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

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

ONE IN A BILLION


One in a billion! That’s me watching the World Football Cup on my TV, as did that estimated number of viewers all round the world.  The contest itself, fought out in Brazil, grasped my attention and stretched my emotions… joy and dismay, laughter and tears, cheers and boos. Then towering over everything to do with Brazil, everything that had to do with this ‘football fiesta,’ was the massive mountain-top statue of Christ the Redeemer. 
For an all too brief a moment this majestic statue of Christ the Redeemer was sharply silhouetted against a glowing,  burnished copper sunset. Its beauty was breath-taking…absolutely mind-blowing! In that moment of grace I thought to myself that a nation that could erect such a huge and conspicuous statue must be fiercely and confidently proud of its Christianity!
 With sadness and shame I next thought of those nations that have bowed to minority voices clamouring against the presence of religious symbols in public places!  Their reason? The few find offensive what is deeply significant for the majority, or at least causes them no problem. And yet, during the World Cup Season Brazil was flooded with   fans of every religious persuasion and of none.                                                                                                                       They could not help but see the statue itself and the myriad representations of it on wall-posters, T-shirts and tourist brochures. I am not aware of anyone making a big fuss about the ever-present pictures of the statue of Christ the Redeemer being offensive to their religious or non-religious sensibilities.
 It now occurs to me that of the multi-million following the World Football Cup through radio, TV, newspapers and magazines how many individuals heard about Christ the Redeemer for the very first time in their lives; how many media people spoke of Christ the Redeemer for the very first time….all because of this statute located in Brazil  where the World Cup Football Championship happened to be celebrated.                                                            There must have been some who were curious to know what so prominent a statue  was all about; some who enquired who Christ is, and what is a Redeemer. Surely there would have been some who set out on the journey towards believing in Christ because of this statue.                                                In the Acts of the Apostles we read of how Paul and Barnabas spoke of God opening the door of faith to the Gentiles, (14.27). I can’t imagine God, during these frenzied weeks of ‘Football Fever,’ wasting the opportunity of opening the door of faith to the whole world through the statue of Christ the Redeemer. I will venture further. This enormous statue, aloft, almost in the clouds, must have been visible for miles and miles. It would be fatuous to suggest that this statue presided over what was going on way below at ground level, but I dare to say that God, who made heaven and earth, continuously casts a benign eyes on all that goes on in our daily lives.                                                                I find I have to thank God that we were spared what we most feared for this World Cup– violent protests, organizational breakdowns etc. etc.    That statue, lifeless stone that it is, has prompted me to think of Christ the Redeemer caringly watching over all that was going on, including the football matches.
Did He not come to us and make our human family His own family? Did He not promise to be with us until the end of time…even when we’re biting our finger-nails as we joyfully suffer the agonies of following the fortunes and misfortunes of the side we prayerfully support?!?!
Peter Clarke, OP

Thursday, 10 July 2014

LIKE A SCARECROW....AS IT WERE



 
 "Empty your pockets, take off your shoes, remove your belt, now walk through the scanner. Sorry, there's still something there...making a pinging sound. Stretch out your arms. We'll try the manual scanner."
And this... is where it gets difficult. With no belt to keep up my trousers with my arms outstretched like a scarecrow, something’s got to give..my self confidence...my self esteem.. my trousers!
You've got it...I'm the tourist passing through 'Security' at the beginning of my vacation. At last the long awaited moment has arrived..after all the hassle of booking my flight, striving to strike the right balance between what I need to take away with me and the weight I'm allowed to carry without further expense. Most importantly, there's the visit to the bank to purchase foreign currency.
Indeed, I've felt like the tattered rags draping Scarecrow Peter. With a certain amount of trepidation I've survived the scrutiny at the ticket desk. All my documents were in order. Thank God for that! Big sigh of relief! Then, much humbled, I've cleared the last hurdle and am allowed to emerge from 'Security,' -more or less unscathed. Once again, 'Thank God!' Eventually I was able to enjoy the blissful serenity of simply relaxing, waiting in the Departure Lounge until summoned to go to the appropriate embarkation gate.
This is what we have come to in this day and age of much vaunted enlightenment and progress! 'And I said in my alarm, 'No man can be trusted..' These days no one trusts anyone any more. It's a sad state of affairs in which each and all are suspected of being possible terrorists, carrying some kind of explosive in the heel of his shoe or in the lining of his jacket...So help us, the most innocent looking guy or doll may have a heart encrusted with violent intentions.
What to do, but subject every single person to the most meticulous scrutiny? There's no point in getting worked up that modern-day scanners can reveal invisible unmentionables. Better for us all to have been exposed and to have been granted a fair chance of staying alive than for everyone to have been left alone and for none of us to have come through to be welcomed at 'Arrivals.'
After writing all this I feel disposed to compose a Novena for the Conversion of all Would-be Terrorists...God has no problem in replacing hearts of stone into hearts of flesh. In the meantime I meet God, mywaygodsway, through Psalms such as,
"He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High and abides in the shade of the Almighty says to the Lord: "My refuge, my stronghold, my God in Whom I trust!" (Ps. 91).
Better than this I cannot do!
Peter Clarke O.P.
 


 
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