Canon Dakin on 30-09-2014
Have you heard of Joseph Pearce? You will have heard of the National Front, that stormy group of Little Englanders who caused disturbances in the 70s and 80s. Joseph Pearce was a leading member, chairman of the Young National Front and editor of its newspaper. For inciting racial hatred he was twice imprisoned, first for six months and then for twelve months beginning just before Christmas, 1985. He grew up in a home without religion, he was tainted by East End gang culture, he was blindly anti-Catholic, joining the Orange Order because of its belligerent Britishness.
In prison, because of his sparky politics, he was kept in solitary confinement for his own safety. Fortunately he was a keen reader, He explored the prison library - and there he discovered two great Catholic writers - Chesterton and Belloc. They first of all punctured his politics. He was drawn to their kind of socialism. But it was Chesterton who made the greater impression. His broad common sense brought the agnostic in Pearce to his knees; whilst his goodness and his humour gradually dissolved the racist hatred in Pearce’s heart. He writes: “It is clear to me now that I was attracted as much by Chesterton’s goodness as I was by the truth that he espoused... He was a man alive to love as he was alive to truth... He thought clearly and loved truly.”
Chesterton brought Pearce into the Church. In thanksgiving for his conversion and in homage to Chesterton, whilst working for his living from 9.00 to 5.00, he spent his evenings, over four years, researching and writing a life of Chesterton and found a publisher. Meantime he was attracted by the work of that other great Catholic writer, a man of our time, J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of The Rings. Pearce wrote a biography of Tolkien also and that brought him to the attention of a Catholic University in America where now he is a lecturer.
So there you have an example of conversion, broadly treated in the readings today. Notice that Joe Pearce was drawn not by clever argument - the main attraction was the simple goodness he was aware of in another man.
I have been reading a book about the spread of Christianity in the early centuries. The verdict: “For the most part the gospel must still have had its greatest impact on the level of personal witness and in the practical evidences of good works expressed within the immediate social networks of families, friends and neighbourhoods.” There’s a lesson there for all of us.
Canon Dakin on 26-09-2014
In one of the Catholic weeklies, a few weeks ago, there was a headline to the effect that the Church in this country has a great future. My reaction was rather sceptical, but the article, when I came to read it, was quite encouraging. It was a report of the twenty-fifth assembly at Walsingham of Youth 2000. This was the 25th consecutive gathering of young people for a week’s retreat, attended this year by over 1000 of them, centering on basics, the Mass and contemplative prayer in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, the monstrance being raised on a structure illuminated with candles reminiscent of the burning bush which told Moses he was on holy ground.
I follow a blog put on line by a young lady of twenty, just entering, I think, her third year at university. I am going to read from it.
Support for young people like this, for movements such as Youth 2000, is implicit in the Bishops‘ appeal today, Home Mission Sunday, the object of today’s special collection.
Canon Dakin on 15-09-2014
This feast seems to be the anniversary of the dedication of the basilica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem built by the Emperor Constantine during the fourth century. It covered the area of Calvary and also the tomb in which Our Lord was buried and from which he rose from death. There is a church still standing on the site but the original building was long ago destroyed.
The cross is the great Christian symbol and Calvary is brought to mind here at Mass through the sacramental re-presentation of Our Lord’s death, ‘This is my body, given for you... my blood shed for you.
The cross is relevant today, Racial Justice Sunday. During the week we celebrated the feast of St Peter Claver. He was a Spanish Jesuit who went as a missionary to South America devoting himself to the care of the slaves brought from Africa to be landed at Cartagena in conditions so horrific that that on average a third of them died during the passage. Some of those who profited by the slave trade defended what they did by claiming that the black people were not even human, they had no souls. Wishful thinking. For Peter Claver they were not only human but they were to be esteemed and reverenced because they had a value that transcended any human measure - for them Christ had died - they were worth the death of Christ - their value shot off any human scale - the cross was the symbol of how precious they were in the sight of God.
Peter Claver was, in our terms, an Elizabethan. Here we are, four hundred years later, in the reign of Elizabeth II, and we are still fighting racial prejudice. If we are conscious of prejudice we need to recall the cross and recognise that every living human person shares with us not only the dignity of individual creation by God but the estimate put on our value by the cross of Christ.
Canon Dakin on 29-08-2014
Countries have kings or presidents; governments have prime ministers; towns have mayors; clubs and businesses have chairpersons. It is natural. Wherever you have a group of planners you need someone to initiate and guide the discussion. So with the Church. There is nothing exotic or ethereal about the leadership of the Bishop of Rome. Every gathering of people working together needs a focus of unity and coordination. From among the twelve Christ chose Simon Johnson to be their leader and gave him a name to signify his position - Peter - Rock - solid foundation. This function passed to the Bishop of Rome - not because Rome was the capital of the Empire but because of the influence of Peter and Paul who died and were buried there. As one writer put it, the apostolicity of the church at Rome carried greater clout than any other. The papacy has had its ups and downs. The worst thing that happened was the withdrawal of the Emperor to Constantinople leaving his representatives way up north, near Venice, so when Italy was invaded it was up to the Pope to organise the defence of Rome. From that there emerged the Papal States and the Pope became a princeling with unfortunate consequences. The loss of the Papal States with Italian unification in the 19th century, regarded as a tragedy at the time, was the best move for centuries. So what power has the Pope within the Church? Well, he doesn’t govern on his own. He is the president of the college of bishops. This is called collegiality. What he is able to do is agreed with them. If a bishop is misbehaving - sometimes they do - or is not up to the job - the Pope can remove him. The Pope can act, on occasion, independently of the bishops. You may have heard of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. Some Anglicans approached Pope Benedict. They wanted to become Catholic but to stay together and retain Anglican elements in their liturgy. That was all arranged directly with the Pope and the group has been set up. Talking of Anglicans, when Pope Benedict came to England, being musical, he was impressed by the singing of the choir of Westminster Abbey and he invited them to Rome to join the Sistine choir in celebrating the feast of Sts Peter and Paul. Television showed the boys from the Abbey putting all their heart and soul into a famous piece by Palestrina: Tu es Petrus - Thou art Peter and on this rock I will build my church. What a change from the time when in England the Pope was a bogey-man! There is warmth now in relations between Rome and Canterbury which promises well for our working together even though we are not drawing closer in faith.
As Patriarch of the Western Church the Pope does not have the same power to intervene in the affairs of the Orthodox. Relations between East and West have been prickly for centuries - ever since Constantine made Constantinople the new capital of the Empire. Relations now between Rome and Constantinople are cordial - the stumbling block is Moscow. The Patriarch of Moscow was not impressed when Pope John Paul II invited the Orthodox to tell him how they thought he might serve the cause of Christian unity by his leadership. We believe that as the successor of St Peter, it would be for the Bishop of Rome to offer a focus of unity for the whole Church.
Canon Dakin on 21-08-2014
The readings were all concerned with race and religion. Nationalism and religion have long been intertwined. William Cecil, Queen Elizabeth’s chief minister, maintained that “the state could never be in safety where there was toleration of two religions. For there is no enmity so great as that of religion and they that differ in the service of God can never agree in the service of their country”. Cecil lived too close to the time of the dissolution of the monasteries, by which so many of his class had profited, to be able to be objective in hisjudgementabout people belonging to different religions being able to live peaceably together. It has in fact happened. When Christians entered into public life with the conversion of Constantine, Christian and pagan coexisted without tearing each other apart. We have just had the example of the Christians of Mosul; for centuries they had lived peaceably with their Muslimneighbours- as had the Copts in Egypt.
I remember when we werewitnessingthe violent war in Bosnia and Croatia three young people from the Balkans who were living in London appeared together on television, a Catholic, a Muslim and an Orthodox Christian; they spoke of how they had lived together harmoniously in their homeland. Religion is often blamed unfairly. The civil war in England between Cavaliers and Roundheads certainly had a strong religious element - Catholics and High Church Anglicans against the Puritans - but fundamentally it was a constitutional battle between King and Parliament. It was on a scale that we now find hard to imagine. We are presently remembering the outbreak of the First World War - and being appalled by the tragic loss of life. In proportion to the population, there was an even greater loss of life during the Civil War and particularly in Lancashire. The county could broadly be divided by a line running from top left to bottom right and everyone, broadly speaking, on the left of that line was Catholic, the main towns being Lancaster and Preston. The small independent towns of east Lancashire, through their contacts in the textile trade, had assimilated Protestant ideas to the extent that Bolton was known as the Geneva of the North. In 1644 the Cavaliers attacked Bolton and the incident sadly became one of the most unpleasant in our history. Thousands of ordinary people were unnecessarily killed. It was a massacre
My mind has switched back to our local history when I have been reading of the recent events in northern Iraq - the attacks by ISIS on ordinary people simply because they were of a different religion. The causes are not so simple - there are the political tensions between Sunni and Shia - but it is so easy for men to be persuaded that William Cecil’s principle is convenient if not necessarily true - that the only people you can trust to be loyal are those who share your religious faith. This does not excuse the barbarous treatment of religious minorities and just as we aredishonouredby the way our ancestors dealt with the people of Bolton so we hope that one day the Muslims of Iraq will live in peace with the Christians who were actually there before them and will acknowledge their shame.
Canon Dakin on 14-08-2014
Those who wrote the gospels were not simply writing history. They were selecting incidents and sometimes giving them a twist in order to convey a particular message to the community for whom they were writing. In his account of the storm Matthew gives the story his own special emphasis - a message of reassurance. For him the boat is the Church, the storm a time of persecution, Peter, the faithful who think they are being overwhelmed and, finally, a reminder that Christ is in control.
The Church is guaranteed: it is the instrument of God’s providence. This doesn’t mean that the Church will everywhere continue to flourish wherever it once appeared. In early centuries it was strongly established along the northern coast of Africa and then virtually obliterated by the Muslims. We are witnessing the same process in Iraq and Syria today. Here in Europe Christianity is being smothered by a culture of self-indulgence, though there are signs that the young are beginning to resist. It is easy to become despondent. We need to remember that the Church is not a club - it is the Body of Christ which draws its life from its founder, the eternal Son of God. I am with you always, till the end of time. When the end comes, when time is called on the world, the Church will still be part of society, though in our own lifetime we may have a stormy passage. There is no overt persecution here but a gloom generated by falling congregations, church closures and shortage of priests. The message of the Gospel is quite simple: God is in charge, trust him. This does not excuse the boat’s crew from hauling on the ropes to trim the sails and even, perhaps, to take to the oars.
In 1980 the level of the Sea of Galilee dropped so low that an ancient boat was revealed, carbon dated to the time of Our Lord. It was like some of the boats you might find at Skippool - 26 feet long and seven feet broad, with a sail, places for four oars and a tillerman. With a crew of five it could take up to ten passengers, the kind of boat that would carry Jesus and the twelve disciples. When full it would be sitting quite deep in the water and the waves would be sloshing over when the sea got rough. Four of the apostles were fishermen - the rest would have been uncomfortably tense passengers. You can imagine their relief when Jesus took control after they recovered from their fright at seeing what they thought was a ghost. It takes faith like Peter’s to recognise the presence of Jesus
Canon Dakin on 10-08-2014
What, do you think, is the most important thing on life? I suggest it is to be convinced of the love of God. St Paul, in the second reading, expresses his own conviction that no human tragedy would ever shake his reading of the message of the cross as God’s supreme and unconditional expression of love.
You know, sometimes, in our imagination we can drag God down to our own narrow human level and regard God the Father as demanding reparation for wounded pride in piling terrible suffering on his Son to make up for human defiance of his majesty. Rubbish! That makes God out to be as horrid and emotional as we are.
There is a problem with humanity, lost in the mist of our origins. We call it original sin. We are still in a mess. There is so much suffering in the world: the anguish of mothers in Gaza not even able to bury their children killed where they thought they were safe; the plight of Christians in Iraq and Syria forced to leave their homes or be killed. Tomorrow we observe the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War in which millions were sacrificed to the pride and petulance of a few. We have our personal troubles of illness and bereavement, of tensions within families where there should be love and security. Why did God allow a world to come into being where there is so much suffering? Just suppose you are God. You are planning to create the universe. You foresee that it is going to turn out a complete mess. What would you do? You would cancel your plan, surely. What God has brought into being is therefore bound to be good. Maybe there’s clue in the Eucharistic Prayer: “Make us an eternal offering to you”. This life is only an ante-room to an eternity of existence. We are being gestated for birth into God’s world. You don’t remember your birth into this world, do you? We are familiar with the mother’s pain of child-birth. What about the child? Hardly an easy passage for the child. When we have become conscious of our presence in the world we discount the roughness of the passage. We need to see life here in terms of eternity. We are in passage.
Meanwhile St Paul found reassurance in the cross. Familiarity breeds superficiality. Christmases come and go without our challenging ourselves to ponder, as Mary did, the love that drove God to be born as a child and immerse himself in every detail of human life, to endure the extremity of human suffering and death and to give us the reassurance of resurrection. This was simply the deepest possible expression of God’s love and care. It does not clear away the mystery. We are unable yet to share God’s vision. We have to trust the signs of his loving involvement. The most potent sign we experience here - that God who died and rose again expresses the intensity of his love for each one of us by drawing us into intimate union through the sacrament of bread and wine. How could a thinking person not find reassurance that God cares and can justify his toleration of our freedom.
Canon Dakin on 28-07-2014
Stand and deliver! Your money or your life! The highwayman invariably collected: life was more precious than any possession. Is there nothing more precious than life? Your faith, the pearl of great price.. In Christian tradition men and women have been prepared to die for their faith. I don’t often have the opportunity on Sunday of talking about our local martyrs because Sunday always takes precedence over their feasts. Just at this time of year we have a cluster of feasts in our diocesan calendar: on the 19th of July we commemorated our Lancashire martyrs - those born roughly between the Lune and the Ribble but executed elsewhere. There are eight of them, such as St John Plessington, born in Garstang and martyred at Chester. On July 24th we remembered the martyrs of Cumbria and on August 7th we celebrate the memory of those who died on the hill above Lancaster, wherever they were born. There were fourteen of them including Edward Bamber, born at Carleton in a house on the spot now occupied by our home for retired priests.
The death penalty for being a priest or harbouring a priest in England extended just over 100 years. There were three main phases. The most severe period was the reign of Elizabeth. A priest had a one in three chance of capture. Cardinal Allen sent about three hundred men from our seminaries abroad; just over a hundred were caught and executed. Forty years after the death of Elizabeth the Civil War between Cavaliers and Roundheads was won, of course, by the Roundheads, the red-hot Puritans under Cromwell. Priests were hounded and when the war was over brought before the assizes. This was when Edward Bamber met his death at Lancaster in 1646. The final purge followed the Titus Oates plot. He was a nutter who nursed a grudge and invented a plot by Catholics to kill the king. Sadly he was believed and as a result of the hysteria twenty innocent men were put to death including St John Plessington in 1679.
You must be extremely detached if you are not aware of what is happening today in Iraq where the treatment of Christians in the area of Mosul stirs memories of the program carried out by the Nazis against the Jews. Mosul is the ancient Nineveh and had one of the oldest of all Christian communities, living peacefully with Muslim neighbours. It has been taken over by ISIS, a group of Islamic fundamentalists. Christians were given an ultimatum - convert or pay a heavy tax and adopt Muslim customs or be killed - beheaded by the sword. Ten years ago there were 35,000 Christians in Mosul, today there are none. Their houses were marked in red paint with the letter N for Nazarene. The crosses were removed from the Catholic and Orthodox cathedrals and replaced by the black flag of ISIS, other churches have been burned. The departure of the Christians was not peaceful. At check points their cars and all their possessions were confiscated - even wedding rings removed from fingers - and they were left to walk miles in the heat to the nearest Christian village under the protection of the Kurds. When Catholics in England were being persecuted guilds were formed in Europe to pray and to offer whatever help was possible. It has been suggested that we remember to pray the Angelus to ask Our Lady’s intercession for them.
Canon Dakin on 21-07-2014
Mathew is an editor. He arranges his material very carefully. He puts what Jesus taught into five long discourses. The third one, therefore the central one, the one in the middle, is the day of parables, parables of the kingdom. Jesus had a problem. The Jews were expecting a call to arms, a revolt against the Romans which would lead to a restoration of the kingdom of David. This was not the kingdom Jesus had in mind. He had not come to play politics. ’My kingdom is not of this world’. Therefore in his preaching he spoke indirectly of the values of his kingdom, through parables.
Now Matthew was not simply reporting what Jesus said. He was writing for his own community and it seems that he was living with Jewish Christians in a Jewish area and some time, maybe, after the year 90. What had been happening since the death of Our Lord? Palestine had been ruled by Roman procurators in succession to Pontius Pilate. They were not as a body sympathetic to the Jews and the last was the worst. He was called Florus. He treated Palestine as a personal perk, helping himself to what he wanted. The spark came when he took money from the temple treasury, money dedicated to the worship of God. The Jews reacted by ostentatiously passing a basket round with the implication that poor Florus must be hard up. He expressed his annoyance by sending in troops to loot part of the city. The Jews took out their hidden weapons and drove the Romans away and successfully took over Palestine. The Emperor in Rome was Nero. Retribution was not long in coming. He sent his best general. Jerusalem was besieged. It held out for months but in the year 70 was overcome and completely destroyed. The centre of Jewish faith was put out of action. There were to be no more sacrifices in the temple. The Jewish leaders called a synod which met in Jamnia for about fifteen years ending in the year 90. They were not in despair. There had been a similar situation 500 years earlier when the Babylonians had crushed Jerusalem and destroyed the temple built by Solomon but God in his providence had brought about a restoration fifty years later. So there was hope but the synod of Jasmnia tightened up discipline as it centred the exercise of Jewish faith on the synagogue, with a stronger distinction between Jew and Christian. This was the atmosphere in which, it seems, St Mathew wrote his gospel. He has the Jews in mind when he writes about the seed falling on stony ground.
Today, perhaps, if he were writing for us he would put the emphasis on the thorns - all those elements of modern living which prevent us not only from listening to God but even to each other - when we are unwilling to turn our attention from the telly, a good book, i-pad, computer or mobile-phone.. Simply to listen is becoming a virtue in itself.
Canon Dakin on 21-07-2014
Does God love the devil? Does the sun shine on the wheat and the weeds? Our Lord welcomed sinners; he loved them, but told them to sin no more. There is a basic distinction between the sin and the sinner. Do you know what is the worst thing you can ever tell a child? That, if they misbehave, God will not love them. Such a child, in later life, may have a problem about God’s forgiveness. One of Chaucer’s Canterbury Pilgrims had a brooch with the motto engraved: Amor vincit omnia - Love conquers all. Where there is lack of love insecurity can lead to much unhappiness. There was a report in a newspaper yesterday of a gay man who had married and became the father of two children before abandoning his family to live with a succession of partners. It seems he felt obliged to follow, at first, the conventional respectable course because his Catholic Victorian parents would have thrown him out.
If that were true it would be sad. There is a time to stand up for what we believe, but there is a time also to recognise that we can love and respect each other even when we fail to share the same values.
Compassion and understanding is needed not just in families but in every area of human relationships, Christian and Muslim, Pro-life and Pro-choice, in the debate for and against assisted dying. In the parable the original Greek word for the weed implied a kind that was almost indistinguishable from the wheat and it is true that people who take up contrary positions often have more in common than they perceive or are prepared to admit.
Out Lord’s take on the parable is simple: Don’t be too quick to write people off.
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