Wednesday, 30 September 2015


Hardly a moment passed when my mother wasn’t taking care of me, with an anxious, unspoken, concern that I should come to no harm. She was past ninety years of age and I was in my sixties when she still fussed that I had got my shirt buttons out of alignment or that a strategic zip was not fulfilling its purpose.

For me she was never an interfering nuisance. I meant so much to her that she could never surrender that sensitive concern that came so naturally to her once she was aware that I had taken up residence in her womb!

 As for Mother Mary.... No-one will ever comprehend what   it meant for Mary to be mother of Jesus, her infant, her child, her adolescent  boy, and maturing adult.  Mary’s Son was God – Son of the Most High –truly, fully, human, truly, fully, divine.

With her own eyes, with her own ears, with the whole of her being Mary, was aware of the fragility of her Son  from the time He was crying to be nursed at her breast  to the time when He thirsted for a drink as He hung on a cross.

In the early days of His public ministry  Mary must have felt  nothing but pride at the crowds gathering  to hear the inspiring  preaching of her own boy;  satisfied at seeing  His love-filled kindness  towards everyone  He met; and amazed, even startled, at  His wondrous  power to heal those with incurable  ailments.

How great must have been her sadness as she came to hear of murmuring of dissatisfaction with  her Son. Some, including prominent religious leaders – Scribes, Pharisees, even High Priests, were jealous of the acclaim He was receiving and angry at His exposing  their shallow insincerity. 

It would seem that once Jesus embarked upon His public ministry  Mary  had  to steel herself, compose  herself,  to ‘journey with Him.’  She had to adapt her thinking, her feelings, to His. This, as we shall now see, must have required of her outstanding spiritual courage.

What a turnabout  for  her, a woman of  loyalty to her people, to have to  approve of the way  Jesus  deliberately  mixed  with those who were despised for their collaboration  with  the oppressive Roman forces who occupied their land – the  tax-collectors  who twisted money out of their impoverished pockets!

Yet more difficult must it have been  for her to have to accept the reputation  Jesus was earning for  Himself  by  allowing  loose-living  people to flock around  Him.

Mary  had to go along with  the explanation Jesus Himself  gave, “ It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick. I came to call not the upright, but sinners,'( Mk.2.17). If He was to affirm their human dignity and  convince them  they were meant for a better way of life, He had to meet them where they were.

Time  came when religious and civil authorities were scheming against  Jesus, even to kill Him. To them He was  a political rabble-rouser  who  had to be stifled. Restless  crowds were too eager  to hear His teaching, as He claimed for Himself the authority to tell them how they ought to live, how they ought to be treated with respect.

In the Gospels Jesus warned His disciples three times that He would be arrested, ill-treated and put to death.   He must have talked this over with His mother. How should she have reacted?  Not as did Peter who vehemently  exploded, 'Heaven preserve you, Lord, , 'this must not happen to you,' (Mtt.16.22)!

At this point I am reminded of the admonition St. Paul gave to the Philippians, Make your own the mind of Christ Jesus,:” (2.6)  In her own  way Mary had to share in the Gethsemane anguish of her Son who prayed , “'My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by. Nevertheless, let it be as you, not I, would have it,' (Mtt.26.39).

This October, the Month of the Rosary, I invite you to take to heart  the words of  Pope Saint  John Paul II.

" To recite the Rosary is nothing other than to contemplate with Mary the face of Christ….With the Rosary, the Christian people sits at the school of Mary and is led to contemplate the beauty on the face of Christ and to experience the depths of his love.”

Peter Clarke, O.P.

Friday, 18 September 2015


It was 24th Sept. 1950. My twin brother, Peter, and I, together with 18 others had just been clothed in the Dominican habit. Each of us took his turn to lie prostrate between the choir stalls of those who would soon welcome us as their Dominican brothers. To each of us our Superior solemnly announced, "In the world you were known as "X;" now you will be known as "Y." This re-naming indicated that we been called to a new dimension of that Christian vocation, which we share with all the baptised.

We’d been called to follow Jesus in a Dominican way, as members of the religious family of the ‘Order of Friars Preachers.’ Our special vocation is to follow Christ, the wandering preacher of the Good News of Salvation. We would share with others the fruits of our prayerful and studious contemplation. In union with Jesus, the Teacher, we, as preachers, are moved by a profound love for our Heavenly Father which overflows into a love for all people – made in the ‘image and likeness of God,’ cherished as children of God.

For St. Dominic it was vital that the Order of Preachers should be community based -a brotherhood living together, praying together, supporting each other’s ministry, drawing upon one another’s wisdom and experience…having our meals together, relaxing together. We preachers can be sent to wherever the Church needs us.

Ever since Peter was ordained in 1958 he has spread the Gospel in the West Indies. For me, ordained on the same day, my Dominican life has taken a very different course. I’ve spent a short time working in Grenada, many years in a conference centre in England, then in parishes in Hinckley and Leicester.

We Dominicans understand ‘handing on the fruits of our contemplation’ in a very wide sense. One of the glories of our Order is that it has gives us the opportunity to use our personal talents in sharing the Word of God. For generations members have preached sermons, given lectures and conferences, written books and articles. We now welcome modern communication technology as providing new ways of sharing the Good News.

This includes using blogs and Facebook. Peter has edited a Catholic newspaper and we both broadcast. Fra. Angelico used his artistic skill to proclaim the Good News. Bl. James of Ulm preached through the medium of stained glass windows.

To an outsider religious life can appear very negative, especially in giving up our right to marry and have children. Some resent us for that, while others feel sorry for us. These sentiments contain more than a grain of truth, but far from the whole truth. Those of us with Dominican vocations feel called to express our love for God by offering Him something we personally value very highly, not something we despise.

That’s how much we love Him! We’re called to restrict our options, so that we can focus our attention on our preaching vocation. That shouldn’t surprise you. Everyone who marries chooses one special person and ‘forsakes all others.’ For them that decision is a profound expression of focussed love and commitment. The same is true for us when we become Dominicans.

As Peter and I celebrate the 65th anniversary of our receiving the Dominican habit we insist this is not an occasion for self-glorification, but for thanking God, who has chosen and called us to serve Him in the Dominican Order. Having called us He has supported us in the rough and smooth times. After 65 years we can both honestly say that in our old age we continue to find a Dominican life fulfilling and still relish the excitement of sharing the Good News. We would want no other life.

Today, above all others, we echo the Psalmist,
"Not to us, Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness," (Ps. 115. 1-2).
And to you who have been reading this piece we would again echo the Psalmist, ‘Oh that today if you hear the voice of the Lord’ - calling you to the religious life or priesthood –‘harden not your heart…’ (Ps. 95. 7).    The Church needs you; people need you; God needs you! You will find true fulfilment if you say, "Yes" to God’s call.

Peter and Isidore Clarke O.P.

Friday, 4 September 2015


These days  there seems to be a feverish compulsion to build walls, fences, and barricades. ..For   what purpose? To prevent any kind of involvement with people in dire distress, any kind of responsibility   for them! This was the mentality of the Priest and the Levite who walked on the other side of the road to distance themselves from the wretched man who’d  been badly   mugged and robbed and left half dead.

For some people raising barriers and putting up fences with razor sharp cutting edges is the politically correct, socially correct, thing to do. To advocate such policies is the sure way to earn popularity and to secure votes. There’s a huge fear of refugees and migrants crossing national borders – not as invaders but as terrified people looking for safety.

They are destitute; they are hungry. They have no means of sheltering 
themselves from the burning rays of the sun, the misery of rain-soaked clothes.  They carry with them no food or medical supplies. They have been squeezed into boats that are not sea-worthy.  

If they are fortunate to reach dry land they find they are resented, unwelcome. In some places they are treated like criminals to be impounded behind barbed-wire fences.

 On the scales of justice there’s an obscene imbalance between those secure and comfortable peoples and nations and those who are on the threshold of desperation; an imbalance between those who are determined not to offer even a glimmer of hope and those howling infants in their mothers’ arms, the sickly, the frail, the   elderly, the young fathers and mothers who would lay down their very lives for the sake of the children.

They are utterly, totally dependent upon the good-will of others...others who are strangers. The only language that can speak is that of a shared humanity of caring and helping that responds to the voice of anguish, helplessness, and of hopelessness 

In this bleak world of so much indifference to human suffering there are the bright lights of  human decency and compassion. Immediately come to mind those heroic people who volunteered to go to the rescue of those who were afflicted with the highly infectious Ebola disease. 

And then there is the wonderful  

Regardless of nationality, race colour, religion, gender or age medically qualified people offer their   professional skills to the sick and  the wounded in areas and situations where medical care is  not  available. Frequently they are exposed to considerable risk because they are attending to people with highly infectious diseases or to the wounded on the battle field. 

Their concern is solely for  human beings in pain…no matter who the person is, no matter what the person’s allegiances – national, political, racial or religious... A total openness to suffering humanity 

                    In the same vein Pope Francis is now calling for a                                          CHURCH WITHOUT FRONTIERS – MOTHER TO ALL.                                          
                      This is the title of the Message he has written for                                                      World Day of Migrants and Refugees.                                        I quote the Pope,

Jesus is “the evangelizer par excellence and the Gospel in person” (Evangelii Gaudium, 209). His solicitude, particularly for the most vulnerable  and marginalized, invites all of us to care for the frailest and to recognize the suffering countenance of Jesus, especially in the victims of new forms of poverty and slavery.

The Church without frontiers, Mother to all, spreads throughout the world a culture of acceptance and solidarity, in which no one is seen as useless, out of place or disposable…, 

Jesus Christ is always waiting to be recognized in migrants and refugees, in displaced persons and in exiles, and through them he calls us to share our resources, and occasionally to give up something of our acquired riches.”

The following words of St. Paul should convince us that man-made barriers between people are offensive to Jesus, the Saviour of Mankind.

In Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ.  For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility,  by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end,” (Eph.2)


Tuesday, 25 August 2015


UP TO LONDON TO SEE THE QUEEN! The stuff of fairy-story day-dreams of little girls….but not  a dream for my beloved Aunt. Her Prince-Charming, her husband, was to receive at Buckingham Palace  a Knighthood for distinguished public service.  

Horror of horrors! As they approached the Palace gates  my Aunt began to preen herself she happened to glance down towards her feet.  Alas! Alas! Before her very eyes she saw   PINK BED-ROOM SLIPPERS WITH FLUFFY POM-POMS!   What had graced her bedroom would shame her in the Palace Reception Room!

What to do? Re-route the taxi and search streets of the metropolis for a quality shoe-shop. No problem! But what a blessing to have an alert Guardian Angel who had saved her from an embarrassment she’d have  to live with for the rest of her days…not to mention whispered ridicule from the rest of us - her mischievous family.

Almost from the beginning of the Bible, from the moment of Original Disobedience, clothes became an issue for that couple who up till then had been living together in innocent nudity. In the passing of time “Something has to be worn” has developed into “ What is the right thing to wear for this particular occasion?”

Most tellingly this becomes an issue in the Parable of the Wedding Feast of the King’s Son. There was that insolent fellow who deliberately joined the guests without the appropriate clothes that were easily available to him. He was looking to create a scene. He got more than he would have bargained for. “The king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot and throw him out into the dark, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth,” (Mtt.  22.14).

The most obvious lesson from this parable is surely that Almighty God has His standards and that He insists on these being observed. While He will be lenient with those who, through no fault of their own, don’t know any better, He will certainly find blatant defiance totally unacceptable.

St. Paul brilliantly uses our daily experience of getting dressed to describe the glory of being a Christian. “All of you are the children of God, through faith, in Christ Jesus, since every one of you that has been baptised has been clothed in Christ,” (Gal 3.26-7).  The newly baptized is then addressed with the words, ‘You have become a new creation. See in this white garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity.”
St. Paul carries this clothing imagery yet further as he enjoins us “2 As the chosen of God, then, the holy people whom he loves, you are to be clothed in heartfelt compassion, in generosity and humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with one another; forgive each other if one of you has a complaint against another. The Lord has forgiven you; now you must do the same.  Over all these clothes, put on love, the perfect bond.(Col. 3.12-14)

However, St. Paul would  have us know that following Jesus, sharing in the good works and holiness  of Jesus would be more than challenging and fulfilling. It would be  threatening  and even bruising. For the rough and tumble of Christian discipleship we would need to be well armed and protected. If we are to have any chance  of survival St. Paul instructs us,

“Finally, grow strong in the Lord, with the strength of his power.  Put on the full armour of God so as to be able to resist the devil's tactics. .. For it is not against human enemies that we have to struggle, but against the principalities and the ruling forces who are masters of the darkness in this world, the spirits of evil in the heavens.  That is why you must take up all God's armour, or you will not be able to put up any resistance on the evil day, or stand your ground even though you exert yourselves to the full.  (Eph.6).

I have to admit that without my aunt and her little piece of foolishness I would never have been inspired to write this reflection. Her saga of the slippers has taught me there is the convention of certain shoes  for certain situations.

However, Christ-like qualities that clothe our personalities will always fit us well!

Peter Clarke, O.P.

Sunday, 16 August 2015


"FOLLY." Such was the label attached to some of the structures wealthy Victorians had built in the gardens! Others, perhaps you and I, might be inclined to describe them as FOOLISHNESS? Why? Because of the craziness in their design. Many of us would be hard put to name any useful purpose they might serve. Judge for yourselves the illustration before you.

With others the magnificence of the planned building far exceeded the fatness of the owner’s wallet. His extravagant ambitions remained unfulfilled. His building ever remained unfinished, a permanent monument to his useless folly… a constant reminder of his foolishness. He must have gloried in his eccentricity…it never occurred to him to have it reduced to rubble…simply to salvage his own self-respect.

But such extravagancies were the comparatively harmless foibles of people who had more money than sense. But not so, the Tower of Babel of the Book of Genesis...a description of the ‘BEGINNING OF THINGS’ …THE BEGINNING OF ARCHITECTURAL MADNESS. That was the supreme archetypal, architectural folly, and it wasn’t harmless!

So what was this Tower of Babel all about? The pagan belief that their gods dwelt on high places –on the top of mountains or in the clouds –symbols of their lofty status. Why did they build their tower? So that they could stand tall – at the same level as their gods …or even higher! So what did the people do? On the flat plains of Mesopotamia they got together to build a high tower, reaching up to the realm of the gods. This is thought to have been a ziggurat –a stepped pyramid –a man-made flight of steps to heaven. That was the way to put themselves on level terms with the gods!

But in His wisdom the good Lord decided these arrogant foolish people had got above themselves. They needed cutting down to size. So He knocked down their tower, and with it their futile attempt to make themselves equal to God Himself. This was the very same sin as Adam and Eve committed…vain-glory, pride, foolish ambition to compete with God…sheer folly!

And what about today? What Folly does our modern age build? Are we like the ancients, who built the Tower of Babel? I suggest today’s folly does not lie in trying to reach God by our own efforts; nor does it consist in trying equal God. No! Our folly is much more radical. We have deified ourselves. Our power of reason reigns supreme! Just think of the wonderful technology it has produced. We have dignified ourselves into being the obvious, ultimate, arbiters of what is right or wrong –answerable to no one but ourselves.

But no way can this over-reaching ourselves draw us one inch closer to God. If I really want to reach the heights I must forget the folly of building a high tower or an inter-galactic rocket.

We would do better to study what Jacob has to teach us. Instead of building a tower to reach the heavens by his own effort he rested his weary head on a stone and went to sleep. As he did so he dreamt of God lowering a ladder between heaven and earth.

God, not Jacob, would –could alone -bridge the gulf between heaven and earth. Down that ladder the Son of God, Jesus, would descend to man and live among us. Up the ladder of the cross He would draw us up to share His own divine life and happiness.

What a relief -reaching God doesn’t depend on my feeble, futile efforts. No! I must rely on the infinite power of His love to draw me to Himself. He is my hope; He is my security. All He asks of me is that I should grasp His hand and allow Him to draw me up into His loving embrace.

"For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God,"
(Ephesians 2. 8).

Isidore O.P.

Friday, 7 August 2015


Mid-August – the Solemnity of the Assumption of Our Lady into Heaven – a celebration of immense importance to the Church and, indeed, to the Modern World. It was quite extraordinary that in 1950 Pope Pius X11, after having consulted bishops throughout the world, should find it necessary to define this as a dogma to be believed by Catholics as a matter of Faith that
Many of us reacted, 'What's new? For years we've been reciting the Glorious Mystery of the Holy Rosary, "The Assumption of Our Lady into Heaven."' For centuries this has been accepted as part of the believing and devotional life of the Catholic Church.
Why, then, under-score what was already taken for granted? One reason, among many others, could be that the dogmatic definition of Mary's Assumption into Heaven emphatically affirmed her as a woman whose body had brought new life into the world. … affirmed emphatically the dignity, the beauty, of the body of every mother.
The Preface of the Solemnity proclaims 'The Virgin Mother of God was taken up into heaven to be the beginning and the pattern of the Church in its perfection, and a sign of hope and comfort for your people on their pilgrim way.' And then describes how fitting it was that God 'would not allow decay to touch her body, for she had given birth to His Son, the Lord of all life, in the glory of the Incarnation.'
What was uniquely glorious during her life on earth is now uniquely glorious in her life in eternity, her femininity and motherhood. Mary was essentially, vitally, involved in the redemption of mankind through her child, Jesus, whom she had carried in her womb, brought to birth, and suckled - the Son of God Himself.
Indeed, it was through his mother, Mary, that the Son of God was a full member of the human family. Mary gave great glory to God in her mothering of the Saviour, and in her being there at the foot of the cross giving loving, motherly support to her dying Son. In so doing Mary was herself supremely, uniquely glorious in the fullness of her humanity.
We, through our baptisms, are united with Jesus as members of his Body, which is the Church. With this in mind, St. Paul cajoles the Christians of Corinth living in a milieu that he considered to be sexually hyper-active, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own;   you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body?  (1 Cor. 6.19-20)
Your bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit! Use your body for the glory of God! This is exciting Good News that needs to be proclaimed in our day when men and women regard themselves and each other as sex objects.  Is not human parenting also being debased with genetic engineering, in vitro fertilizations, and cloning? There can never be clever, acceptable substitutes or replacements for the two-in-one-flesh love-making spouses who are bonded, so intimately, so personally.
Where is reverence for the human body in a world of terrorism and of weapons of mass-destruction; a world that has the resources and skills to provide for the hungry but acquiesces to the starvation of millions; a world that fails to provide the frail and sickly with easily available life-saving medicines?
 Ours has become a world which claims it as a right for a woman to have assassinated the child in her womb!!! Others make a living by providing her this ‘service!’
Contemplation of the Assumption of Mary should convince us that we Christians must paint a message of beauty and of hope upon this canvas of contempt for the bodiliness of each human being. Ours is a message that inspires; one that cherishes, one that respects and safeguards, one that loves the human body here and now.   Ours is a message that reaches out into eternity.
Peter Clarke, O.P.

Monday, 3 August 2015


Crash! I’d slammed down the phone. I could take no more. I’d been pushed too far.  While I was trying to be calm and reasonable my ‘contact’ was becoming more and more irrational, excitable, offensive. Both of us were getting over-heated. 

Both of us were saying things we didn’t really mean -things we would deeply regret later. Each had had from the other more than we could take –at least for the moment.    Discretion is the better part of valour – best to bring the whole ugly business to an abrupt conclusion, before it became any worse!

But what a shock for me, when someone dares to slam down the phone on ME! What has hit me?  Self-righteously, I’ve try to justify what  I’ve said. There have been times  when I’ve felt I was drowning with  remorse. Then I’ve wished I’d been more temperate in my language, more understanding and patient.

 When I have slammed down the phone I’ve had heart-wrenching thoughts about the one at the other end of the line -  impossible, infuriating, unreasonable, true enough, but surely not deserving of such rough treatment!

This vicious  breaking communication has created a painful situation, leaving both of us feeling aggrieved, resentful, hurt…. misunderstood. Because  friendships mean so much to me this sudden rupture has inflicted upon me a great sense of loss. I’ve felt responsible for the breakdown,  guilty  for causing so much pain, deep regret I didn't handle the situation better. If I’m honest with myself I’d have to admit I’d added fuel to the fire by hitting back with hurtful words.

Rarely is one person entirely guilty or innocent in such situations. No matter who's responsible, I hate the tension of conflict.  I want to be at peace with someone who is dear to me. I’ve wanted  the wounds I’ve inflicted or suffered to be promptly healed. How?  Only by one of us picking up the phone and re-establishing contact.

For a moment I speculate: can any of you, my gentle readers, ever identify with me …the time-bomb waiting to explode?

To return to the matter  of phone-slamming: I wonder  how God reacts when I’ve offended  Him. Sometimes, when I’ve been exasperated with God  - especially  when I’ve been blaming Him for all the suffering in the world,  in my own life or in the lives of those especially dear to me.

Jonah was one who was outrageously with annoyed with God; he even protested he had every right to complain at the way God had treated him.  Jeremiah and Job had the moments of total dissatisfaction with God. Petulantly the Psalmist protested,  “Listen to me Oh Lord as I complain,” (Ps. 64. 2).

      What a contrast! God never loses patience with us, never breaks off communications. God is like the Father in the parable of the Prodigal Son.  He watches and waits for his wayward son to return. Or like the Good Shepherd who makes the first move to seek out the lost sheep.

God’s love is everlasting; God is always merciful. His love for us is steadfast, not brittle and fickle. While God has the resilience to take the knocks, I lose my cool and slam down the phone on Him! And you……..??????????

In his 2nd Letter to the Corinthians (ch. 5) St. Paul tell us that in Christ God has reconciled the world to Himself, not counting our sins against us. Though He was the injured innocent party, God in Christ made the first move in healing our relationship with Him, damaged by our sins.

And He has given us the ministry of reconciliation. Like Christ, we are to be peacemakers, whether or not we are innocent or guilty.

My musing on my ‘phone-crashing’ has brought me to see that God handles tense, fraught, situations far more positively than I do. I must learn to be like Him and keep the lines of communication open.

And if they have been broken down, then I must again be like God.  I must make the first move in repairing the damage –no matter who was responsible for the damage. Like God, I must always be eager to accept an apology. But unlike God, I sometimes have to make peace by taking up the phone and saying, "Sorry."

If I should ever get so exasperated with God that I stop communicating with Him I can only meet Him again in loving friendship, if I stop sulking and start listening and talking to Him. The sooner the better. My petulance  harms only me, not Him.

Fr. Isidore Clarke, O.P.