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.
 


Sunday, 15 June 2014

MY FANCY FAN

 
A tall slender body, far too fragile to carry the weight of such a large head! You may well be wondering whom I am talking about!  I would have you know I have in mind, and close to my heart, NOT A ‘WHO’ but ‘A WHAT!’  In fact, my beloved standard fan…which has keep me just short of melting-point during the hot weather  Barbados  has been experiencing recently. At the touch of a button it has played refreshing, cool air upon my heat-weary body.                                                                                                                                                                           Imagine my grief, then, when I learnt that in the process of having a thorough cleaning the long stem had snapped away from the hefty base. There were those around me who offered the consoling words that I should not mourn too much. It would not cost a great deal to purchase another, possibly stronger, fan.                     They simply could not understand my deep attachment to this particular fan that had served me so well.  Nor did they understand my deep instinct to throw away broken things only when they are totally beyond  repair.    My fan was a casualty...not a corpse.....it still worked perfectly!                                                                           First step in setting it on its feet again was to insert a length of broom-stick into the hollow of the base and into the shaft that supported the fan.  Then I applied fast-drying, extra-strong, glue to the surfaces of the breakage.   Around these I wrapped a collar of duct-tape.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Last of all I invoked my experience of many years of scouting. Guy-lines pegged into the ground will keep a flag-pole firmly upright.  Strong nylon twine passing under the base then way up to, and round the stem, served the same purpose. My only concern was how to stop the fan swaying.                                                                   It was an all-purpose store that held the answer to my problem.  There before my eyes were stretchable luggage- straps with hooks at each end! These would provide the tension that would keep my fan rigid. All I had to do was hook the straps under the base and then attach them firmly around the stem. (Easier said than done!)                                                                                                                                                                                Though my restored fan does carry the scars of wounds endured in the reality of a harsh, rough world, never would I apologize for it appearing somewhat scruffy…just like me!  Lovingly had I spent many hours   contriving to spare it from the rubbish skip.                                                                                                                         This brings me to sharing with you that I will have no part in the throw-away mentality that regards anything that is damaged as being disposable. Nor do I identify with those of the view that if the cash is available then what is damaged can be replaced by what is brand-new.  For me there has never been money for me to splash around carelessly and irresponsibly.                                                                                                                                      Dare I say that I gain my inspiration from this passage of  Sacred Scripture, Jer. 18.The word that came to Jeremiah from  the Lord as follows, 2 'Get up and make your way down to the potter's house, and there I shall tell you what I have to say.' 3 So I went down to the potter's house; and there he was, working at the wheel. 4 But the vessel he was making came out wrong, as may happen with clay when a potter is at work. So he began again and shaped it into another vessel, as he thought fit.                                                                                                                                                                                  5 Then the word of the Lord came to me as follows, 6 'House of Israel, can I not do to you what this potter does? The Lord demands. Yes, like clay in the potter's hand, so you are in mine, House of  Israel.                                                                                                                                                                                      I like to think that God must feel very pleased with Himself when He’s managed to restore wholesomeness to someone who’s made a wreck of his life. What a joy it can be for any one of us if we have helped someone to put his life together again!                                                                                                                                             If my broken fan had a voice I’m certain it would have given me ­­­­a heart-felt cheer! 

Peter Clarke, OP

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Thursday, 5 June 2014

GOD'S MIGHTY WIND





The schooner –for me that sturdy sailing ship summed up the island life of the W. Indies, where I had worked as a Dominican priest. For generations their people had used the schooner to travel and transport goods between the islands. Whenever I returned to visit my brother, Peter, in Grenada I told him about my longing to sail on a schooner. That, I was convinced, would help me to enter the spirit of the W. Indies.

Imagine my joy, my excitement when Peter told me he had arranged for us to sail by schooner from the West Indian island of Grenada to Carriacou. With the wind in our hair, and the sail noisily flapping we glided, sometimes bounced, raced across and through the rising, falling waves. A force we could feel on our cheeks, but not see, was carrying us across the waves!

The driving force of the wind in our sails …what a powerful, exciting image of the wonder of Pentecost! There the rushing wind suggests the Spirit’s hidden energy, giving the disciples the courage and strength to start preaching the Good News in a hostile world. Empowered by the Spirit, the ship of the Church could weather any storm and carry us to the heavenly harbour of the Kingdom of God. And far from being mere passengers, we are all members of the crew. The Spirit has given each of us a special job to do. "All hands on deck!" That’s the call to us Christians.

The title ‘Holy Spirit’ not only suggests wind power, but also the breath of God’s life. Through baptism we are born from above, of water and the Holy Spirit. We become alive in Christ, and share in the saving power of His death and resurrection. As God’s children we receive a God-given vitality, a dynamism drawing us freely ever more intimately into the life and happiness of the Blessed Trinity.

At Pentecost the Holy Spirit gave the apostles the eloquece and courage to proclaim the Good News in a way that was understood by people speaking a variey of foreign languages. The way the Holy Spirit continues to assist us both in receiving and handing on the Good News can be dramatically expressed in the simple act of breathing in and out. Through the Spirit we breath in the Good News. Then the Spirit assists us in breathing out the Good News as we share it with others. In other words, the Holy Spirit is at work at every stage of breathing in and then breathing out the Good News. Obviously, if we don’t breath in the Good News we will have nothing to breath out!

On the feast of Pentecost we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit as the great communicator. Through the gift of the Spirit God shares His life with us. Through the Spirit of Truth the Good News preached by Christ is handed on to the Church, and through her to the world. The Vatican Council has allowed the refreshing breath of the Holy Spirit to blow through the Church and renew her. Now we have no excuse for allowing the Holy Spirit to become the ‘forgotten person’ of the Blessed Trinity!

With the wind in our sails, and the breath of the Spirit in our lungs let us head for the heavenly harbour, and as we do so proclaim the Good News with the invitation, "All Aboard!"
Isidore O.P.





















































































































 

 





 

 

 













 
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