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.


Saturday, 1 July 2017

"WASH ME MOUT', FADDA' "


We priests sure do get some weird requests for prayers!   Keep a straight face? Difficult but necessary!   They are desperate! No laughing for them -though it may be for us! They need help; help we must give!
So there was, I, a recently ordained priest - still ‘wet behind the ears;’ I’d just left England and had arrived in Grenada in the W. Indies. For me this was a new culture, totally different from the one I’d left.  I expected it to be full of surprises.
But nothing prepared me for the unusual prayer request from the man from River Road, a suburb of the capital, St. George’s.    Having nothing better to do, his mates had thrown him into the nearby river.   Not much harm in that.   In the hot tropical sun he would soon dry out and may even have welcomed the cool water.   So, why take the trouble to seek my prayers?
His was an unheard-of problem. When he was pitched into the river he had a good Grenadian accent…and was proud of it! With this he mixed well with his mates, his rum-shop drinking partners!   Was he vexed, was he amused,  when he climbed out of the river? Neither! He was startled, horrified! As soon he had hurled a few colourful abuses at his mates he realized had a posh, ‘plum-in mouth’ English accent -the kind which wealthy parents pay a fortune for their youngsters to acquire.
Pity the man from River Road! This sign of exalted social status made him feel an alien among his friends, an object of ridicule. The river had washed away his identity!     Desperately he begged, ‘Wash me mout,’ Fadda.’
Quite honestly, I did not know what to make of the poor man’s predicament.   Realising I was completely out of my depth, I placed the poor man in the Lord’s hands as we prayed together.  What is certain is that the man wanted Jesus to remove the posh accent barrier which isolated him. Strange to say, reaching out to the despised and rejected, removing the barriers and making them welcome, sums up Christ’s work of salvation, and the mission of the Church.  If the rest is history, I have no idea whether or not my prayer was  answered. We’ll leave it there.’
I’ve another crazy tale to share with you, about a chicken hawk, but I’ll save that for another time!
Isidore O.P.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

"WHAT THE...IS THAT!?"

That was an old man’s reaction upon seeing Peter and me standing together in the fishing-town square   in Grenada.  The ‘That’ in question happened to be me.  Admittedly his judgement and vision were most certainly clouded by the local homemade rum. I can testify to the power of this most favoured firewater!  Poor fellow! Never in his most sober moments had he seen identical twins -especially Dominicans.   Coping with Peter, whom he already knew, was more than enough. But I was too much.
In fact Peter and I have always been the source of much confusion and speculation.   Maybe the Good Lord, in His inscrutable wisdom, thought He should spare the West Indians further distress by putting the Atlantic between us.
But not before a get-to-know-you party in Grenada, soon after our arrival in 1958.   One young lady gushed up to Peter and triumphantly exclaimed that she had discovered the infallible way to tell us twins apart.   “One of you,” she declared, “knows how to finish his sermons!”   But then, to her horror, she realised that that implied that the other twin did not know how to apply the brakes to his run-away sermons!   She immediately realised she was heading for a pit of her own digging! wisely she pleaded the need to make a speedy tactical withdrawal.   To this day, 58 years later, each of us is convinced that the other didn’t know to how finish his sermon.  We’ll never know.
We identical twins have always been a problem for the undiscerning.   I’ve been called, “Peter again,” and “Peter squared!” -not very flattering.   After illness forced me to leave the W. Indies Peter was asked whether he was the priest who was dead –Isidore  redivivus! That doesn’t say much for his appearance over fifty years ago.   It’s also been suggested I should be called, “re-peter/repeater!”
What to think about such confusion of identity?  Do identical twins fear that remaining together will prevent each of them from developing as a unique individual?  My personal experience is that I recognise the danger and that separation has enabled each of us to develop in a direction very different from the other.  And we have had the constant irritation of people confusing us and thinking that our thoughts are always the same.  They’re not!
But both of us would admit that separation is painful, especially since the frailty of old age prevents us from crossing the Atlantic to be together again.    But thanks to Skype we can now see each other and talk together -the next best thing to being together.  What is more, we can recognise God’s wisdom in keeping us apart.  When we plan Facebook meditations we can bring to our discussion very different experiences of pastoral life.  That, we hope, will enrich our postings.
There’s another advantage is being apart.  When together twins tend to prefer each other’s company to anybody else’s.  I believe research has discovered that some toddler twins develop their own private language, which no one else can understand.  Turning in towards each other can prevent them from reaching out to people of different backgrounds and interests.   That would impoverish our lives.    We all need the confidence to reach out to others and learn from them, without fearing that will cause us to lose our identity.
In his letter to the Galatians St. Paul reassures us, There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” (3. 28).   While the important differences remain they should no longer be divisive.
And to the opening question, “what the….is that?!” I would reply, “your brother or sister in Christ.”  It takes a lot of faith to reach that  conclusion!
Isidore O.P.



Wednesday, 14 June 2017

CORPUS CHRISTI

A number of years ago I did a bit of exciting detective work.  In a stately home in the heart of England several stained glass windows show Dominicans,  holding a monstrance, containing the Blessed Sacrament. Among them there’s St. Thomas Aquinas, who is said to have composed the liturgy for today’s feast. Research has led me to conclude that the glass has probably come from our priory in Liege, Belgium, where that devotion originated. 

So, what’s this devotion all about, and why is it important?  Well, most of us come to Mass every Sunday, and many during the week.   Though that’s very good, there is the danger of our taking the Mass for granted.   So, today’s feast of Corpus Christi, or Body of Christ -should give us the chance to reflect on what may have become too routine. If familiarity doesn’t here breed contempt it can easily lead to complacency.  Hopefully, our celebration of Corpus Christi would renew and fire up our wonder and gratitude for the gift of the Mass.  

We believe that at every Mass Christ’s sacrifice of the cross is made present on the altar for the local community.   Our crucified and risen Lord continues to offer Himself to His Heavenly Father, as, on our behalf, He makes our peace with God.   And we are united with Christ in offering ourselves in loving service of God and each other.    The Mass should sum up and re-enforce our whole lives as generous givers, rather than selfish grabbers.

The feast of Corpus Christi reminds us that in the Eucharist Christ is present in a very special way, and gives Himself to us in the form of a meal.    We believe that the bread and wine are changed into Christ’s own Body and Blood.   This meal nourishes us so that we can grow as Christians.   We call this meal, ‘Holy Communion.’   Our personal communion with God and our fellow members within the Church is expressed and strengthened by our sharing the one Body and Blood of Christ.
We can understand the meaning of communion if we think of how we celebrate special occasions with a meal.  We enjoy good food and drink together, but more than that, we’re nourished by each other’s company and conversation. Such special meals draw us closer to each other. And that’s what should happen at Mass.   We’re nourished by the very best of food and drink –Christ’s own Body and Blood.   And we’re nourished by His company and conversation, as He speaks to us through the Scriptures, the Creed and hopefully the sermon.   The sacred Eucharistic Meal should draw us closer to Christ and each other.  

The Blessed Sacrament, consecrated at Mass, is reserved in the Tabernacle.   This is firstly so that Holy Communion can be taken to the sick who can’t get to Mass.   That means that Jesus can not only be brought to them to nourish them in a special way, but Jesus in the Sacrament itself keeps them in union with the community’s celebration of Mass.   The Blessed Sacrament is also reserved in the Tabernacle so that we can drop into church, to worship Jesus who is there present amongst us in the Eucharist.  As we pray before the Blessed Sacrament we have time to deepen our understanding and devotion for the Mass itself and to take part in future Masses with greater reverence.  In other words, Eucharistic devotion outside Mass is always linked to the Mass itself.   That’s very true of Benediction and Corpus Christi processions.

Corpus Christi is a wonderful, joyful feast.  It’s not surprising the Mass should be called the ‘Eucharist,’ which means, ‘Thanksgiving.’   Today, above all others, we should be filled with gratitude for the gift of the Mass! 

Isidore O.P.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

THE BLESSED TRINITY

Just before He ascended to Heaven the risen Lord commissioned His followers to continue His work.   “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."  (Matt. 28. 19-20). The Church was to make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Blessed Trinity -the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.   Though He would no longer be visibly present Jesus would always be with us.
So, what does being baptised in the name of the Blessed Trinity mean for us?   Well, our names denote who we are. I belong to the Clarke family.   Baptism in the name of the Blessed Trinity gives us our identity, as God’s children, who enjoy the very life of the Blessed Trinity.  Through the life-giving sacrament of baptism we are raised beyond our human, creaturely limitations to share the very life of the Blessed Trinity and are called to share its happiness.   The Trinity makes its home in us, and we in the Trinity.   Each of us – our very selves - becomes God’s temple, His sacred dwelling place.
As God’s children there’s a family resemblance between us and God.   We’ve been made in His image and likeness.   Our perfection and happiness lies in becoming ever more like God –in knowing and loving God as He really is, living lovingly as God lives.   That means becoming like the Trinitarian God, and knowing and loving God as Trinity.
So, what is the Trinity like?    The simple answer is –nothing on earth!   God is completely different from the physical world in which we live.  He transcends the whole of His creation.   In other words, God is mysterious.
But let’s not panic!   We’re used to living with mysteries in our daily lives.   We don’t fully understand ourselves, let alone anybody else. We’re constantly being taken by surprise.  But that doesn’t prevent us loving each other. In fact the mystery makes us much more interesting to know and love.   We can destroy love by too much analysis –by trying to define and categorise people.   So, we shouldn’t be put off by God being the greatest of all mysteries.  Instead, we should welcome, love and praise the mystery of the Trinity, which is God.  We want to be loved for ourselves, as we really are, and not as some fantasy of us -so does God. It’s exceedingly insulting to love a fantasy, rather than welcome the real person. If we try to force God to fit into our limited understanding of Him we will end up with fashioning our own god.  That would be idolatry.
God has revealed something of Himself by attributing to each member of the Blessed Trinity a different way of being involved in our salvation… the Father – Creator; the Son – Saviour; the Holy Spirit – Sanctifier!
In John’s Gospel we’re told that God loved the world so much that He sent His only Son into the world to save us.  The Son expressed God’s love for us by becoming one of us and sacrificed His human life so that we could share His divine life.       No one could show us greater love than that!           And after ascending to heaven Jesus sent God’s Spirit into the world so that we could receive the divine happiness which He’d won for us on the cross.   Without the activity of each member of the Blessed Trinity our lives as Christians would be meaningless, impossible.
Obviously there’s much more that could be said about the Blessed Trinity.   But in the end, we have to admit that God can’t be pinned down by intellectual analysis and definitions -nor can we!              We will draw far closer to God by welcoming Him with love as He is in Himself –as the mysterious Blessed Trinity.   We will know, love and praise God much, much better in heaven. That will be our eternal happiness.
Isidore O.P.  
 
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