Thursday, 26 February 2015

THE WOMEN ON THE WAY OF THE CROSS


The Way of the Cross – towards Calvary; The Stations of the Cross – Significant  Moments on the Journey; the  Via Dolorosa  - the Anguishing Journey
It was a harsh masculine world that clamoured for the death of Jesus, judged him to be guilty; and treated His body with barbarous cruelty. And yet Into this same awfulness were injected moments of  tenderness and compassion  flowing from the hearts of women. I describe them as ‘Women on the Way…Mary – His Mother, Veronica and the Daughters of Jerusalem.   Isaiah  prophesied  how  Jesus would appear to these women:
Is 53   He had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.
Surely you would agree  nothing surpasses the beauty a mother  lovingly gazing at  her precious  infant…flesh of flesh, her most intimate of companions for  nine months.  The joy of Mary must have been uniquely sublime, even divine when Jesus smiled at her...Her Son was the Son of God! I’m now thinking of  Mary, some thirty years later meeting  her Son   battered, bruised, bleeding, rejected, nailed to a cross. Their  eyes met……..I can’t finish sentence ….I’m weeping as I type this!
What of   St. Veronica?  The beauty about her is that there is no clear evidence that there ever was a woman in the crowd who was so distressed at seeing  Jesus smeared with blood, sweat, spittle and dust that she wiped His face and that its imprint remained on the piece of cloth.   The tradition relating to Veronica would have us believe that  her sensitive kindness  was the sort of thing that should have happened…no matter  who did it. How fitting it would have been that in the jostling crowd there was someone who  cared enough to wipe the face of Jesus. He who was engulfed with bullying hatred  experienced love…at a time when He most needed it. What was said of Veronica then says so much to us now about   the richness of seemingly insignificant acts of  kindness and consideration, acts that spring from the heart.
I can’t help feeling it’s shocking, terrible, if  we ever allow ourselves to be so occupied  getting important things done that it doesn’t occur to us to allow time for tokens of love – the kind word, the hug, the brief   prayer.                                                                                                                                            The ‘Veronicas of this world’ – be they men or women or even little children  are obscure, unsung heroes . Did we but know  it, we are surrounded by people starved of love.  Indeed, a time may come when   we  ourselves yearn there be someone who shows us a little kindness.

And lastly  there are those  ‘Fringe Followers’ of Jesus within the noisy crowd  accompanying  Him towards Calvary.  These are the weeping ‘Daughters of Jerusalem,’   who, like Mary, were heart-broken at the very sight of Jesus. For a brief moment  Jesus was at the very centre of a ‘Love Circle of   Pain.’  With their love-filled tears the women consoled Jesus;  with His tender words Jesus consoled the women  in their  present distress and grieved over  the tribulation that the future held for them.
  
These Mary, Veronica, and these  ‘Women on the Way’  are now teaching me the immeasurable importance of our being  SIMPLY THERE WITH PEOPLE, THERE FOR PEOPLE at times when all we have to offer them is our loving support.                                                                                                                                                                                       
Peter Clarke, OP

Thursday, 12 February 2015

FOR WANT OF AN ANCHOR!



Sheer Paradise! For this exotic creature reclining on her inflatable mattress floating in the smooth waters of the Caribbean. Was it her delicious rum punch, together the gently rocking waves, that had lulled her to sleep? What an alarming awakening for her to find herself surrounded by water with no land on the horizon! Never had it occurred to her that the gentle breeze and hidden current might carry her far from shore. Happily, a passing schooner was the answer to her frightened prayers.
At this point well might you ask what spirituality, what preaching-point, could this priest conjure up from this maiden in distress? There she was, having drifted out of her comfort-zone close to shore into uncertainties of the waves and the winds of the open seas. In a kind of a way I myself am feeling ‘all at sea,’ but I must hasten to add that I’m far better placed than she was. In my present insecurity I’m grasping, holding onto, what is solid and inspires me with confidence- even hope. I have my anchorage amidst the tossing and turning waves of life. 
These past few years have been most baffling and confusing to me, even threatening. The world to which I’d become accustomed has been developing, progressing, along a trajectory that could no way have been easily foreseen, planned and accepted. I’m not thinking of all those spectacular advances in technology. For me many of these are cause for rejoicing.
I’m apprehensive as I’ve witnessed rock-solid traditional values being eroded into shifting sands. Long past is the age of the certainties with which I was brought up! Then my parents and teachers had no doubts about what was good behaviour and what was bad. Society had set the tone. No-one who deviated from its customs and conventions could presume the right to live according to what is cutely described as an ‘Alternative lifestyle.’ 
What used to be accepted as ‘Absolutely Correct’ standards of behaviour is being replaced by a lifestyle of recent invention (dare I call it a monster? ) that is idolized as being ‘Politically Correct.’ This is a creature that is able to re-invent itself according to times and circumstances…with the many being expected to conform to the opinionated few.
As something of a loner I have to insist that that there are non-negotiable, God-given, standards for human conduct. And yet I’m no hard-crusted, legalist, who plucks out of well-worn manuals of moral theology slick solutions for real-life, flesh and blood, crises of conscience. Pope Francis has surely brought home to us that there is such a thing as Christ-like pastoral sensitivity and compassion. 
A wholesome sign of the times is that as never before people are insisting upon their need for emotional fulfillment in personal relationships. And yet I’m bewildered, I feel threatened, by the raucous clamour for rights to this or that. I’m appalled at the determined smothering of any mention of duties and responsibilities. In all this confusion Pilate might query, ‘What is truth?’ He’d get the jeering reply that it exists no more. I hear the unsung chorus ‘I do my own thing-my way. You, and you, and you can all do your own thing, your way. I won’t get in your way. You keep out of my way!’ 
Before us is a cocktail of mixed messages! Pity the parent, pity the school teacher, attempting to prepare youngsters for life in this world of confusion galore! Pity the maturing youngster striving to weave a way between being told one thing by one adult and hearing the very opposite from someone else. We live in a muddle of opinions – all voiced with the force of convictions.
Would not today’s adolescent and maturing adult, easily identify with the hapless girl adrift on heaving high seas – perilously floundering with nothing secure to grasp? 
I put it to you that survival through all this can be found within a symbol of hope and security taken from the early days of Christianity: THE ANCHOR! With its crossbar it reminds us of the cross on which Jesus saved mankind. The inspiration for this symbolism must have been taken from the Letter to the Hebrews (6:18-19): "Hold fast to the hope set before us which we have as ANCHOR FOR THE SOUL." 
Christ is my Way, my Truth, my Life, my Anchor. He speaks through His Church. While the girl on the drifting mattress was downcast, I, in the Church, am upbeat! 

Peter Clarke OP





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.
 
 
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