Monday, 29 March 2010


I was fascinated by a TV programme about the Australian Outback. For most of the time this is barren sun-baked clay, with hardly any signs of life. It looks as though nothing could possibly survive, let alone flourish there.

But every few years it rains. Amazingly, plants suddenly appear, flower and seed. Insects come to pollinate them; toads, which had remained dormant beneath the hard-baked clay, appear in the new pools, mate and spawn. Perhaps, most surprisingly, fish, which have hatched from long dormant buried eggs suddenly appear. And pelicans, sensing their presence, fly hundreds of miles to eat their fill. The life-giving waters have transformed the barren land into an outburst of vibrant energy. Then the drought returns and apparent death falls upon the land until the next rain.

Reflecting on the Australian Outback has given been me a fresh insight into the powerful Biblical imagery of the water of life. Its presence or absence literally makes the difference between spiritual life and death. We are born from above through the waters of baptism and the power of the Holy Spirit. We become alive as God's children. We receive a divine vitality and momentum to reach beyond our human limitations to share God's own life and happiness. We die with Christ to sin and rise with him to new life. Only then can our barren lives become truly fruitful. Reflecting on the Australian Outback has enriched my understanding of baptism through which we enter into the Paschal Mystery of Christ's death and resurrection, which we are about to celebrate.

Perhaps, surprisingly the Outback has also reassured me as a preacher, and hopefully will assist all of us in our responsibility of handing on the faith we have received.

Now I've been a preacher for many, many years. This can be a most discouraging business! After years of study we begin the work for which we've been trained. Enthusiastically we want to share the Good News, which has become so much a part of our lives. We want our sermons to strike a spark in people's lives and transform them. We want to make a difference, to see results. But usually we don't. Then we may well identify with the prophet Isaiah when he wrote,
"He, (the Lord) said to me, 'You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified. But I said, 'I have laboured in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity,'" (Is. 49. 4).
If we are not careful we may go on to say, "Why bother?" Or perhaps, "I'm a useless failure as a preacher."

But then I remembered how rain made the barren Outback burst into life. So, too, the life-giving Spirit can water barren lives, revive dormant faith , so that unexpectedly, they can blossom and bear fruit. It would be wonderful to see this happen, but we must allow God to work in His own good time and in His own way. Being patient with God can be very difficult!

I have constantly to remind myself that God can make the desert bloom, and that throughout the Bible water is a powerful sign of His blessing, His gift of life. In hearing confessions I've witnessed people's faith being revived, perhaps after lying dormant for decades. This usually happens during Advent and Lent, as we prepare for Christmas and Easter. The Holy Spirit has blown life into what, mistakenly, we had thought were dead, cold embers. Something has touched their hearts. Perhaps nostalgia for what had been important in their lives, or perhaps someone's casual remark, made long ago had re-kindled the flame.

Sometimes this can be amusing. There was the parishioner who congratulated me on a point I'd made in my sermon. In fact I'd said nothing of the sort. I could take this in one of two ways. I could think he was being sarcastic and was suggesting that I should have made the point of which he approved. Or, more positively, I could conclude that the Holy Spirit had used my sermon as a kind of springboard from which the listener had leaped off at a tangent in a direction, which responded to his needs. It's surprising how often, when preaching, a casual aside can make the only point which strikes home and helps someone. All that matters is that my sermon helps someone, perhaps in a way that I had not planned and probably would never know.

My reflections on the Outback have removed an enormous anxiety about the difficult task of sharing my faith. The Spirit of Truth is with me as I prepare and give a sermon, and much more importantly, is with the listener who hears what I say. God is involved at every stage -in the giving and receiving. When I get depressed I remind myself of the Outback, which bloomed once rain had fallen. Similarly, the Water's of Life -God's Spirit -can revive faith, which seemed long dead. This is so reassuring for all of us who have the responsibility of sharing our faith.

Isidore O.P.

Peter and Isidore wish all our readers Easter Blessings and Joy

Next week Fr. Peter will reflect on 'The Sounds of War'

Tuesday, 23 March 2010


"Why do we always get a tired priest?" asked a small child after I'd just completed my third Mass on a Sunday morning. Now this happened years ago, when I was much more sprightly than I am today.

In the Caribbean we have a popular chorus that goes like this, "I never get weary yet. I never get weary yet. I never get weary praising the Lord. I never get weary yet." Why did the repetition of these words sound like two cymbals clashing within my head? Only fatigue and a sense of futility prevented me from rising and screaming, "It's not true! It's not true! "

Matters are not made easier by the admonition of St. Paul, "Let us not grow weary in well-doing," (Gal 6. 9). Is there something shameful in becoming tired in doing the Lord's work?

I savour the memory of a young lad asking me if I ever did not feel like saying Mass on Sunday. Now I would not presume to speak for other priests, but for me, as I told the little fellow, when my alarm clock rang early on a Sunday morning, at an hour when the birds would not have ventured to squawk or chirp, at such an hour my body protested that it wanted to stay snugly in bed, comfortable in the thick darkness.

With a smile he replied, "Just like me." We did a 'high five!' He was one of my most reliable altar servers. Like soul-brothers we could boast that we did not let our feelings get the better of us. With more or less joyful, more or less willing hearts we did what God expected of us.

I'm inspired by these words from the Letter to the Hebrews, (12. 12) "For the sake of the joy that lay ahead of Him, Jesus endured the cross." In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus yearned, pleaded, to be spared the cup of suffering, but with courageous resolve, accepted the will of His Heavenly Father. In comparison, my weariness, very real to me, very heavy for me, is as nothing.

With ease I identify with Jesus sleeping in the boat while his disciples struggled against the wind and the waves. He rose, perhaps with a stretch and a yawn, when he was awakened to do something. It eases my conscience that Jesus sometimes took His disciples aside from the crowd so that they could rest a while.

So there's no need for me to aspire to being super human, toughened against feeling the burden of living. No need for me to feel I've let down a youngster by feeling worn out by the time I've completed my third Mass. Jesus made no claim to being above and beyond such human weakness. In my following Him there's no call for me to resent my frail humanity.

It is in and through it I am to choose to do the will of God and in this find did the bed- loving boy in serving Mass.

Peter O.P.

Next week Fr. Isidore will Meet God in the Australian Outback.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010


There's power in slamming down the phone...power to cut off in mid-sentence the one who is speaking to you...power to have the last word in any conversation...denying the other all opportunity to make a reply. "I have nothing more to say to you. I'm not interested in anything you might say to me." This certainly brings an abrupt and violent end to a conversation! It's a sign one of us has been pushed too far and is not prepared to take any more verbal attacks or insults. Usually this results from a flaming row, when vicious things are said, which often we don't really mean.

It's quite a shock when someone slams down the phone on us. We may well wonder what has hit us, and, self-righteously, try to justify what we said. Or we may feel full of remorse and wish we'd been more temperate in our language, more understanding and patient. And if we've slammed down the phone we will have dire thoughts about the person at the other end of the line being impossible and unreasonable.

Certainly it's a painful situation. Both parties feel aggrieved and resentful. They feel misunderstood and hurt. Slamming down the phone has broken off communication. If the friendship means anything to us we will feel a great sense of loss. If we're responsible for the breakdown we will feel guilty for causing so much pain. And if we're the one who has been hurt and pushed so far as to cut the phone call short we may regret that we didn't handle the situation better. Perhaps we could have defused the tension. If we're honest, we'll probably have to admit that we added fuel to the fire by hitting back with hurtful words. Rarely is one person entirely guilty or innocent in such situations.

No matter who's responsible, we all want to heal the wounds we've inflicted or suffered. Deep down we hate the tension of conflict and want to be at peace with someone who is dear to us. That can only be done by one of us picking up the phone and re-establishing contact.

I've found it's best not to stand on my pride. It doesn't really matter whether or not I was responsible for the breakdown in communication. It's worth my while to make the first move at bridge-building. I should pick up the phone, and if I was at fault, should apologise. And if I have been wronged and hurt then I should be generous in forgiving. Mercy given and received is the only way of restoring damaged relationships. Hopefully we will realise that the longer we cling onto our grievances the more they are likely to grow and we will become more entrenched in our bitterness. Everyone benefits if we waste no time in our efforts at peacemaking.

With phone-slamming on my mind I wondered how God reacts when we offend Him. Sometimes, when we get exasperated with God we cut him off -especially if we blame him for all the suffering in the world, and perhaps in our own lives. In contrast, God never loses patience with us and breaks off communications. He is like the Father in the parable of the Prodigal Son, who watches and waits for his wayward son to return. Or He makes the first move to seek out the lost sheep. Because His love is everlasting He is always merciful. His love for us is steadfast, not brittle and fickle. While God has the resilience to take the knocks we lose our cool and slam down the phone.

In his 2nd Letter to the Corinthians (ch. 5) Paul tell us that in Christ we become a new creation. In Christ God has reconciled the world to Himself, not counting our sins against us, and giving us the ministry of reconciliation. Though He was the injured innocent party, God in Christ made the first move in healing our relationship with Him, damaged by our sins. And He has given us the ministry of reconciliation. Like Christ, we are to be peacemakers, whether or not we are innocent or guilty.

From reflecting on fraught telephone conversations I have learnt that God handles such situations in a much more positive way than we do. I must learn to be like Him and not slam down the phone and break off communications. And if they have broken down, I must again be like God in making the first move in repairing the damage. Like God, I must always be eager to accept an apology. But unlike God, I sometimes have to make peace by taking up the phone and saying, "Sorry."

And if I get so exasperated with God that I stop communicating with Him I can only meet him again in loving friendship if I stop sulking and start listening and talking to Him. And the sooner the better, since my petulance is only harming me, not Him.

Incidentally, I do get annoyed when someone dials the wrong number and puts down the phone without apologising. To me, that is downright bad manners!

Isidore O.P.

Next week Fr. Peter will reflect on Meeting God through "My Weary Ways."

Monday, 8 March 2010


Embarking on a plane, heading for a country unknown to me, where I did not speak the language, with no idea where I was meant to go once I had landed. All I had was the assurance that I would be a complete stranger. Walking in the dark?

Never before had I felt so uncertain, so insecure. Never before had I been so dependent on the unknown being so reliable, so trust-worthy. My trust in him had to be absolute. I had no control over my immediate future; nor of myself; nor of anyone else. Even now, after more than thirty years, I shudder at the memory. Of course, as I should have expected, all turned out well.

This was my 'Abraham Experience.' He was the man whom God called to leave a world familiar to him and to travel to a land -quite literally -God alone knew where! This land God promised to give him. He had no idea where it would be, how he would get there, nor would he be certain that he had arrived at the place that he was to make his home. Abraham, a man uncertain, insecure, nakedly exposed to the future. Being supremely a man of faith, Abraham put his trust in the unseen God and set forth. What faith! None of us has done better than that...even with all the so-called progress in the several thousand years since the time of Abraham. Again I exclaim, 'What faith, what blind trust in God!'

Even now I'm planning to come to England for a vacation. This very afternoon, before I began to type this posting, I discovered that I had lost my passport. What huge anxiety, as I feverishly searched and searched ...insecure at having lost control...fearful of the consequences if I did not find my passport, not knowing what tomorrow would bring. How would I cope? Would I be able to cope?
Uncertainty about the future is the pattern of our lives. Those who recently were financially rock-solid are now as wobbly as jellies. Youngsters, graduating from school or university face this uncertainty. The scaffolding of a structured life is abruptly pulled away from them. The same could be said of those reaching the age and stage of retirement.

Indeed, we all have our 'Abraham Moments' of being plunged into the unknown...seemingly drowning! Yes, we have our fears. We don't care to admit them to ourselves, still less to share them with others. How to re-define the future when the stability of the present has been snatched away? How to brave it out with trite mantras, such as 'Life must go on; a new start must be made?'

Something like Abraham's faith in God is called for..from all of us...even those blessed with fairly settled and predictable lives. We are to trust that God will be there, loving us in that future that is known to God but unknown to us. I have to convince myself that there is no guarantee that I shall live happily ever after. The fool's dream, the cheerful optimism of the family film. Having Abraham as my Father in the Faith, my role model is far from easy.

With these thoughts in mind I shudder at the over-arching trust, the magnificent confidence, in the words of the dying Jesus,

The Father asks each of us to make the same act of complete trust in him as we approach death. Then it's no longer possible for us to hold on to any of the props upon which we've relied throughout our lives. Death demands that we must place all our trust in God's loving, caring and merciful hands.

P.S. Thank God, I've found my passport!

Peter Clarke O.P.

Next week Isidore will reflect on 'Slamming down the phone.'

Tuesday, 2 March 2010


I can remember discussing the Sacrament of Confession or Reconciliation with a group of teenagers. They were surprised to learn that we priests needed to go to confession. That discovery came as a relief to them. Not that they were glad we were sinners, but because they thought this should make us more able to understand what it was like for them to have to confess their sins.

I've told them that we priests felt the same sense of shame, guilt and embarrassment as they did when we have to admit to another person that we have done wrong. Hopefully we will show the penitent the same understanding and compassion we would yearn to receive when we have to confess our sins.

Through the Sacrament of Reconciliation I have met God in a very special way, both in hearing confessions and in making my own. It is in this sacrament that we experience the wonderful power of God's healing mercy. Though we may approach this sacrament with fear and embarrassment, we should leave it with joy in our hearts, as we realize that a great burden of guilt has been removed from our shoulders. God has put our sins behind him and us. He picks us up when we have fallen, so that with his grace we can make a fresh start.

The most wonderful words we can hear are those spoken by the priest in the name and power of Christ, "May the Lord give you pardon and peace. I absolve you from your sins..." "Pardon and peace," or better still, "peace through pardon." Peacemaking -that's what this sacrament is all about. God restoring peace between himself and us, when we've rebelled against him by sinning. God giving us peace of mind after we've been tormented by shame and guilt.

When I hear confessions I'm filled with a sense of wonder as I witness the grace of God at work. It's most humbling fro me, as a priest, to realize that the penitent, is, in fact, primarily confessing his sins to Almighty God, and only secondarily to me, Isidore Clarke, his minister. And it's God who does the forgiving not me.
I am the witness to an amazing grace -the very fact that, after perhaps many years' absence, God has prompted someone to come and seek forgiveness. Then I'm struck by the humble honesty with which people confess their sins. Even though they may fumble in expressing themselves there's no attempt at deception. Rather than being shocked when people confess a very serious sin, we priests rejoice at their repentance and our being able to help them find forgiveness from God.

I've found that the penitent holds up a mirror to my own life whenever I hear a confession. As I look at myself I have to ask myself whether I'm guilty of the same faults. God uses the repentant sinner to inspire me to question my own life and seek forgiveness. Any advice I may give I must apply to myself. And when I do advise, it is God prompting me to say just the right thing, taking me by surprise.

We priests should always presume that everyone who comes to confession knows he's done wrong and is sorry for his sins. Otherwise he wouldn't bother to come. What he seeks is forgiveness. Any advice we give should build him up, not humiliate and crush him with angry recriminations. This Sacrament of Reconciliation is meant to make forgiveness, not sinning, easy for those genuinely repentant sinners, who really want to make a fresh start. When Jesus forgave repentant sinners He combined firmness in saying, "sin no more" with the compassionate words, "your sins are forgiven." He is the model for every priest hearing confessions.

Though it's a great privilege for a priest to be the minister of God's mercy it can also be very exhausting and tedious. Being human, we may sometimes become impatient or irritable. When we are, we need the penitent's understanding and forgiveness, just as much as he needs ours.

After being a penitent for about seventy years and a priest for over fifty I have learnt that this peacemaking sacrament is the most wonderful way of meeting God, even though we may find it painful to confess our sins. Through this sacrament we most directly experience the saving power of our crucified and risen Lord. Christ enables us to make our peace with God; our baptismal commitment to Him is renewed, as we die to sin and rise once again to new life.

The Gospels tell us God rejoices with the angels as he welcomes back the repentant sinner. When the Prodigal Son returned home his Father rejoiced with the words, "My son was dead and is now alive again; he was lost and is now found." No wonder they celebrated with a banquet!

Isidore O.P.

Next week Fr Peter will reflect on Meeting God through "Abraham, My Mentor"