Monday, 6 February 2017

AUTUMN OF MY CONTENT

(with apologies to 'Richard III')

Let’s face it.  Much of our lives are uneventful.  Hopefully we do have high points when we can celebrate and enjoy ourselves.  But for much of the time we live a monotonous routine. We may well ask, ‘What’s the point?’
The Church comes up with a brilliant answer. It sanctifies the tedium of life with what we call ‘Ordinary Time.’ That’s when we’re not preparing for great liturgical festivals or actually celebrating them, but just getting on with the routine of following Jesus in our daily lives.  About 30 years of His short life were as mundane and humdrum as ours.  From infancy, through childhood, youth and manhood He was being prepared to carry out His saving mission.  Each stage of that preparation was vital to His success.
For Jesus and for us Ordinary Time is Sacred Time. It’s in the routine of our daily lives that we love and serve God and each other. In this He draws close to us, and we to Him. Each stage of our Ordinary Time is meant to help us on our journey to the Kingdom of Heaven. The routine will vary as we develop and grow from being an infant, then a child, then an adult. 
As I approach 85 I have a special interest in making sense of what the Ordinary Time of ageing can mean for me and others like me.  With God’s help I need to see if the autumn of my life can become the fruitful and positive climax to my vocation to follow Christ. 
Increasingly that’s meaning not being active, but sharing in our saviour’s weakness and vulnerability. Through us sick and frail people the Church identifies with the crucified Christ and shares in His redemptive suffering, (cf. Col. 1. 24).  We are called to witness that lives like ours are not a meaningless waste, but an essential part of the life of the Church.  Ours is a difficult vocation; we need and value the respect and support of those who are active.
People like me are often accused of living in the past. Certainly we can be crashing bores as we reminisce about the ‘good old days.’  But for most of us oldies our faith shifts our perspective.  Instead of looking back, we look forward.  We’re not so much preparing for death, but for eternal life.  As I contemplate the sunset of death I     look forward to the sunrise of the resurrection.  My longing to dwell in the house of the Lord increases as that approaches.  I’m like an old horse which gets excited as it nears home! 
One of the things about extreme old age is that you survive your contemporaries. Gradually they’re stripped away and you’re left alone.  Since they were part of your life, with their death, part of you dies.   And in many other ways ageing strips us of our various props and supports.   That must mean coming to terms with my mind and various parts of my body wearing out and breaking down. Though this is frustrating, so far I’ve been spared any great pain or disability.
For me the Ordinary Time of ageing forces me to let go, to give back to God -my physical and mental strengths, my loved ones, my mobility, the opportunities to be an active Dominican.
The more I have to surrender, the more I’m challenged to trust, to believe that God’s hands will sustain me and bring me to my heavenly home with Him.  As death knocks away the final prop, I’m called to pray with the dying Jesus, “Father into your hands I commend my life, and death.”
Letting go of everything and trusting in the Lord -that’s what I must do during the Ordinary Time, the Autumn, of my Old Age.

Isidore Clarke O.P.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

JESUS WASTED TIME?

                 








How did Jesus spend His life? After all, besides being the Son of Mary He was the Son God. He was making this world, our world, His very own! To tell the truth, during most of His life of about 34 years He did nothing out of the ordinary. For about 30 of those years He fitted into the life of the people of Nazareth.

As a child He would have played games and have received the same kind of instruction as those of His age-group.  A time would surely have come  when He would have done something to earn a living - perhaps helping in Joseph's carpentry shop, perhaps He grew and sold vegetables.  On  becoming a young man, He would have mixed with the men about town.

In other words, His life would have been very ordinary. Since He was truly God we can be certain there was nothing sinful about Him. But we can be sure that He didn't wear a halo as He walked the streets of Nazareth. 

There's no need to assume that because He was the Son of God He dominated every conversation and expected to get His way whenever a decision had to be made. His friends and relatives probably would not have been inclined to show Him any special respect. They would not have thought He was any better than they were. 

When we reflect on the three years of the ministry of  Jesus they were  in many ways spectacular, even sensational, with His various miracles - healing the sick, raising the dead to life, feeding multitudes, calming storm. Even now we marvel at how instructive are  His teaching and preaching. 

During those three years there was something about Jesus that caused people to swarm around Him. They couldn't get enough of Him. They came to expect so much of Him - all the time. He influenced the lives of so many. 

In terms of time only a small fraction of the life of  Jesus was exceptional -out of the ordinary – that of the Infancy Narratives – 3 years of public ministry  - and  that  from His Passion to Ascension into Glory. The balance – 30 years – was scarcely more than typical growth into manhood. It would seem the Son of  God, Jesus, went underground - He merged with the 'grass roots' of society, of family and local community. He confined Himself to the people of Nazareth and its surroundings.

The Son of God, the Son of Man, spend most of His life on earth in this restricted environment of family and neighbourhood. He wanted to endorse  the supreme value of the family as the basic unit of human society. He displayed the beauty, possibility, even the necessity, of being godly in our being together, living,working, enjoying ourselves together.   

Dare we say society stands or crumbles to the extent that we we catch the significance of these thirty years of the life of Jesus?

These were not wasted years, opportunities lost for making a spectacular impression of the history of mankind.  When God becomes involved Ordinary Time becomes Sacred Time; the trivial and transient assumes an eternal value.   That was true for Jesus; that can be true for you and me!

What a difference it would make if in our own personal  Ordinary Time we made the words of Jesus our Watch-Word, "I have loved you just as the Father has love me....love one another as I have loved you," (Jn. 15)!

Peter Clarke, OP  



















Sunday, 8 January 2017

"I COME TO DO YOUR WILL"


Greeting from Fr. Isidore Clarke on 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A.
 
‘Here I am Lord.  I come to do your will.   These words are taken from today’s responsorial psalm, (Ps. 39).    They sum up Christ’s vocation and ours -His followers.    In the 1st Reading (Is. 49. 3-6) we are told about God choosing and preparing a servant.  He would be a light to the nations and would bring the Lord’s salvation to the ends of the earth. 

That prophecy was fulfilled in Christ.  At his baptism the Father recognised Jesus as his beloved Son or Servant, and in the power of the Spirit he began to preach the Kingdom of God.   The words, ‘Here I am Lord.  I come to do your will’ sum up Christ’s life-long openness and obedience to his Father’s will.  This would take him to Gethsemane and the cross.

‘Here I am Lord.  I come to do your will’ sums up our Christian vocation.   At our baptism each one of us becomes God’s beloved son or daughter, called to serve Him and our neighbour with love.    There are many ways in which we can do that.  For most of us it will be as married or single lay people.  In those capacities, there are many possibilities. God will call others to serve Him in the priesthood or religious life.  

In practice, it’s never a question of one vocation being better than another, but of which one is right and best for us.  God calls each one of us to something special, which probably won’t be anything spectacular and may shift from serving Him in one way during a certain period in our lives, to something different later on.  I have had to learn that in the frailty of sickness or old age I can’t do what was possible  when I was an active youngster, some 60 ago.   Being frail is a very special and difficult vocation.  So is being young and active.

Sometimes it may be difficult for us to know what God is asking of us.   With the young Samuel we should say, ‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening,’ (1 Sam. 3.9).   Usually we don’t hear a voice from heaven clearly telling us what we should do.   Instead, God helps us to make up our minds through prayerful thought and inquiry.   Wise advice or someone simply acting as a sounding-board can be of great assistance.   God may well want us to use our particular interests and skills in His service.

It can be a problem when we simply can’t tell what God wants of us!   This uncertainty may last for some time.   Though that may be distressing for us, it may be God’s plan for us at that particular moment.  He may want us to learn to wait on the Lord and to learn to be patient with Him and ourselves.   For a time God may want us to serve him by our living with uncertainty.  If so, we will need a great deal of trust to believe God knows what He’s doing, even if we don’t.   As we place ourselves in God’s hands we should pray, ‘Thy will be done,’
or with Mary,
‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to your word.’  

We can be called to these periods of uncertainty at any time of our lives -as a school or university-leaver, uncertain about what he’s going to do with his life, or someone who becomes unemployed and doesn’t yet know how he’s occupy himself.  Or perhaps we’ve just come out of prison and are facing a very uncertain future.  Perhaps a serious accident or illness may make our previous activity impossible.  The future can look very bleak and frightening.  I’ve been there; I know.

To pray, ‘Here I am Lord.  I come to do your will’ means that we are open to God.  We are willing to listen to Him, and are eager to do His will.  That takes great courage and trust that God and will give us the strength to do whatever He asks of us.  For our part, when we say ‘Yes’ to God’s will we must mean it and do it, wherever that may take us. It’s no use being full of good intentions if we don’t carry them out. 

To say ‘Yes’ to God is the most difficult of prayers to say and really mean -as Jesus learnt in Gethsemane.  But perhaps surprisingly, it is  precisely in doing God’s will that we will find our greatest fulfilment, with the greatest reward.  In the final reckoning the Lord will say to us, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! ….. Come and share your master's happiness!'
(Matt. 25. 23).

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

THE EPIPHANY




Today we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany -God manifesting Himself in the person of the baby Jesus.

At Christmas we rejoiced that angels had called shepherds to come from the nearby hills to worship the new-born Jesus.   Although they were uneducated, poor, despised Jews God chose to reveal Himself first to them; they were the first people to recognise and welcome Jesus as their Lord and God, their Saviour.

On today’s feast of the Epiphany we celebrate God revealing Himself to another very different group of people  - pagan wise men - who had travelled from a distant land.  They  were  Magi -highly respected scholars renowned for their knowledge of the planets and stars.    Building on that interest, God used a star to guide them from modern Iraq or Iran, to the babe at Bethlehem.

 God moved them to follow that star, make a long journey into the unknown.   When they reached the infant Jesus, God inspired them to make an enormous leap of faith.   Seeing a normal baby, they believed that He was truly God.   The wise students of the stars worshipped the Creator of Heaven and Earth!

When they returned home the Magi would have told their people what they had seen and heard.  That would make them the first missionaries to the pagan world!   This comes at the very beginning of Matthew’s Gospel;  at the very end the risen Lord commissioned the disciples to preach the Good News to the whole world.   God became man out of an urgent desire that  people of every race and class should share His life and happiness.  No-one was to be excluded.  Such is the wonderful Good News we celebrate on the feast of the Epiphany.

Like the Magi, we are called to make a journey of discovering Christ.   God will lead each of us by different routes, depending on our backgrounds and interests…Magi one way,  shepherds another way!  

 Certainly, most of us have already set out on that journey towards learning to know and love Christ.   Not one of us has yet completed that journey, nor will we, till we see God face to face in heaven.   In the meantime, we, like the Magi, must follow whatever star God uses to guide us.  

It’s important to note that for the Magi to find the baby Jesus they required not only the guidance of a star, but also that of the Scriptures. These were provided by, of all people, Herod’s religious advisers.   Though human reason can teach us much about God, we need Divine Revelation to help us discover Christ and the wonder of the salvation He has planned for us.  

At the manger, we see both Jews and pagans, rich and poor.  They represent all of us.  The Son of God shared our human life, lived among us and died for every one of us.  Though each of us has a different starting point we share a common finishing point – Jesus.   As He draws us to Himself He builds on what we already have; He comes to us where we are; He leads us to where we should be -with Him.

 We’re told that the Magi came with gifts.   The gold represents Christ’s kingship, the frankincense His priesthood and the myrrh His burial. These would find their fulfilment in Christ’s Passion through which He would save both Jews and pagans, as represented at the manger.  In return for these gifts Jesus gave the Magi and the whole world an infinitely greater gift -His very self. Let us, with the shepherds and magi, welcome Christ’s gift of Himself to each one of us. 

In return, with the Magi and shepherds, come, let us give ourselves in silent adoration and loving service of the babe in the manger, the Son of God Himself.  Especially on the feast of the Epiphany let us rejoice that God has revealed Himself to the pagan world and wants all of us to be saved, no matter what our background. 

A final thought. Each of us is called to be an epiphany –someone revealing what it means to love and follow Christ. Our lives -how we behave - may be the only way most people will get to know what it means to be a Christian.

I wish you a happy feast and a blessed New Year!

Isidore O.P.

I


Friday, 30 December 2016

NEW YEAR'S GREETINGS

SOLEMNITY OF MARY, THE MOTHER OF GOD
WORLD DAY OF PEACE 2017
“They will hammer their swords into ploughshares, their spears into pruning hooks.” Surely Micah’s Messianic prophesy is very far from being fulfilled, (4.30)!
Indeed, lethal weapons are more accessible than ever before in the whole history of mankind. Who can blame those who see ours as THE AGE OF HEROD, with his blood-lust for killing even innocent babies? Does anyone have right to describe ours as being, ‘THE AGE OF JESUS CHRIST,’ the Prince of Peace, with his mother Mary being given the title, ‘Queen of Peace?’
Christians only have Faith Answers to such searching questions.
We believe that the Son of God entered this history by becoming a member of the human family. This He did to save mankind from its sinful self. In its yearly Christmas-tide liturgy the Church celebrates a Salvation History that covered several thousand years.
In so doing the Son of God was born into the exclusive, covenanted, Chosen People of God. Acceptance into this privileged community was effected by the circumcision of this boy eight days after His birth. It was then that He received his name, ‘Jesus.’
The Octave Day of Christmas used to be celebrated as the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ. For Jesus this was the first time His blood was shed - a sure sign that the Son of God was fully human and a member of God’s Chosen People. He shed the last drop of blood when He was nailed to the cross for the redemption of the whole of mankind.
Matthew tells us that Mary’s child was to be called ‘Jesus’ - ‘because He is the one to save His people from their sins,’ (Mtt.1.21). However, His remit was much wider than that. It would be all-inclusive.
To underline this point Pope Paul V1 declared that on the 1st January the whole Church throughout the world should celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, the Mother of Jesus, the Mother of the Saviour of Mankind.
From the moment of His being conceived this infant was the Saviour of the World. Through His death and resurrection Jesus saved the world.
. A little over fifty years ago Pope Paul V1, being aware of the global ever-increasing violence assigned the commencement of a New Year to be also kept as a World Day of Peace, thereby placing Jesus and His Mother Mary at the very heart of this longing for genuine, lasting peace and of the achievement of this peace.
Pope Francis has chosen ‘NON-VIOLENCE: A STYLE OF POLITICS FOR PEACE’ as the theme of his message for this year’s World Day of Peace.
He states that in “A BROKEN WORLD TODAY, sadly, we find ourselves engaged in a horrifying world war fought piece-meal -terrorism, organized crime and unforeseen acts of violence; the abuses suffered by migrants and victims of human trafficking; and the devastation of the environment.”
The root-cause of this is that people lack self-respect and respect for the dignity of every other human being. Such contempt legitimizes and releases violence of every imaginable kind. Pope Francis assures us that respecting “the image and likeness of God in each person will enable us to acknowledge one another as sacred gifts endowed with immense dignity.
He continues, ‘Jesus taught that the true battlefield, where violence and peace meet, is the human heart: for “it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come” (Mk 7:21).
The Pope follows up this sentiment and makes it the core of his message for this year’s World Day of Peace.
“IF VIOLENCE HAS ITS SOURCE IN THE HUMAN HEART, THEN IT IS FUNDAMENTAL THAT NON-VIOLENCE BE PRACTISED BEFORE ALL ELSE WITHIN FAMILIES.”
Before they are hardened by the ‘outside world’ children from a very early age must learn from the example and instruction of their elders how to live in harmony with other people.
Pope Francis insists that, “THE POLITICS OF NON-VIOLENCE HAVE TO BEGIN IN THE HOME AND THEN SPREAD TO THE ENTIRE HUMAN FAMILY.”
At the beginning of the year we should resolve to turn our pain-inflicting swords into life-giving agricultural tools that preserve and enrich the lives of us all.
‘Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.’
Peter Clarke, O.P.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Monday, 19 December 2016

UNTO US A CHILD IS BORN

The Crib sums up the wonder of Christmas.    The scene is set in a stable.  There we see figures representing what happened some 2000 years ago.    There’s a recently born babe in a manger, His young mother, her husband, who is an older man, and some shepherds. Sad to say, many a baby is born in much poorer circumstances.  And yet each one is welcomed as a source of wonder and, hopefully, of joy.

Jesus is just as human as the rest of us. But the posture of the adults around the baby tells us they realize He’s no ordinary child.   He, born at Bethlehem, was also the Son of God.  This child shared our human vulnerability. He was Almighty God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth.  As one of us He was held lovingly in His mother’s arms. As one of us He was brutally nailed to a cross. He, who has existed from all eternity, was born in time.

Simply because He loves us Almighty God has joined the human race and shared our human life, so that we people could share His divine life and happiness.  The Son of God has lived among us so that He could save us from the destructive power of sin and death. God could not have paid us, His People, a greater compliment! To God not one of us is worthless or utterly hopeless. God is convinced that He can save all of us from the power of evil.   It was vitally important to God that the salvation of mankind should come from within the human family.  The figures in the crib are designed  to help us appreciate the wonder of Christmas -the babe born at Bethlehem is the Son of God.  Mary sits looking lovingly at her baby, with her head reverently bowed.   The shepherds kneel in adoration of the baby Jesus.  They have faith to believe that He is indeed the Son of God and Saviour of the World.

 In the present picture of the Nativity Joseph has removed his sandals  -not because his feet were sore and tired.  Most surely the artist was pointing to a much more profound truth. Joseph removed his sandals out of reverence. He realised he was in the presence of the All Holy One.   The artist had in mind what Moses did when, from the burning bush, God revealed Himself as Saviour of His people.  Joseph, gazing at Jesus, realised that he was in the presence of God who had become man to save us through the forgiveness of our sins!  That's foreshadowed in the present picture of the burning bush.

The celebration of the birth of Jesus has to be the centre of our joy.  Imagine how you would feel on your birthday if your  family and friends were to ignore you as they went about having a great time! Isn’t it true  that Christmas has become so commercialised that we’re told that it wouldn’t be Christmas without certain luxury goods.  You know, dazzling Christmas lights can blind people to the true Light of the World, born in a stable at Bethlehem.

What does this say about the many thousands of people who won’t have the basic necessities for a decent life –the homeless, starving exiles, beggars sleeping on the streets in own land, those in prison and those separated from their families? Ask them if  the absence of   tinselled merriment makes Christmas empty and meaningless for them?   It even happens that having nothing else they are the ones who have the better chance of appreciating the greatest of all Christmas presents -the gift of God Himself.

In the spirit of the Year of Mercy,wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were to open our hearts and wallets to those who are in desperate need?

Peter and Isidore  wish you a very happy and holy celebration of the Birthday of our Saviour.

 
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