Canon Dakin on 16-01-2015
The baptism of Jesus was his commissioning to begin the work for which he had been sent. Our own baptism was not a spiritual OBE - it was our commissioning to continue the work of Jesus, to accept our part in bringing the world to God. At our baptism we were anointed with chrism to show that we were being called to share Christ’s work as priest, prophet and king: that is, we are to worship God in spirit and in truth; we are to proclaim that truth and to bring the gospel to bear on world affairs.
Today is traditionally White Flower Sunday when we express support for the Pro-life movement which regards men and women as spiritual beings and human life as God’s special creation. Mary Dogan and Connie Wood are Glasgow midwives. They had always refused to have anything to do with abortion. That was their right in law. There is a conscience clause in the Abortion Act. However, as senior midwives, the Glasgow Health Board wanted them to supervise junior nurses who were procuring late term abortions. On their refusal they were taken to court. The Scottish appeal courts found in their favour. The case was referred to the Supreme Court in London where, last month, the verdict went against them, the conscience clause being narrowly confined to the actual abortion procedure. Their legal costs, amounting to £400,000 have been paid by those who support the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child, or SPUC as it is called. Mary and Connie put their jobs on the line and have now lost their careers in midwifery but through standing up for the principle of the right of conscience they have thrown a pebble into the political pond. There is one further step they might take - to appeal to the European Court of Justice. That takes money. SPUC is prepared to help. Would you be prepared to help? There will be a retiring collection for that purpose next Sunday.
This case of Mary and Connie is symptomatic of a society in which a heavy judicial roller is used to crush opposition to what in general has become known as ‘political correctness‘ whose latest manifestation seems to be the obligatory recording of any remarks or gestures by four year old infants which might be interpreted as racist. This record will follow them through their schooling and possiblybeyond. Common sense is being drowned by dogma. It is the same heavy-handedness which has blighted the careers of the two midwives - and all this in yearin which we are celebrating Magna Carta - the basic constitutionalexpression of our freedoms
Canon Dakin on 10-01-2015
When Matthew decided to write a gospel he didn’t retire to the equivalent of a Lake District cottage, cutting himself off from the world to concentrate on his writing. He remained within what seems to have bene a lively community, probably in Syria when the debate between Christians and Jews was hotting up.
The destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in the year 70 was a tremendous blow to Jewish self-confidence as God’s chosen people. It was the strictly orthodox Pharisees who rallied the scattered groups of Jews and imposed a strong identity by excluding any who failed to subscribe to their strict code including those believed in Jesus as the Messiah. They set up a road block to the conversion of Jews to Christianity. Matthew, whose community already included Gentiles, saw the future of the Church to be in its expansion into the gentile world. That is why at the beginning of his gospel he chose to include the story of the Magi. They are gentiles. They followed a star. That is an indication that they had already, by their study of nature, come to believe in God as creator but in order to discover precisely what God had in mind for the human race they had to consult the Hebrew scriptures and so they come to Jerusalem and find their way to Jesus. Now Matthew introduces Herod. He is the King of the Jews. Legally he personifies the Jewish people - those who rejected Christ and, in Matthew’s time, were strongly opposed to the infant Church. So this story is slipped in by Matthew not for its own sake but because it is a commentary on the situation of his church struggling to establish itself against opposition. That Church in Syria which has existed over so many centuries is now threatened with extinction by different opponents. Christians in Syria have, so many them, become refugees in Lebanon and Jordan and elsewhere in order to escape not only from the hazards of the civil war but from deliberate attacks by Muslim extremists. They tend to be forgotten because attention is constantly being switched to atrocities taking place in Northern Iraq, to the plight of boat-people being trafficked across the Mediterranean, or to violence in Pakistan or Nigeria. At the birth of Christ, we are told, the world was at peace. It was the Pax Romana - the Romans imposed peace. Sadly we are in a world today which is not at peace.
Canon Dakin on 24-12-2014
There was once no Mass today. Yesterday was formerly Saturday of Ember Week and a day for ordinations which took place during a long Saturday night vigil ending with Mass at dawn. The vigil, like the Easter vigil, began to be anticipated on Saturday morning and it was only then that a Mass was put together for this fourth Sunday of Advent. Today, naturally, the anticipation of Christmas is more intense. You can imagine Mary’s sense of anticipation as she drew nearer to Bethlehem, but the imminent birth of Jesus was set within a much deeper longing for the coming of the Messiah, the anointed one, the future king promised by God, who would set his people free. All her life, as a pious Jewish girl, she had prayed for the fulfillment of God’s promise so that when the angel came with his message Mary’s mind was so attuned in hopeful expectation that quite spontaneously she was able to say: Be it done unto me.
I began with a reference to ordination which prompts the idea of vocation, calling. The Annunciation was Mary’s vocation or calling and every single one of us is called, not by an angel, but by the circumstances of our lives, to serve God in a particular way and within that broad vocation there are lots of smaller invitations to make particular choices. In order to cooperate we need, as Mary was, to be tuned in, to be on God’s wavelength, to be aware that we are called to live in partnership with God. We need to have faith, a Mary did in Bethlehem, finding herself without shelter, that when things go badly we have not been abandoned by God - that he is always there with us, supporting and sustaining us
Canon Dakin on 08-12-2014
There were some familiar phrases in the first reading this morning - they were picked out and set to music by Handel in The Messiah. Isaiah was writing with the imagination- and exaggeration - of a poet. What he was writing about was real enough. In the year 568 the Assyrians destroyed Jerusalem and took the notables off into exile in Babylon. Fifty years later the Persians knocked the Assyrians off their perch and enabled the exiles to return. Isaiah is describing their joyful journey home, made possible, he believed, by God’s providence - the Persians were merely tools in God’s hands just as the Assyrians had been God’s means of chastising the Jews for their infidelity. ‘Here is the Lord’, he says. ‘Comingwith power”. Here is a work of restoration by God. Now the Christians. Lookingback on all that had happened in the Old Testament, drew parallels with what took place in the New. So in Lent we dwell on the story of the Israelites being rescued from slavery in Egypt by their crossing of the Red Sea and view that story astypifying the way that we cross the waters of baptism to freedom from slavery to sin. Now in Advent the story we hear from the Old Testament is that of God’s bringing his people home from exile and restoring them to the home he had first planned for them - and this is seen as foreshadowing the coming of Our Lord to unblock for us the way to heaven from which we had been exiled. The way is plain and straight. We still have to walk it. ‘Comfort ye. comfort ye, my people’ are the words set by Handel in a famous aria. You don’t really comfort a child by constantly carrying him. He will just grow weak if you do. Fortify means to make strong. Com-fort means to strengthen by being with, by accompanying and encouraging a person, to walk by his or her side. So God comforts us by being with us on our journey. God is not only with us - God is within us giving us the interior strength that we need. Another name for the Eucharist is Viaticum - food for the journey. Advent is a time of consolation and encouragement - God is coming to be with us on our journey.
Canon Dakin on 25-11-2014
In days gone by, days that many of us remember, on this feast of Christ the King there was Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament from Mass in the morning until Benediction on Sunday evening when the men and boys walked in procession before Our Lord in the monstrance. I can imagine a modern feminist saying in retrospect ‘Sexist!’, and, do you know, I should be inclined to agree. God is not a problem but we have a problem when we attempt to speak about God. Recently we managed to land a probe on a comet hundreds of millions of miles away from earth. A great achievement, but perhaps our greatest achievement ever was our invention of language, though here we are mainly restricted to naming what we experience through our senses. The sky is blue; the water is cold. So St Thomas Aquinas tells us that we can never say what God is like because we have never directly experienced God. Take the word ‘king’. Jesus said: ‘I am a king’. Kings, in our experience, with few honourable exceptions, have been greedy thugs believing that war is a king’s business for their own enrichment. We are reflecting just now on the carnage of the First World War. Historians do speak of the unfortunate childhood influences which formed the German Kaiser’s personality but it is tragic that the willfulness of one man should have had such terrible consequences. The history of kingship is far from glorious. So why Christ the King? Jesus said, when questioned by Pilate, ‘Yes, I am a king, but my kingdom is not of this world’. He struggled all during his life to reject the cloak of kingship with which people were wanting to invest him. In their heads they carried the memory of King David as the prototype of kingship. God had reluctantly allowed the Jews a king because they wanted to be like all other nations. And a rotten lot their kings turned out to be. So why did Jesus even use the term? He was confined within the borders of language, and he had to adapt to their expectation of a kingdom they believed that God had promised to restore. Jesus came into his kingdom on Calvary. Artistically, the first kind of crucifix that appeared in churches was in the style of ours here on the wall - a triumphant Christ on the cross. A famous ancient hymn that we sing on Good Friday has a line: God reigned from the tree. We get nearer the truth when we sing: King of love on Calvary. Calvary was the triumph of love. Greater love has no man than to lay down his life for his friends. Calvary was the proof of Christ’s love. Pope Francis has written: “When we stand before Jesus crucified we see the depth of his love which exalts and sustains us, but, at the same time, unless we are blind, we begin to see Jesus’ gaze, burning with love, expand to embrace all his people”. In other words, we are called to share, to spread, his love. That is why the image of a regiment of men marching as though to war is not appropriate for this feast. It is a reminder that the Christian life is to embrace life for love of God, to offer sympathy, to lend a hand. To quote Pope Francis again: “No single act of love for God will be lost, no generous effort is meaningless, no painful endurance is wasted. All of these encircle our world like a vital force”. That is our faith; it is for us to live it.
Canon Dakin on 18-11-2014
St Matthew was writing forty - fifty years after Our Lord had spoken the words attributed to him in the gospel today. As Jesus was speaking he would have in mind the attitude of the Pharisees who kept the old law tightly wrapped within their precise interpretation, completely closed to any possible change of outlook. Matthew, of course, is writing for a Christian audience so he gives the story a twist to induce them to think of their situation. Blessed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, how do they turn their spiritual capital to good account? That mysterious phrase about the man with nothing losing even what he has is intelligible only in view of the abolition of the old dispensation. The Jews who clung defiantly to the old law were unaware that it had been abolished.
So, as a Christian, what’s your talent? God is. You’ve got God. God is not within us like a sack of potatoes but as a power, a force to be harnessed in partnership. We are not in the world on our own. God is with us, God is within us and God loves each one of us as he loves his own Son. That is the meaning of our adoption - of our becoming God’s children. It’s worth letting that sink in. God the Father loves me as he loves Jesus. Is that why he allows me to suffer? Yes, and that is a secret still to be revealed. But suffering is passive. Actively we are to use, to be, the power of love that God makes available. As Pope Francis puts it; we are summoned to be the ‘revolution of tenderness’. This is not to be confined within the walls of home.
The eighteenth century was an age that didn’t do God. In response, Our Lord revealed to St Margaret Mary the love in his heart. She didn’t have an easy time. She was dismissed as paranoid and even suffered physical violence from some of the nuns in her convent. She was vindicated by the support of a Jesuit priest, Claude de la Colombiere. At that time in England the only places where it was legal to celebrate Mass was in the chapels of foreign embassies. He was appointed chaplain to the Sardinian embassy. So it was here in England that devotion to the Sacred Heart was first preached. Only this week I came across a prayer which Bl. Claude composed: “O God, what will you do to conquer the fearful hardness of our hearts? Lord, you must give us new hearts, tender hearts, to replace hearts that are made of marble and of bronze”. Long ago, through one of the prophets, God had said: “I will put a new heart in you. I will replace your heart of stone’. That is precisely what God has done by his presence in our lives. It is not an impersonal presence. It changes our personality because it enables us to love with a power that corrects our bias towards self-interest. This is the meaning of our Holy Communion when we accept the condition of drawing closer to God: “Love one another as I have loved you”. Unless we take that condition seriously we are wasting our time. We are wasting the one precious talent God has given us - himself.
Canon Dakin on 05-11-2014
In the New Testament a saint is simply one in whom Christ dwells - you and me. We are saints in that sense because we are made holy by the presence of God. We owe each other a mutual reverence not because of our natural gifts but because we are the temples of the Holy Spirit. There is no place among Christians for a lack of self esteem.
As Christianity began to challenge the gods of Rome there were persecutions. Men and women chose death rather than to deny their faith. They were the champions whose memories were cherished, whose tombs were venerated, who were invoked in prayer as our intercessors in heaven. It was in the 10th cent. that the Church began to declare people worthy of veneration by the process of canonisation. They were presented as role models. Canon means rule, standard, pattern. I’m a canon. When I was a member of the cathedral chapter - chapter is the group name for canons - the minimum rule that we observed was to meet once a month to recite the Office and celebrate Mass but in Catholic countries the canons follow a daily routine like monks in monasteries. The routine, the regular pattern of life is the canon - so those who are canonised as saints are men and women who offer a consistent standard, a rule, a pattern of Christian virtue and so are offered as our role models on earth and as our patrons in heaven. Role models! Gregory Thaumatourgos, the wonder worker, Boniface, who re-organised the Church in Western Europe, Padre Pio who bi-located, Theresa of Avila the great mystic. Not all saints did exceptional things. St Theresa of Lisieux lived a quiet life in an obscure convent. She did washing in the laundry, she weeded the garden. The little things that she did she did well not for self-satisfaction but as a token of love for God. We are all capable of that. The basic fact is that Jesus has become a bridge linking us through a personal relationship to the Father and the Holy Spirit. We are to respond to the love that God has shown us in creating that relationship by keeping it in mind, by making that response through the ordinary simple routine of daily life
Canon Dakin on 30-10-2014
For a change this morning it was the first reading which made the gospel more specific rather than the other way round. It unfolded what Our Lord wrapped up in his commandment to love one’s neighbour. When you were listening to that passage from Exodus what came to mind? Wonga? The homeless? Pope Francis has written an encyclical, The Joy of the Gospel. He is as fresh and forthright as we would expect him to be. He takes a look at contemporary society and he doesn’t like what he sees. He notices the strong division between the haves and the have-nots. The mantra of the 1970s was that the market knows best, it rewards the successful and the fruits of their gains will trickle down to the poor. Pope Francis is sceptical. He sees no signs of it He says: “Such an economy kills”. “Today everything comes under the law of competition and the survival of the fittest where the powerful feed upon the powerless”. “Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded”.
What’s the answer? Human solidarity - and for Christians, in the name of Christ.
He hints that this should be more than putting money in a collecting box - it means getting stuck in, taking a personal interest. If you saw ‘Surprise Surprise’ on Thursday night you will remember a young woman called Jodi. She had contracted a debilitating illness and was feeling down in the dumps until she received from someone a message which made her laugh and cheered her up. She then used the web to invite anyone who felt depressed to let her know and she would write to them. Within twenty four hours she had five hundred requests. So she started sending out hand-written letters of encouragement addressing each one’s situation. Her letters now are numbering thousands and have been deeply appreciated. That is the kind of thing Pope Francis has in mind - personal involvement. Cafod has tried to provide a bridge between people. What we give to Cafod during the ordinary weeks of the year is dedicated to the situation of a small village in Ethiopia illustrated on our notice-board, but I would bring us a little closer to home. Next Saturday we have our Autumn Fair. You may buy raffle tickets, you may kindly provide prizes, but on the day itself we see very few of your faces. You may think duty done - I have made a contribution - but we really would value your personal presence. It creates atmosphere - it would express appreciation also of those who stand behind the stalls they have prepared. This is the kind of personal involvement which Pope Francis values in relation to community.
Canon Dakin on 21-10-2014
Jesus deals very neatly with the question of tax. It was a sore point with the Jews that their country was not free. It had been drawn inside the Roman Empire and its citizens had to pay taxes which in no way benefited themselves but helped to support the Roman system. It wasn’t just a matter of politics. Religion came into it, too. Julius Caesar was the first Roman Emperor to claim to be divine. When they handled a coin stamped with the Emperor’s image the Jews were touching something which for them was idolatrous and idolatry was at the heart of the system they were upholding. This was the point of their question. Our Lord’s answer has been used by some Americans, for instance, to justify the strict separation of Church and State but the incident brings to my mind Chesterton’s dictum that all humans are equal as all pennies are equal because the only value in any of them is that they bear the image of the king. We, indeed, each of us were made in God’s image. That is the basis of the respect and reverence we owe to every human person. When we read the horrible things that people do to each other it is hard to imagine a representation of God’s image - but it is there overlaid and tarnished, maybe, but always capable of being revived and restored.
Because of this basic shared dignity the attitude of a Christian to those who are different by race or nationality should never be tainted by prejudice. This doesn’t mean that immigration may not be discussed - we may well have valid arguments which would justify imposing limits to freedom of movement - but never simply on the grounds that people are different. In God’s eyes those differences are no deeper than the scratches on a penny.
Canon Dakin on 06-10-2014
When I was a student we rose at 5.30 with continental breakfast at 7.15 - just a roll of bread with a pat of butter. Then a twenty minute walk for a first lecture at 8.30. Lectures finished at 12.30. You walked back to the college absolutely famished. First course at lunch was usually soup. The Italian for soup is minestra. Good thick soup is minestrone; thin watery soup is minestrina. Ours was always minestrina. There were days when instead of soup we began with pasta or risotto and on those days there was a spring in your step in anticipation. But before you eat there were prayers - we called them ‘starvation prayers‘- prayers for the conversion of England composed by Cardinal Wiseman.
They were based on the psalms. The psalms may be understood in various ways - as it was for them then or as it is for us now. One of the psalms we recited was psalm 79 of which some verses were chosen for our responsorial psalm today. When it was composed it applied to the situation of the Jews in the 6th cent. before Our Lord when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Assyrians. You may imagine that at the time of the Reformation in England our forefathers may have featured Henry VIII as the boar of the forest destroying shrines and selling off monasteries, bringing an end to Catholic England. Today we may have a different take. Many of us grew up in a society of thriving churches - Catholic and non-Catholic. Today we face the question of whether England may any longer be called a Christian country. I am not referring to the impact of Muslims and Hindus. Christian churches have lost their clout because they have lost their congregations. The vines have withered.
We are faced with a society that needs re-evangelising. How? I will await with interest the findings of the coming synod on the family. It is meeting this weekend. From my limited experience I would identify two causes of people becoming detached from the Church. I know that our young people were affected by the cultural changes of the ‘sixties but I would point to our failure to prepare them adequately for the experience of university and the failure to unravel for married people what was wrapped up in the document Humanae Vitae.
There is an interesting reflection published recently in a publication which is not a papal document but a joint effort by a group of scholars about what is called the sensus fidelium - the instinct of the faithful. It is not a new idea - Cardinal Newman made much of it - the idea that the baptised person, with his or her gift of faith, has an inner compass bearing on the truth. It is for bishops to discern where this instinct of the faithful may be heading - and if the sheep are wandering away from the line indicated by the shepherd it is for the shepherd, first of all, to question whether his directions were clear enough. This is the kind of reflection that will take place in the synod.
The Holy Father has asked for the assistance of our prayers. In particular he has asked for the rosary to be said. We are saying the rosary before Mass every morning in October. Otherwise I commend it for a quiet time at home. Family life touches everyone intimately: the family is worth a rosary.
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