Friday, 23 January 2015

STRIKE A LIGHT!




We Clarke brothers used to enjoy camping. Our equipment was very primitive. And that’s the way we wanted it. We welcomed having to use our ingenuity to improvise with the basics. Any way, we had to carry everything on our backs, so we needed to travel light.



As soon as we reached our camp-site we split our labour force between pitching the tent and constructing the kitchen, with the camp fire as the centre-piece. No oil stoves for us! Instead, we’d search for tinder and kindling. No matter if the wood were soaking wet. Underneath the bark it would be dry enough to catch fire. As a matter of pride we allowed ourselves only one match and no paper. So we had to get it right first time, even if it were windy or raining. Anyone who suggested using a cigarette lighter would be treated with the contempt he deserved! So we’d cut some fine wood shavings and surround them with a pyramid of twigs. After striking the match we’d apply it to the tinder and gently blow until it burst into flames. Not too hard, or we’d extinguish any tiny spark before it could become a flame.


Once the fire was burning we tried to keep it alive throughout the duration of the camp. At night we would allow it to die right down. Then the first up in the morning would gently blow on the embers. With encouragement, apparently dead ashes would first glow and then break into flame. We had a blazing fire; we could now set about cooking a hearty breakfast, with a steaming mug of tea.
But inevitably the time came for us to break camp, pack up and go home. We’d take down our tent. Finally, we’d douse the fire with a bucket of water. We had to ensure there was no danger of setting the place on fire after we’d left. With a protesting hiss of steam, our lively fire expired; our camp was over!
Nursing, coaxing the smouldering embers into a roaring fire, and finally dousing the flames, reminded me of one of the prophet Isaiah’s Servant Poems,
"A bruised reed he will not break; a dimly burning wick he will not quench," (Is. 42. 3).
I’m struck by the sensitivity God expects of His servant. He’s not to be heavy-handed with those who are already damaged, weak and broken. In no way was God’s servant commissioned to make matters worst by stifling whatever wisps of hope still remained. Far from it! His servant was to be a
"light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out from prison those who sit in darkness," (cf. Is. 42. 6-7). 
 In other words, He was meant to blow gently on the dying embers and coax them to burst into a lively flame. The warmth of kindness and encouragement can dispel the bleak chill of a loss in self-confidence!

That’s the way Jesus Himself would handle a situation. He expects the very same of us. Jesus did not set Himself up as a harsh judge, eager to condemn and punish the sinner. He described Himself as the Physician, full of mercy and compassion, who’d come to heal those who were sick. He claimed to be the Good Shepherd who searched for the lost sheep.
Above all, that was the approach of the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son. When his wayward child returned a broken failure his father didn’t add to his humiliation by crushing him with bitter recriminations. Instead, he welcomed him back with open arms. He expressed his joy by throwing a rousing party.
Pope Francis makes his own this pastoral approach and urges all of us to do the same. We could say his mission manifesto is to ‘think positive’ about people, even if they’ve made a mess of their lives. We mustn’t give up on the apparently dead embers, or worse still, douse any spark of hope with the cold water of discouragement and condemnation. Instead, we are to seek and encourage the spark of goodness that is present, even in the worst situations. With the Spirit, we are to blow and fan it into the flames of new life.
God has called us to blow new life into the dying embers of people’s hope, not to be fire extinguishers!
Isidore O.P.


Tuesday, 20 January 2015

NO WAY A SUPERMAN!



Truly, Fully, God! Truly, Fully Man! What a tremendous combination! Jesus Christ – Son of God. Son of Mary! So I surmise that if Jesus had wanted to enter the Olympics surely He would have walked away with every gold medal and  would have broken every record! No-one could have had better qualifications than He, “In him, in bodily form lives divinity in all its fullness and in Him you too find your fulfilment, in Him who is the head of every sovereignty and ruling force.” So wrote St. Paul in his Letter to the Colossians,(2.9).
   
Everything we know about Jesus leaves us with the firm impression that on those occasions when He drew upon His Almighty Power it was to lead people to believe that He was ‘From God.’ Often a surge of compassion moved Him to act miraculously to help those in distress. Never did He entertain the ambition of being an all- conquering warrior.

Jesus refused to draw upon His almighty power to make life easier for Himself. He Himself made the frailty of His humanity bear the weight of His divinity!  St. Matthew describes to how, as a prelude to His Public Ministry, Jesus was tempted by the devil three times – twice with the taunt, “If you are the Son of God…” and finally, “If  you fall at my feet and do me homage I will give you all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour,” (Mtt. 4).  Jesus would have none of this!

When He was nailed in agony  on the cross the Chief Priests, the Scribes and the Elders  mocked  Him, “He saved others, He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in Him,” (Mtt.27.41). 

Though healthy  Jesus did  steal  moments for Himself to relax after daily spending hours teaching crowds of people,  ministering to the sick, walking from place to place. This exhausted Him.  Who would blame Jesus for sleeping  in the fishing boat while his friends battled with the turbulent waves?      

Interesting that His relatives were anxious about how much  He was being pressured  by His work!  “He went home again, and once more such a crowd collected that they could not even have a meal.21 When his relations heard of this, they set out to take charge of him; they said, 'He is out of his mind,'” (Mk. 3. 20).

St. Paul would have us understand, “The mind of Christ Jesus ...who being in the form of God, did not count  equality with God something to be grasped. But He EMPTIED Himself, taking the form of a slave, becoming as human beings are, (Phil. 2.5)

I personally am deeply moved when I read of what happened when He healed the woman who had endured the wretchedness of so many years of internal bleeding. She touched His garment expecting this would be sufficient to heal her. We are told Jesus felt healing power going out of Him.  (Lk. 8.46). I see Jesus as being ‘emotionally drained’ as He gave to people His full attention, loving them with all His heart – the heart of a divine person! Jesus alone knew   how much the whole of His caring ministry was taking out of Him! 

More than anything else Jesus, as God, must have grieved that the People God had lovingly selected as His very own had

by its sinfulness become the much loved People that continuously rejected God’s overtures of love.’  By becoming completely one with us in all things but our sinfulness, Jesus  took upon Himself  the wretchedness,  the shame, that we had brought upon ourselves.

In so doing, He, the Divine Messiah,  brought about  redemption, salvation, peace with God for our  human family ...His human family.   
Every moment of His life on earth  Jesus would have been aware of what it meant to share in the turmoil of our human family and to share in the tranquility of the Blessed Trinity.

To me it is no surprise that Jesus offered to His disciples a peace that the world could  not give them. And yet He  required  of them that they should deny themselves, take up their crosses daily and follow Him. By the Incarnation Jesus shares the fullness of our  humanity, by the grace of God we share something of His divinity.

For Jesus and for us a truly mysterious brew of enjoying the Peace of Jesus  that is 'out of this world' and carrying the  Crosses of Jesus that are very much part of this world! 


Peter Clarke, OP

Sunday, 11 January 2015

St. MARK'S LOAF of BREAD




First impressions can be so wrong! I used to think St. Mark’s Gospel account of Christ’s Galilean ministry was very disorganised. To me it seemed like a haphazard collection of unrelated incidents! But further study made me realise I’d done the evangelist a great injustice. In fact he’d marshalled his material with greater skill.


The sea of Galilee would seem to separate the largely Jewish community on the western side from the mainly pagan people on the eastern bank. But by crossing the sea four times Jesus united the Jewish and pagan communities. If you like, Jesus Himself became the bridge spanning the gulf between them.
Mark balances the work Jesus did among each group. On both sides of the sea He cast out demons and cured many people. On each side of the sea there was a massive miracle: among the Jews Jesus restored the life of Jairus' little girl, while among the pagans He cast out a legion of demons, which then drove the Gaderene swine headlong to their destruction.
Most importantly, for Mark's readers and for us, Jesus miraculously fed crowds of both Jews and pagans on either side of the sea. Certainly that was a sign of His compassion for the crowds, which had been listening to His teaching. By the end of the day they were hungry and had nothing to eat. Jesus could have followed the apostles’ advice and sent them off to buy their own food. But that’s not what He did. Instead, He asked the apostles to share the little food, which was available –a few loaves and fishes. That proved to be more than enough, even for the large crowd. By this miracle Jesus foreshadowed the much greater miracle of His feeding the world with His own Body and Blood in the Eucharist.
The bread He gave them would foreshadow His gift of Himself in the sacrificial meal of the Eucharist. That meal would make present for us the crucifixion, through which Jesus gave His very life for the salvation of the world. Now we are nourished by the Body and Blood of our crucified and risen Lord. By feeding both Jews and Gentiles Jesus has shown that all are invited to the heavenly banquet of the Lord. Jesus died for everybody.
The unity between the converts from Judaism and paganism was signified by the mysterious incident in the boat. While still crossing the sea the apostles complained that they had nothing to eat –except a single loaf of bread. Jesus replied that that was sufficient. What is more, He was amazed that they didn’t understand the symbolism of His feeding first the Jewish crowd and then the Gentiles. After both occasions there was more than enough for everybody. If Jesus could provide for such numbers He could certainly satisfy the hunger of His few fishermen followers! So why the fuss!?


But more significant than that, the incident of the loaf took place while Jesus was crossing the Sea of Galilee to break down the barriers between Jew and Gentile. That single loaf represented the unity Jesus had come to establish and which was foreshadowed through His miraculously feeding both the Jewish and Gentile crowds. Jesus would die for both of them. He would nourish both of them with the Bread of Life, as symbolised by the two miraculous feedings and the single loaf of bread! In His very person Jesus Himself would unite these hostile peoples. The barriers between Jews and Gentiles were broken down when they became Christians.



Whatever our background we should all be united in receiving the one Eucharistic Bread, Jesus Christ as foreshadowed by a single loaf in a small boat on the Sea of Galilee!

Isidore O.P.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

AWAKENING TO A NEW YEAR!


The party’s over!  The decorations have come down! Most tellingly  the crib figures have been removed from the church, put into storage. Are Mary, Joseph, shepherds, wise men and even baby Jesus. Now being out of sight were they to be henceforth banished from our minds?  We must not allow this to happen!
In the course of this  Liturgical Year from Advent to Advent the Church will celebrate  the history, the mystery, of our salvation as accomplished through the life, death, resurrection and glorification of Jesus.  As our focus shifts   according to liturgical feasts and seasons we carry everything we believe about Jesus ….everything we expect of Jesus, everything He expects of us. And how do we carry this package? Not as a burdensome load on our backs, but as a treasure clutched to our hearts.
At Christmas we gave pride of place to the birth of the child Jesus. Then, on New Year’s Day the Church kept the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God. Honour the new-born, Jesus,  then honour  His mother -  Mary!  She is very much worthy of our love and devotion.  What an intimate relationship she had with God! She gave Him  all the baby-care He needed …her Mary’s Son being the Son of God. She who had presented her child to the world at His birth presented Him to the world with generous, courageous love at that moment when Jesus gasped His last breath on the Cross.   Our wonder at the beauty of the Bethlehem Manger should not to be separated from our horrified awe at what took place at the Calvary!  
For  almost  half a century  Popes have seen the need to commence  each  year  with  a WORLD DAY OF PEACE – with each year having its own theme -  throwing its own  emphasis  on the   purpose of the Son of God becoming man, one of us. Surely it was  to  redeem, to bring peace, to  the family of mankind  that had lost its way and was relentlessly pursuing  a path of self-destruction. 
Pope Francis, In choosing  for his theme,  ‘SLAVES NO MORE, BUT BROTHERS AND SISTERS’ intended to startle us. He knew  that many people think that slavery is a thing of the past. ‘In fact,’ he said, ‘this social plague remains all too real in today’s world.’  In a very general sense the Pope sees as enslavement the treatment of anyone as an object of contempt, a thing to be possessed, used and abused according to the convenience and inclination of another.  Wherever there is  inflicted misery that makes life a wretched  experience there is a form of enslavement. 
Central to the Pope’s thinking is the fact that every single one of us originates from God; each of  us is stamped  with the dignity of being made in the image and likeness of God. At a very basic level each of us is a person of dignity deserving to be  to be respected.  Indeed, the Pope sees every form of violence as a kind of replay  of the outrageous way Cain treated his brother Abel. Yet more profoundly he sees it as a replay of the violence inflicted on the one who became the Brother of all Mankind – Brother Jesus, Son of God,  Son of Man.
The Pope expects us to be soul-searching about the way we relate to others. He expects us to be pro-active in alerting   our society to whatever inhumanity is being perpetrated or tolerated. This Message  of  Peace, this rejection of every form of  Enslavement  must be lived and  promoted by all of  us throughout this year, and every year.  The impetus and inspiration that were drawn from our celebration   on the first day of this year must not be shelved out of the way - as have been the decorations and crib figures.
It is a matter of urgency  that throughout the year  all  of us live with the necessary coupling of  the hands-on spirituality of  the World Day of Peace and the radical transforming  spirituality  derived  Mary being  the Mother of God whose Son is the Saviour  of this                                                         GOD- LOVED… NEVER-GOD-FORESAKEN WORLD!

Peter Clarke, OP 

Saturday, 3 January 2015

"THE PLAY'S THE THING...!"


Whenever I see a play on a theatre stage or on a cinema/TV screen it does me good. It opens up my world, it enlightens and enriches my world! Reading a certain type of novel has the same effect on me! It’s not that I’m escaping the ‘real world’ by entering the world of fiction. I find I’m being drawn into, even sharing in the world of other people – their joys, sorrows, successes and failures. I would even go so far as to say that these excursions throw light on my own self, my own world. I identify with the characters when the presentation, the narrative, is convincing. I take sides with my ‘heroes’ and turn against my ‘villains!’
Well do I remember seeing a film in which the hero was killed. From the darkness of the cinema our ears were assaulted with a piercing howl of grief. The poor soul had really become involved with him. No longer was she a passive observer. She’d moved into the realm of audience participation, personal involvement! And I’m not ashamed to admit that a play has so moved me that tears have run down my cheeks.
The Church has long seized the opportunity to harness the power of drama in the presentation of its message. This is one way of showing us how to responds to St. John’s injunction for us to,
“keep alive in you what you heard from the beginning,” (1 Jn. 2. 24).
Christmas-tide had many of us eagerly watching Nativity Plays. Actors were encouraged to ‘get inside' the characters they were playing –as Mary or Joseph, the shepherds or magi. They were challenged to ‘play out’ the way they would have reacted if they had been present when Jesus was born.
The marvel is that such drama helps not only the actors, but also the audience, to enter the mysteries of our salvation. This approach can also bring the Sacred Scriptures alive for us, if we make the effort to identify with the various characters in the Drama of Salvation as it unfolds in the Bible.
We can say much the same about the way we celebrate the Sacred Liturgy.
In a unique way this makes present to us the drama of our personal salvation. At Christmas we not only celebrate the birthday of our Saviour, but our own birthdays as the children of God, whom Jesus came to save. With Jesus becoming alive as a member of the Family of Man, we become alive in the Family of God. Each Christmas celebration should renew our life as the children of God and followers of Christ. Entering into the spirit of Christmas should mean allowing the drama of the birth of Jesus to re-shape the way we live. We should not remain passive, detached observers.
Our celebration of each of the great feasts marks events in the drama of our salvation. At the Epiphany we should identify with the Magi as they rejoiced at the salvation Jesus offered the pagan world. With increasing wonder we should make Jesus ever more welcome in our lives. More than this, the Epiphany should become so much a part of us that we become ‘Living Epiphanies’ radiating the glory of God. This should be our approach as we celebrate the great Solemnities of the Liturgical Year as well as the message within the ordinariness of Ordinary Time.
Remember how this reflection began with our allowing ourselves to be seized by the drama of the stage, the screen, the written word? Do we want our celebration of the liturgical drama to draw us into the Mysteries of the Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus? Do we want this to melt us, mould us into the People Jesus means us to be? Bring about a dramatic change, improvement, in ourselves???
Or do we remain distant, semi-detached onlookers, who enjoy celebrating the liturgy –providing it doesn’t mean any radical, inconvenient changes to the way we live? Indifference to the drama of salvation is a kind of rejection. We should be asking ourselves these serious questions.

 Isidore O.P.
 

Sunday, 21 December 2014

TO SEE THE FACE OF GOD!


I saw them only  a few days ago. Daddy was holding his infant child close his chest and Mummy was gazing at the two of them.  Their three pairs of twinkling eyes spoke the language of love, so innocent, so joyful, so uncomplicated. Eyes were speaking to eyes, hearts to hearts, as they shared peace with each other.  Nothing needed to be said, nothing needed to be done.    That precious moment  was  its own perfection,  its own  fulfillment, with even a glimmer of eternity.                                                                                                                                    

As my eyes rested on the ‘love circle’ of this young family  the  phrase, taken from the musical “Les Miserables,’ ‘TO LOVE ANOTHER PERSON IS TO SEE THE FACE OF GOD’ ()  for  me assumed  a life of its own….GOD IS LOVE…nothing more, nothing less,  GOD IS LOVE (1 Jn. 4.8)…LOVE - AN OUT-POURING OF SELF into the very being of another; to be loved is TO TAKE UNTO ONESELF a tidal-wave of love surging towards us from another. It is the wondrous being  together with each other, for each other. 

What I have just described probably takes place a million-fold, every moment of every day.  As I put together these few thoughts  for you  I have before me the simplest of Nativity scenes depicting Mary and Joseph gazing lovingly at the infant Jesus, and He gazing lovingly at them.                                       

St. John, the person described as the ‘Disciple Jesus Loved,’ wrote  Something which has existed since the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our own eyes, which we have watched and touched with our own hands, the Word of life -- this is our theme.  That life was made visible; we saw it and are giving our testimony, declaring to you the eternal life, which was present to the Father and has been revealed to us.3 We   are declaring to you what we have seen and heard, so that you too may share our life. Our life is shared with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ, ’(1 Jn.1.1).                                                                                                                                                     
In other words, after Jesus had risen from the dead and had appeared to the disciples John was given the Faith to believe that he had actually come into immediate contact with God  whenever  he had encountered Jesus. For John this was the awesome, literal truth.                                                               
St. Paul in his Letter to the Colossians helps us to understand how this could be so, ‘In Christ, in bodily form, lives divinity in all its fullness, in Him you too find your own fulfilment,’ (Col. 2.9). From this we must conclude that even the most minute, most insignificant, gesture of Jesus from the moment He was conceived in the womb of Mary, was of infinite divine  worth, because it was performed by the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity – the Son of God, the Son of Mary.                                                                                                                                                    Mary and Joseph, from the moment they responded to the message of the Archangel Gabriel, would have believed everything I have just described to you. This was what the birth of Jesus meant to them and everything they did for Jesus, everything Jesus did with them, for them. I dare to suggest that it must have taken a special grace from God that their  hearts did not burst at the joyful immensity of what they were experiencing in parenting Jesus.                                                                    

Can you believe me when I tell you I am emotionally and spiritually exhausted after composing this reflection.   I simply need to gaze at, gaze into, the beautiful Nativity picture I have before me and allow it to speak to me and to engulf  me.
My brother Isidore OP  and I send you this Christmas Message, with our love and blessing.

Peter Clarke, O.P.

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.

 
 

 
 

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
 

 
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