disagreement is being interpreted as abuse. We are written off by the libertarian press as fuddy-duddy bigots stuck in a time warp. What do we do about it? Cower away and keep quiet hoping not to be noticed? It is in this situation that the Church is calling for a new evangelisation. We have the truth about the meaning of human existence. We need to proclaim it. I noticed a phrase used by Mr. Cameron a few days ago in relation to terrorism. He said ‘We must be stronger in standing up for our values and we must be more intolerant of intolerance’. That is a phrase which could be become our programme as Christians living in a society which has become detached from its Christian roots. The bishops have launched a programme ‘Proclaim 15.’ A congress of 800 diocesan representatives, including our own, is being held this week in Birmingham to share ideas which would promote the new evangelisation. It will end on Saturday and our bishops have appealed for a prayer event in every parish on Saturday evening. I have consulted and all are invited to Evening Prayer and Benediction on Saturday evening at 6.00. Hopefully you won’t have to abandon the drawn out ding-dong of a Wimbledon final but it’s obvious that any small sacrifice we might make in order to attend would sharpen the effectiveness of our prayer. 6.00 0‘clock, then, this coming Saturday.
Canon Dakin on 02-07-2015
Peter and Paul sealed their profession of faith by martyrdom at Rome round about the year 65. The Church at that time was served and sometimes plagued by itinerant preachers. The apostles themselves seem to have established a more settled structure for the churches they had founded. Paul ordained Titus to be bishop of Crete and Timothy, his other helper, became bishop of Ephesus. Ignatius of Antioch is an interesting case. He may have been appointed by St Peter himself as bishop there. When Ignatius was being conveyed under guard to face martyrdom 1n the Colosseum at Rome, he wrote a series of letters to churches on his route and in each one he presumes there will be a responsible bishop with priests and deacons. It was for each bishop to teach with authority the tradition he had received and if there was doubt or need of clarification it was for the bishops to meet together. For Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons in France, there was a simpler way. If you wanted to check on authentic Church teaching, all you needed to do was to consult the faith of the Church at Rome on account, he said, of its more powerful principality. By that he meant that the community at Rome had been taught by the two greatest Apostles, Peter and Paul and would have maintained their tradition. That Roman primacy persisted and is accepted today. Not that the Bishop of Rome makes up his own mind about disputed doctrine. He is the head of the college of bishops. They are there to be consulted and to say that the Pope is infallible merely means that what Jesus revealed about us and our relationship with God will never be lost. The focus on Rome is the result of what we are celebrating today - the martyrdom of Peter and Paul during the persecution by Nero. The object of a pilgrimage to Rome is to kneel and pray at their tombs
Canon Dakin on 30-06-2015
It happens on our lakes in Cumbria that the winds are funnelled through the valleys and sometimes hit the lake with great force. So on the Sea of Galilee and Our Lord speaks as though he is in conversation with the elements: he rebukes the wind and to the sea he says ‘Quiet now, be calm’. There is a ring of friendliness even in his voice, combining care with authority. He is their creator, they are his creatures. That care and authority has been entrusted to us. That we have been failing in our care is the burden of Pope’s Francis encyclical published on Thursday. I haven’t yet been able to read the full text but it seems to be the Pope’s opinion that global warming is damaging the earth and harming the poor. We know, for instance, that rising tides have made a large coastal strip of Bangladesh uninhabitable and thousands of people have had to leave their homes, giving up their livelihood, and settle, without work, on the fringes of towns further inland.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, with other religious leaders in Britain, earlier this week issued their own statement on global warming, presumably to influence the government in advance of a United Nations summit in Paris. On Wednesday, Christians groups, including Cafod, lobbied Parliament, persuading MPs to take climate change seriously. Scientific opinion appears to make our own human activity responsible for global warming but there are sceptics. Let me put it this way. You are standing on top of a mountain. You feel the urge to throw a stone. You realise that your stone might kill someone on his way up. To take the risk would be immoral. You may not be convinced that global warming is man-made but are you justified in taking the risk of destroying lives?
Canon Dakin on 10-06-2015
People of my generation sometimes hanker after the old days when, wherever in the world you went, the Mass was always word for word the same. Nowadays, having been translated into so many different languages, the Mass has kept its shape though the words are not the same. How did the Mass get its basic shape? The early Christians combined the Saturday synagogue service with Our Lord’s adaptation of the Passover Supper. You would have recognised the exact shape of our Mass today if you had attended Mass in Rome in the year 150. On Monday last week we celebrated the memory of St Justin. His grandfather might have seen and heard one of the apostles. Justin would have been as close as that to the Apostles themselves.. He lived during a time of persecution so he wrote what is called an Apology - an open letter to the Roman Emperor justifying his faith. He gives a description of the Mass in which you may clearly recognise the readings, the sermon, Bidding Prayers, Offertory, Eucharistic Prayer and Communion. And he is absolutely explicit about the effect of the Eucharistic prayer. ‘We have been taught’, he says, ‘that the food which has been blessed by the prayer of his word is the flesh and blood of Jesus who was made flesh. The Apostles in their memoirs which we call gospels have narrated how Jesus took bread and when he had given thanks said “Do this in remembrance of me; this is my body”. And likewise, having taken the cup and given thanks he said; “This is my blood”’. This realism, the presence of Jesus, made man for us, under the appearance of bread and wine, was the common faith of all Christians, East and West, Catholic and Orthodox, for fifteen hundred years. It was challenged at the Reformation - not by Luther but by others, principally Calvin, and it was Calvinism that made its way into England. Calvin regarded human nature as totally corrupt. You get into heaven if God, for the sake of Christ, deigns to overlook your sinful state. The holiness of God, as a Real Presence in the Eucharist, is simply incompatible with human degradation. But Our Lord said: Be holy as your heavenly Father is holy and the invitation to share God’s life was made at the Last Supper and is signified through our communion. Which brings us back to Justin. In the old Latin Mass the climax appeared to be the elevation. The priest sang the preface and whilst the choir sang the Sanctus the priest continued the Eucharistic Prayer in silence. Then continuing in a dramatic silence he pronounced the words of consecration and to the accompaniment of bells the host was raised for adoration. Not so in Justin’s day or for a thousand years afterwards. The whole of the Eucharistic Prayer at that time was proclaimed aloud. The words of consecration were simply one paragraph within a continuous prayer. There was no pause for an elevation of the host or of the chalice. Then, the climax was clearly - communion. It is the goal and purpose of all that has gone before. It is the solemn and serious step we take to renew our covenant with God, who has made himself present to us, our rededication to serve him. And where do we find him requiring to be served? I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave a drink, I was naked and you clothed me.
Canon Dakin on 10-06-2015
You will be aware that the people of Ireland in a referendum have voted in favour of gay marriage though the bishops of Ireland expressed their opposition. So what has happened to Catholic Ireland? The same as has happened to the Catholic Church in England. I spoke a few weeks ago about a lost generation. When I came to Thornton in 1968 there was a group of keen teenagers well integrated into the Church through their families.. It was at their prompting, for instance, that we had an all-night vigil for Cafod. As they grew up, those youngsters, they were submerged by the cultural storm of the 70s. Most of them married outside the Church and subsequently divorced. They are now becoming grandparents - their children having lost all connection with the Church. The secular society has spread and Ireland has not been immune. It couldn’t be. It belongs to the same cultural world. It is noticeable that Archbishop Martin of Dublin was not able to say: ‘Let’s remember that marriage is a sacrament’. He had to make a case for ‘reasoned argument’, saying that in a `society where individual personal fulfilment can become so dominant, every other argument can be laid to the side and we can come to the conclusion that there are so many concrete manifestations of family that it is no longer possible even to speak of family’. When the same question was being debated here at home I felt the same constraint. When writing to our MP I couldn’t talk of marriage as a sacrament. I had to argue from reason - saying, for example, that by analogy the word marriage just wouldn’t stretch to cover a gay relationship.
Supposing I had been able to use a faith-based argument, what would I have said? I would have begun with the Blessed Trinity - the basic belief of anyone who claims to be a Christian. We were made, we are told, in God’s image. God is a relationship between three persons, the third person proceeding from the love of the other two. Immediately we see the image of God in the family, a third person, the child, personifying the love of man and woman. This loving relationship, which may issue in a third person, we call marriage. It is an absolutely unique relationship and so the term marriage can never be stretched to cover any other mode of physical attraction, however strong and sincere it may be. There’smore. The quality of love in marriage is to be that of Christ for his Church. He laid down his life for his Church. The grace of the sacrament is a love of divine quality; a divine energy.In other words, it is a sharing in the love and in the life of the Bl. Trinity. It doesn’t matter that you are not married. You are the child of a unique human relationship - as a child you are the third person. Family love is trinitarian and so a lifein communion with God. You are thinking that I’m living in cloud-cuckoo land; that if what I have been saying were to be true then all would be peace and harmony. It is you, perhaps, who may be mistaken in believing grace to be like an injection which works willy-nilly. When we talk of grace we mean that God is being gracious, inviting us into a relationship. Weare free to refuse or we may accept but rather edgily. What would be the status of a loveless marriage? It would have no sacramental reality. I consider that it would not be a marriage at all, simply a sham.
Canon Dakin on 27-05-2015
During the week leading up to this feast of Pentecost the prayer of the Church has been full of references to the Holy Spirit. On Tuesday, for instance, the prayer at Mass was this: ’God of power and mercy, grant that when the Holy Spirit comes, he may dwell in us and make us a temple filled with his glory’.
So when did the Holy Spirit come to you? You are going to say: ‘At my Confirmation’? Until you were confirmed, then, the Holy Spirit was not a presence in your life? Don’t believe it. We have exaggerated Confirmation because we have taken it out of context. Confirmaton is not your being firmed up to take hard knocks. It is the confirmation of your baptism.
The sacraments have got out of sync. In early days baptisms took place in the cathedral at the Easter Vigil. The person who had been baptised by a priest was taken immediately to the bishop who confirmed the baptism by anointing with oil. As Christianity spread and parishes were far from the cathedral city confirmation was delayed until a bishop could visit and so became detached from baptism. The Holy Spirit is the engineer of the change signified by baptism when we entered into a new relationship with God. Because of the unity of the Bl.Trinity that relationship is - must be - with all three persons. As we share the relationshp of Jeus to his Father so we share his relationship to the Spirit. It is through the Spirit that we are empowered to live on his plane, to love like him, so fulfilling Our lord’s commandment - Love one another as I have loved you.
You might have been asked the question, some years ago, ‘Hzve you been baptised in the Spirit’? It became a popular question within the charismatic movement. It was badly phrased and quite misleading. It referred to the emotionsl response which some people experienced in prayer When I am watching Songs of Praise and a Gospel Choir takes the stage I am not impressed by the swaying and stamping, arms raisecd and waving. It turns me off. It’s not me. Some people speak in tongues. There are many gifts of the Spirit to fit diffeeent personalities. St Paul tells us hat they are all worthless unless informed by love, God’s great gift to all. How do you describe God? Our Lord used only one word: Love. Love is the relationship between the Three Persons which makes God what God is. By baptism we are inserted into that rel;atonship. Any human achievement is just dross unless motivated by love. It doesn’t matter how humble you are, how insignificant in wordly terms is what you do, it becomes pure gold if offered to God with love. We are able to do that only through cooperation with the Holy Spirit who dwells in our hearts, through our acceptance of his prompting and his assistance. ‘Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love.’.
Canon Dakin on 22-05-2015
The Ascension of Our Lord
The Resurrection and the Ascension are one continuous movement. Jesus rose from the dead to ascend to his Father. We are caught up in that same movement - raised in baptism to enter one day into full consciousness of the presence of our Father in heaven. Whilst here on earth we know only by faith that God, the Blessed Trinity, has already established an intimate relationship with each one of us. We are one with God as Jesus is one with the Father. We already share God’s life. I was walking in Poulton on Monday, watching people going to and fro, browsing in the market, intent on their shopping, and the presence of God seemed so remote from the trivialities of ordinary human life that you may put to yourself the question - Is it a fairy story? It is just as wonderful as any fairy story and it is only when you reflect on the solid basis of our faith that however wonderful it may be, it is the reality; it is the true account of what we are and what we are called to be.
This faith of ours is built on the mission given by Our Lord to the Apostles: “Go out to the whole world, proclaim the good news to all creation”. That mission didn’t end with the death of the last apostle. It is a mission given to the Church. It is therefore our mission today. Pope Francis has declared a Jubilee Year of Mercy to begin on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, Dec. 8th, this year. We are to express the loving mercy of God who really hugs us to himself. We may not have the words but if we have faith in God’s presence in our lives and his plan for our future happiness then our basic optimism should be evident - and attractive to others. That is how we will proclaim the good news - that is how we may fulfill our mission.
Canon Dakin on 11-05-2015
I commissioned you to go out and bear fruit’. A moment before, Our Lord had said: ‘I am the vine, you are the branches’. It is because we share his life that we are able to love with his love and so bear fruit. That love is defined by self-sacrifice as Jesus, for our sake, surrendered himself to death on the cross.
We are presently observing the 70th anniversary of VE Day. Those five years of war were painful but in the history of our people they may rank as our finest hour. There was a time when we stood alone, and in a weakened condition, against an enemy at the height of his power. The temptation then was to sue for peace and leave Europe to the evil domination of a self-styled master race. Churchill presented the alternative of suffering and sacrifice. The people of England chose sacrifice. That was a response to an honourable ideal but also an act of collective love towards those people who were suffering under harsh occupation with their freedom curtailed.
War and love hardly go together but war can be the occasion of extraordinary acts of devotion. There was a soldier who literally laid down his life for his friends by covering a mine with his body. There were so many who risked their lives to bring in a wounded comrade.
St John has told us that all love comes from God. Today we thank God not simply for the ending of the war but for the gifts of fortitude and compassion which carried us through and created a spirit which made us a nation united as perhaps never before or since. In that same spirit we will prolong the period of silence at the end of the Bidding Prayers as we remember those who never came back.
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