Friday, 5 December 2014

LIKE A MOTHER HEN...!?

 
I bet the Holy Family kept hens! Like any young lad Jesus would have been fascinated by them, collected their eggs, watched the mother hen with her chicks. He may even have chased them. In fact Jesus seems to have had the curiosity and sense of wonder of any child. For Him, as for them, everything was new. Like any other child He may well have driven His parents to distraction with His constantly asking, "Why? What is this? How does this work?" The child, Jesus, was discovering the world in which, He, the Son of God, was growing up, the world which through Him, the Word, came into being. He was learning what it meant for Him to be human, what it meant for the Word to become flesh and dwell among us. He, the creator of heaven and earth, was seeing the world afresh, through the eyes of a child. He was filled with a sense of wonder.
Although I’ve been aware of such ideas for many, many years they have become especially vivid during my present Advent preparation for celebrating the birthday of our saviour. A beautiful book, entitled "Jesus –A Portrait," by Gerald O’Collins S.J. has become a spring-board for these present musings. He is helping me appreciate what it meant for the Son of God to join the human race –to become one of us.
I’m fascinated by the way Jesus was so interest in the world in which He was growing up -in His world, our world. As a child He may well have planted some seeds and marvelled as shoots sprang from the ground while He was tucked up in bed. I can remember my own excitement when I woke up and first saw the tiny shoots of the lettuces I had planted. Jesus observed and noted what was going on around Him –the farmers sowing seed, people losing and finding a sheep, a coin, even a son. He would have seen joyful weddings followed by a banquet; He would have heard of high-way robberies, of people anxiously waiting to be employed, domestic quarrels and industrial disputes, dishonest labourers, and employers exploiting their workers. He probably watched His mother Mary bake bread and marvelled at the way a little yeast could expand a large lump of dough.
All these and so many more experiences formed the rhythm of Jesus’ life from His infancy to His death. Though common-place, because they are shared by people of every generation and culture, they are of immense significance to each individual child. They go to make up what it means for us to become world-alert human beings. The very same applied to Jesus Himself. These experiences are so normal, so much a part of the fabric of our daily lives, that they hardly seem worth mentioning.
The wonderful thing is that Jesus used His experience of our human world to help us understand His experience of God’s world. He had a foot in both camps, and so knew what He was talking about! With the authority of personal knowledge He could say, "the Kingdom of Heaven is like this or that. Or God is like…" He would then use what He’d learnt during His childhood to illustrate what He meant. His ‘hidden life’ certainly wasn’t wasted; it had furnished His mind with a wealth of experiences, which He could put to good use in His preaching.
As I reflect on the stories He told, the imagery He used, I’m struck by how down to earth Jesus is. Fr. O’Collins points out that the Old Testament compares God with a magnificent eagle supporting its young on its wings and uses this as a glorious parable of God rescuing His people from slavery, (Duet. 32. 11; Exod. 19. 4). But instead of being like the majestic eagle Jesus likens Himself to a mother hen trying to protect her chicks under her wings –but they wouldn’t come, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it!" (Lk. 13. 34).
The Son of God has descended from the lofty heights of heaven to the level of the farmyard -to our level! He Himself has said He’s like a mother hen. We wouldn’t dare make such a comparison. The contrast between the regal eagle and the common yard-fowl sums much of what it meant for the Son of God to become man –while still remaining God. Especially during Advent let us make sure that we’re not like those rebellious chicks, which refused to seek the saving sanctuary of the wings of mother hen –Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the saviour of the world!
Isidore Clarke O.P.

 
 

 
 

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
 


Tuesday, 25 November 2014

"TEAR OPEN THE HEAVENS...."

 

Have you ever felt like giving God a good shake to wake Him up?   If so, you’re in good company.   Impatiently, the Psalmist, speaking for his people, exclaimed, “Arouse Yourself, why do you sleep, O Lord? Awake, do not reject us forever. Why do you hide your face and forget our affliction and our oppression?"  (Ps.44. 23-24).
He was desperate.   Where was God when he most needed Him?  Where is He when we most need Him?  Has He forgotten us?   Does He no longer care for us?   Or is He just asleep and needs waking up?
These are the anxieties and doubts, which the prophet Isaiah expressed in today’s  1st Reading for the 1st Sunday of Advent.   There he cries, 'Tear open the heavens and come down!' (Is. 64. 1). The prophet expressed the frustrations and longings of God’s people.   They’d returned joyfully from exile in Babylon.  But they’d found their land devastated, Jerusalem in ruins, its temple destroyed.   They’d become depressed by the arduous task of re-building their lives.   Now the God who had rescued them seemed so distant.  
Against this background the prophet presumed to remind God of His commitment to His people.    He begged God to tear open the heavens and come down to help them.
Deep within God’s people the Lord had planted the conviction that He would always come to their rescue.  His prophets had foretold the coming of the Lord’s anointed –a Messiah –who would establish His sovereignty over the whole of creation.   They foresaw a time when He would banish evil, a day when God’s love, justice and peace would reign.
God has responded magnificently to our needs and to our longings.  He has torn the heavens open and come to save us. His Son, the Word, has become flesh and dwelt among us.  He has shared our human life, so that we could share His divine life and happiness. God could not have paid the human race a greater compliment than by joining it!
The heavens were torn open and God came to our rescue most decisively at the moment of Christ’s death. This was dramatically symbolised when the veil of the Temple was split from top to bottom. That divided the Temple into God’s dwelling place in the Holy of Holies, and man’s domain.  Only on the Day of Atonement could the High Priest enter the Holy of Holies.  But with His death Jesus tore asunder the barrier separating man from God. Through the blood of the cross He has atoned for our sins; He has made our peace with God. Through Jesus God has torn open the heavens.  One of us, Jesus, now dwells as High Priest in the Holy of Holies.  Through Him we now have free access to God.
Advent is a special time for us to reflect on our need for God to come to save us from the power of sin.  This holy season brings with it the special graces for us to enter into the wonder of Christmas -the wonder of the Son of God becoming a human baby, while remaining truly God. At that moment the Son of God became forever a member of the human race, forever committed to us.  Nothing can destroy God’s love for us.
Especially during Advent we should long for God to tear open the heavens and come down -to save us, personally -to remove the veil of sin, preventing us from approaching God.  Now, more than ever, we should want God to come alive in each one of us and transform us, so that we can embrace the salvation Jesus has already won for us.
Jesus has promised to return in glory at the end of time.  That should fill us with hope of eternal happiness with Him, rather than fill us with fear. During Advent we will sing, “Oh, come, oh come, Emmanuel.” That expresses our need for Jesus, our longings for Him to enter ever more deeply into our lives, and we into His.
Isidore O.P.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

ONLY A FILM

I'd enjoyed reading the book -a brilliant, imaginative and convincing fantasy. Seeing it on a small screen was a revelation to me of the creative skills of the experts in computer technology. It was also a big let-down. How could I be impressed by imagery, no matter how exciting or romantic, when men and women appear no larger than toy soldiers and elephants are as small as my pet gerbil?!?
Everything changed when I was taken to see the same drama on a large cinema screen. Loud speakers were distributed throughout the auditorium so that all of us seemed to be encased in a capsule of sound.
There was I with my brothers engrossed in watching the film, "Jurassic Park." We had just been given an episode that was as serene as the Garden of Eden (NB -before the Fall !).It was so relaxing and reassuring to be drawn into a world that seemed to be totally at peace with itself. Small wonder I had drifted off into a cosy, dreamy doze.
And then ...an enormous, fearsome dinosaur filled the whole screen, silent, poised, menacing. Unexpectedly, a huge roar reverberated throughout the cinema. The thrusting monster leaped forward...at me, seated in one of the front rows, nearest the screen. Without a thought I rose from my seat and in terror yelled, "Oh, God!" at the top of my voice. Never before and never since have I felt such an urgent need for God to come to my rescue.
Of course, the spell of this day-time nightmare was immediately broken when everyone in the cinema began to laugh at impressionable me. For my part, I was shaken, emotionally exhausted. It had been so real. But then there were my brothers to bring me round to laugh at myself.
Only much later was I able to reflect on what had for me been a shattering experience. I was much sobered by the thought that I, and I suppose all other fellow human beings, do not have control of our emotional reactions. We cannot turn them off and on as easily as we can the images on our TV screens. Images can be so over-powering that at the time we are unable to distinguish between the fictional and the factual. We simply enter and identify with what is being presented to us.
I'm not ashamed to admit that I have wept when viewing DVDs of 'Les Miserables' and 'La Boheme.'  Who has been left cold and unmoved when watching on-screen drama which is violent or sensual? Let no-one tell us it's only a film and these actions are being acted out! And that they're not reality!
True enough! Up to a point! Beyond that point we are liable to be influenced in our thinking, our attitudes and possibly our behaviour by what passes for Reality Shows and Virtual Reality. They can be for us an occasion of sin in which, without thinking or consenting, we identify with screened hatred, jealousy, spite and vengeance or with lustful cravings. There will be those who will be inclined to act out in real life what they've seen acted in the world of fiction, without realizing that the seeds of these dispositions were sown during a time of recreation.
At the very least God has taught me to reflect on my outburst in the cinema and to question seriously the effect the Mass Media of Communication has on the innocence of my imagination, my desires and fears, and ultimately on my conduct.  I ask myself what influence on me did that rampant, roaring, lunging dinosaur have on me. It was merely fictional; I was/am very much an impressionable human being.                                                                      

In truth, 'Only a Film?  Eh!       But what a film!

Peter O.P.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

THROUGH THE EYES OF MARY

I was born and raised in England. For over forty years the Caribbean island of Grenada has been the context, the environment, of my priesthood.  In this beautiful setting I have been fulfilled and challenged. Here I have felt ‘at home’ and yet ‘home-sick.’ Lofty mountains, golden beaches, grim fortresses and interesting buildings have been my friends.                                                    My somewhat stiff English body has learned to sway to the beat of the drum and the steel pan. My ears have become attuned to the rhythm of Calypso and Reggae. I have known the tense,  bewildered  excitement  of the rise and fall of a Revolution and the fear-filled insecurity of a hurricane blasting, grinding, my home, my church, into rubble. 
When members of my family and their friends have come to visit me it has been my joy and my pride to ‘show them around.’ I’ve introduced them to ‘MY’ Grenada.    What they’ve perceived through the lens of my experience has had a texture that has fitted well around the detailed information, the spectacular photos that can be found at any Travel Agency or on any computer.
They’ve seen the face of this tropical island through my eyes. Through my soul, my heat-beat they’ve felt something of its throb, its heart-beat.  
It could be that I’m claiming too much for myself. After all, in spite of my many years in this part of the world I will always be a ‘stranger in paradise.’ I shall never, ever, have that understanding that belongs to those whose grounding, culture, mind-set, and inborn attachment and loyalty are rooted in the local soil. 
It was in 2002 that Pope John Paul 11 gave to world the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary. In so doing he shared with us these inspiring sentiments, "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. Through the Rosary the faithful receive abundant grace, as though from the very hands of the Mother of the Redeemer… To recite the Rosary is nothing other than to contemplate with Mary the face of Christ.”
Mary was there! She saw it all, she felt it all, she lived it all with her Son, Jesus, and now she shares it all with us as we meditate upon everything associated with the Word of God becoming flesh-of Mary’s flesh, and dwelling amongst us – as a child shares his life, his very self with his mother.
At the moment of writing, through my very being courses the question of the Lenten hymn, “Where you there when they…?” Then follows the response, “Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.” Yes! Mary was there with Jesus through it all. Sometimes she must have trembled with excitement and joy; at others she was there trembling with fear, sorrow, and horror.                                                                                             Luke in his Gospel wrote that after the shepherds departed from the stable outside Bethlehem ‘As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart,(2.19).  I detect here an intensity of feeling that she dearly wants to share with us.
Through the lens of her own experience she leads us into the Mystery that was the life, death and glorification of her Son, Jesus-for our sake and for our salvation.
I dare to suggest to you that I have journeyed with the people of Grenada for many of the significant years of its history. The pulse of my emotions has throbbed with something of the same pounding as has their own. I dare to suggest that because ‘I was there.’ I have been able to share with others something of what all this has meant to me.
The vocation, the mission, of Mary who was ‘There’ throughout the whole of the ‘Jesus Story’ is now to share with us all that it meant to her personally.  This is far more than an emotional autobiography. For Mary, for you and for me this is to a spiritual journey of discovery in which we discover Jesus and in so doing discover  ourselves.                                                                              This is what reciting the Rosary, by the grace of God, can do for us.
Peter Clarke, OP

Saturday, 13 September 2014

EXALTATION OF THE CROSS

 
"We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ -the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength."
(I Cor. 1. 23-25)

Great excitement! Three years ago an Anglo-Saxon burial ground was discovered at Trumpington, near Cambridge. Why the fuss? Archaeologists had found a grave, containing probably the earliest Christian remains to be found in England. The deceased was probably a sixteen year old girl of noble birth, possibly a princess. She died some 13,00 years ago. And why was she thought to be a Christian? Because she was buried with a cross, sown to her dress! That cross was a clear, unmistakable sign that she had been a follower of the crucified and risen Christ; she had placed her hope of eternal happiness in Him. An object close to her heart in life was placed close to her heart in death!

That cross identified her as a Christian. So, too, with us. We were baptised with the sign of the cross and in the name of the Blessed Trinity. The cross gave us our identity, as it did the teenage girl long ago. Like her, we proudly wear a crucifix to proclaim our allegiance to our crucified and risen saviour.

But to unbelievers we Christians must seem to be mad; we wear a crucifix and have one in our homes! After all, crucifixion was the brutal way the Romans executed criminals. The cross was the instrument of torture and death. Crucifixion was meant to be slow and very painful. The criminal was lifted on high so that all could see his suffering and mock him –a sure deterrent for anyone thinking of following the trouble-maker’s example. Jesus Himself was lifted on high on the cross. He was mocked, ridiculed. He was dismissed as a miserable, tragic failure. The Romans and the Jewish authorities seemed to have achieved their purpose. They had silenced the rebel! Or so they thought.
 
So, why do we Christians glory in the cross? Why do wear with pride the instrument of execution? What was so special about Jesus’ crucifixion; what made it so different from the thousands of others, crucified by the Romans? Not the physical pain and mental anguish, which they all suffered. The Turin Shroud, which many venerate, can only tell us how Jesus died. It can never tell us what His crucifixion achieved –why, today, especially, we honour the crucified Christ as a triumphant success, not a tragic failure.
 
To enter the mystery, the meaning, of Christ’s death, look prayerfully upon a crucifix. There you will see an image of the Son of God –the Almighty creator of heaven and earth –nailed helplessly to the cross. There you will see the All-Holy One condemned as a criminal. There you will see an apparent defeated failure -triumphant, victorious. The man mockingly crowned with thorns is enthroned on the cross, as Lord of heaven and earth. Far from being brought low He has been raised on high, exalted, triumphant –not to be mocked, but to be honoured for what He achieved on the cross. That’s why St. Paul says,
"Far be it from me to glory except in the cross of Christ crucified," (Gal. 6. 14).
 
As we gaze upon the crucified Christ we see the triumph of goodness over evil, life over death, love over malice. His love for us has overcome all the forces of evil arraigned against Him and against us. He has released us from the quagmire of sin and death. The crucified Christ has set us free! As we gaze upon the crucified Christ it’s as though, as man, Jesus stretched one hand to His heavenly Father. As God He reached with the other hand to us sinners. In His crucified body He has drawn man and God together; combining His divine and human love for us He has broken down the barrier of sin which kept us apart. As St. Paul tell us,
"…through him -the crucified Christ -God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of His cross," (Col. 1. 20).
 
Look again at the cross. You will see that the crucified Christ has turned our secular values upside down. As He emptied himself of the honour and glory, which was rightly His as God, Jesus has undone the pride, which is at the root of all sin. Surprisingly, through weakness He achieved more than the mighty and powerful could ever do. Surprisingly, Jesus achieved more when He was nailed, helpless, to the cross than during His active ministry, when He was healing and teaching. Stripped of everything, the crucified Christ teaches us not to place our eternal hope in material wealth and success. In sacrificing His life, in obedience to His Heaven Father’s will, Jesus has shown that the way to fulfilment and greatness is for us to commit our whole lives to serving God and each other. If we are suffering, we can draw comfort by identifying with the agony of the crucified Christ. We can draw encouragement and hope from His victory over evil. Far from destroying us, our sufferings and death, like Christ’s, can be the gateway to eternal glory.
 
In Christ’s crucifixion we see the triumph of love over malice, goodness over evil, life over death. God has used the horrific instrument of execution –the cross –to achieve His purpose –the salvation of the world. This will seem madness to non-believers, but for us it is the wisdom of God, which defies human logic. In the crucified Christ we see the sublime folly, the extravagance, of God's love for us.

That’s why we glory in the cross and honour the crucified Christ, especially today! That’s why we, like the teenage girl, long ago, wear a crucifix.
Isidore O.P.

 
 
 
 
 

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

ONLY TEN YEARS


Ten years ago – 2004-2014 – Hurricane ‘Ivan’ hit Grenada with a mighty blow. I was there at that time. I’d been in that part of the Southern Caribbean for forty eight years. Over the years I’d become aware of many Caribbean experiences, one of which, thank God, was an extreme rarity – the Rise and Fall of a Revolution. But never had I actually had to face a hurricane. Over the years in a more or less casual way I’d responded to hurricane warnings. Mercifully, what was in-a-kind-of-a-way feared, came to nothing.
Many a time had I met people who wished to live through the excitement, the drama, of a hurricane. My fervent prayer was that I would live out the rest of my days in what had become my cherished Caribbean home – without my ever having the very dubious privilege of meeting a hurricane.
For God’s own reasons my prayer was not answered in the way I would have hoped. I will not join hands with those ‘self-righteous’ people who spout that those countries that are battered to destruction by storms are being punished for their sins. How dare they overlook that passage in Sacred Scripture in which Jesus warned those who heard the gossipy news about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with that of their sacrifices? , And what about those who were chattering about those who had been crushed to death by a crumbling, tumbling tower? (cf. Lk.13.1-5). The warning of Jesus was blunt and applicable to all people at all times. “UNLESS YOU REPENT YOU WILL ALL PERISH AS THEY DID.”

What of my own thoughts during the violent, noisy, hammering of ‘Ivan;’ immediately after we had crept out of make-shift shelters; and now ten years later? Quite simply, “Thank you, Lord, for sparing us, sparing me!” And then, over the years, even to this day, “What have we done, what have I done, to be spared the succession of disasters, year after year that seem to be the inevitable lot of people elsewhere?” The Philippines, Haiti immediately come to mind.
To these disturbing questions I have an answer as to what these occurrences have done to me personally. I’ve been made aware of a bed-rock of decency within the global human family. People keep on responding generously to the calamities of others. These are people who are completely unknown to them, and always will be. They are treated as brothers or sisters. I myself and the church I used to serve have every reason to acknowledge indebtedness to those who in practical ways have promptly come to our rescue. Of course there will always be grounds for whining that much more should be done, more sacrifices should be made by more people.
For God’s sake, let’s not draw a cloud over whatever bright rays of sensitivity and compassion appear on the horizon! My present-day thinking as I mark the Tenth Anniversary of ‘Ivan’ is that I’ve skimmed over the words spoken by Jesus but surely applicable to us all today, “Unless you repent you will all perish as they did.”
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t see repenting as being noticeable, typical, of modern-day society. When was the last time I said sorry to anyone? I can’t remember when anyone apologized to me. When did I last forgive anyone? John the Baptist, Jesus himself, made repentance central to their message. Jesus clearly made forgiving sins a priority of his ministry. Is this dimension of Christianity being neglected today? Is it being swept under the carpet?

What is more, I really believe that the prayerful repentance of any single one of us can be of saving value not only to ourselves but to all others. Such is the solidarity of God, the Creator, God the merciful Saviour, with the whole of the human family.
It’s a sobering thought that with all my pious reflections I’m entitled to no divine guarantee that I’ll be spared another hurricane in the few years that remain to me.
Peter Clarke, OP

Saturday, 6 September 2014

A GREAT LOSS!

 How many of you remember the days when people felt secure in their own homes, safe in their own space? There was a time when people could leave home with their doors unlocked and their windows wide open. Nowadays, everywhere I turn I see houses that have been turned into fortresses with wrought-iron bars over the windows. What is more, garage doors and property gates are now opened ...and shut by remote control. Intruders have to be kept out. We feel the need to ensure our homes are the safe-harbours of our existence…that we are secure in our very own ‘space.’ No doubt about it - a radical change has taken place within our society. Not without cause do I mourn with a sense of GREAT LOSS! Having taken all these precautions, fools that we are, we still persuade ourselves that at least within our own homes, we should be able to enjoy our own privacy and shut out the world of curious, intrusive eyes and ears. There, at least, we should be able to hold private, intimate conversations. There, if anywhere, it should be possible for affectionate gestures to be exchanged with no fear of this being covered by hidden scanners and microphones. .
These are impossible dreams! Nowadays, almost everyone carries in their pockets the means for taking furtive photos and recordings. If this were not bad enough, we are being made to know, perhaps with a sense of horror, that every conceivable means of communication can be hacked into; what is unearthed can be scattered in every direction. And we can’t do anything to prevent it. Those who are intrusive invaders have people at their mercy…for character assassination… for blackmail…for the destruction of reputations and of relationships. State Secrets are being traded with the highest bidder. Those with this superior grasp of Information Technology are powerful, smart and clever. Some, lacking respect for the privacy of other people don’t care about the pain and embarrassment they can cause others. With all our sophisticated, technological progress, we, the human family, have engineered the break-down of trust in society. We have reached the point of the cynical disillusionment of the Psalmist, ‘I said in my alarm: "No-one can be trusted, “’ (116.11). What to do? For starters, it makes good sense for us to be very wary about over- exposing ourselves on any item that records or takes pictures. Without our knowing that we’re doing this, it is possible for us to release to all and sundry what we would have preferred to keep very much to our own selves…. No way, would we want this to happen! (Surely, I don’t have to be more explicit!) I’m coming to the conclusion that in our day it would be the rarest of luxuries to have any private space that is uniquely, securely, intimately, our own. These are weighty issues. I find some kind of solution in my telling you about the time I was taking a Sunday School Class of young children. I wanted them hear about God - His being everywhere; being so powerful that He can do everything; so wise that He knows everybody and everything about each one of us. More than anything else, I wanted them to appreciate that God loves each one of us personally and wants to help us to lead beautiful, good lives that are very pleasing to Him. Most of all He wants each of us to enjoy the companionship of being His precious friends. One little girl was so moved by the very thought that God loved her that she asked how she could to make Him happy. Eager to please Him in everything she did, she meekly asked if she ought to wear her bathing costume when taking a shower – after all, God sees everything! I was happy to tell them all that God’s eyes are loving, friendly eyes. He loves seeing what He has made so beautiful. We find the same sort of thing with our very close friends. We are comfortable in sharing with them our confidences. It is a profound expression of true love for us to entrust to them our private lives and personal secrets. As at such times we knowingly make ourselves vulnerable to them, we feel secure in our confidence that they won’t despise us or take advantage of us. Out of respect for us they will not be the ones to force entry into that cherished area where we want to be alone with ourselves and with our God. We don’t have to erect barriers against such friends.

 Peter Clarke, OP
 
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