Monday, 2 May 2016

THE ASCENSION OF OUR LORD

A JOYFUL LEAVE-TAKING



 “God has ascended with a shout, The LORD, with the sound of a trumpet; Sing praises to God, sing praises; Sing praises to our King, sing praises,” (Ps. 47. 5).

Two momentous leave-takings: the first  violent, traumatic – when Jesus breathed His last and surrendered His life into the loving hands of His Heavenly Father; the other, just forty days later, when He, while  talking to His disciples was taken up and eventually disappeared into a cloud…lost to their sight. This was a joyful separation – cause for praise and thanksgiving, one full of expectation and anticipation.

During this forty day period between the Resurrection and Ascension Jesus had never given His disciples the impression that He intended to settle down with them. Rather, He unpredictably appeared to them and disappeared from them…had meals with them, talked with them.

Above all, else these Resurrection Appearances were social calls, ‘getting to know me’ as the same Jesus, your friend, who had triumphed death; ‘getting to know me’ as the friend who brought you peace even after you’d let me down and betrayed me when I most needed your loyalty and support.

Jesus simply had to firmly anchor down their belief that the Jesus they had known and loved for three years had indeed risen from the dead. It was immensely important to Him that Thomas should overcome His doubt and hesitation. Jesus patiently brought Thomas to the point where he would exclaim, 'My Lord and my God!' to which Jesus added, ‘You believe because you can see me. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe. (Jn. 20.28).    


 With these extraordinary comings and goings for over a month Jesus must have convinced them He was deeply attached to them not only because He had a task, a Mission, for them – to proclaim Him to the whole world. They meant so much to Him, and now so do we, that He longs to extend our ‘togetherness’ with Him way out into eternity.

This permanent Heavenly Future would be nothing like what could ever be experienced here on earth. In fact, it would be what our Heavenly Father had intended when He created the first man and woman. Indeed, to save us for this was precisely the purpose of His Son being sent into this, our world, living for us, dying for us, 

             “I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full,(Jn1.10). 

                        And, finally, He ascended to prepare a place for us.

“In my Father's house there are many places to live in; otherwise I would have told you. I am going now to prepare a place for you, and after I have gone and prepared you a place, I shall return to take you to myself, so that you may be with me where I am. I shall not leave you orphans; I shall come to you.  In a short time the world will no longer see me; but you will see that I live and you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father and you in me and I in you,” (Jn.14).

Jesus, in the fullness of His humanity – body and soul Ascended into Heaven there to be gloriously present at the place of honour – the Right-Hand Side of His Heavenly Father.  This was a glorious triumph for the whole human family ...the family He had made His own. Jesus wishes to share this with us – you, me, all of us.

As we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven we simply must celebrate the glorious reality that our own mortal, frail, human bodies are Temples of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us. We are called to live such lives that in and through our human bodies we give great glory to God.  In so doing we  ourselves are to become glorious even now during our lives on earth.

Eventually, at the Last Judgment, our bodies will be reunited to our souls. Then, and there, we shall be once more fully alive in the fullness of our redeemed humanity, body united to soul.  This was a privilege Jesus secured this privilege for His Mother, Mary, by her being  Assumed  into Heaven.

The Ascension of Jesus into Heaven has to be about you and me, every member of the human family. If we embrace the call to lead godly life here and now Jesus will welcome us into a life with God for eternity. Surely this is worth aiming for, worth striving for! 

Peter Clarke, O.P.  

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

CRAB IN THE CHOIR


Chaos in choir as our brethren sang community prayers in Grenada ! To their alarm they saw a land crab scuttling between their feet. Fearing it would nip their toes they hastily lifted their legs from the ground. They were not sufficiently agile to leap onto their seats.
This incident got me thinking. How should we cope with interruptions and distractions when we are trying to pray ? Certainly the crab had to be put outside the chapel for the safety of the brethren’s toes. Is that how we should treat the distractions we all have when we pray ? 
What are distractions ? I suppose they are the interests of our daily lives which really hold our attention, but which intrude into our prayers. They may be trivial or momentous, joyful or sorrowful. To consider them as distractions means they have nothing to do with God and that we should only pray about godly, religious matters.
Everything else is a distraction, and, like the crab, should not be allowed into church, or, ejected as quickly as possible. This sounds fine until we realise that this approach excludes God from all activities except the short time we spend in prayer. God is shunted into a backwater, well clear of the mainstream of our daily lives. It suggests that our daily interests and concerns have nothing to do with God. He is confined to a brief god-slot of prayer, hermetically sealed from the outside world. That doesn’t seem right.
Let’s see if there’s a better way of coping with so called ‘distractions.’ These are what really grab our attention and hold our interest. God is interested in everything that concerns us. So, instead of driving away these distractions let’s bring them into our prayers. If we share everything with a trusted friend, why not God ?
This way our distractions will disappear, as they become part of our prayers. We can thank and ask him to bless all that is good in our daily lives. We can ask him to heal and forgive all that is bad. If we are suffering we can identify with the crucified Christ, who shared our pain and was able to draw good out of evil. We can and should pray about our temptations, honestly telling God about them and asking his help in coping with them. We can see that all our joys and longings will find their fulfilment in the kingdom of heaven. Praying about our ‘distractions’ will help us get our pre-occupations into perspective, God’s perspective. This way we bring our whole selves before God and get him involved in all that we are, all that we do.
This approach is very different from simply day dreaming about whatever interests us. That’s not prayer. To turn our distractions into prayer we must relate them to God. That can require a bit of ingenuity and imagination. But with practice we will get the knack. It’s worth giving it a try. You will find that everything can be related, one way or another, to God and is summed up in the Mass. 
 
Isidore Clarke O.P.
 

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

EPILOGUE TO THE WORKS OF MERCY

FAMILY LIFE AND THE WORKS OF MERCY



Peter and I have now concluded our reflections on the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. To summarise, I will  see how we can express them in daily family life. In many ways they are equally applicable to Dominican community life.

In this year of Mercy Pope Francis has gone so far as to proclaim that Mercy is the very Face of God. We people, who have been made in God’s own image and likeness, must reflect His mercy in our own lives.

It is in the family that we first learn to do so. Through what are known as the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy we share in God’s compassion for those who are in physical, emotional and spiritual need and pain. No matter what our age or ability family life provides most of us with the most immediate opportunities for sharing God’s compassion through the Works of Mercy.

Even in the most loving of families we do sometimes hurt each other. We’re so close we sometimes tread on each other’s toes –hopefully accidentally. When under pressure, we sometimes explode. We say and do things, which hurt those closest to us. If so, God expects us to apologise for the pain we have caused, and forgive those who have harmed us. The balm of merciful healing is essential to family life, if it’s not only to survive but also to flourish. Without the resilience of mercy family life will be so brittle it will fall apart.
 
But in addition to being forgiving God expects us to be His voice in comforting, encouraging and teaching. Through our hands He heals the sick, clothes the naked and feeds the hungry. In our daily lives we’re called to be instruments of God’s Works of Mercy. Such activities cause us to reach out unselfishly to others in their need. We are called to be generous givers of ourselves, rather than selfish grabbers for ourselves!

The family has been called the ‘Domestic Church.’ The home provides wonderful opportunities for each member of the family to learn to show the practical love and compassion of the Works of Mercy. We can all give a helping hand when there’s so much to be done around the house. We can all show an interest in how husband or wife, father or mother, son or daughter, brother or sister has spent the day…congratulating and commiserating. This calls for loving sensitivity and compassion… enjoying having time for each other, time to be with each other.

Sometimes we will have to care for a sick member of the family. There will be times when we will need to draw close and comfort each other –when there’s a death in the family. There will be other times when we can show our love for the family by doing some of the more unpleasant task in the home –cleaning up someone’s vomit or the cat’s mess. These are but a few examples of real, practical ways of expressing our love and care for each other.

Love for our nearest and dearest should come naturally. But God knows, and we know, that doesn’t always come easily! But when we do see them as our brothers and sisters in God’s family, when we do see Christ identifying with them in their need –then our natural human response shares in God’s own infinite love and compassion. What seems trivial and transitory assumes an eternal value. What a thought! We have become God’s channels and ministers of mercy!

One of the greatest needs is for us to make quality time for each other. Time to enjoy each other’s company, to listen to each other’s joys and sorrows. We should try not to allow anyone to feel neglected and lonely. And yet we can become so absorbed in electronic gadgetry –in computer games or TV programs, our mobiles, that we literally have no time for each other. Sadly, we can spend more time chatting to a friend on our mobiles than with members of our family living under the same roof! Such indifference can spell the death of family life!

Learning to be compassionate and considerate in the home should inspire us to respond to the needs of those in the ‘outside world’ -the work place, school, or playground, people suffering severe hardship in distant lands. Pope Francis sees a desperate need for us to overcome the modern evil of what he calls, ‘globalized indifference’ to the needs and feelings of others.

So, let us resolve to undermine this ‘globalized indifference’ by showing a greater compassionate care for each other. Let us start in the home and reach out to the world through the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy! They are meant to provide a programme for action, not just a subject for pious reflection.
Let us pray

Heavenly Father, may our reflections on the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy make us more sensitive to people’s needs and to their dignity as your children.
May we first learn to show your compassion in our homes and communities, and may that radiate out to the world beyond.
Help us to become a more caring and compassionate society, reacting against the culture of self-centred ‘globalized indifference.’
May we be your true sons and daughters, reflecting your Face of Mercy. Above all, may we be doers of your word, and not just hearers.
We ask this through your Son, Christ, Our Lord. Amen.
 
For the sake of His Sacred Passion have mercy on us and the whole world.

Isidore Clarke O.P. 
Thank you for reading our reflections on the Works of Mercy.  Now that we've finished the series we would  welcome your reactions. 
May God bless you
Peter and Isidore Clarke O.P.










Wednesday, 13 April 2016

7th SPIRITUAL WORK OF MERCY


7 -PRAYING FOR THE LIVING AND THE DEAD

 

It’s very fitting that the last of the Corporal and Spiritual works of mercy should be about Praying for the Living and the Dead. That makes explicit what has been essential to all the other Works of Mercy. Each of them should be inspired and empowered by prayer. Through our prayers we entrust the needy to God’s loving care. That immediately relates us and them to Christ, who identifies with the needy, and with those who comes to their aid. As we pray for others we become united to God’s compassion for them and draw upon His infinite power to assist them.
 
All of the Works of Mercy are concerned with helping other people, rather than being pre occupied with our personal needs. As we respond to other people’s needs we are taken out of the self-centred ‘me,’ or ‘selfie’ culture. That’s why we pray ‘Our Father,’ not ‘My Father.’ Prayer for others transforms humanitarian concern for the Family of Man to concern for God’s Family –our brothers and sisters in Christ.



Because both the living and the dead belong to the one Body of Christ -the Church -we believe death does not break the bond between those who are still alive here on earth and those who have died in Christ.
Our prayers, and especially the celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection in the holy Mass, can help the dead to complete their journey to eternal happiness in heaven. They still need to be purified of the remaining effects of sins, which have already been forgiven. Only then will they be fit to enter the very presence of the All-Holy God. 

   Through this Spiritual Work of Mercy our prayers for their eternal salvation directly involves us and our deceased loved ones in God’s greatest expression of loving compassion. This is the climax of the Works of Mercy!

The importance of praying for the dead is expressed in the Sacred Scriptures. "For if he (Judas Maccabeus) were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought," (2 Macc. 12. 44-45).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church proclaims an exciting development in our understanding of the importance of praying for the dead. I’d been taught that the dead were simply passive beneficiaries of our prayers for them. But no. The Catechism teaches, (958), "Our prayer for them is capable not only of helping them, BUT ALSO OF MAKING THEIR INTERCESSION FOR US EFFECTIVE." In other words, our prayers for the dead enable them to pray for us. There’s a wonderful dialogue of us praying for each other. This idea is further developed, (1689), "It is by the Eucharist thus celebrated that the community of the faithful, especially the family of the deceased, learn to live in communion with the one who "has fallen asleep in the Lord," by communicating in the Body of Christ of which he is a living member and, then, BY PRAYING FOR HIM AND WITH HIM." The Church here teaches that we can not only pray for the dead, but also with them, and that they can pray for us. To share such comforting teaching with those who mourn would be a wonderful work of mercy, which the Church should proclaim.

I have found that praying for the dead is a great comfort for the living. Through prayer we can tie up the loose ends of regrets, which we all have when someone dear to us dies. We failed to apologise when we’ve hurt someone, or to express our love and gratitude for those we took for gratitude. But through prayer we can still put things right and express our continued love in a practical way. That removes the sense of helplessness and guilt, which often accompanies grief.

Perhaps, surprisingly, praying for our deceased loved ones transforms and enriches our love for them. While they were with us here on earth we tended to concentrate on their temporal needs –their corporal and emotional well-being, their jobs etc. But when they die our prayers focus solely on their eternal salvation. Through our prayers we help them to pass from being members of the Pilgrim Church to complete their life long journey to eternal rest in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Placing the needs of both the living and dead into God’s loving care is the greatest expression of our loving concern for the needy and provides a fitting climax to our reflections on the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.

 
 

Let us pray. 

Heavenly Father, throughout our series on the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy you have helped us to looked beyond our own needs to those of other people. We rejoice that our concern for them embraces not only the living but also the dead. Through our prayers we can express our love for them in a practical way. That is a great assistance to them and comfort for us.
 
As we pray for them we unite our concern for them with your infinitely loving care and compassion. Confidently we place them in your hands, knowing that you will only give what will help them to receive eternal happiness with you.

Heavenly Father, we know that we need you to guide and strengthen us in expressing your compassion through the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. We ask you to give us the sensitivity to recognise people’s different needs, to see their dignity as your children, when that may be hidden by their wretched appearance and uncouth behaviour. Above all, dear Father, do not allow us to become detached observers, but inspire us to work and pray for your needy children, our needy brothers and sisters in Christ.

We confidently ask you this through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who promised that you would grant us whatever we sought in His name. Amen.
For the sake of His Sacred Passion have mercy on us and the whole world.
 
Isidore Clarke O.P.
Although Peter and I have completed our series of comments on the 14 Works of Mercy we thought it could be helpful for me to show how we can put them into practice in our families, or indeed, in any community context.  That's what I will do next week.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

6th SPIRITUAL WORK OF MERCY


6.Comfort the Afflicted


A visit, a phone call, an email accompanied by a kindly word and, where possible, a warm embrace and a helping hand - any these can be a great comfort to a person who is feeling ‘down and out!’ It is then that we come to the rescue when someone is uncomfortable; give of our strength to the person who is weak, is suffering from an affliction.
 This kind of response is what the 6th Spiritual Work of Mercy is all about: COMFORTING THE AFFLICTED.

Jesus used the Parable of the Good Samaritan in answer to the question, “Who is my neighbour whom I’m supposed love?” Jesus more or less told him he'd got it wrong. The correct approach is not to try to identify who is your neighbour. We are to discern who is neighbourly towards that person who needs our help of any kind. At that moment, in that situation we are needed to be neighbourly!

This is the very opposite of being a self-absorbed individualist, a concentrated ‘selfie.’ It belongs to our basic humanity – it is not something essentially religious – that we ‘go out of our way’ to  respond to a casualty as did the Good Samaritan…stranger to stranger. With Jesus we could surely say, “Even the pagans do as much, do they not?” (Mtt.5.48). Also I would have to add that some pious Christians do far less.            

To be indifferent to the misfortunes, the tragedies, the heart-breaks of others, is to be sub-human! Very different to this is the complete openness of Jesus,

'Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls,”  (Mtt.11.28)

I find a wry sadness in Ben Sirach when he writes,  Every friend will say, "I too am a friend"; but some friends are friends only in name…. Some companions rejoice in the happiness of a friend, but in time of trouble are against him,” (Ecclus. 37).

 We might expect Jesus, being the Son of God, to be a tower of strength. Wrong! He became a member of the human family. He shared our frailty.    Didn't He need the presence and prayers of His closest friends as He entered into His agony in Gethsemane? Great was His sadness that they couldn’t stay awake for even one hour,  (cf.Mtt.26.40).     

                             
As He struggled His way to Calvary He, the Son of God, the Son of Man, the Suffering Servant, must have been grateful for the comfort offered to Him by the Daughters of Jerusalem and Veronica who wiped His sweaty, bleeding, face. Most of all, at the very extremity of His affliction, Jesus must have appreciated that His Mother, Mary, the other women and the Beloved Disciple  stood there at the foot of the Cross gazing at Him with compassion and love.

There’s a measure of truth in the claim that we can only begin to understand and feel the impact  of another’s pain after  we ourselves have had a taste of it! In no other way could  St. Paul have written to the Corinthians, 
  
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,  who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God,” (2. Cor.1.3).

The Son of God, in becoming Man, assumed the identity of the Suffering   Servant described by the Prophet Isaiah,                       

"Yet ours were the sufferings he was bearing, ours the sorrows.
 He was carrying…we have been healed by his bruises.” (Is.53).    

He alone was capable of  carrying the burden of humanity’s sinfulness, of making us totally acceptable to God. He alone could radically comfort us afflicted human beings, giving us a quality of peace that the world could never give.

Never should we think  our efforts to comfort others in their afflictions are  futile…the broken trying to mend the broken! For this and for all the other Works of Mercy the theme must surely be “If I can help somebody as I pass along then my living shall not be in vain!”
 
God forbid that any of us should be no use to anybody. If that were ever to be the case we would end up being of no use even to ourselves!

Let us Pray,

Heavenly Father, in recent years devotion to Divine Mercy has become very much part of our  spirituality. Love that was fully human, love that was utterly divine, love that was sensitive, love that was merciful, was what your Son, Jesus, brought to those who were touched by His ministry. Now He longs to bring this to the whole world through us, His disciples.

There are times when all of us need to be comforted by love that heals. We pray that at such times  you will send those who love you sufficiently, love us sufficiently, to come to support us and console us.

 Almighty Father, we pray that you will ensure that we never get so wrapped-up in our own affairs, our own problems, that we even  fail to notice those who are languishing in their helplessness, their hopelessness, their despair at the self-absorption of us, their human family.

We pray that through your Son, Jesus, the world in which live may be freed of its brutishness, its viciousness that is causing so much misery, such wretched insecurity.

Almighty Father, help us to make this a better world, a more loving, merciful world. Amen.  
For the sake of His Sacred Passion have mercy on us and the whole world. 

Peter Clarke, O.P.

Monday, 4 April 2016

5th APRIL

 
 


Tuesday, 29 March 2016

5th SPIRITUAL WORK OF MERCY

5 -TO FORGIVE OFFENCES WILLINGLY
 


I really put my foot in it when I gave a talk to a group of middle aged women. I dared to criticise the cult film ‘Love Story,’ which many of them had seen in their youth. I’d presumed to accuse their heroine of talking sentimental rubbish. Her crime? -to say, "Love means never having to say ‘sorry.’’’

That can only be true of God, who never has to apologise. As for the rest of us, we’re all sinners and sometimes hurt each other. Real love then means being able to apologise when we’ve harmed someone, and forgiving him when he’s hurt us. If love is to last it must have the resilience to heal the pain we inflict on each other. Without mercy love would be so brittle that it could not last. Our love for each other must reflect God’s steadfast love for us, which is always eager to forgive the repentant sinner. 


To forgive is hard enough; to do so willingly –that’s really difficult! Yet that’s what the 5th Spiritual Work of Mercy expects of us. Forgiving those who hurt us is the most God-like of the Works of Mercy. Mercy is the very Face of the God, in whose image we have been made. That means we must be as merciful as our heavenly Father is merciful.

But that goes against our natural instinct. We fear that will be taken as a sign of weakness. If we don’t stop him he will continue his violence. But we know only too well that if we retaliate the situation will escalate. The innocent person will become as aggressive as the one who started the violence. Nothing will be solved, and we may say and do things which we later regret.

So Jesus takes a different, two pronged, approach, aimed at defusing a hostile situation. Firstly, we should correct the offender (3rd Spiritual Work of Mercy). Next, we should forgive him or her. That’s the present, 5th Work of Mercy.

So what does forgiveness mean? Certainly not denying that someone has harmed us. That would be dishonest. It would also be cruel to prevent him apologising and finding forgiveness. Only through apologising and forgiving can wounds be healed and peace restored. To say, ‘Forgive and forget’ is asking too much, even the impossible. We can’t wipe our memories clean, like a blackboard. Instead, we have to learn to come to terms with past injuries, put them behind us and together make a fresh start.

To help us, Jesus urges us not only to love our enemies, instead of hating them, but also to pray for them. That’s not a pious after-thought, but an essential part in healing a dysfunctional relationship. As we pray for our enemies our attitude towards them changes. We cease to wish them harm and want only their good. That gradually heals our bitterness, anger and desire for vengeance. As we pray for those who are hostile to us, we ask God to heal their aggression. Only when hatred has been removed from both the aggressor and the victim can there be real peace. Shakespeare’s ‘Merchant of Venice’ puts this very well, "The quality of mercy is not strained… IT BLESSETH HIM THAT GIVES AND HIM THAT TAKES," (Merchant of Venice, Act 4 Scene 1). Both parties benefit from the merciful removal of hostility and tension. 

But let’s face it, forgiveness can be very difficult when we’ve been badly hurt. We really want to forgive, but unwanted anger and resentment can suddenly flare up, sometimes long after the injury. We then wonder whether our forgiveness was genuine. It was. Such unwanted resentment simply means that the wounds we suffered are still raw. We don’t need forgiveness, but inner healing. Since the same may well be true for someone we’ve hurt we will both need to be patient and pray. That links up with the previous Spiritual Work of Mercy -‘to bear wrongs patiently.’  

Jesus has given us the supreme example of what forgiving willingly means. He not only preached a Gospel of forgiveness, but lived it, above all, on the cross. As He prayed for the forgiveness of those responsible for His death He showed us what it means, in practice, to forgive our enemies. He has shown us the way to be true sons and daughters of our heavenly Father.




LET US PRAY

Heavenly Father, God full of mercy and compassion, we turn to you in are need for forgiveness. But your Son taught us that your mercy is dependent on our readiness to forgive those who have harmed us.

But when we’ve been harmed we find it so difficult to overcome our anger, bitterness and resentment. We feel hurt and humiliated. Instinctively we want to fight back; we fear that if we don’t, the aggressor will continue and repeat his violence. We know that one way or another he must be stopped. But your Son has taught us that retaliation is not the answer. Like Him we must love and forgive our enemies. Like Him, we must be peacemakers, not warmongers.

Father, since such god-like generosity of spirit is so difficult we beg you to help us. Help us to overcome are instinct to retaliate; heal the wounds of resentment and anger which can still flare up long after we were first hurt.
 
Father, we know that, if there is to be true peace, the aggressor must be healed of the violence within him. And so we pray that he may find inner peace through loving and respecting the dignity and rights of other people.

May we all find peace through sharing your Son’s healing ministry of reconciliation. 
 We ask this through Jesus Christ ,Your Son, Our Lord.

For the sake of His Sacred Passion have mercy on us and the whole world.
 
Isidore Clarke O.P.
 


 
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