Monday, 11 September 2017

EXALTATION of the CROSS


What a crazy thing to do; what a horrific thing to do –to glorify in the brutal instrument used to execute a criminal!   And yet that is what we Christians do.  We have crucifixes in our homes and wear them round our necks.   But Paul tells us that the folly of the cross defies the wisdom of human reason.   Not that the pain of Christ’s crucifixion was good in itself.  It was brutal and unjust.  And he was no masochist, who delighted in suffering.    The Romans crucified many people –a thousand at one time on the Appian Way, when they crushed Spartacus’ slave revolt.   Though they were martyrs for the cause of freedom, their execution did not have the same meaning and effect as Christ’s.

Christ used his death on the cross as the means to saving the world from the power of sin and death.   Far from being defeated as a tragic, misguided failure Christ was triumphantly enthroned as king of heaven and earth, on the very instrument, which was meant to humiliate and destroy him –the cross.   Pilate condemned him as king; the Roman soldiers crowned him with thorns and mocked him.  The crowds taunted this crucified king.   Even in mockery they were all so right in calling Jesus ‘king,’ but none of them understood the nature of his sovereignty.

That’s the triumph of the goodness of love over the evil of hatred.  Not force of arms, but the power of love and mercy -those were His weapons.       By dying He has destroyed the power of death, and opened the way for us to share His divine life.    As Jesus hung upon the cross it was as though, as man, He stretched out one hand to His heavenly Father, and as God, He stretched the other hand to us sinners.  In His crucified person Jesus drew God and us sinners together in love.   Paul speaks of Christ reconciling us to God through the blood of the cross.    

In his Gospel John has Jesus expressing the Exaltation of the Cross by using the phrase ‘Lifted up.’   This harks backs to Isaiah’s Suffering Servant of the Lord who would be raised up as the triumphant saviour of the world.  The phrase ‘Lifted up’ also harks back to the brazen serpent, which Moses raised up in the desert, as a sign of God’s healing mercy for those who looked upon it and repented for their sins.    Now Christ, lifted up on the cross, is the source of God’s mercy for all who believe in Him.   When He is raised on high, triumphantly on the cross, He will draw us up with Him to share in His victory over evil.  Then, indeed, we will know that He is the God of infinite love, mercy and power –our saviour.   No one but God could show such sublime, crazy love as to become one of us, allow us to crucify Him –simply because He loves us and judged that was the best way to enable us sinners to share His divine life and happiness.       To the unbeliever the crucifixion is sheer madness; to the believe the cross is the sign of the wonder of God’s love, which defies human logic. 

On Good Friday we sing the hymn, ‘Vexilla Regis’ -‘Abroad the regal banner flies.’ That proclaims our loyalty to the crucified, yet triumphant Christ.  Under the Sign of the Cross we join Him in His battle against evil and march triumphantly with Him to His Heavenly Kingdom.   The cross gives us our identity as followers of Christ.   Not that we glory in suffering, nor do we honour the cross as a means of brutal execution. To do so would be sick!       But we venerate the cross as the means whereby the Son of God saved the world.  That’s why we raise the cross on high and humbly thank God.
On the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross let us exclaim with St. Paul,


Isidore O.P.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

"YOU ARE SAILING..."

“YOU ARE SAILING…IN 3 WEEKS…TICKETS BOOKED!” Those were the instructions my brother Peter and I received from the Superior of the English Province of the Dominican Order!   This was straight after  we young inexperienced priests had finished our theological studies, in1958.  No if or buts, no consultation.   No complaints.   After all, we’d taken a vow of obedience.   We were to sail for the W. Indies.  We’d just enough time to get our passports. As we embarked, the risen Lord’s words to His apostles seemed very appropriate for us budding missionaries,  As the Father has sent me, so I send you,"  (Jn. 20.21).

For us young priests sailing for the W. Indies was an exciting journey into the unknown, the exotic tropical island of Grenada.  Our speedy dispatch allowed no time to learn about its history and culture.  After years of philosophy and theology we were eager to get on with the work to which we’d been called.  We were so urgently needed that we were exempted from the usually required course of Pastoral Training. We were thrown in at the deep end and expected to learn to swim.

Getting there meant embarking at Liverpool docks on a wet, cold, foggy November night.    Our ship, the ‘Hilary’, was a  ‘Distinguished Old Lady.’   She had served gallantly during the War -in the invasion of Sicily, the Atlantic Convoys, the D. Day Landing.  She had survived being hit by a torpedo, which fortunately didn’t explode.  

 Now-a-days people fly to their postings in the W. Indies in a matter of hours.   Not us.  We would cruise at a leisurely pace and our journey would take nineteen days.   That in itself was a real holiday, a wonderful, colourful experience.  We had been warned that the Bay of Biscay could be rough -but not for us.  Instead, it was as calm as the proverbial mill pond, covered by a dense fog.  Our speed was reduced to dead slow; around us fog horns lowed like a heard of mournful  cows, hopefully preventing us from crashing into other ships.  It was all so still and eerie.

Life on board was colourful.  Among our  fellow passengers there was a number of W. Indians, who delighted us with calypsos. The First Class passengers decided that they gave us a much better time than the entertainment provided for them.  So, they joined us in their formal evening dress after their dinner.  (I doubt if we would have been allowed to join them!)

Many ocean-going ships have a chapel.  Not ours.   When the sea was sufficiently calm we could say Mass in the bar, before the other passengers were up.   Not a particularly devotional atmosphere, with chairs stacked on the tables and a pervading smell of stale beer -not incense.  With some of the passengers joining us, we formed a miniature Pilgrim Church.

Our long voyage was punctuated by the exotic colours and sights of the places we visited -Vigo, Lisbon and Madeira,   where we made a pilgrimage round its famous wine cellars, taking a sample at each.  From Madeira we set out on the long haul to Barbados and then Trinidad.    Gradually the temperature became hotter; that helped to prepare us for working in a tropical climate.  From Trinidad we flew to Grenada. As we stepped off the plane we were struck by a blast of hot air, as though someone had just flung open a furnace door.  The atmosphere was strongly perfumed by the spices for which Grenada is famous.

Reflecting on our voyage to the W. Indies, to share the Good News, sums up what is true for all Christians.   As members of the Pilgrim Church, we have been commissioned to proclaim the Good News.   We’ve been called to be working members of the crew, none of us passengers, whatever our age or strength.   Sometimes our journey will be smooth, at other times rough.   Sometimes we will be lost in a dense fog.  (Peter and I seem prone to that!)  But always Jesus will be leading us to the safe-haven of the Kingdom of Heaven.   Bon Voyage!
Isidore O.P.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

AND THE FATHER DID DANCE....

Never, never, never, imagine being a priest has to mean having a boring life…just prayers, preaching and people. Yes, it is all this and much more…encountering God and sharing God with others. If this is your vocation you will find, as I have, this to be enriching and fulfilling. 

And yet it is also full of surprises…experiences that were never considered during the many years preparing us for ordination and then launching us into priestly ministry.
Just look at the illustration to this, my priestly reflection. This was drawn by my twin priestly brother, Isidore, in response to my describing to him an experience I had in the very early days of my ministry as Pastor  of a parish in Barbados. 

 The ugly, terrified fellow grasping the lawn mower is supposed to be me. I would remind him that we are reputed to be identical twins. In the days of the drama of me and the goat, over fifty years ago,  we  were  passingly handsome…I'm sure I was! Just look at me now.  

From my childhood I’d become accustomed to mowing lawns. This was expected of me and of my brothers. I was used to the mowers that  required energetic pushing – not the lazy-man’s motorized machines. This task demanded artistic skill in producing a well-shaved lawn with straight lines of the same width.   

I shall never forget the day some child was passing by with his parents.  With a tug and a yell he exclaimed in surprise, “Look, the priest's doing some work.”  Truth from the mouths of babes! Those of considerable age will remember the song about 'MAD GOATS and ENGLISH MEN' go out in the midday sun. I’m English. Some think I’m somewhat mad, especially when aged, as I am. I get my exercise by taking walks in the heat of the tropical sun.  

To return to the lawn-mowing. None of my alleged craziness induced what happened next. The work was going smoothly.  And then... I sensed a tingling excitement in the air… tense, threatening.  I paused, raised my head and there before me was what you see in Isidore’s illustration – to me, a bad-tempered goat with a long beard and huge horns. Its eyes fixed on me. It was breathing heavily as it braced itself to make the grand charge IN MY DIRECTION. 

Never did I feel it was seeking for us to have a playful time together! I had disturbed it,   irritated it.  This goat wanted to  charge me out of the way. Surely a miss-match – goat with huge horns and thrusting body, me, a timid priest armed with my lawn mower, fearful for my life. Here was the drama of the bull-ring with none of  the arrogant confidence and  elegant artistry.

Where this goat, this monster, came from, I can say with all reverence, ‘God alone knows!’ This at least I know: as far as God is concerned, nothing happens by accident. My simple faith tells me that  Almighty God  wanted this encounter to take place.
  
As I write  this  now  I feel the tension, the fear, of yesteryear.  With head lowered the goat moved cautiously towards me.  What could I do  but  point the mower directly at my adversary?  Then I eased myself backwards towards the presbytery. Not to be out-witted it increased its pace and attempted to out-flank me. I swerved the mower round to face it head – on.  This manoeuvre was repeated over and over again, with me and goat trying to out-guess each other. Step by step I backed closer to the wooden steps up to the presbytery. 

My  heal   pushed against the bottom step. I yelled some loud war-cry; shoved the mower towards the startled goat; pounded up the steps towards the security of the presbytery.  The goat vanished!!!  where???

And the Father did dance, this Father Priest! He did dance, he did prance, he did weave and he did duck....not on a day of joy but on a day of desperation...against a rival with evil intent. And the Father did leap...up steps. He did thrust ....with a lawn-mover. And the day was saved. He arrived where he belonged! 
All this is saying so  much to me about the pattern of my own personal salvation history?  Is it saying something to you about yours?


Peter  Clarke, O.P.

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.


 
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