Tuesday, 25 April 2017

THE RISEN LORD IS WITH YOU


Some years ago a friend greeted me when I was on a train journey.   That came as a surprise, because I hadn’t expected to see him there.   In fact, although I was sitting  next to him I didn’t recognised him.  And even when he greeted me, I found it difficult to put a name to his familiar face.   My problem was that I didn’t expect him to be on my train, making the same journey as me.  My imagination couldn’t make the leap to recognise him in an unexpected situation.   I expect most of you have had a similar experience.

That’s something like what happened to the disciples on the road to Emmaus.    Jesus was the last person they expected to meet.  After all, everyone knew that he’d just been crucified and then buried.   With His death all the hope they’d placed in Him had been shattered.   They were desolate!   

When the risen Lord joined them as they sadly talked about Him they didn’t recognise Him, partly because they didn’t expect to see Him.    They didn’t realise who it was who explained that the Scriptures foretold that He must suffer and die, and that He would rise from the grave.   They only recognise Him at the end of the journey, when the risen Lord, shared a meal with them and broke bread in a familiar way.
Luke recorded this graphic account of the risen Lord’s appearance to help convince us that He did not abandon us when He ascended to heaven.   We have two sceptical witnesses who became convinced that the Lord had truly risen.   They hastened to share this wonderful news the disciples.  That sums up the mission of the Church and of each of us.   

This episode is meant to reassure us that Jesus is now with us in new ways.   He speaks to our minds and hearts through the Scriptures.   As the two disciples recognised Jesus in the breaking of bread, we are reminded that we meet him in the sacramental life of the Church –especially in the Eucharist.   Finally, this episode tells us that our crucified and risen Lord accompanies us as we journey through life, just as He did the disciples on the road to Emmaus.
But throughout this account of Christ’s resurrection appearance there’s the problem of recognising Him.   That requires both God’s gift of faith and also our openness to the unexpected.    We need to realise that the Word of God Himself speaks to us personally through the written text of the Scriptures.   And when we receive the sacraments we must look beyond the physical appearance of, say, bread, wine, water and words, and make the leap of faith to believe that we meet Jesus Himself, approaching us to help us in our different needs. 

Finally, we meet Jesus in the people we encounter in our journey through life.   Some may be easy to recognise as being really Christ-like.  But it may be much hard to recognise Jesus, as He identifies with the needy, the despised and rejected in society.  Today’s Gospel reminds us that we need great sensitivity to appreciate Christ who is already in our midst in so many ways.  We can so easily miss Him!
 Isidore O.P.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

EASTER HOPE


The death of Jesus on the cross brought desolation,   despair, a  sense of loss to those who had loved and admired Him. The disciples on the road to Emmaus spoke for all of them, “Our hope had been that He would be the one to set Israel free,” (Lk.24.21).   


Joyfully the Easter  Liturgy  has celebrated  His Resurrection. However, before any such joy there were some dreadful moments, such  as when the closest of His friends found His  tomb to be empty.  Losing a loved one, then losing His body – undoubtedly here a sense  of   emptiness and hopelessness.

It is into this emptiness that the risen Jesus begins  to  pour FAITH – belief  that He, thought to be a disappointing failure, was, in fact,  a triumphant hero. 

Upon this Faith Foundation Jesus builds   HOPE – confidence of  their lives being once more built around Jesus; once more it would be possible to have expectations of Jesus.

 From the  first day of the week following His  crucifixion Jesus appeared to His friends  with greetings such as, “Be not afraid, peace be with you, give me some food, look at my wounds,   even touch them, I’m not a ghost!”

 On these occasions they overcame their doubts as they received the GIFT OF FAITH  so as  to  believe that  Jesus  had, indeed, achieved what He came to do – conquer sin and death  and then  pass into Glory.

 What is more, by His resurrection from the dead Jesus had  extracted hope out of the ashes of despair.      This GIFT OF HOPE  answered the question,     “How does this  personal triumph of Jesus  affect us?”  

Interesting that the first person to be assured of a future with Jesus was the thief hanging on cross next to Him!   "In truth I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise,” (Lk23.43).

 As for ourselves, we can take to ourselves what  Jesus said to Martha, “I am the Resurrection. Anyone who believes in me, even though that person dies, will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die,” (Jn.11.25).

What better could we hope for?

Peter Clarke, O.P. 


Friday, 14 April 2017

"THE LIGHT OF CHRIST!"



What drama the Paschal -Easter -Vigil!  On Good Friday, we, with the Crucified Christ, were plunged into the darkness of death. On Holy Saturday we remained grieving for Jesus and for our deceased loved ones.

Then, at dusk, the liturgy of the Paschal Vigil begins. Outside the church a fire is lit, signifying the spark of new life.  The Paschal Candle –representing the risen Lord - is lit from the fire.

Triumphantly the deacon holds aloft the Paschal Candle and leads us into the darkened church.   Three times he halts and sings, “The Light of Christ!” All reply, “Thanks be to God!”  At the first pause those within this procession light their candles from the Paschal Candle; at the second pause the candles of the congregation are lit from those in the procession; at the last pause the candles in the sanctuary are lit and all the church lights are switched on. 

Every detail of this drama proclaims the risen Lord’s victory over the darkness of sin and death.  He is, indeed, the Light of the World, whom the Darkness of Evil could not overcome.

Spreading light  from the solitary flame of the Paschal Candle to the remotest corners of the church expresses the missionary work of the Church -to hand on the light of Faith, the light of Life, which we have received from the risen Lord,  drawing people into the Paschal mystery of His death and resurrection. 

We hand on what we have received -that’s what ‘tradition’ is all about! As we process through the darkness and holding our candles the Pilgrim Church brings the light of the risen Lord to the world.  With Christ, we have become lights to the world.  The light we shed is derived from Him, not from ourselves.

Addressing the Paschal Candle of the Risen Lord, the deacon then sings the ‘Exultet.’  This proclaims the triumph of light over darkness, firstly, as God created the universe, and then the renewal of creation through the Paschal mystery. In the prologue to his Gospel John unites these two themes, as he declares the creative Word as being the light shining in the darkness, which could neither understand nor overcome the light. 

The ‘Exultet’ then outlines salvation history, with the emphasis on God delivering His people by night from slavery in Egypt, and leading them by the pillar of fire into the Promised Land.  Through Jesus the light of the risen Lord has led us in a new Exodus from the darkness of sin to the light of life as the children of God.

The Paschal Mystery is then linked to our baptism.  As the Paschal Candle is plunged into the font, and the water is blessed, the font becomes both the tomb and womb for the children of God.  Through baptism we die with Christ to sin and rise with Him to new life. 
At our baptisms we are entrusted with a candle lit from the Paschal Candle and urged to keep it shining throughout our lives.  We become children of the light and at the Vigil renew our baptismal commitment to walk in the light of Christ and reject the ways of darkness. This is the most appropriate time to be baptised.

The celebration of the light of the Paschal Vigil is concluded when all the bells are rung and we sing the ‘Gloria.’ -a joyful celebration of the dawn of the bright new Day of the Risen Lord!

The Paschal Vigil uses the deeply symbolic imagery of light, darkness, fire and water, accompanied by inspiring words, to express the mystery of salvation through Christ’s death and resurrection.    It is a very dramatic celebration.  Sadly,  some consider this to be less important than Christmas midnight Mass.

Isidore Clarke O.P.

Monday, 27 March 2017

"I AM THE RESURRECTION " (John 11..20-27)



Martha was heart-broken that her brother, Lazarus, had died; relieved that Jesus had turned up to share her tears; disappointed in Jesus, she complained,Lord, if you had been here  my  brother  would not have died.”  But she had a well-founded faith in Him, “Even now I know that God will grant whatsoever you ask Him.”  It was common knowledge that Jesus had the power to heal the sick and even to raise the dead to life.
Martha was scarcely comforted when Jesus reassured her that  her brother would rise again.  “I know he will rise again - at the resurrection on the Last Day." This dissatisfaction of Martha gave Jesus the opening to raise the level of the conversation. I am the resurrection. Anyone who believes in me, even though that person dies, will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” Hearing this Martha must have been baffled. But this in no way lessened her trust in Jesus, who asked her, “Do you believe this?  'Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who was to come into this world.

Martha and her sister had the great privilege of seeing their deceased brother Lazarus being raised to life. They would have known that this was bound to be no more than a bonus of yet a few more years of life inevitably to be followed by death, mourning yet again. 

They could not know that Jesus, through His own death on a cross, would conquer the destructive, disintegrating and corrupting impact death has on our fragile, mortal humanity. Only in the light of meeting the risen Lord were His followers able to believe that through His death and resurrection Jesus had won for Himself a divinely glorious existence in the fullness of His humanity, body and soul.

 Our crucified and risen Lord would achieve this for the whole of humanity to which He was bonded through His being truly God and truly man. Together with Jesus we are one Body – with His being the Head. Our God-given destiny is fused into His.

St. Paul wrote, “When we were baptized into Christ Jesus, we were baptized into his death… If we have been joined to Him by dying a death like His, so we shall be by a resurrection like His,” (Rom. 6.3).                      We are able to make our own the excitement St. Paul imparted to the Corinthians, “Death is swallowed up in victory. Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting? … Thank God, then, for giving us the victory?” (1Cor.15.55).

And St. Paul wrote this to the Thessalonians, “We want you to be quite certain, brothers, about those who have fallen asleep, to make sure that you do not grieve for them, as others do who have no hope.                          We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and that in the same way God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus,”                (I Thess.4.13).


Even before He died Jesus made it known to Martha that He   was the Resurrection!      As we Christians are intent on celebrating  liturgically  the dying and rising that occurred nearly two thousand years ago  Jesus now asks us what He asked Martha,                             
"Do you believe this?"
                              
Now some soul-searching for ourselves, ‘To what extent is this belief influencing the way we live and our expectations for our eternal future?
Have a blessed, hope-filled Easter!
Peter Clarke, O.P.





Friday, 17 March 2017

GIVING AND RECEIVING

The 5th Station of the Cross means something very special to me, at the moment.  As I’m recovering from a serious illness I’m still very weak and depend on the help of carers.   This could be humiliating, when we all want to be able stand on our own feet; we wrongly think we are self-sufficient.

But then I gaze at the 5th Station of the Cross and see the Son of God crushed by the burden of the cross.  He who had come to serve, not be served, needed the help of Simon of Cyrene, literally, to help Him back onto His feet.  He needed Simon to help Him carry His cross -to complete the journey to Calvary and there save the world from the power of evil.

The Suffering Servant of the Lord was not too proud to accept the service of a stranger, forced to help Him in making His way to Calvary, where He would fulfil the mission given Him by His Heavenly Father.   Jesus didn’t show resentment and insist that He could manage by Himself.  He knew He needed Simon’s assistance.

In the 5th Station of the Cross there’s a meeting between Simon of Cyrene giving Jesus a helping hand and Jesus welcoming that support – a meeting between giving and receiving, serving and being served.   In the picture, I’ve chosen there’s a meeting of eyes; Simon looks at Jesus with compassion, Jesus looks at Simon with gratitude.

That has made me realise that Jesus needed and welcomed help throughout His life  -most obviously as a baby and child, but also as an adult.  That's part of being human.  Responding to each other's needs draws us together as families and communities. It's not a sign of weakness, but of collective strength. So, being as human as the rest of us, Jesus sought water from the Samaritan woman when He was tired and thirsty.   His mission depended on a back-up supply chain of supporters. He welcomed and needed friends -Martha, Mary, Lazarus.  In Gethsemane He wanted the moral support and prayers of Peter, James and John.   As He died on the cross the support of His Mother, a few women and the Good Thief must have meant so much to Him. 

Never did Jesus refuse the offer of help.  He did not reject the enthusiastic expression of penitent love, expressed by the woman who washed His feet with her tears and dried them with her hair.  

If Jesus has taught me that true greatness lies in lovingly, generously serving others, He’s also shown me, through the 5th Station of the Cross, that graciously accepting their care is not degrading.   As we follow Jesus on the Way of the Cross we need Him, acting through people like Simon of Cyrene, to help us carry our heavy burdens.  

I have found that if I’m treated with respect I don’t lose my dignity in being helped, even in my most basic needs. But when Jesus insisted on washing Peter’s feet He taught him and us two things.  Firstly, we must humbly serve each other, and secondly, we must allow other people to serve us, without our losing our dignity.  Before being ready to give, we need to feel what it’s like to be on the receiving end.

In this 5th Station Jesus and Simon of Cyrene have taught me, and I hope you, the dignity of giving and receiving, serving and being served -both with love and respect.

 Isidore O.P.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

REDEMPTIVE SUFFERING


  "Redemptive Suffering!" Surely a title likely to make us furious!   It seems to suggest that suffering is good for us. For most of us suffering is seen to be something evil, something to avoid. If not, why doctors! We do our utmost to bring it to an end.  And so did Jesus.  He lived, died and rose from the grave to banish suffering! 

In a remarkable Encyclical, entitled, ‘Salvifici Doloris’ – ‘Redemptive Suffering’  -Pope John Paul II tackled the never-ending problem of evil. He stressed the central part the Cross of Jesus played in its defeat. This is not a question of abstract theorising, but of our personal survival, as we try to cope with suffering.

The Pope certainly knew what he was talking about!  His homeland had been occupied by communist rule. An assassin’s bullet had seriously wounded him. In trying to make sense, not only of his personal suffering, but that of the world, the Pope wrote, not only from the head, but from the heart.

In the face of suffering we instinctively ask, ‘Why?’ Jesus, our redeemer, doesn’t answer the question with words, but through His own suffering.    Through His Passion the very instrument of death becomes the way to eternal life.  The crucified Christ was not victorious in spite of His pain, but through His suffering and death.  

This anguish only had value because it was freely chosen as God’s deepest expression of His love for us.   Paul tells, ‘But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us...For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved  by his life,’ [Rom 5:8, 10].   By freely accepting the suffering of the cross Jesus expressed His love, not only for His Heavenly Father, but also for the human race.  Through the love shown in accepting the pain of the cross, Jesus has  made our peace with God.  The suffering of Christ has become redemptive, the means to our salvation!

In a telling sentence the Pope then says, ‘In the cross of Christ not only is the redemption accomplished through suffering, but also human suffering is itself redeemed,’ ( para. 19 ). In our pain we can identify with the crucified Christ, and He with us.  With Christ we can become living, loving sacrifices freely offered to the Father for the salvation of the world.  For Christ and for us the cross becomes the way to the glory of the resurrection. Our suffering is now given a positive value.  It becomes redemptive.   With Jesus we can generously offer ourselves to God for the salvation of the world.

Paul writes, ‘I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church,’ [Col. 1:24].  Not that Christ failed to do sufficient to save us, but the whole Church must become Christ-like in His Passion if she is to share in His glorious resurrection. St. Paul wrote, by our baptism into His death we were buried with Him, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father's glorious power, we too should begin living a new life,” (Rom.6.4)

Pope John Paul’s concludes this encyclical magnificently, ‘Christ does not explain in the abstract the reasons for suffering, but before all else he says, ‘Follow me!’  Come take part through your suffering in the work of saving the world, a salvation achieved through my suffering!  Through my cross…The Gospel of suffering is being written unceasingly, and it speaks unceasingly with the words of this strange paradox: the springs of divine power gush forth precisely in the midst of human weakness.  Those who share in the suffering of Christ preserve in their own sufferings a very special particle of the infinite treasure of the world’s Redemption, and can share this treasure with others,’ ( 26-27 ).

Isidore Clarke O.P. 

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

PREPARING FOR GOOD FRIDAY

“FOR THE SAKE OF THE JOY WHICH LAY AHEAD
 HE ENDURED THE CROSS,” (Hebr. 12.5)



What a ghastly day, what a terrible day - the day on which Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Son of Mary, died on Calvary!  And yet we name this, ‘Good Friday!’ – but not  because we see it as being pleasant, enjoyable.

For us this day is the most sacred of all days! From the Cross of Jesus flowed a quality of  love that only could proceed from Almighty God.

Perhaps, even more amazing, this same incomparable love flowed  from a human heart – that of the Son of Mary, Jesus, a member of the family of mankind - our brother.   “While St. Paul wrote, “If I am without love I am nothing,” (Cor.13.2.) Jesus, speaking of His impending Passion, exclaimed, “No-one can have a greater love than to lay down His life for his friends,” (Jn.15.13).

In the divine person of Jesus sacrificial love surpassed all human limitations. “In Him, in bodily form, lives divinity in all its fullness. And in Him you too find your own fulfi lment a And in Him you too find your own fulfillment,” (Col.2.9). Jesus Himself made clear that we would only find our fulfillment by our sharing in His own sacrificial love. “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me,” (Mk.8.34).

The implications of this are daunting.  Jesus   was terrified at the very thought of what He was to undergo.  In Luke’s account of the Agony in the Garden we read, “Jesus knelt down and prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me. Nevertheless, let your will be done, not mine….In His anguish He prayed even more earnestly, and His sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood,” (Lk.22.42).

Especially on Good Friday  it’s uplifting for us to be able to see that what God asks of us is often a way of life that amounts to sacrificial love for others. It is then Jesus calls us to allow our lives to be reshaped for their  sakes. We shall then have  answered this call of Jesus to die to a life of  self-centred individualism. In so doing we shall have acquired something of the mind of Christ. We shall have become Christ-like.

Unobtrusively, countless people like you and me day after day respond to the needs of others -generously, willingly, lovingly - in the home, the work-place, within the community. What a wonderful Good Friday grace it is for us to be deeply conscious that we are actually carrying our crosses, side by side with Jesus carrying His cross.

Like Jesus we are then doing what our Heavenly Father is asking of us –not, however, without a measure of self-pity and grumbling.

Nothing unusual is being asked of us. This came home to me on the day I was taking Holy Communion to a young mother in Grenada. She was lying paralyzed on her bed. Her little son was sitting silently holding her hand. His wonderful love for her moved him to forego the joy of playing   football  with his noisy friends outside.
It was my privilege to see his sublime sacrificial love.

As for Jesus, the love-filled joy He felt in laying down His life for us far out-weighed the agony He was to experience in His Passion. He rejoiced that through His sacrificial love He would bring us ‘the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life ever-lasting.’
In this was brotherly love beyond compare!

The Letter to the Hebrews would have us identify with Jesus in His sacrificial love of that first Good Friday, “Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection: FOR THE SAKE OF THE JOY WHICH LAY AHEAD OF HIM, He endured the cross, disregarding the shame of it, and has taken His seat at the right of God's throne,” (Heb. 12.5).

Good Friday teaches us there is joy to be found precisely in the stress and strain of our making sacrifices for others. It is then that we share in Jesus’ greatest of all loving – His self-giving for the well-being of mankind.

I wish you and yours an abundance of  Lenten Easter Blessings.

Peter Clarke, O.P.

 
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