Thursday, 26 March 2015

PALM SUNDAY

 
Palm Sunday –what a mass of contradictions! It begins with a joyful procession of pilgrims. They have come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. That feast commemorated God delivering His people from slavery in Egypt. In each annual celebration God renewed His commitment to rescue His people from evil, and they renewed their commitment to be faithful to Him.
In one such group of pilgrims the crowd proclaims Jesus to be the son of David, who has come in the name of the Lord. He, they realised, was the promised Messiah who triumphantly enters the city of God to claim His kingdom. In his honour the crowds strewed His path with their cloaks and with branches. What a joyful, exciting occasion!
But then, what a contrast in the Passion narrative! Jesus would not be enthroned in majesty in the temple, but on the cross. On His entry into the Holy city He had been joyfully, triumphantly, celebrated as the Messianic king. On His journey out of the city He was condemned as a criminal, carrying the cross on which He would be executed.
He, who had so recently been exalted, was now despised and rejected. Christ’s closest supporters, His disciples, had deserted Him. Their leader, Peter, had thrice disowned Him. The crowd, which had enthusiastically proclaimed Jesus as king, had turned against Him. True, they, with the Jewish religious leaders and the Roman soldiers all called Jesus, ‘King.’ But now that title was given in mockery, and not as sign of loyal allegiance.
And yet, they were all so right in calling Jesus ‘King,’ all so wrong in their understanding the nature of His sovereignty. While the Jews had hoped for a leader who would deliver them from Roman occupation, Jesus had come to free the whole world from a far greater tyranny –that of sin and death.
His weapons were not military strength and force of arms, but the power of His love. His kingdom was not territorial, but in our hearts. Far from being a defeated failure, nailed helplessly to the cross, it was there, on the cross, that Jesus was enthroned and defeated all the forces of evil arraigned against him.
As we begin Holy Week we are called to travel with Jesus. With the pilgrims waving their palms, we are called joyfully to welcome Jesus as the promised Messiah. As we do so, we must recognise that His kingdom is very different from any other. His is a kingdom of love, justice, peace and truth.
If we are to enter that kingdom and share in Christ’s victory we must follow Christ on the Way of the Cross, to the glory of the resurrection. That means we must die with Him to sin, if we are to rise with Him to share in His victory over sin and death. Only then will we really welcome Christ as our king. Only then will we be His true subjects.
I do hope that you will enter the spirit of Holy Week by coming to its services.
 
Isidore Clarke O.P.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

DISMAYED! BEWILDERED!



‘Do priests have blood???’ Such was the startling question the little girl put to me when she saw my raw, bruised knuckle. Carelessly, without noticing it, in my haste I’d brushed my hand against a rough wall.  Do priests have blood? Where on earth had she dug up the impression that we priests might be bloodless aliens that look like humans?
 There came a point when the disciples no longer had vague or far-fetched impressions about Jesus. By the grace of God, Peter could profess with confidence, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,’ (Mtt.16.16) The response of Jesus was – more or less, ‘Well done! You've got it right!’                                           I’m going to great things through you!’                                   So far so very good!
What were the disciples then to make of Jesus soon afterward telling them, ‘Look, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man is about to be handed over to the chief priests and scribes.  They will condemn Him to death 19 and will hand Him over to the gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified; and on the third day He will be raised up again,’ (Matt.16.21)
. Jesus was someone they someone they admired, respected and  loved. They were hearing this so soon after Peter had made  such a magnificent act of faith in Jesus; and Jesus had so roundly expressed His approval. This shocked them, hurt them, confused them.  Their  immediate reaction had to be, ‘This must not happen! We won’t let it happen! For starters, don’t go to Jerusalem!’
What followed was explosive, feelings were so intense, so raw,Then, taking him aside, Peter started to rebuke Him. 'Heaven preserve you, Lord,' he said, 'this must not happen to you.' But He turned and said to Peter, 'Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle in my path, because you are thinking not as God thinks but as human beings do.' 24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me, (Matt.16.22).
Matters couldn't have been worse.  The disciples were bewildered, baffled. They could not cope with what they were hearing so soon after they had identified Jesus as the Christ. The title ‘Christ,’ that is ‘Messiah,’ was so loaded. It spoke of the promises that God had long ago made to His People; promises that were cherished from one generation to another. It described a man with an exceptional God-given mission that would herald in an age of well-being, even of liberation from the various humiliating oppression the people had suffered over the years and were still suffering.
Just what Jesus had mean to His followers was eloquently articulated by two of HIs disciples on their way to Emmaus ‘Our own hope had been that He would be the one to set Israel free,’ (Lk, 24.21).
              The Christ had been expected to be LEADER, LIBERATOR!                                Not simply a NICE GUY – no matter how kind He was,                   no matter many how miracles of healing He worked. 
The disciples must have thought that the rejection, suffering and death Jesus had predicted for Himself was in total contradiction with all that God had led His People to expect of the Christ. God’s very own plans would  have been  frustrated.  How could the disciples avoid concluding, ‘If all this is going to happen to you, then you will no use to use to us? One who is rejected, scourged and crucified can’t help but be a failure.’
Now I want to leave you, and even myself, to ponder the dilemma, the bewilderment, the dismay of the  disciples of Jesus. What say you, what say I, to these words of St. Paul, ‘God's folly is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength,’ (1 Cor. 1.25)? 
Peter Clarke, O.P. 

Saturday, 7 March 2015

GIVING UP MY PIPE


 
What! Me give up my faithful friend of fifty years and more! Unthinkable! But that’s just what I’ve done. I’ve given up smoking my beloved pipe! This friend brought me so much joy, was there to comfort me when times were bleak, and then came to my rescue when I was in need of inspiration. When asked an awkward question I would start filling up my pipe –that gave me time to think up an answer. Pipe-less, I no longer have that line of defence.
I kidded myself that my pipe kept me peaceful and tolerable to live with. I was prepared to sacrifice my lungs for the sake of my community! For the sake of a tranquil puff I became the master of self-deception. But I have a good precedent. There was a fellow pipe-lover in one of my communities. He decided to give up his pipe for Lent –a heroic sacrifice. But after a short while he became so irritable, we implored him to get back to his pipe and give us some peace. We even bought him his favourite tobacco.
My love affair with my pipe began 60 years ago. As a Rite of Passage to manhood Dad solemnly presented each of us lads with a pipe, and initiated us into the arcane science of filling and lighting it. One brand urged us to ‘tease’ the surface before applying a match –never a petrol-lighter. Have you ever tried teasing tobacco? People many times, certainly! Tobacco?
In those days of seeming innocence smoking was more than acceptable; it was expected. Women even said they liked the smell of pipe tobacco! Certain brands were supposed to make us men irresistible to women. I tried them all and they didn’t work! Puffing away was supposed to make us look thoughtful, even intelligent.
In those days there was no scare about the about the damage I could do to my own health; no one had ever heard of ‘passive smoking,’ and the harm that could do. So, for over half a century of blissfully ignorance I puffed away at my beloved pipe. But then, alarm bells were sounded. Medical research had proved smoking could kill, not only the smoker, but also those around him. I myself, of course, was impervious to such hazards! So unconcerned I blithely puffed away. True I did make half-hearted attempts to stop, but failed dismally. That was on the day I threw my pipes and tobacco into the incinerator. That made me feel strong willed and decisive.  But I proved to be a short-lived hero when I simply had to rush out and re-equip myself at the tea interval of a Test Match in which England was being thrashed by Australia. Weak old me needed the comfort of my pipe!
But circumstances, not a strong will, forced me and my pipe to part company. A fortnight in hospital with viral pneumonia put an end to what I thought had been a beautiful friendship. What had been a comfort and joy had seriously damaged my health and had caused me great distress in hospital. Years of smoking had given me chronic emphysema. The decision to quit was forced upon me .
From the cold ashes of my pipe-smoking I was able salvage something positive, as I bid a sad farewell to  my good and comforting friend –my pipe.  My sense of taste and smell had remarkably improved. And that, I realised is why expert wine tasters don’t smoke. Nor, for that matter, do they eat pickled onions or a strong curry while drinking a good wine. Instead they prefer to cultivate a sensitive palate by foregoing the joys of strongly flavoured food –or a pipe.
This got me thinking. What is it that damages my spiritual health and taste for the things of God? What are the dense clouds of tobacco smoke choking my life in the Spirit? We know bad company can easily lead us astray. Unsavoury books or similar material on the TV or Internet may be fascinating and exciting. But they can lead us to developing a taste for this kind of thing. If so, it’s likely that our palate will become jaded for the things of God. The same’s true if we become obsessed with materialism or with sensual pleasures. Our hearts will be where we think our treasure is to be found. Gradually our palates –our minds –will become coarsened. As with years of smoking, we may not realise the harm were doing ourselves.
But if we give Him the chance, the Holy Spirit will help us gradually develop a taste for divine things. We will learn to savour them and enjoy them. As I’ve found with giving up my pipe, the sacrifice was worthwhile. My palate has become more sensitive and my health has improved. So too, it’s worthwhile giving up harmful delights if that helps me to savour the infinitely greater joy of what God has to offer. That’s nothing less than Himself. 
If you doubt it, listen to the psalmist who urges us, "O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him," [Ps. 34:8]. Just as giving up my pipe has helped me to have a better appreciation of food and drink, so, too, I must try to develop my taste for the things of God by being more discriminating in what I look at and how I spend my time. A good Lenten resolution for all of us!

Isidore Clarke O.P.

 

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
 
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