Canon Dakin on 08-05-2015
We are withering on the vine. This week will see the seventieth anniversary of VE Day. Many of us here will remember where we were and what we did on that day seventy years ago. We may also be reflecting on how much the world has changed since then. When we were young we would have said, without hesitation, that this was a Christian country. We are coming up to an election shortly. I suppose Parliament is broadly representative of our society.
A survey of nearly three hundred candidates standing in marginal seats revealed that roughly only a third of them were prepared to say they believed in God. A British Social Attitudes Survey showed that in my generation one in two identified themselves as Anglican; among those born in the 1980s only one in twenty did so. We Catholics have not escaped the trend. In his pastoral letter last week the Bishop wrote of our shortage of priests. For example, there were four parishes in Morecambe, each with a resident priest - now all are served by just one priest. The knot is tightening. This year four priests are retiring, only one is being ordained. Where have all the young men gone? It is not that we have young Catholics who are more interested in becoming bankers than in becoming priests. We have lost them. They are no longer with us. I have known so many good Catholic families whose children were well grounded in the faith but who were simply overcome by the culture of the sixties and seventies. A wave of ‘flower power’ came across from the States and the first generation to go in numbers to the universities succumbed to the superficial mishmash of a fashionable philosophy creating an environment in which it just wasn’t cool to say that you believed in God. They are a lost generation and they are the ones who now have children with scarcely a vestige of faith. So what hope is there for the future? To be realistic we have to anticipate a slimmed down Church, which may be stronger, though lighter. We need to ensure that our young people are better prepared to keep their feet when they leave home to be challenged by what they will meet outside. The picture is not entirely gloomy. There are now four Catholic universities in this country - the nearest is Hope University down the coast in Liverpool. They may be the seed beds of vocations in the coming years. So no need to despair and a call to prayer is a sign of a positive attitude. In the run up to Pentecost this year the Bishop has asked for a novena and prayer in each deanery. The churches of the deanery will in turn open for an hour of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament each day of the novena. The details are on the notice board. Remember Our Lord said two things about prayer. One was: Ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourer unto his harvest. The other: Persevere in your praying. We are withering on the vine. This week will see the seventieth anniversary of VE Day. Many of us here will remember where we were and what we did on that day seventy years ago. We may also be reflecting on how much the world has changed since then. When we were young we would have said, without hesitation, that this was a Christian country. We are coming up to an election shortly. I suppose Parliament is broadly representative of our society. A survey of nearly three hundred candidates standing in marginal seats revealed that roughly only a third of them were prepared to say they believed in God. A British Social Attitudes Survey showed that in my generation one in two identified themselves as Anglican; among those born in the 1980s only one in twenty did so. We Catholics have not escaped the trend. In his pastoral letter last week the Bishop wrote of our shortage of priests. For example, there were four parishes in Morecambe, each with a resident priest - now all are served by just one priest. The knot is tightening. This year four priests are retiring, only one is being ordained. Where have all the young men gone? It is not that we have young Catholics who are more interested in becoming bankers than in becoming priests. We have lost them. They are no longer with us. I have known so many good Catholic families whose children were well grounded in the faith but who were simply overcome by the culture of the sixties and seventies. A wave of ‘flower power’ came across from the States and the first generation to go in numbers to the universities succumbed to the superficial mishmash of a fashionable philosophy creating an environment in which it just wasn’t cool to say that you believed in God. They are a lost generation and they are the ones who now have children with scarcely a vestige of faith. So what hope is there for the future? To be realistic we have to anticipate a slimmed down Church, which may be stronger, though lighter. We need to ensure that our young people are better prepared to keep their feet when they leave home to be challenged by what they will meet outside. The picture is not entirely gloomy. There are now four Catholic universities in this country - the nearest is Hope University down the coast in Liverpool. They may be the seed beds of vocations in the coming years. So no need to despair and a call to prayer is a sign of a positive attitude. In the run up to Pentecost this year the Bishop has asked for a novena and prayer in each deanery. The churches of the deanery will in turn open for an hour of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament each day of the novena. The details are on the notice board. Remember Our Lord said two things about prayer. One was: Ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourer unto his harvest. The other: Persevere in your praying.
Canon Dakin on 23-04-2015
The crossing of the Mediterranean by refugees, in leaky boats, from Libya to Italy is a dangerous venture. The death of 400 of them, attempting to cross, was reported recently, but there have been some whose deaths have not been by chance. On Friday we had notice of twelve people who had been thrown overboard by a group of Muslims because they were Christian. This is not an isolated incident. You may have watched a TV programme on Wednesday night - Kill the Christians. This year is the centenary of the Armenian genocide. Armenia was the first country in the world to declare itself officially Christian - in the year 301. In 1915, the Turks, Muslims, set out to eliminate them. Either directly, or by death on forced marches, over a million were killed. Many fled abroad. Now the threat to Christians is from IS, the Islamic State, mainly in Syria and Iraq. We heard in the Gospel Our Lord’s commissioning of the Apostles to go out to all nations. Iraq and Syria were among the first to be evangelised and have some of the oldest Christian communities. Many Syrian Christians have taken refuge in Jordan and Lebanon; those from Iraq have gone into Kurdish territory, mainly to a town called Erbil where recently they were visited by our own Cardinal Vincent Nichols, expressing our support and solidarity. They are just as Catholic as we are. They are Chaldean Catholics, with a liturgy that is older than our Latin Mass and because they are Catholic, not merely Christian, they are particularly targeted by IS since their link with Rome gives them a connection with the West which is regarded by IS as the enemy. Their cathedral was in Mosul and the latest news from there is that having destroyed all items of Christian significance the Muslims are turning it into a mosque. Meanwhile the refugees in Erbil, 120 thousand of them, are living in tents and caravans dependent on aid from abroad.
In expressing our solidarity with them Cardinal Nichols was not merely promising money, he was assuring them of our prayer. Last night there was a prayer vigil, lasting the whole night, in the Holy Name church in Manchester. Prayer tends to be underrated because we often ask simply for what we imagine might be of benefit to us and are disappointed when it doesn’t come quickly. This place is not a corner shop and you are not customers. The Church is a body, a living organism, in which prayer is like oxygen circulating life through the body. Dorothy Day said that prayer is like a pebble thrown into a pond: we may be confident that the ever-widening circle will reach round the world. The month of May is now in sight when we reach for our rosaries. You may have to create a small space of quiet in your lives or, counting on your fingers, take advantage of the minutes spent at the bus stop. I am suggesting just one way of giving spiritual support to those who are presently suffering for their faith and who are one with us in Christ. We pray in the Mass that we may be one body, one spirit in Christ. If we are indifferent we are rejecting our own oneness with Him and our Holy Communion would be a sham.
Canon Dakin on 18-04-2015
Today is called Low Sunday - presumably in contrast to the high of Easter Sunday. In the Latin missal it is called Dominica in albis, the Sunday for putting off the white. In Rome those who had been baptised on Easter night had been wearing during the week the white garments in which they had been clothed at their baptism. They were gathered today in the church of St Pancratius on the shoulder of the hill which rises from the Vatican and is called the Janiculum. They were taken there because Pancratius was a boy martyr, a young Christian who had died for his faith and the message was that they, though young in the faith, were expected to die for it. A message and a situation which we thought belonged to times past. Sadly it doesn’t
Last August the people living in a Christian village on the Nineveh plain woke to find themselves surrounded by IS militia. One of them, named Khyria, with forty-five other women were separated and threatened with decapitation unless they converted to Islam. To soften their resistance each one over a period of ten days was publicly whipped. Finally Khyria was held with a sword to her throat: ‘Convert or be killed’. Her reply was that she would rather die than give up her faith. Perhaps for the terrorists it was too much bother. The women were robbed of anything of value - wedding rings, for instance, then allowed to trek to safety in Kurdish territory. They were virtually martyrs. In this 21st century their story, with variations, is replicated in so many places in Asia, Africa, South America. Would we be prepared to stand with them?
David Suchet, Monsieur Poirot, feels in his blood a Lithuanian Jew. At 40 he was a very, very cynical atheist, agnostic. He had been close to his grandfather and wanted to believe his grandfather was still, somehow, existing. He chose to read St Paul. It wasn’t a Damascene moment but he came to believe and was confirmed as a Christian. He said: “The greatest reason for my faith outside of Jesus, is the fact that Peter, Paul and thousands of Christians were willing to die for their faith. I would not die for a lie. I’d be as scared as anybody facing the knife or the rifle but I could not now deny my Christianity....I cannot deny that. If that means I die, that means I die”.
I could not personally be so confident and I’m not likely to be so tested though my faith is built on the same foundation. ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed’ said Our Lord. I have no experience of the Risen Jesus but I trust the witness of Peter and Paul because they gave up everything, even their lives, for the truth of what they were saying. Last year it is estimated that well over a thousand Christians were put to death on account of their faith. We are so numbed by the constant images of violence we see on our screens that the strength of their witness is diminished but persecution goes on relentlessly. There are men and women out there whose courage is being challenged every day. We owe them the support of our prayers and, where possible, to urge the suspension of aid to induce governments to do more to ensure freedom of worship.
Canon Dakin on 08-04-2015
There is an Easter Egg which is called The Real Easter Egg - the box has been marked by a cross and contains a leaflet telling the story of the Resurrection. Over the past five years a million of them have been sold. This year, Asda, Sainsbury’s and the Co-op have refused to stock it - presumably because it doesn’t meet their sales criteria, though one buyer wanted to know “What has Easter to do with the Church?”. He may have been aware of a poll among children which revealed that a third of them believed that Easter marked the birthday of the Easter bunny. The ignorance of what we once took for granted is quite amazing. I was watching a quiz show on TV recently and a young English woman had no idea of the significance of 1066. That wouldn’t prevent her from living a full life - but to miss out on the meaning of the death and resurrection of Our Lord is to go through life without a compass. If you don’t believe in heaven why deny yourself anything on earth? If love is not defined by Christ’s love it may so easily become self-indulgence. Your measure of self-worth becomes the estimate of how you look, how you rate your achievement. We are thanking God today for our baptism - for our entry into the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection by which we ourselves become like him; we become divine, because we become children of God as Jesus is Son of God, and so our standards, our values, must be his, giving us guidance and direction in life. It is so sad when you see children growing up without that knowledge in what was a Christian country. A thousand years ago when few could read or write, when children rolled their eggs at Easter they knew that they were play acting - they were rolling the stone away from Christ’s tomb. We have become so sophisticated and yet have lost the simple signposts which gave us direction in life. One can only applaud the initiative of those who planned and marketed the Real Easter Egg. We need to back any use of the media today which offer to those who have lost it the key to the meaning of our existence, whilst today we thank God for our vision of what his providence means for us. And now we stand to promise once more to live by that vision in renewing the vows of our baptism.
Canon Dakin on 21-03-2015
Sadly we are accustomed to power struggles in the Middle East, Jew against Arab, Sunni against Shia. liberal against fundamentalist.
In Jeremiah’s time the Babylonians were a thorn in the side of the Jews. In the year 597 they destroyed Jerusalem and took the people off into exile. Fifty years later the Persians came along and knocked the Babylonians off their perch. They encouraged the Jews to return and rebuild Jerusalem. The experience of exile and the resumption of their former way of life centred on a restored temple in Jerusalem was one of the great events in Jewish history. Jeremiah is prophesying to the Jews whilst they were still in exile in Babylon. He is telling them that what has happened is the result of their being unfaithful to the covenant that God had made with them in the time of Moses and he is looking forward to a new covenant to be arranged by God, a covenant to be written not on tablets of stone but in their hearts. Christians see this prophecy fulfilled by the new covenant Jesus announced at the Last Supper - a covenant whose law is simply love. Love one another as I have loved you. True love, as Our Lord explains in the gospel today about the grain dying to produce fruit, is not self-serving but involves the sacrifice of self-interest. This new covenant we renew at every Mass - the Mass is quite simply a renewal of the covenant - but the significance of the special importance we attach to our Easter Communion is that on Easter night or Easter Day we make a solemn renewal of the covenant - accepting for ourselves the covenant law of love as a condition of our being made one with Christ to share his risen life.
Canon Dakin on 19-03-2015
I came to Thornton in 1968. At that time there were two elderly people in Sacred Heart parish, one a man, the other a woman, who remembered standing in Poulton market place on Candlemas Day to be hired for the year by a local farmer. If you go to the census of 1911 you will find that Thornton and district was a land of small farms. Local employment was mostly in service on those farms. It was the tradition that today, Mothering Sunday, those living and working away from home would return to pay a visit to their mothers, yes, but first of all to their mother church, the church in which they had been baptised, to the font in which they had become children of God.
It fitted into the rhythm of Lent. The goal of Lent is the renewal of the vows of our baptism at Easter. This mid-Lent Sunday is a half-way house when the gospel is about enlightenment. In the early Church the baptised were called the ‘enlightened’, having had their eyes opened by faith. Easter, the renewal of our baptismal vows is not the end of our yearly cycle - it looks towards Pentecost and our calling to share the light, to spread the light that we have received. “Men”, it said in the gospel, “have shown that they prefer darkness to the light.” There was a glimpse of the shadows in a report last week by the Equality and Human Rights Commission according to which Christians are too scared to admit their beliefs. If this is true it is partly the fault of the Commission itself. A Christian who publicly expresses his belief that marriage is between a man and a woman may be afraid that he or she might be risking prosecution under the equality law. As a result of uncertainty the law is to be more carefully defined. But, in general, we tend to hide behind the beatitude ‘Blessed are the meek’ and allow ourselves to be shouted down. Pope Francis said to the world’s young people gathered in Brazil that they should go out and cause a stir. It is the young who are on the front line these days. There was a newspaper report a couple of weeks ago that young people at university are shy of saying that they believe in God - not that the majority have carefully thought through their agnosticism - it’s just not cool to say you believe in God just as it’s not cool for students to wear a tie. The good news is that there are now four Catholic universities in this country and a fifth is shortly to open in London with an emphasis on philosophy and European culture. In state universities our students have the support of chaplaincies - but they are being challenged in a way that we were not and need our support - at least the support of our prayers. Meanwhile the rest of us are not to be like rabbits hiding in their burrows but just quietly to let the light of our faith focus on those areas of life in society which are presently in shadow.
Canon Dakin on 09-03-2015
Are you aware of any modern parallel to the desecration of sacred space to which Jesus reacted by expelling the money changers? Some English cathedrals are now charging an entrance fee. As far as I remember in Saint Paul’s, London, and York Minster there is free entry to a restricted area if you want to pray. Otherwise, I think it is true that most visitors are there as though visiting a museum and so may reasonably be charged towards the maintenance of what they have come to see. The Catholic Church in Victorian times was not free from taint. I had occasion to examine the notice book of St Peter’s, Lancaster, for the 1880s. One item caught my eye. At Sunday Mass there was an entrance charge of 2d - not a negligible sum if you went into a grocer’s shop in those days. If a poor person was unable to pay the 2d entry fee he or she was not allowed to occupy s place in a bench but was humiliated by being obliged to stand in a designated area at the back of the church. That was the rule; it appears, in the Liverpool archdiocese - a rule which quite rightly nowadays is a cause for shame.
But sacred space is not confined to church. ‘The Lord’s is the earth and its fullness. It He who set it on the seas’. The universe is God’s creation. It is therefore to be respected. In fact is being abused. We have poisoned the atmosphere; we have polluted the seas; we are destroying the forests. The world, of which we are guardians, is being exploited. GNP, Gross National Product, is the sacred cow of modern politics. We must become wealthier by constantly producing more and so improve our standard of living. Can the earth sustain our ambition? Research by the World-Wide Fund for Nature showed that human consumption surpassed the carrying capacity of the earth forty years ago; that presently we are using resources as though we had not just one planet but one and a half; that here in the UK we use them as though we had three planets to go at. Our profligacy is going to place enormous burdens on future generations. Is there a way out? Yes, in a model known as the Steady State Economy which recognises earth’s limits. But this, of course, strikes at the root of the current free market economy. My point is that the Christian, who accepts responsibility for the right use of God’s gifts, needs to look beyond the annual budget and question its deeper assumptions. Pope Francis is preparing an encyclical which promises to tackle these basic questions. We need to take political debate to a level where few at the moment are ready to go. We would have on our side all those who believe in God as creator
Canon Dakin on 06-03-2015
If you watch a serial on TV an episode may begin with an introduction headed ‘Previously’. If we apply ‘previously’ to the Transfiguration, Peter has made his declaration “You are the Christ. Jesus then has said ‘The Christ must suffer’. Now he takes three of his apostles up a mountain to hear Moses and Elijah speak of his suffering and see him transformed as though into another world. This was what we might call fast- forwarding. ‘Not a word about this’, he told them, ‘Until I have risen from the dead’. What they had seen was a glimpse into the future. He would suffer and die and through death enter into his glory.
The gospel, the good news, is precisely this - that through death we shall be glorified with him, we shall share his glory. What is our attitude to death? We may be apprehensive of dying, we are quite unable to foresee the circumstances, but entry into the after-life should surely hold no qualms. Do we not believe that God loves us with a love that is infinite, that God himself became man to share with us what he is as God? And we have already died. We died sacramentally in baptism to rise from the water with resurrection life. At Easter we celebrate the anniversary of our baptism - the beginning of our new relationship with God. God became a presence in our lives, so that we now interact with Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is only this interaction with God which enables us to love as Jesus loves. Jesus makes Easter, the mystery of his death and resurrection, present here at Mass.
As his existence is defined by his relationship to the Father and the Holy Spirit. In receiving Him we become, each of us, a tabernacle of the Bl. Trinity - but we are not as lifeless as a piece of metal. God is active within us, becoming the source of our inspiration and strength. This divine presence in our lives is, in effect, already heaven - what is lacking is the awareness that one day will flood into our minds. This divine presence is the ultimate measure of the dignity of the human person and the single truth that underpins all the bishops have written in their guide to the election which will be given to you as you leave church this morning.
Canon Dakin on 20-02-2015
The background to the passage from St Paul which we heard this morning is respect for the feelings of others. Corinthians sacrificed to their gods. The animal sacrificed in the temple would be sold to a butcher who then would offer it for sale in his shop. Your broad minded Christian, who knew that the gods of Greece had no real existence, had no scruple in buying the meat. There were other Christians who were more timid, who hesitated to use anything associated with pagan worship.
St Paul is telling the broadminded that they would be doing nothing wrong but, out of kindness, should avoid embarrassing those who were scrupulous by not serving them with meat contaminated by idolatry. There is a modern ring about being free and yet choosing not to exercise that freedom out of regard for the feelings of others. Charlie in Paris was exercising freedom of expression. Perhaps he did so without due regard for Muslim sensitivity. This does not justify his murder and the death of his companions. There was a Muslim rally in London last week protesting against the insensitivity shown to their faith. One boy held a poster quoting Pope Francis: If someone insulted my mother I’d hit him on the nose. Pope Francis was implying that it is natural to defend the honour of those whom you love - he was also implying that you would not be justified in going further than hitting him on the nose. In the Muslim rally I mentioned there were women holding a placard: There is no absolute right to freedom of expression. I think St Paul would agree with them. You may legally be free to express yourself as you wish but to be deliberately and gratuitously hurtful offends against charity and good manners. In our post-sixties liberal society those who manipulate the media are constantly crossing the boundaries of what once would have been regarded as good taste.
To set out to shock has almost become an accepted convention. Stephen Fry recently caused offence in introducing the Bafta Awards. This coarseness has filtered down. You hear even children echoing language their parents justify by listening to TV drama. Though children can be very innocent. When I was a boy I was a fan of Biggles, a flying ace, the invention of Capt. W.E. Johns. He was on some Middle Eastern adventure and I was fascinated by an insult traded between two shady characters. I didn’t understand what it meant precisely but it sounded so strong and smooth and sophisticated that I began to use it on friend and foe alike until my mother overheard me telling one boy that he was ‘the misbegotten son of a mother’s misplaced affection’. I was then informed that what I was saying was not very nice and that I should stop it. A woman I know indirectly was recently visiting her daughter-in-law and her four-year old grandson. She happened to drop a sugar sachet and said to her grandson: “Would you mind picking that up for me?” “Pick it up yourself”, he said; “You dropped it”. Of course, his mother didn’t let him get away with that, wherever he’d heard it. Freedom of expression in a humane society has to be exercised with respect for the dignity and values of those who are aware of what is being said or written.
Canon Dakin on 26-01-2015
Nineveh was the capital of Assyria. In the year 597 the Assyrians destroyed Jerusalem and took people off into exile. Seventy years later the exiles returned to start rebuilding their ruined city. You may guess that the Assyrians were not then their favourite nation. The story of Jonah is not history - it is just a story which was meant to remind the Jews, after the exile, that all people are God’s children for whom he cares. Jonah is given a mission to go and preach repentance to the Assyrians. His response: That lot! Not on your life! And he boards a ship to take him in the opposite direction. God sends a storm. Jonah ends up in the sea being swallowed by a big fish and spouted out on land near Nineveh. He gives in and goes into the city preaching repentance as God directed. The Ninevites respond. They have a heart for God.
The Reformationcreated enmity between Christians. It was not a simple matter of religious difference. Politics were in play. Elizabeth was facing a Catholiccoalition, France, Spain and the Papacy, intent on invasion. English Catholics suffered suppression as a potential fifth column. The Government’s suspicions were not without foundation. There were plots to have Elizabeth replaced by the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots. Tensions ran high; the slanging match was quite vigorous. So we hear one Catholic say of Protestants: “...they are more grievous enemies of Christ and much more to be hated than Jews or Turks”. Prejudice was deep and enduring.
Times have changed. There has been a gradual movement towards reconciliation and cooperation. There is a week between an ancient feast of St Peter on Feb.18 and the feast of the Conversion of St Paul, Feb. 25th, which has begun to be observed as a week of prayer for Christian unity. It was the idea of Fr Paul Wattson while he was still an Anglican. He and his community were subsequently received into the Catholic Church and this Week of Prayer is now observed by manyChristians across the world. This afternoon we are invited to the Methodist Church in Victoria Road to echo Our Lord’s prayer that we all might be one. That prayer may refer to the Apostles. If it refers to a future still to come we can influence the timing of its fulfillment
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