Tuesday, 25 August 2015

WHAT A SLIPPER !



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

WHAT FOLLY !!




"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

THE SOLEMNITY OF THE ASSUMPTION OF OUR LADY INTO HEAVEN



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
'MARY, THE IMMACULATE PERPETUALLY VIRGIN MOTHER OF GOD, AFTER THE COMPLETION OF HER EARTHLY LIFE, WAS ASSUMED BODY AND SOUL INTO THE GLORY OF HEAVEN'.
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

SLAMMING DOWN THE PHONE!


  
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.


Thursday, 30 July 2015

MAN'S BEST FRIEND?


It was a glorious day that promised to be completely satisfying and gratifying! I was in Paradise – the kind of place people choose for their vacations - Grenada, a small island in the southern Caribbean; Grenada – the place where I, an English priest, was happily exercising my priesthood.

The sun was shining as I set out to take Holy Communion to the sick and the aged in their homes. I planned to round off the morning with a visit to the General Hospital where I would administer the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick to several patients.

This ministry means a lot to me. I see myself sharing in the healing ministry of Jesus. Through my administering this Sacrament Jesus extends His merciful, caring love.

Many are the times I have witnessed the consolation this Sacrament brings. I am moved and inspired by the vivid faith of those who have been anointed, as well as the faith of friends and family at the bedside.

Several times I myself have been seriously ill. I’ve been so greatly comforted when a priest has brought to me Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and when he has seen fit to anoint me.

When possible I try not to make very many calls on one outing. I want the leisure to involve members of the family and friends in this most intimate, sacred, event in the life of a Catholic family. Over and over again they have told me how much they have been comforted by receiving these over-flowing graces of the sacrament.

I can identify with Mary who carried Jesus in her womb when she visited the home of her cousin Elizabeth. I am carrying Jesus in the Eucharist whenever I visit the sick at home or in hospitals. As with Mary so with me the Visitor Supreme is Jesus Himself.

A family really displays the strength of its Catholic Faith when it attaches importance to the spiritual needs of its ailing members. In the Gospels we find people imploring Jesus to come to their homes because someone is sick. In our time we should call for the priest to bring the healing of Jesus to their homes through the Sacraments of the Church.

My priesthood has been one of surprises and unsuspected challenges…not necessarily heroic ones but sometimes ones that were painful nuisances!

There I was of a ‘sunny disposition’ leaving the last house of my rounds. I’d experienced so much grace, so much peace touching so many lives. I was pleased with life; I was pleased with myself.

My serenity was shattered when a vicious little dog rushed out from beneath the house. Without any provocation from me it snapped at my leg.

In my dreams I’m a talented footballer. I took a goal-scoring kick at my assailant - but missed it. My startled, angry yell sent my tormentor scurrying away at lightning speed.

Look at my trouble! Where was God in this! What was He saying to me? How did He expect me to reach Him in these circumstances? Did I now have to factor dog bites into my pastoral curriculum?

No way can I subscribe to the popular piety that a dog is man's best friend -certainly not mine! Not this particular dog, anyway!

The aftermath was the tedium of countless visits to the nearby Medical Station to have my wound dressed, and then the sense of frustration of having all my plans put on hold while I had to spend a few days in hospital to have the wound thoroughly cleaned.

The tables had been turned on me. I who had been the healthy, energetic, spiritual, priestly caregiver had become one with suffering humanity needing to be cared for. God had made me travel a journey of self-discovery.

Do I set out to pat the head of this dog that started it all. I think not?
Next time it might bite off my hand!!!!!!!!!!

Peter Clarke, O.P.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

!!WHAT AN AWESOME PLACE!!



“What an awesome place is this!”  In other translations Jacob thinks it’s terrible.   Both have some truth.  The place was terrible.  It was barren.   No plants to shield him from the sun.  Nothing  to provide him with shelter for the night.  What a God-forsaken hole!

He was dog-tired! Only a few boulders on which to lay his weary head!  The wonder is that ever got a moment’s sleep. And yet he had an amazing dream.

Waking up, Jacob realised that this first impression had been completely wrong.  No longer did he see this place as being awful, terrible. How so?  As he slept he dreamt of angels ascending and descending a ladder between heaven and earth.  During this dream the Lord re-affirmed the covenant He had made with the Patriarch, Abraham.  His descendants would be as many as the stars in the sky, or the sand on the shore.  They would be His Chosen People.  He promised to give them their own land.

This dream, this vision, had changed his whole attitude to the stony, lifeless wasteland.  Most certainly a truly awesome one!  On waking he exclaimed,  "Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it…How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven,"    (Gen. 28. 16-17).

Pope Francis, in his recent encyclical, ‘ON CARE FOR OUR COMMON HOME’ is trying to implant  in us Jacob’s change in attitude towards what had at first seemed to him to be barren land in which he had to lay down to sleep.   The Pope wants all of us to develop a reverence for the world in which we live –and with that reverence, a sense of responsibility.

What inspires that reverence? That our world has been lovingly created by God. Each of His creatures, no matter how small or unprepossessing, expresses His creative love.   Each in its own way reflects something of His majesty; each in its own way gives glory to God, simply by being itself.

That is true of the earth’s vastly different environments, whether they be an exotic tropical island, the gentle pastel-tinted countryside of the U.K., the Sahara desert or the vast  expanse  of  ice in the Polar Regions. Each has its own unique beauty. And each patch of God’s creation provides its own special environment, supporting its local ecology of inter-dependence of living creatures. 

Pope Francis stresses that we disturb the balance of nature at our peril. The whole cosmos, and each of its parts is awesome, as, indeed, is the vast and varied inter-action of these many, countless parts. The whole  scenario  reflects  the awesome  glory and majesty of God…its Creator.

 Jacob came to realise God is to be found in the most unlikely of places, probably without His presence ever been recognized there!

The challenge for us is to re-discover a child-like sense of  wonder  at each of the parts within the whole  of God’s creation.   Without His continuous loving care His world would disintegrate into nothingness, and so would we; without our loving care, God’s beautiful world would descend into an ugly, empty wasteland.

He has, therefore,  given us, His  people, the privilege and responsibility of cherishing and caring for His creation. He’s given this to us, not just to use and use up, but to protect and develop for ourselves and for future generations.  If this is our world, it’s above all God’s; if this is our dwelling place, it is also His.

That is what Jacob realised.  This is the point Pope Francis strives to drive home.  The world we live in is not only wonderful, but sacred –because God has lovingly created it. And now He wants us to care for it, for His sake and for our own.

Pope Francis argues forcibly that we need to slow down, to rest and ponder if we are to appreciate the wonder of creation, which God has entrusted to us. Only on reflection will we see the threefold relationship between the creator God and ourselves, the pinnacle of His creation, and the world He has created for us.

 Only then will we see that it is meant to lead us to God and that we are meant to share His gifts with His children, our brothers and sisters.  Far from ‘despising the things of this world’ we should rejoice in them and give thanks.

 After describing the awesome beauty of nature Sirach, the author of the Book of Ecclesiasticus, exclaims, “We could say more but could never say enough; let the final word be: ‘He (God) is the all.’   Where can we find the strength to praise him?  For He is greater than all his works,” (Sirach 43. 27-28).

We began with Jacob’s ladder, which links the glory of heaven with the barren land in which the patriarch found himself –a wilderness made sacred by God’s presence.   The Son of God has descended that ladder; He has emptied Himself of His glory and dwelt among us. That makes our world so very much more sacred.   It’s awesome!

 As Jesus ascended the ladder of the cross -foreshadowed by Jacob’s Ladder -He has been exalted, glorified.  Not to abandon us, but to raise us up, via the ladder of the cross, to share in His glory.  Not to abandon the world He has created, but to renew heaven and earth in a new creation. 

Now everything in heaven and on earth bows down before its Lord! (cf. Phil.2.10).

Isidore Clarke, OP

Friday, 17 July 2015

A GIFT IN GOOD TASTE!




‘Our God is a God of surprises!’  This shouldn’t surprise us, especially these days when the Catholic Charismatic Renewal has turned this saying into a mantra, made it into cliché. After all, God being almighty can do anything He chooses. If we are surprised by God, and, therefore, extremely pleased or dismayed by God, this is because our expectations of Him are far too limited.

 We shall never get used to what the Almighty expects to be obvious  to us, “My thoughts are not your thoughts and your ways are not my ways, declares the Lord. For the heavens are as high above earth as my ways are above your ways, my thoughts above your thoughts,”  (Isaiah 55.8).

I know that when I became priest all these many years ago, and when the ‘glow’ of my Ordination had scarcely worn off, I expected my life as a pastor to be fairly predictable and mundane.  When I was assigned to our Dominican Vicariate in the Caribbean I knew I would be venturing into the unknown.

 I was emotionally prepared for the ‘culture shock’ of a different climate, different food, customs, and above all of different people with their own way of celebrating life.  I would have been surprised IF I HAD NOT BEEN SURPRISED  by a world that was completely new to me!

I would like to think that after spending so many years in the West Indies -Grenada and Barbados - I have made  this my own…my home, the place where I belong. True enough, my priesthood hasn’t  been typical of that of most of my contemporaries  in joining the Dominican Order, including  my twin brother, Isidore.

I have lived in Grenada through the rise and fall of a revolution, as well as through a hurricane.  Yes, God did surprise us on these occasions! He did cause us to come to terms with a loving God who allowed such events to happen to us. In the midst of fear  and tribulation we had to trust God’s  Providence, still believe He was our Loving Father,  even while we were trying to cope with the bewilderment and anguish God had not prevented.

Surprised by misfortune?!?  Most certainly! I now speak of being surprised by joy….astonishing joy .   I make so bold as to claim for myself a joyful   surprise from God that must be rare, if not unique, in the history of the priesthood.

There was I, a priest of scarcely any experience in a land until then completely unknown to me...Barbados  I’d just finished   preparing a pleasant young man to be received into the Church. Time came when he was due to make his First Confession.

He knelt before a screen in a dark little room with a closed door. And I was seated in a similar room on the other side of the same screen. Once he had confessed his sins I had the sublime joy of my priesthood.  I granted him what he was seeking more than anything in the world - God’s   forgiveness.  I then gave him his penance and told him to go in peace.

I was moving too fast for him. He whispered he had a gift for me.  Thanking him profusely I told him I never ever expected a present when hearing confessions. Nevertheless, I suggested that he hand round the screen whatever it had for me.

He opened his door. I opened mine. Surprise! Surprise! Our God really is a God of surprises! Behold!  My whole  being  jerked with amazement.  As I peeped round the screen I saw a fist clutching the neck of a flapping, squawking goose.

What to do?  To my mind geese are inclined to be bad tempered and vicious if they don’t like you.  This one had no reason to like me.  If I’d taken this bird into my embrace I’m sure it would have sensed my discomfort and my fear. Perhaps it might have attempted to given me a peck on the cheek –as a sign of affection? Or of acute resentment?

I persuaded my benefactor, a joyful man just freed from the burden of his sins, to hang onto this bewildered bird.  'Would he come with me to release this exceptional goose in the garden.'

This Goose deserved an honorable mention in the Guinness Book of Records! Surely, the first goose  ever to have had the unique privilege of participating in the Sacrament of Reconciliation!


Peter  Clarke. O.P.
 
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