Canon Dakin on 10-07-2014
We are presently going through the gospel of Matthew. Each week the reading from the Old Testament is chosen to match. Today a word the two readings have in common is ‘humble’. Charles Dickens gave humility a poor image. ‘I’m a very humble man, Mr. Copperfield’, said Uriah Heap. He was a creep. Gardeners are familiar with the word ‘humus’. Humility means ‘down to earth’, realist. It seems that humility is not in fashion. Self-esteem became a watchword in the 1960s and a generation has been formed to regard itself as special. Schools have been invaded by the idea that all must be winners, there must be no losers and all competition is to be discouraged. When children play party games the result is engineered so that every child receives a prize.
The theory was that if you had poor self-esteem you wouldn’t bother to try. But if consistently you tell a child that he or she is marvellous they will think they don’t need to try or they will try too hard in order to maintain what they believe is their natural place - at the top - with subsequent unhappiness when reality catches up with them.
It is all so unnecessary. Self-esteem ought not to depend on continuously notching up success. Who am I? What am I for? What is my worth? Ultimately these questions are resolved only by revelation. I am a child of God, raised to share the place of Jesus in the love of his Father. What am I for? I am to spread this love among my brothers and sisters. And here there is a need for realism or humility. Self is a natural obstacle. To overcome it we need the support of God; we need a divine energy. Holy Communion is the sacrament or sign of this need and the strength which God makes available. The condition is our humility - our honest acceptance of our dependence on God to do good.
Canon Dakin on 10-07-2014
Sts.Peter and Paul
Nero fiddled whilst Rome burned. It is not certain whether Nero, who had plans for developing a part of the city, actually caused destruction by fire but it was strongly suspected that he did and to divert suspicion he put the blame on the Christians. During the persecution of Christians under Nero both Peter and Paul were martyred. Paul, as a Roman citizen, was beheaded, Peter was crucified. These were normal methods of execution.
To emphasise the charge against Christians Nero invented novel ones. Some of those condemned, for instance, were covered in pitch, raised on standards and set alight to illuminate an avenue by night. Barbarism - but that, of course, was 2000 years ago. What is happening in this civilised 21st century of ours?
“My name is Nabeel. I am from Syria and have had to leave my country for lack of security. My brother, who was a priest, was kidnapped for two months. They asked for a ransom of 120.000 dollars in exchange for his life. Christians have become currency in this tragedy. With great effort my family managed to raise the money in time and delivered it to the kidnappers who promised to set him free the next day. But hours later my brother was killed and his body cut up. They sent part of him to me in a box - his wrist tattooed with a cross.” Christians in their thousands have crossed into Jordan after attacks by Muslim extremists. One mother arrived there with her children after fanatics kidnapped her husband and sent his head back to the family.
The group called ISIS, which we have heard of recently in Iraq, is among the most extreme. They have occupied Mosul, once the main centre pf Christianity in Iraq. The Christians have moved out looking for shelter in nearby Christian villages. It will only be a short respite before ISIS arrives there. They will have then to look for a refuge among the Kurds. Imagine yourself, even if you had a car and had withdrawn the maximum allowed from a cash machine, arriving in a place like Cockerham or Glasson Dock looking for shelter. What can we do to help? We can give to Cafod or Aid to the Church in Need, but first we can pray. That sounds a bit limp. Remember where you are. Remember the importance at Mass of the bread being broken. Remember St Paul quoted last Sunday: “The bread that we break is a communion with the body of Christ”. The Christians in Iraq are members of that body as we are. Christ is the link. Through him we are in communion with them. Prayer activates the link. What makes prayer effective? There is no magic in words. Our Lord himself warned against babble. The only currency God recognises is love and love is genuine when it includes sacrifice. So, in the first place, when you pray, you give up time. You are invited this afternoon to give up an hour of your time. You are invited here not to pray as an individual but as a body in the presence of Christ, its head. I will supply a few pointers to assist our prayer but it won’t matter if you fall asleep or you mind wanders because God will be aware of your presence as the sign of your good will, your love, towards the suffering members of the Body to which we belong.
Canon Dakin on 26-06-2014
Today is the feast of Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ. Forget transubstantiation - to explain that you have to go into the philosophy of Aristotle as it was harnessed by St Thomas Aquinas. There is a simpler way: before the consecration we say ‘It is bread’; after the consecration we say ‘It is Christ’. All the appearances of bread remain - weight, size, taste, but the inner reality is the person of the risen Jesus. Now that would be a fairy-tale, too good to be true if it didn’t fit into the bigger picture which we find in the gospel.
“As I myself draw life from the Father, so whoever eats me will draw life from me”. God is a relationship between persons. In baptism we enter into that relationship; we enter into a relationship with God; we enter into God. Through the Eucharist that relationship is strengthened but because the relationship is between real living persons the Eucharist conveys to us the actual presence of the living Lord Jesus. For each one of us, therefore, it is not an exclusive isolated relationship - through our link with Jesus we are all interrelated. Remember St Paul this morning: “The bread that we break is a communion with the body of Christ. The fact that there is only one loaf means that though there are many of us, we form a single body because we all have a share in this one loaf.”
The form, the shape of the bread that we use at Mass, is significant. Before we grew more sensitive to the symbolism of the liturgy the priest would consecrate a ciborium holding perhaps 500 individual rounded altar breads which he would take from the tabernacle to satisfy the requirement for Holy Communion at all the Sunday Masses and perhaps also during the following week. The sacred action actually consists in the presentation by the people of bread and wine which is then returned to them transformed by the Eucharistic Prayer into the person of Our Lord. Individual small hosts send the wrong message - implying that this transaction is just between me and my God. It crucially involves all the others who themselves are united to Jesus. That is why the breaking of the bread is important - the sharing, as far as possible, of one large host - the broken piece that we receive is a reminder that we are part of a whole - that we have a place in a community - that our communion is to be a review of our place in that community - an examination of the strands of love that bind us - or should.
Canon Dakin on 19-06-2014
God is a trinity. We are told that we are made in God’s image and we are told that we were made in God’s image when he was making us male and female.. Within the Trinity the third person proceeds from the love of the other two just as in the family the child personifies the love of man and wife. The analogy is obvious. The family is a mini trinity. God has imprinted himself on earth in the family. But is it just a shadow, just an outline? What do we mean, for instance, when we say that marriage is a sacrament? What makes a marriage? It is not just the vows taken in church. There is no marriage without consummation. The sacramental element is the intimate physical embrace, but the physical act itself is not sacramental. It must be informed by love - a generous love. The three persons of the Trinity are God because they are held together by a love which is a total gift of self. As a sacrament marriage is a sharing in the life of God, a sharing in the love which is the very being of God and therefore a love which is a gift of self not a selfish use of another. Some time ago I came across a letter in a newspaper which I found to be interesting.
When I was a child I used to wonder why my mother sat so close to our open coal fire for such long periods of time. When I was married I did the same thing. With no love in the house the atmosphere was below zero. I realised that the only warmth my mother was likely to get was from the fire and it was the same for me during my marriage.
Where there is no sign of love there is no sacrament; if no sacrament, no marriage. I hope I’m not causing you to question your marriage. You’re allowed to fall out whilst fundamentally there is a firmness of attachment. The sacramental sign of marriage is not a piece of paper, a wedding certificate; it is a quality of love which is God’s gift on a wedding day. Sex is sacred.
Some of the older ones among you may be a bit doubtful of what I am saying because you remember your catechism. According to the old catechism we were indeed made in God’s image and likeness but that image was said to be chiefly in the soul whilst I’m saying that it’s in the relatedness of man and woman, in the bodilyexpression of their love,. We were told in the catechism that the image of the three persons of the Trinity is in the three powers of the soul, memory, understanding and will. That was always a bit dodgy because memory is not in the same league as understanding and will. Memory I share with elephants and horses. So where did this reference to the soul come from? It came from St Augustine of Hippo - a man who dazzled the western world with his eloquence. But he had his drawbacks - three, in fact. He favoured the philosophy of Plato and Plato ignored the body; our total importance for him was in the soul. Then Augustine was in conflict with the Pelagians who were optimistic about our being able to do good. For Augustine we can do no good without God - he saw weakness and sin everywhere. Thirdly Augustine had a past. In sowing his wild oats he had fathered an illegitimate son. In reaction he was sour in regard to sex. He very largely influenced the outlook of the western Church for centuries.
Canon Dakin on 13-06-2014
Pentecost was a Jewish festival celebrated fifty days after Easter. It began as a harvest festival and then it was broadened by the Jews to commemorate the covenant made with God, under Moses, in the Sinai desert where they were fashioned into a people, the people of God. The Christians transposed the feast into a remembrance of the emergence of a new people of God on this first Pentecost after the resurrection of Jesus. So today is kept as the Church’s birthday. But you have a problem, maybe. The gospel doesn’t seem to fit. I know what you’re thinking. You are thinking that Our Lord was talking about confession - giving the apostles power to absolve from sins in the sacrament of Penance. Confession, as we know it, was hundreds of years down the line. It is baptism Our Lord has in mind. Baptism is a new birth. We die to our past in baptism. Our Lord is giving the apostles authority to judge a person’s fitness for baptism, for being admitted as a member of the Church. When you’re baptised you are not just being given a membership ticket. You become part of a living organism, the Body of Christ, and within that organism you have a function. Are you up to it? The Apostles had the authority to decide. The miracle that occurred on that first Christian Pentecost points in the same direction. The practical elimination of difference in language symbolised a new unity among peoples. Sadly, among the baptised there have been misunderstandings: there are splits in the Body of Christ. Here in Thornton there are Catholics, Anglicans and Methodists. All have been baptised. All those baptisms worked, were genuine, are valid. At the deepest level, therefore, we are one; using OL.’s words, we are one in him. It was his prayer at the Last Supper that we should show our oneness to the world. On a small scale we do. This afternoon we are invited to the Methodist church. We should consider going because it would be Our Lord’s wish. I remember, when I was a lad, some non-Catholic ladies, who knew I’d been to Mass, would ask me if I’d enjoyed the service. And I would be embarrassed. Enjoyment was not in my Catholic vocabulary. The experience of a priest, standing with his back to you, mumbling away in Latin, was to be endured rather than enjoyed, but we went because Our Lord had said ‘Do this in memory of me’, and, of course, we treasured our Holy Communion. So ecumenism, attending, when invited, other Christian churches, is not for the few who might enjoy it - we respond because it is Our Lord’s wish that we should show a common front. To stand together in the face of an aggressively secular world, is becoming more important than ever.
Canon Dakin on 06-06-2014
5th Sunday After Easter
It's natural to be critical about what is new when you are comfortable with the old. The new translation of the missal has not escaped criticism. What do the words actually mean? Surely a prayer which is to be proclaimed, spoken aloud, should be instantly meaningful? Recently we heard in an opening prayer at Mass that we are to be ‘rightly conformed to the paschal mysteries’. That, I suggest, is obscure. What it means is that in baptism we died with Christ, we rose with Christ and we have ascended with Christ - we have been through death, resurrection and ascension. ‘Hold on’, you may say, ‘I’m not dead yet’. ‘Oh, yes, you are’. In baptism you died to what you were. Sacraments effect what they signify. Sacramentally you were buried with Christ and you rose with him to share his new life. Now he has ascended into heaven; he is in the presence of his Father as man. So are we. You say: ‘We’re not in heaven yet’. Heaven is not a place. Heaven is a relationship - and we are in a relationship with God - we share the relationship of Jesus to his Father. A rose, tightly in bud, is a real rose in a stage of development. It will bloom and spread its petals to become fully itself. So, for us the difference between earth and heaven is one of development. We already have that essential relationship with God that places us within the Blessed Trinity - that makes us God, as Leo the Great, for instance had no hesitation in saying. At the Offertory I add a drop of water to the wine in the chalice. This is not to dilute the wine; it is symbolic. We are the drop of water absorbed by the wine: we become what Jesus is: ‘By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share our humanity’. Many a mother, looking at her child, may have said: ‘You’re divine‘. Without her meaning it, that is literally true. So this feast of the Ascension completes our ‘conformity to the paschal mystery’ as the prayer in the missal rather foggily put it. We are, each one, intimately in God’s presence. We are a presence of God. Our Lord, at the Last Supper, put it quite simply: We are in him and he is in us. We are to manifest that presence in our relationships - and first of all by acknowledging it in others. The dignity of every human being is infinite. That’s why I said last Sunday that we are awesome.
Canon Dakin on 30-05-2014
4th Sunday after Easter
‘This is a terrible place’. That might be a schoolboy’s translation of a Latin phrase, borrowed from the Old Testament and used at the ceremony for the consecration of a church: Terribilis est locus iste. ‘Terrible’ is a word we have taken directly from Latin but we have downgraded it. We have made it mean ‘bad’ as when we say ‘The food in that restaurant is terrible’. The correct translation of terribilis is ‘awesome‘: Terribilis est locus iste. This place is awesome. So what makes this place awesome; it has never been consecrated? Forty years ago this week, on Saturday, May 31st, Mass was celebrated here for the first time. The building was never consecrated because it was meant to be transitional - the church was to follow. And we’re still here forty years later!
The consecration of a church is quite an impressive ceremony. The oil of chrism is poured onto the altar. Chrism is used when kings are crowned and priests are ordained. You were anointed with chrism at your baptism to signify that as a Christian you share Christ’s royalty and priesthood. The altar is anointed because it is a symbol of Christ. The walls of the church, too, are anointed in either twelve or four places - and you will see those places in a consecrated church marked with a cross, but the main element in the consecration of a church is the celebration of Mass. It is the presence of Christ himself, on that altar and within that space, which sanctifies it and makes it ‘awesome’. So we don’t treat this place like a games-room; it requires reverence - and thanks to you and to the people who preceded it has all the dignity that its simplicity allows.
I said that each one of us was anointed with chrism at our baptism. Each one of us, therefore, is a terrible person - each one of us is worthy of awe because each one of us is identified with Christ. I made the point that this place, though starkly simple, is truly awesome because Christ has become sacramentally present here. You may go to St Peter’s, Rome, and be impressed by its magnificence but it is only truly awesome because Christ is present there just as he is here. Similarly with people - each one is worthy of awe, is worthy of deep respect, because each one is, at least potentially, a presence of Christ. If we despise anyone because of his or her simplicity it will be because we are blind - we are blind to the presence of Christ - and that, Our Lord has told us, will be the basis of our final reckoning.
A word about this afternoon. Between threeand four o’clock this afternoon Pope Francis will be in Bethlehem meeting the Christians there - not just the Catholics, the Christians. It will be an ecumenicaloccasion. Christians in the Holy Land are caught between a rock and a hard place - they are suffering because of the conflict between Jew and Arab. The Pope is going to the Holy Landto meet the Patriarch of Constantinople, the head of the Greek Orthodox, as Pope Paul VI did fifty years ago. We were once one church with the Orthodox - there are hopes that we may be so once again. But we are asked to focus our prayer on the plight of theChristians - Orthodox and Catholic. Notforgetting the Anglicans - which is why Anglican churches in England are also being invited to mark this particular time, between three and four this afternoon, by prayer. Our bishop apologises for the short notice - but perhaps it would be just a small sacrifice to adjust our plans for the day to include a visit here, to this place made awesome by the presence of Christ crucified and risen - the Blessed Sacrament will be exposed - toexpress solidarity with Pope Francis and with Christians living in a troubled land.
Canon Dakin on 09-05-2014
2nd Sunday After Easter
So, according to St Paul, God has no favourites. ‘Tell that to the marines’, someone may say: ‘I’m certainly no favourite of his, others get much better treatment.‘ Have you not thought of how God treated his own Son? ‘Well, the Son wanted to be treated that way’. Really? ‘Father let this chalice pass me by - yet not my will but yours be done’. But God has a special place for the down and outs, doesn’t He? Are they not his favourites? The psalms are always lauding the poor.
The Conference of South American Bishops some years ago famously expressed their preferential option for the poor. Surely Jesus was doing the same when he put first in his list of beatitudes: Blessed are the poor in spirit.
I have an Anglican friend who is not a woman priest but is qualified to give talks and hold discussions. I was talking to her during Lent and she was of the opinion that Jesus did not prefer the poor to the rich. The rich, too, have souls and because of their obsession they are in greater danger than those who have no attachment. The rich surely represent the stray sheep for whom Jesuswas searching and for whom he was prepared to lay down his life. Jesus considered every person to be worth his surrender on Calvary. To imagine other people to be favoured by God because of an advantage on our human scale of values is like the child who accuses his father of favouritism becausehe’d rather have his brother’s present. Let’s face reality. Sure we bring with us anawareness of our different circumstances but here inthis place God’s Son gives himself to each one of us totally and therefore equally, and as often as we join with him in loving acceptanceof seeming misfortune, we, too, with him and through him, may change the world. We are not in any position to estimate the meaning and value of our circumstances until with him we have passed through death to new life.
Canon Dakin on 01-05-2014
1st Sunday after Easter
From today until Pentecost we shall be hearing the Acts of the Apostles which today gives us a snapshot of the early Christian community. It was brought together by the preaching of the Apostles - their witness to the resurrection of Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s promises.
Then there was what St Luke calls ‘fellowship’. They were not communists. The case of Barnabas who sold a field and brought the cash to the apostles was not typical. What was basic was the support by the community of these men from Galilee who had given up their livelihood to devote themselves to vindicating Jesus. The ‘breaking of bread’. It’s impossible to imagine the preaching of the apostles omitting their memory of the Last Supper and how they were to recall sacramentally the death and resurrection of Jesus, whilst the daily rhythm of their Jewish prayer life would develop into the monastic office in which the ancient Jewish psalms are still our staple diet
So the early Christian community took shape. It appeared as a definite group apart. It’s not on the cards to be a private Christian. The word church literally means ‘called out’. We turn out to meet together and to be seen. Buildings are important - spires pointing to heaven - but buildings only come alive when people gather to use them. Empty churches give a negative message. There are two fine 19th cent. Churches in Preston that fifty years ago had each four or five priests. The two are now being served by one priest who is not resident at either of them. That is the result of social change; the original congregations have moved out and immigrants, largely Muslims, have moved in. That should not cloak the fall in numbers attending our churches not only in this country but throughout Western Europe and this is true of all Christian churches. Linda Woodhead, a noted sociologist from Lancaster University, reckons that Catholics have a stronger residual loyalty than others but the modern young Catholic has a different way of being Catholic - he or she may come to Mass perhaps once a month. That is treating the Church like MacDonald’s - you drop in when you feel like it. It is privatised religion, just the opposite of what the Church stands for. Our Sunday attendance at Mass is not a simple application of the third commandment - Keep holy the Sabbath Day - it is our witness to faith in the resurrection. Every Sunday is a celebration of the Easter mystery - the death and resurrection of Jesus made present on our altar.
Canon Dakin on 09-04-2014
5th Sunday of Lent
The end of Lent is in sight. A week today will be Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week. On the afternoon of Palm Sunday, next Sunday, we will have our common celebration of the Sacrament of Penance. You may come and stand before the community to say: ‘I am a sinner. I ask for the healing grace of God’ and you will receive individual absolution. Later, on Wednesday of that week, at the request of the Bishop, I, and all parish priests, will be available from 6 till 8 in the evening, for those who wish to use the confessional. This doesn’t mean that our Palm Sunday celebration is a cheap, quickie version of the real thing. Far from it - it is a more generous and relaxed celebration of God’s love. It simply happens that if people are worried or wish to ask advice the confessional enables them to find peace by putting their problem into words.
Historically, for the first thousand years of the Church’s life, you would never have gone to Confession - unless it was public knowledge that you had committed a whopper like murder or adultery - and then you had to apply to the Bishop for penance. So how did you find forgiveness for all your peccadillos, little sins? Through the Eucharist. Holy Communion is not our private line to heaven. We approach the Eucharist with all our relationships - to Jesus and to all the others in our lives whom he loves, for whom he died. By showing that we want Him as a presence in our lives, implicitly we are asking pardon for failing to share his love with others and if we are sincere we obtain forgiveness. Then how did Confession become so large a part of Church life as many of us remember? Very briefly, because people stopped coming to Holy Communion. The Church brought in Easter Duties to get them to receive at least once a year. It would be a mistake these days to take the spiritual temperature of the Church by numbers presenting for Confession. The truth is, though, that we are all sinners and the Sacrament of Reconciliation provides the space in which we may express our thanks to God for his compassion and love.
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