Wednesday, 16 August 2017

RISING EARLY IN THE MORNING


  Today I’m going to reflect on why the early morning is the best time of the day for me.  Hopefully this will say something to you.
Some people can leap out of bed at the last moment and spring into action.   Not me! That’s too violent.  I need to surface gradually, early in the morning.   That, for me is the most peaceful time of the day, before the hectic bustle of life begins.
That was especially true when I was working in the W. Indies. After being woken at sunrise by a cacophonous chorus of donkeys I would get out of bed and make myself a mug of coffee, sit down and prepare myself to say Mass.  Early in the morning is the coolest, the freshest time of the day, in a tropical climate.
The same was true when I returned to England and worked at a large conference centre in the countryside.  I would rise early and make myself a mug of coffee and wander across the fields.   On one occasion some scouts were camping on our land.   They were still tucked up in their sleeping bags.   It was so peaceful to see their silent tents.  Soon, I knew, the lads would be up, busily lighting the camp fire, cooking and eating breakfast.   Soon they would be rushing around in their busy noisy activities.   But not yet.  For now peace, stillness and quiet.  For me it was a wonderful start to a busy day.
As I walked along the banks of the canal  the rising sun burnt off the mist and I saw a moored barge. Again no-one was yet up.   Not even the family dog.  There was a wonderful mystical, misty stillness and quiet.  Everyone was still asleep.   Although I value and need company, this time of quiet, this peaceful solitude before the hurly-burley of the day was precious.    Not just precious, but necessary…for me, at least!
Some people argue that we Dominicans should be in the towns and cities, among the people.  Certainly I agree with that.  But we who were working in a countryside conference centre found that people in the cities needed to come to us for a break.   They needed physical, emotional and spiritual space.   They needed to be still and quite and have time to sit and watch the rabbits and hear the birds.   They needed to stop and listen to God. They even needed get away from their busy, noisy lives to hear and be nourished by the conferences we provided! They couldn’t do any of that while hurtling along a busy road, with the radio blasting away! 
In our busy, noisy world there’s an increasing need for periods of stillness and quietness, to give us quality time for God, each other and for ourselves. Could be, that we’d be less irritable when we arrived at our work-places if we came from a contented rather than quarrelsome home.  We need to make time to relax and unwind emotionally and spiritually.   That’s why holiday’s are so important.  Hopefully, they will not  be just recreational but also re-creational.  Let’s admit it, we might be doing others  a favour if we cleared off and took a holiday. It’s more than likely we’d be less ‘on edge’  (please  God!)  when we returned.
I’m sure family life and our relationship with God would be greatly improved if we made special time when we all switched off our mobiles and computers, were still and listened to God and to each other.   That’s why God urges us, through the psalmist,
Be still, and know that I am God!”  (Ps. 46.10).
P.S.                 Have you ever met a person who can’t cope with total silence  -no loud music, no  mobiles. Is that person you?

Isidore O.P.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Bodily into Eternity – The Assumption of Mary.


In 1950 Pope Pius XII declared 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 the feminine bodiliness of her humanity. The Preface of the Solemnity proclaims 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. 

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.
Jesus gave great glory to his heavenly Father in and through the humanity that He had received from His mother. In His so doing Jesus was Himself supremely glorious in the fullness of  His humanity - body, together with soul.

 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 realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you and whom you received from God? You are not your own property, then; you have been bought at a price. So use your body for the glory of God,' (1 Cor. 6. 19).

 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 are regarded as sex objects, and even consider themselves no better than this - devoid of dignity as human persons. Is not human parenting also being debased with genetic engineering, in vitro fertilizations, and cloning which are paraded as clever and acceptable substitutes or replacements for the two-in-one-flesh coupling of spouses who are bonded together in love?  

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 deprives the frail and sickly of easily available life-saving medicines?

Contemplation of the Assumption of Mary should convince us that upon this canvas of contempt for the bodiliness of each human being we Christians must paint a message of beauty and of hope, one that inspires and one that cherishes, one that respects and safeguards, one that loves the human body here and now, and reaches out into eternity.

Peter Clarke, op

Saturday, 5 August 2017

CARNIVAL, CROP-OVER,CULTURE

                                                                       
Many of the islands of the Caribbean celebrate Carnival at some time in the year..  The Carnival festival that was a prelude to the penitential season of Lent was transported to the Caribbean by the European slave traders. They excluded the African slaves from the festival and had lavish masquerade balls. On emancipation the freed African slaves of the Caribbean transformed the European festival forever into a celebration of the end of slavery.
Barbadians had their Crop-over to mark the cutting of the last stick of sugar cane. In those days this opportunity for care-free enjoyment signified a kind of short-lived emancipation or liberation from enforced toil.

Nowadays Caribbean people make the most of these events as being a release from life’s dull routine. This unique expression of Caribbean culture has now become a spectacular tourist attraction.
 In many ways there is a shared history and culture of the several Caribbean territories. And yet there are variations of the same theme – thereby giving to each its own identity and culture. This will embrace the whole ‘lived-in’ environment of a people of a particular locality – shaped and handed down by a succession of generations, adapted to meet the needs, the tastes of the present moment; attuned to what   suited it, worked for it.
So much to do with culture concerns the family. Many alive today have seen a shift from the extended family to the nuclear family. As never before, the stable, ‘same-address,’ family has become the scattered, diaspora family.

The past fifty years or so have seen an exciting awareness and appreciation of Caribbean creativity in carvings, paintings, literature, theatre, steel pans, calypso, reggae, etc.. Carnival and  Crop-over bring out onto the streets a fantastic creativity of costumes and floats, the total involvement of  dancers, and  the loud beat of the music that carry spectators and participants into ‘one moment in time’ that is out of this world!.

 However, if it were ever true that there is such a thing as a ‘small island mentality’ this no longer holds. As never before, people of the Caribbean are Children of the Universe.    They’re trending towards a Global Culture that touches every aspect of life. I ask you, “To what extent is it still possible, desirable, to hang onto what we used to be and were proud to be?”
For many centuries Christianity has been a presence and a formative influence in the Caribbean and has become a component of its culture. Its role is and always has been to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. He insisted this be proclaimed to the whole of mankind. This single message for all would do well to respect the beautiful variety of local cultures.This global truth is that all mankind originates from God the Creator. He has made all people  His beloved sons or daughters, siblings of one another in the Global Family of God. 
The Son of God, our Saviour, sent into the world by His Heavenly Father, belongs to the whole world. As one human family through Jesus we are all together to share in the fullness of God’s own life.These thoughts should lead us to have a great and godly respect for ourselves and for one another. They should cause us to want God to love and respect the way we live within our own personal and cultural individuality! They should influence the way we conduct ourselves at Carnival, Crop-over and any other activity, in such a way that we glorify God and in so doing we ourselves are glorious in His eyes as we have a glorious time. Were we to take this approach we would ensure peace for ourselves. What a relief that we would be sparing ourselves the remorse, the shame and even the tragedy that is liable to result from undisciplined, uninhibited behaviour.
                         
 Enjoy life! Have fun! With God’s blessing!

Fr. Peter Clarke, OP


Monday, 31 July 2017

EYING AND TYING


EYING AND TYING
 
At the beginning of the 2nd World War Dad joined the Army and Mum withdrew us five young lads from the bombs falling on Birmingham to the safety of the small village of Ilmington - about eight miles from Stratford on Avon.   We lived in a small old cottage, which hadn’t been updated since the days of Shakespeare   - so no, no gas, no electricity.  We small boys had to fetch water from a stand pipe on the main road. In the winter we had to use a kettle of boiling water to thaw it out.   As for illuminating the cottage -that was done with oil lamps.   

 Life was primitive, what with an outside chemical toilet and a long galvanized bath in which we all shared the same water.  By the time the last of us lads had been bathed the water had become rather murky.   I can easily understand how the baby could be thrown out with the bath water!

For mother this life was far from easy and full of anxiety.   There was the very real danger of our losing the war, and like the rest of Europe, living under a repressive invader.   Dad was probably stranded in France.   Would he be rescued; would we ever see him again? We lads were too young to appreciate these dangers.  We were, indeed, blessed that Dad survived all this.

We lads enjoyed the country life of the Cotswolds. Having to ‘rough it’ made it more interesting. This was very different from city life in Birmingham. How we loved to explore the woods and fields, to hurtle down a snow-covered hillside on a large sledge, big enough to hold all of us!  It was exciting searching for the eggs which the hens laid hidden around the farm yard.
We youngsters were recruited to do  our bit to contribute to the war effort.   We competed in growing vegetables in our kitchen garden; we collected blackberries and rose hips, which we sold to a market gardener for a half penny a pound.  Most thrilling  -we village children were piled into the back of a lorry and driven off to a market garden, with fields and glass houses growing tomatoes.
Our task was to pinch out, or ‘eye,’ the unproductive suckers, growing between the plant and the tomato stem.  A most unpleasant  job -our hands would get covered with thick green, smelly sap.  We also had the job of tying the tomato plant to a stake. We were paid 6d an hour to earn what seemed a fortune for us youngsters.  Peter and I hoarded this in our piggy banks. Ten years later our savings paid for the cases which we used when we joined the Dominican Order in 1950.  Sixty seven years later, I still have this relic of my childhood labours, now old and battered, like its owner.
I wouldn’t be telling you all this if it weren’t for our ‘blood-curdling’ drama that has been stamped on our memories all these years.  Eying and tying tomatoes had to take us into the heated, humid large greenhouses.   A pleasant enough place to work  until  Peter, crawling among the tomato plants,  suddenly let out a terrified scream.   He’d disturbed a sleeping adder, or viper, and nearly grabbed this snake, armed with a nasty poisonous bite.    Transfixed, they eye-balled each other.   Immediately our grown-up supervisor dispatched the viper!  Peter was then able to continue his work, shaken but not stirred!
What are we to make of this?  Clearly God was protecting Peter and saving him for life-long Dominican service in the W. Indies.   I also think we should take this incident as a warning.  The old serpent -the devil -is lurking to catch us off our guard and to destroy us with the venom of sin.   We must be on our look out for danger.   Fortunately, God will protect us if we heed His warnings and avoid the dangers.   And if we do get bitten, God can remove the poison of sin through the balm of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Isidore O.P.


Wednesday, 19 July 2017

LOST IN A FOG!


In the midst of nowhere! Nothing to see, to touch, to cling to! In the depth of a fog. Something beautiful, so peaceful; and yet it’s eerie, scary – not knowing where to go because you’re  world’s  nothing but fog. This is no place to stay in forever. I know all about  the urgent  need to escape  such insecurity.

 For me it’s been lonely misery driving – a car along the mountain road in Grenada. No moon-light, only torrential rain, and dense clouds settling on the high-way;  visibility  next to nothing; headlights to be dipped -full beam would have been blindingly reflected into the eyes of the driver. Happy the local drivers who knew by heart every bend and bump of the road. They could be relaxed and confident. Poor me, so tense and timid!. 

What a relief to leave the heights and emerge from the fog and be able look a distance ahead. At last I’ve emerged - relieved, safe and sound. I’ve duly thanked God for giving me a competent Guardian Angel, as well as St. Christopher, to calm my nerves  and bring me safely through this ordeal.   No-one could be blamed, no-one need feel ashamed of their natural anxiety at not being in control, not being certain of what to do next, what would happen next.

Very, very different have been those times, several of them,  when  a dense fog has clouded my brain -causing me bewilderment, confusion, embarrassment…paralyzing  fear.  These have been times of total helplessness. I compare them to the sensation of falling over a cliff with no possibility of being saved! Only in my most disturbing dreams could I imagine what this would   be like.

 You, my readers, would be surprised where and when this has happened to me…in church when I’ve been preaching to a large congregation. .
Without any warning, when my sermon has seemed to be progressing smoothly, my mind has gone totally blank. I don’t know what I’ve just said. I don’t know what I’m about to say. I’ve felt as though I’ve been gutted of my preaching identity.

On one such occasion I asked the altar server what I had just been doing. His reply, “I think you were preaching,” was not very helpful. Nor was his, “don’t know” to my question, “What about?”

I’ve no reason to doubt that what has happened won’t happen again. I don’t support the view that if I and others pray enough God won’t let this be repeated. As I see it, God wants me to be shaken in my self-confidence; He wants me  to find myself suddenly totally insecure, bewildered as someone lost in a dense fog.  God wants me to realize there’s nothing to prevent me from at any time losing my bearings.

 No wonder that before preaching I tell God it’s His sermon. No wonder I fervently beg Him to see me through. No wonder when possible I ask friends entering the church to pray for the preacher.

 I conclude by returning to my moment of great distress. All I could do was confide with the congregation that my mind was rather foggy and that my sermon had ‘escaped from me.’ 

I desperately needed to reassure and stabilize myself and the congregation. What better than recite the Creed together?
Here was something we could all do calmly and confidently.

This being done I then felt on safe ground in requesting that the collection be taken.
 I leave you to speculate on why God has seen it  good for me that He should deflate me now and again.

But as I bow before His greater wisdom, I can and do pray, “Please God, not again!”
 I’d like to think I’ve learned my lesson!

Peter Clarke, O.P.



Saturday, 15 July 2017

WATCH DE BIRDIE.


We priests sure do get some weird requests for prayers!   Keep a straight face? Difficult but necessary!   People come to us desperate! No laughing for them! Difficult for us to stifle our amusement!  They need help; help we must give!  
Recently I told you about the poor chap who came  asking for my prayers. He had a good Grenadian accent -before being thrown into the local river.  Surprise! Surprise! He surfaced with a posh accent.  His mates ridiculed him; he felt an outsider.  He came seeking my prayers that he be cured of his posh accent!
Then there was the old man who came to my brother, Peter, desperate in his need for prayers.   He’d been sitting under a tree, ‘chilling out’ with a cool beer in the noon day heat, doing harm to neither man nor beast. 
But to his horror his peace was shattered when he heard a loud screech.  There in the branches above him  was  a bird of prey, known in Grenada as a ‘chicken hawk.’ In reality -small; to him, at that moment–enormous, threatening! A predator with a mean, hungry, malicious look in its eye.   Terrified, he feared the chicken hawk would swoop down, seize him, carry him off and devour him.  So, he hastened to Peter and asked him to pray for his deliverance and protection.           
So, what are we to make of these amusing and bizarre requests for prayers. I think the best approach is for us to try to put ourselves into the shoes of our Heavenly Father, the most perfect of parents.  Always He listens loving and patiently. Though our fears may be very real for us, the threat may be fanciful. But God never ridicules and humiliates anyone who comes with a genuine anxiety. Reassurance and peace of mind would answer the prayers of the man scared by the chicken hawk.   God frequently tells us, His children, ‘do not be afraid.’ That would be a parent’s approach in soothing a child, scared by a nightmare.
But sometimes people ask us to pray for something which is wrong -a safe abortion, or the eviction of neighbours of a different racial background.   Then our approach must be to pray together that they will come to see, accept and follow God’s will. Not only must we assure them of God’s support, but of ours, even when we disagree.  If, together, we can pray, “Thy will be done,” we are already getting there. 
Isidore O.P.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

"MY YOKE IS EASY..."


Today I’m going to reflect on the Gospel for 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Matthew 11. 25-30.    This begins with Jesus exclaiming, “I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children.”
What has God hidden from the wise and revealed to little ones? Here Jesus wasn’t just speaking about young boys and girls, but all the poor, the under-privileged, the marginalised and the destitute. And what has God done for them?  
Quite simply, some Jewish religious leaders claimed that to enter Good’s Kingdom people needed a very detailed knowledge not only of the 613 Laws given to Moses, but also the multitude of additional minute precisions made to them.  What is more, they were expected to observe every one of them.  Only religious legal experts could possibly do that.   The majority of people would be dismissed as ignorant sinners and excluded.  
But Jesus tells us that the so-called experts have got it wrong.   He has come to remove the crushing, impossible, burden of so many petty rules and regulations.   To each of us he says, ‘Come to me all you who labour and over-burdened, and I will give you rest.”   Jesus offers those, who would be dismissed as ignorant and unimportant, freedom from trying to carry such an impossible burden; now they -we -can rest in the Lord, in a happiness which had seemed impossibly.
But Jesus goes on to say, ‘My yoke is easy, my burden light.’   That removes any complacency we may feel.   We can’t yet sit back and relax.   Following Christ is demanding and at times difficult.   But the demands are not meticulous observance of petty man-made regulations, but something far more serious.   That is the command to love God above all else, and our neighbour as ourselves.   The command to love covers everything that really matters.  It touches every corner of our lives.   Laws are only good in so far as they protect and foster real love.
And what about the yoke Christ mentions in this Gospel?    Well, as you probably know, a yoke is a piece of wood, shaped to rest comfortably on the shoulders. Loads are attached to each end and are easy to carry because their weight is spread.  The point is that we must carry our crosses and follow Christ on the difficult journey of love, if we are to find the eternal rest which He promises.  But Jesus here tells us that with His help we can carry the weight of our crosses.  He can transform carrying our burdens into labours of love.  We couldn’t begin to do that without Him.  But, with His assistance we can do what would be humanly impossible.
There’s a tradition that, as the son of Joseph the carpenter, Jesus would have known how to make a well fitting, comfortable yoke, custom-designed to fit each one of us.  In other words, He gives us the special help we need to carry our own particular crosses.
There’s a beautiful story which shows that this can transform drudgery into a labour of love. Someone, seeing a lad carrying his young brother on his back, sympathetically remarked, “That’s a heavy load you’re carrying.”   To which the lad replied, “That’s not a load; that’s my little brother!”   That came from the heart and was, indeed, a labour of love!

So, while the so-called wise thought they could reach heaven through their detailed knowledge of rules and their own efforts in observing them,  Christ has a completely difference approach.   The law of love is the only way to heaven.  The wonderful thing is that with God’s help that is possible for all of us.  That’s what’s been revealed to us little ones!
Isidore O.P.


 
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