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.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

JOHN THE BAPTIST'S DOUBTS


Today I’m going to reflect on the Gospel for the 3rd Sunday of Advent, Year, A.      (Matthew 11. 2-11).  This should come as quite a shock      

 Had John the Baptist been wrong about Jesus?   That was the question which tormented the prophet as he languished in prison, awaiting almost certain execution. (Matthew 11. 2-11)

Last Sunday’ Gospel told us that John had aroused great excitement by urging the crowd to prepare for the coming of the Messiah, promised by the prophets.  They were to receive a baptism showing their repentance.   John foretold that when the Messiah did come He would judge and punish sinners.  Soon afterwards John pointed to Jesus as the one for whom they’d all been longing. Dramatically, he pointed to Jesus as the Lamb of the God, who would take away the sins of the world.

 But then, things didn’t work out as John had expected and predicted.   John himself had been imprisoned by King Herod, and knew that he would probably be executed. How could Jesus, the messiah-king, have allowed that, when He should have destroyed every form of evil and established God’s reign of peace and justice? Why hadn’t He replaced Herod as king of the Jews and set God’s prophet free? And Jesus wasn’t showing the wrath of God’s judgement, which John had predicted.  He wasn’t putting the axe to the fruitless tree, or burning the useless chaff, separated from the good grain.

It’s not surprising that John was filled with doubts about Jesus, and also about himself and the role he thought God had given him.  Had John got Jesus wrong?  If so, John’s whole life and mission would have been a dreadful mistake.  He would have given false hope to so many followers.  John desperately needed Jesus to answer his doubts.  So, he sent some of his disciples to ask Jesus whether he was, in fact, the one they had expected, or should they wait for somebody else. 

When John himself had been asked the same question he gave a straight, clear answer -that. he was not the one God’s people had been waiting for. But surprisingly, Jesus didn’t reassure John’s disciples by saying that he was -or was not -the one sent by God, whom they had been expecting.   Such an explicit admission would have aroused too many misunderstandings about His mission, and would have provoked hostility before He was ready to face it. 

Instead, Jesus pointed to His actions, which revealed the nature of His God-given mission.  Far from being a vengeful messiah, who had come to punish sinners, His mission was to show God’ mercy and compassion.    As He cured the sick and proclaimed the Good News to the poor He fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy in the first reading.  That should reassure John that He was, indeed, the one who was to come.  With Jesus God’s reign had, indeed, already dawned.  A new age had begun. 

And what about John the Baptist himself?  Jesus praises him as the greatest of the prophets, who actually pointed to Jesus as the one who would fulfil His people’s longings.   And yet the Baptist’s understanding of how the Messiah would fulfil His mission didn’t fit in with the prophet’s expectations of Him.   It’s not surprising that that led John to have doubts about Jesus. 

The disciples would have the same problem in understanding what it meant for Jesus to be the Christ-messiah king.  That would only become clear in the light of the crucifixion and resurrection.  That’s why Jesus says the children of the kingdom, who have the insight of the Christian faith, are greater than the greatest prophet who pointed to Jesus, but didn’t really understand His mission, which had only just begun. 

Like John, we can make the mistake of deciding what Jesus should be like and how He should behave.   When He doesn’t fit in with our expectations we can become disappointed in Him.  But like John, we must learn to welcome Jesus on His own terms and allow Him to be Himself.  Like John, we may not yet see the whole picture. That can lead us have only a partial, distorted understanding of God’s plans. 

But John was willing to learn from Jesus Himself and correct his mistaken ideas about Him.  If we do that, we will find that His love and mercy exceed our wildest dreams.  Christmas reminds us we must be prepared for God to act in surprising and unexpected ways; we must learn to trust His wisdom, which we may not understand. 

A final thought, to prove that He was, indeed, the expected Messiah Jesus pointed to His actions, not  to His teaching.  In the same way, our behaviour will be a far more convincing proof, than anything we may say about Jesus, as to whether or not we are really His followers.

Isidore Clarke O.P.


Thursday, 8 December 2016

EMMANUEL

                                                                                                                                                                    THE LORD IS WITH YOU                                                                                                                                                                                                                GOOD COMPANIONS.



Joseph was aware that Mary, the woman to whom he was betrothed, was ‘with child.’ He knew with certainty that this was not of his doing. It took an angel to reassure him no drastic action was needed since the Holy Spirit was responsible for her being in this situation.

 St. Matthew reassures  us  that   Almighty God had everything under control. ‘Now all this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken through the prophet   Isaiah, “Look, the virgin is with child and will give birth to a son whom they will call Emmanuel, a name which means ‘God is with us,’” (Matt.1.23).

Mary’s child would come to be described – wonders of wonders – as ‘Emmanuel’ which means, ‘God is with us,’ as a good companion, good friend, someone who brings out the best in us and discourages the worst in us. Towards the end of His life Jesus said to His  Apostles, “No-one-one can have greater love
 than to lay down his life for his friends: you are my friends…I call you friends,” (Jn.15.13-15).

How I enjoy it when young children show off to me their ‘best friends!’ The two  hold hands as an expression of ownership of a treasured possession. Their simply being  together  seems to be more important than what they do together.

We now turn to a stable outside Bethlehem. Shepherds and  Magi had  made time simply to see Jesus, to be with Jesus. Baby Emmanuel, Baby ‘God with us,’  made such an impression on the Magi that they paid Him homage. The shepherds, filled with wonder, excitedly told everyone how the angels had persuaded them to go and find Jesus.

The full force of ‘God is with me’  overwhelms me as I reflect on what most surely must be the  most moving words in Sacred Scripture, “The Word became flesh, He lived among us…He came to His own…to those who did accept Him He gave power to become children of God, (Jn1.11).

Jesus sees us as ‘His own,’ in the hope that you and I will see Him as ‘our own.’ He  chooses  us to be His friends, His companions. His hope is that we shall choose Him to be our friend, our companion.

 The liturgical greeting  ‘The  Lord  be with you,’ means that we wish each other to find our Christian identity in having Emmanuel – God with us…always. I am thrilled that God wants to be   with   me – as Jesus – Emmanuel -  to be for me the best of friends, the best of companions. 

If only I were to respond with love to such friendship, such companionship, surely this would divert me  from ungodly living. In so doing  He will then be my Jesus, my Saviour. Such is the loyalty of His love, in  His friendship for me that He will forgive me whenever I have offended Him by my sins. In this sense He will be Jesus, my Saviour, ready to pull me out of whatever shameful mess I may have plunged myself into.

As I put together these thoughts at the very beginning of Advent  I tell myself that to experience ‘Emmanuel’ – God with me - I don’t have to wait until I can gaze into a crib on Christmas Day.  In the Eucharist – in the Tabernacle – He is with me – Emmanuel. I am with Him, God Incarnate.

 We are two good friends – two good companions – together.  In this I can find my better self, my godly self.  What is more, I meet Emmanuel -my God, my saviour, my companion - in each of the Sacraments, in prayer, in the people I meet and in the routine of my daily life.

 As I share in His love for you my Christmas longing is that you should vividly experience Emmanuel, Jesus, the  Son of God be with you as your best friend, your best companion, your loving, lovable Saviour.
Peter Clarke, O.P.

 
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