Thursday, 1 December 2016

WHY DID GOD BOTHER?


With a sense of bewildered wonder the Psalmist exclaimed, What is man that you take thought of him, and the son of man that you care for him?  (Psalm 8. 4). That is the most basic of questions.  It's answer should give meaning and direction to the whole of our lives.

So, why did God bother to create us? Why did God bother to save us?  After all, He always knew that we would rebel against Him. From all eternity He knew the lengths He would have to go to save His creation from the mess we would make of His plans. He had wanted us His people to have a loving relationship with Him. But after sin had ruined that plan He would have to take drastic steps to repair the damage.

Were we worth so much aggravation? Thank God, His answer was a resounding “Yes!”   “Yes” to our creation; “Yes” to repairing the damage we’d do to His original plan for us, that we should share His divine life and happiness.

Yet again I ask, “Knowing all this, why did God bother.”  For me St. John’s Gospel provides the perfect answer -and that is mind-blowing!  In his third chapter John proclaims, For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life,” (Jn. 3. 16).  God’s love is the only answer to my question, “Why did He bother with us?”   First, He loved us into existence.   His love was creative.  Next, His love was re-creative, restoring our loving relationship with Him which had been destroyed by man’s rebellion against Him.

Pope Francis expresses this beautifully in the Apostolic Letter, rounding off the Year of Mercy.  He says, “I am loved, therefore I exist; I am forgiven, therefore I am re-born; I have been shown mercy, therefore I have become a vessel of mercy,” (‘Misericordia et Misera’ 16)

God’s love for us has the resilience to forgive; it is forever merciful.   St. John goes on to tell us that God much preferred to save us from the    destructive power of sin, rather than to condemn and punish us for sinning.   Like the Father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, He was eager and anxious to welcome back His wayward children.  He was prepared to forgive us and help us to make a fresh start.

But then, wonder of wonders, St. John’s Gospel continues, “God sent His only Son into the world –not to condemn it, but to save it,” (Jn. 3.17).  These words proclaim the wonder of the birth of the babe at Bethlehem, the wonder of Christmas.  God loves us people so much that He chose to save us by first becoming one of us.   That’s why He chose Mary to be His mother.  He wanted to use our human vulnerability as the means to showing the power of His saving love and mercy.

Pope Francis saw Mercy as being the very face of God.  The birth of Jesus is the birth of our salvation, the human manifestation of God’s loving mercy.   As we adore the babe in the manger we see the face of God’s Mercy in the face of the baby Jesus -later we will see it in the face of the crucified Christ, and then glorified in His resurrection.

As we celebrate Christmas we rejoice in the God of Mercy becoming one of us, living among us and dying for us –simply because He loves us.   That has been the theme running throughout the Year of Mercy.

As we adore the child born in a manger let us seek the mercy He won for us on the cross.  As we seek God’s forgiveness, let us show those who have harmed us the same mercy that   we hope to receive from our heavenly Father and from those we have offended.  Only if we are as compassionate as our heavenly Father will we be His true sons and daughters.  Only through mercy given and received will we be true brothers and sisters of the babe born at Bethlehem.

Peter and I wish you the peace, joy and happiness which only the babe born at Bethlehem could give the world.
Isidore Clarke O.P.




Friday, 25 November 2016

WREATHS






Mention a wreath and our first thoughts are liable to be about funerals and Remembrance Days. In fact, the use of wreaths has an ancient and   distinguished history.     Centuries  before the birth  of  Christ  winners at the Greek Olympic Games  had a wreath place upon their heads, likewise Roman emperors and victorious generals.   In  various  ways  they  were  people of  eminence and achievement.

For several centuries Christians have had an Advent wreath hung   over the front doors of their homes.  In our churches a wreath is given a prominent place in the Sanctuary. 

The Advent Wreath is loaded with sacred symbolism.  Being circular – without beginning or end - it represents the eternity of God.  The  wreath   was  often  made  from a laurel branch. It being in leaf throughout the year   pointed  to the immortality of Jesus – truly human while remaining truly God.  

The human family has had Jesus as its most outstanding   member ever since that definitive moment in the history of mankind when Mary pronounced her FIAT at the Annunciation. The Son of God had become Jesus, the Son of Mary.

Year after year the Church has relived the centuries’ old yearning of God’s Chosen People. They   were impatient   that His promise to  give them  the Messiah would be fulfilled. His People struggled with  a  sense of emptiness, a hunger,  a thirst,  that only the coming of Jesus would satisfy. 

In the prophesy of Isaiah we find this desolation being described in terms of ‘walking in darkness’ and welcoming the Messiah as ‘seeing a great light.’  “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light,“  (Is. 9.1).

Very recently the force of this prophesy has come home to me!   
Against a dark tropical sky shone the enormous dazzlingly brilliant moon. The media had predicted that on a certain night people all over the world would be able to have this experience.  Here would be something not to be missed!  As the night approached eager anticipation intensified. This was a moment of unique beauty, never, ever to be forgotten.   

I could not help but think of the words of Jesus, “I am the light of the world; anyone who follows me will not be walking in the dark, but will have the light of life,“ (Jn. 8.12).  Having Jesus as the light of my life is something to be treasured more than anything else imaginable.

Now to return to the Advent Wreaths in our churches.  On the rim of each s circle of leaves are place four candles – representing the four Sundays of Advent. Three of the candles are purple – symbolic of a sinful people longing for, awaiting, the arrival (advent) of the Promised One who would come to save them from their sins. On the third Sunday of Advent a pink candle denotes  a cheerful people confident that their Saviour is well  on His way.

Advent begins with one candle being lighted; week after week another candle is lighted. As we draw ever closer to the birthday of the Light of the World the light radiating from the wreath becomes brighter and brighter. Through this we are meant to experience our increasing longing, our need, for Jesus. The crescendo of fulfilment is stated by a white candle being   placed in the centre of the wreath… Christmas Day.  For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given,” (Isaiah 9.6)

 The Advent Wreath provides us with a spirituality of  our journeying towards Jesus with ever-increasing urgency and joy.  As one candle after another is lighted we are to become ever more aware of Jesus eagerly coming towards us.

This year, more than any previous year, I have a sense that we who still believe in the beautiful necessity of Jesus in our lives have a responsibility towards this world that is our home.

 We are in duty bound  to  bear witness to  the Good News that is Jesus Christ. We are to pray that the sublime graces of Christmastide may   overflow   into   the whole  world…fearful about the mess of itself it is creating…bewildered about where it is going.

I wish all of you a very blessed Advent Season!

Peter Clarke, O.P.



Thursday, 24 November 2016

1st SUNDAY of ADVENT

'TEAR OPEN THE HEAVENS AND COME DOWN'



Have you ever felt like giving God a good shake to wake Him up?   If so, you’re in good company.   Impatiently, the Psalmist, speaking for his people, exclaimed, “Arouse Yourself, why do you sleep, O Lord? Awake, do not reject us forever. Why do you hide your face and forget our affliction and our oppression?"  (Ps.44. 23-24).

He was desperate.   Where was God when he most needed Him?  Where is He now, when we most need Him?  Has He forgotten us?   Does He no longer care for us?   Or is He just asleep and needs waking up?   With the prophet Isaiah, expressing the longings and frustrations of God’s people, we may well cry,  O, that you would tear open the heavens and come down!  (Isaiah 64. 1).

God’s very own People had joyfully  returned  from the misery of exile in Babylon.  But they had found their land devastated, Jerusalem in ruins, its temple destroyed.  They became depressed by the arduous task of re-building their lives.   Now the God who had rescued them seemed so distant; their commitment to Him had grown cold.   A spiritual lethargy had set in.

Against this background the prophet reminded God of His commitment to His People.   He begged God to tear open the heavens and come down to help His People - -to re-enkindle their enthusiasm to do His will. The prophet wasn’t just speaking about his own people. His message speaks to us at this very moment!

We can become so depressed at the conflict in the world, especially in Syria and Iraq, the increasing number of homeless refugees, the mounting racial intolerance.  It can all seem too much for us.  We can so easily sink into despair or a spiritual lethargy as we face the dreary routine of our daily lives. We need God to re-enkindle the fervour of our commitment to Him.  We long for Him to tear open the heavens and come to us.

God responded to our needs when His Son was born at Bethlehem.  The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  He has shared our human life so that we could share His divine life and happiness.  He has come among us to save us from all that oppresses us.

Advent is a special time for us to reflect on our constant need for God to enter our lives, for us to make Him welcome and transform our lives.

But Jesus has ascended to heaven and is no longer physically present among us.   We could so easily fear that He has deserted us, especially when life is difficult.   Our faith and commitment to Him could easily grow cold.  With the prophet we may long for God to tear open the heavens and come to our rescue.

To this Jesus gives two answers.   He has promised to remain with us always, in new and wonderful ways.  He comes to us in the Sacraments, speaks to us through the Scriptures and the teaching of the Church.  Through Baptism the Blessed Trinity abides in us and we in it, and we draw ever closer through the dialogue of love, which is prayer.   And Jesus identifies especially with the needy, whom we meet in our daily lives.  He certainly hasn’t abandoned us.  The Holy Spirit gives us the sensitivity to recognise our Saviour and make Him welcome.

And Jesus has promised to return in glory at the end of time.  That should fill us with hope of eternal happiness with Him, rather than fill us with fear.  Since we don’t know when He will come in glory, today’s Gospel urges us to get on with whatever work Christ has given us to do.  We must watch, so that we are always prepared to welcome Christ whenever He returns in glory.  If we are prepared, then it won’t really matter when that moment comes.

Especially during Advent, we should want God to come alive in each one of us and transform us, so that we can embrace the salvation Jesus has already won for us. That has been the central theme of the Year of Mercy, which we have just celebrated.

During Advent we will sing, “Oh, come, oh come, Emmanuel.”    That expresses our need for Jesus, our longings for Him to enter ever more deeply into our lives, and we into His.
Isidore Clarke O.P.



Sunday, 13 November 2016

FEAST OF CHRIST THE KING - CLOSURE OF YEAR OF MERCY

Christ Reigns in Majesty
'The Prior's Door' Ely Cathedral, England
A year ago Pope Francis proclaimed a YEAR OF MERCY. Indeed, a Door of Mercy was designated in Rome and in dioceses throughout the world. In a highly symbolic gesture the Pope opened the locked Door of Mercy. In so doing he proclaimed the openness of God’s mercy… His eagerness to forgive sinners.

Through that door we entered the House of God -the focus of His
mercy. This we first experienced at our baptisms when we infants were carried through the church doors as strangers and were welcomed with joy into the community of the Church. We became members of God’s family.


Later we would frequently pass through the Door of Mercy to ask God to forgive our sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. There, in God’s House, we celebrate the sacrifice of the Cross, the sacrifice of the Mass, through which Jesus our Saviour has made our peace with God. 
The Door of Mercy has represented the gateway to salvation!

Pope Francis has urged us to see mercy as being the face of God, Jesus as the human expression of divine mercy.  Jesus tells us, that we, who have been made in the image of God must be as compassionate as our heavenly Father is compassionate, (cf. Lk. 6. 36).  Our very personalities must radiate this compassion as we personally experience the wonder of God’s mercy, the wonder of other people showing us compassion.  Now, to mark the end of the Year of Mercy the Door of Mercy will

be solemnly closed.  The question for the Church and for each of us must be, ‘What next?’  Has the past year been like a bright, exciting shooting star, which rapidly disappears into the distance and is soon forgotten?  With the closing of the Door of Mercy are we going to let our hearts become closed with what Pope Francis describes as ‘global indifference’ to the sufferings of others.

If so, all we could say of the Year of Mercy would be, ‘It was good while it lasted.’ We would then slip back into our normal humdrum routine, as though the Year of Mercy had never happened.  If so, it would have had no lasting value.

 We must not let that happen; we must not fritter away this special Year of Grace. The past Year of Mercy must not become a conclusion, but a launching pad for us to continue spreading the wonder of God’s mercy throughout the world.  The past year should have produced a radical conversion in us, leading us to be more eager to seek forgiveness from God and each other, to forgive those who have harmed us. Hopefully, the Year of Mercy will inspire us to be more caring and compassionate.

 It is very fitting that the feast of Christ the King should conclude the Year of Mercy.  His life-long mission was to defeat every form of evil and establish God’s reign of Peace, Love, Justice, Holiness and Truth.

That was finally won when the crucified Christ was enthroned on the cross.  Not by force of arms but by the power of His merciful love He defeated the destructive might of sin and death. His is a liberating victory, setting us free to be fully human, fully children of God. In Him everything in heaven and earth has been has been reconciled to God.  In Him there is a new creation, restoring and renewing God’s original creation, damaged by sin.

But if we are to share in the victory of the cross, we must join Jesus in His battle against evil.  For us, as for Him, our only weapon must be merciful love. That is how He has established His Kingdom.  Only through merciful love will we be His true and loyal subjects.

Though the Year of Mercy may have concluded, its mission continues till the end of time, when Christ the King will return in glory, finally to establish His sovereignty over the whole of creation.  With the whole heavenly choir we will triumphantly sing, “Our God reigns!” His loving mercy reigns! 


Isidore Clarke O.P.

Monday, 31 October 2016

ALL SAINTS-ALLSOULS




On 1st November –the Church celebrates the Feast of All Saints when we honour those who have lived with outstanding holiness, have died and have been acclaimed by the Church to be now in Heaven. We are also meant to honour that multitude of saintly, unsung, heroes who have never received public recognition.
We have missed the whole point of the Feast if fail to face up to the fact God is calling each of us to be among the ‘saints-in-the-making.’ God is calling us to lead lives that are pleasing to Him. This Feast Day should inspire us to reach for the Heavens!
On 2nd November, the Feast of All Souls, and then through the whole month of November, we pray for the dead.
In so doing we ought to muse, ‘I could die any time. Am I, at this moment, totally ready to enter Heaven? Have I ever been?” Most of us would be satisfied with saying of ourselves, ‘Not yet ready for Heaven; certainly not fit for Hell. Please God, I never will be!’
We Catholics believe that between Earth and Heaven there’s ‘middle ground’ called Purgatory. Here God in His merciful love gives that ‘finishing touch’ that would render those there completely suitable to live in His presence.
While this is most consoling it may leave us desolate with grief at the passing of a loved one. At this point St. Paul gently advises us, “Make sure that you do not grieve for them, as others do who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and that in the same way God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.” (1 Thess. 4.13).
Contrast “When you’re dead you’re done, full stop!” with the promise Jesus made to His disciples, “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. (Jn.14.1).
Our tears might dampen our Faith In God but they won’t drown it. Our Faith tells us, ‘There’s no need to dry your tears! When the Son of God became man He took upon Himself the fullness of our humanity - with its raw, heart-rending sensitivity. While Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus the Jews remarked, “See how much He loved him,” (Jn.11.36).
The Feast of All Saints is telling us, ‘Now is the time for us to be working on leading lives that are pleasing to God. We should do nothing that would disqualify us from entering His presence. Moreover, Jesus has always had an immense love for His Church. ‘He sacrificed Himself for her to make her holy…so that when He took the Church to Himself she would be glorious, with no speck or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and faultless,” (Eph. 5). We too are embraced in this cleansing love.
What Jesus didn’t complete in our lifetime He will accomplish by delaying us in Purgatory. There He will straighten out our misshapen selves with our unwholesome habits and deal with our tepid repentance which never amounted to a total rejection of sin and a radical turning towards God.
The real punishment for our sins that is Purgatory is the pain in for a while being deprived of the Glorious Vision of Almighty God in Heaven. We will have brought this delay upon ourselves.

The spirituality of All Souls is that we who remain to mourn are consoled that our love-filled prayers will serve to shorten the stay of those still confined to Purgatory. For their part, they, with love and gratitude, will bless us for remembering them.
What a thought! God wants us to share in this final stage of their Salvation History!. What a privilege for us to do so!
Peter Clarke, O.P



Sunday, 23 October 2016

HAVING THE MIND OF CHRIST




My brother Peter got me thinking. When commenting on the Rosary he suggested we should view Salvation History through the eyes of Mary.  So I wondered whether her life followed the pattern of St. Paul’s introduction to the famous hymn in his Letter to the Philippians. 

This begins, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus…” (Philip. 2.5).  That must have been especially true of His mother, Mary.   She must have been especially in tune with Him.

This hymn begins with the Son of God becoming a human servant, obedient to His heavenly Father’s will; this is paralleled by Mary’s ‘Fiat’ to God.  She played a vital part in God’s plan for our salvation. With that ‘YES’ she agreed to become the Handmaid of the Lord. 

His obedience was “even unto death on the cross.”   Mary made the same journey to Calvary and then stood by her crucified Son. She even offered His life for our salvationAs He became the Suffering Servant of the Lord she became the Suffering Handmaid of the Lord.

 St. Paul’s hymn continues, “For which cause He has been given a name, which is above every other name –Lord of heaven and earth,” (cf. Philip. 2. 11).    Mary has been assumed into Heaven and given a name, which is above every other name – Queen of Heaven and Earth.  

Through this pattern of ascent the 2nd Adam and the 2nd Eve reverse the pattern of descent through the disobedience of the 1st Adam and Eve.

But  it’s not enough for us simply to have the ‘mind of Christ.’  In his 1st letter St. John tells us our lives must follow the same pattern as Christ’s, “whoever claims to remain in Him must act as He acted,” ( I Jn. 2.6).    We must not only hear His word, but do it.   In John that word ‘remain’ is loaded.   It implies a permanence and stability, and, therefore, commitment.   Also to ‘remain in’ implies a relationship as intimate as that between the Father and   His Son. 

We have been called to enter into that relationship.   Sharing their life means a harmony of will, having the mind of Christ and, therefore, acting as He acted.  That was true for Jesus in His obedience to His Father’s will; that was true for His mother; that must be true for us, His followers.

Like the young Samuel’s, our response must be, ‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening,’ ( 1 Sam 3. 9).  That was echoed by Mary’s, ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord.  Be it done unto me according to your word, (Lk. 1. 38).       As for Jesus, we only have to think of His, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me. Nevertheless, let your will be done, not mine,” (Lk. 22.42).

The  docility to God’s will, which underlies all the gifts of the Holy Spirit, demands a strength of character,  an open generosity in self-giving –the opposite to self-centred grabbing.    It’s a call to service, not dominance. 

Having the mind of Christ means, in the words of St. Paul, ‘….since you have been raised with Christ, strive for theHYPERLINK "/greek/3588.htm" HYPERLINK "/greek/3588.htm"things above, where Christ is seated at the right haHYPERLINK "/greek/1188.htm"nHYPERLINK "/greek/1188.htm"d of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.… (Col. 3. 1-2).  This text implies an ascent in our perspective, in our values, in our decisions, in our actions.  Since these run contrary to our fallen nature, they will involve the cross of self-sacrifice, self-denial, unselfishness. Or put positively, we have been called to share Christ’s generous self-giving, His serving.

St. Paul sums all this up beautifully.   God has uttered an eternal ‘Yes’ to our creation, an eternal ‘Yes’ to our salvation. Through Jesus we welcome God’s plan for us with a heart-felt ‘Yes.’ And so St. Paul writes, For all the promises of God are “Yes” in Christ. And so through Him, our “Amen” is spoken to the glory of God,” (2 Cor. 1. 20).  

A final thought: while as a child Jesus walked in the footsteps of Mary, His mother. Then, later on, Mary, as did His disciples, walked in His footsteps as she followed Him in His joys, His sorrows and His glory.

Isidore Clarke, O.P.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

MARY TREASURED! MARY PONDERED! MARY STORED UP!








Who can blame Mary for TREASURING that moment of leave-taking of the simple shepherds and eminent  wise  men?  They had come to honour her newly-born Son, Jesus. She PONDERED all this in her heart   (Lk.2.19).
Some years later there was that traumatic time of Mary and Joseph losing Jesus, finding Jesus in discussion with the teachers in the Temple in Jerusalem.  Understandably they were mystified at the distress He had caused them.   We are told that “HIS MOTHER STORED UP all these things in her heart”. (Lk.2.51).  
Like many a mother Mary made life-long emotional journey with her beloved child – from the moment of His conception in the womb to His burial in the tomb. With tender, sometimes bewildering, love Mother and Son shaped each other’s lives.
The Gospel is the Good News about Jesus – the love-gift of God the Father to mankind. In fact Jesus Himself was, and is, the Good News – through whom  Divine Merciful Love was, and is, poured out upon the delinquent human family.
From a life of about thirty four years Jesus gave three of them to Pastoral   Caring and Forgiving – inter-laced with the spectacular calming of storms, raising the dead to life, expelling unclean spirits, and forgiving sins - something God alone can do. , ‘Mary would have been thrilled at the way her Son was acclaimed, terrified by the way opposition mounted against Him.
All this must have transformed her relationship with Almighty God to whom she had pledged herself, “Behold the Handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to thy word,” (Lk. 1.38).
The Story of Jesus is no captivating fiction. It is the real-life Salvation History of Mankind with the Son of God becoming flesh  for our sake and for our salvation. In addition reading the Jesus Story in Sacred Scripture we should pray ourselves into the Story through meditating upon its events and teaching, allowing ourselves to be shaped/reshaped by it.
Over many centuries Catholics have found the  Rosary an immense help, if it is recited at a gentle pace that   allows us to absorb the  particular event  in the life of Jesus as we meditate on each of the Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful, and Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary.
In so doing we recruit Mary who actually experienced  the whole Jesus Story – with the immediacy that belongs uniquely to a mother. Now glorious in heaven she accompanies us in our own personal journey through the Jesus Story.
I now share with you a few of the profound insights of  Pope Saint John Paul 11 written in 2002 when he gave to the Church the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary.
“With the Rosary, the Christian people sits at the school of Mary and is led to contemplate the beauty on the face of Christ and to experience the depths of His love… Through the Rosary the faithful receive abundant grace, as though from the very hands of the Mother of the Redeemer….To recite the Rosary is nothing other than to contemplate with Mary the face of Christ.
POPE Francis has decreed this present year to be a Jubilee of  Mercy. He has described the Face of Almighty God as being the Face of Mercy and the Face of His Beloved Son, Jesus, as being the Human Face of Divine Mercy. He wrote, “No- one has penetrated the profound mystery of the incarnation like Mary. Her entire life was patterned after the presence of mercy made flesh... …She treasured divine mercy in her heart in perfect harmony with her Son Jesus.
The more the world denies or ignores the significance of Jesus, as the human embodiment of Divine Merciful Love the more it needs to pray the Rosary as a celebration of Salvation Divinely Merciful           History –  bearing in mind that Jesus is the Redeem and Mary the      Mother of the Redeemer.                                                                                   This is why  the prayer, ‘Hail, holy Queen,’                                                    calls Mary, Mother of   Mercy’.

Peter  Clarke, OP




 
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