Saturday, 29 December 2012

THROUGH A CROWD OF CRIBS

 
What a wonderful, what an exciting, Christmas it has been for me – a preacher! Having proclaimed the Christian message for over fifty years, I could be excused, you might think, if I wearily complained that I’m running out of ideas. …that the theme has become stale to me.
 
Not a bit of it! God has inspired me to scour  the Internet  in the quest to discover how  people of different races and cultures celebrate the birth of Jesus through their cribs. This has been a revelation to me.  I’m not now thinking of the cribs mass- produced in some factory and distributed throughout the world. I have been fascinated by the hand-made cribs intended for the family or for the local church community.

It has been brought home me that when the Son of God became man He made His home with the peoples of the world, where each one of them was and He became one of them - just as they were.

 I came across Jesus lying in a crib, Joseph and Mary wearing thick hide hats, garments, and gloves - all with fur trimmings. In the background was an igloo ‘ice-box.’  In attendance were not an ox and an ass but polar bears and seals – in real life not the closest of friends!

In another corner of the globe Jesus is welcomed into the world by Joseph and Mary, wearing Peruvian clothes and with the features of the local people. With them are elegant llamas gazing with serene reverence at the child in the crib.
 Since I’ve spent all my priestly life in the Caribbean I was much attracted to Jesus being sheltered under palm-branch roofing, supported by bamboo poles.
I simply love the carvings of the crib figures – in stone, wood of the olive tree of the Holy Land, or some other wood; beautiful carvings in soap, ice or the ivory of elephant  tusks.  I came across rag-doll figures and a superb sea-shore Nativity tableau fashioned in sand.
 Whether the Nativity has been depicted in ceramics or paintings, the figures in the cribs represented the peoples, the cultures of the world -  Chinese, Indian, African, Aboriginal, European, and so on. Particular cultures and life-styles were reflected in the cut and brilliant colours of the garments – as well as by brief grass  skirts and even total nakedness.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph were totally identified with the particular culture of these people who made and cherished their own vision of the Incarnation.  The Son of God had become man in their world. And they had welcomed Him as one of their own.
 For me reflecting on this, praying about this was profoundly moving. It came home to me vividly that the Son of God, in taking flesh, belongs to every individual human being, and that, through this galaxy of cribs is shown to be a member of each and every nation, tribe and culture. Each one can of Jesus, ‘My Lord, my God, my Brother!’  All together we can say ‘Our Lord, our God, our Brother!’
And Jesus can say to each one of us, ‘My brother or My sister.’  To the global family of mankind Jesus with pride and joy can exclaim ‘My Family!’ 
Each of us, as individuals with our own brand of humanity with its language or dialect, is celebrating Christmas with this single, shared, theme: ‘Unto Me, unto you, unto us together…a child is born…who is Lord and Saviour of us all.’  As all of us acclaim Jesus as our brother WE ARE OF MARVELOUS NECESSITY THROUGH JESUS SIBLINGS TO ONE ANOTHER.
All these cribs, each in its own way, and all of them together, are telling me that the Son of God was born into and raised within a family such as is recognized throughout the Christian world and is accepted by other religions and people of no religion.

These cribs are together making a statement that the family of man and woman bonded together by the exchange of promises made in public is what we mean by marriage. It is within their loving togetherness children are born and raised.  This is what the  Church considers to be the bedrock of society: the Family based on a man, a woman and their children.

Mywaygodsway for me this Christmas is that through this multitude of cribs God has been telling me that there is a message that needs to be spoken loud and clear:  this is how God intends families to be. The Holy Family of Jesus, Joseph and Mary is telling me: love the family, love the community in which we live, love the families, the people of the world. 
Peter Clarke OP           

Peter and Isidore wish you and your family every blessing for the New Year

 

 


Thursday, 20 December 2012

IMMANUEL


'Immanuel'
 
'Immanuel' – a pleasant sounding name, isn’t it? But, more than that, it has a great meaning….’GOD-IS-WITH-US.’ Anyone carrying this name should reflect that whenever his name is called this is a reminder to him that God is with him. Lucky fellow! This Christmas I want us to see ourselves as being Immanuel-People. God is with us. He loves us. Surely this must bring a new complexion to our lives.

How wonderful for us to have close to us other Immanuel-People – people who, by their very presence, their life-style, make us realize that God is in the district, our district. Let us now pause to drink in the words the angel spoke to Joseph about Mary,
She will give birth to a son and you must name him Jesus, because he is the one who is to save his people from their sins.'Now all this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: Look! the virgin is with child and will give birth to a son whom they will call ‘Immanuel,’ a name which means 'God-is-with-us' (Mtt.1.21-23).

Mary’s child was most certainly a godly person, a godly child; but to say that is to say far, far too little.  Mary’s child was more than godly. IN TRUTH AND IN FACT, MARY’S CHILD WAS ACTUALLY GOD.  In the words of  St John, 
 Something which has existed since the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our own eyes, which we have watched and touched with our own hands, THE WORD OF LIFE -- this is our theme.
 That life was made visible; we saw it and are giving our testimony, declaring to you the eternal life, which was present to the Father and has been revealed to us. We are declaring to you what we have seen and heard, so that you too may share our life. Our life is shared with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.  We are writing this to you so that our joy may be complete,”
(1 Jn.1.1-4).

St. John was so obviously tingling with excitement as he reflected on the great privilege for him to have encountered Jesus ‘in the flesh.’ His letter was written after Jesus had been crucified, had risen from the dead and had entered into glory. In his letter St. John was not simply reflecting on a remembered experience, the wonderful intimacy of day-to-day friendship with Jesus. Yet more wonderfully, he was thrilled that the risen and glorified Christ was the very heart, the fullness, the fulfillment of his life!
No matter what his trials and tribulations, his disappointments, frustrations and failures  - and these are  surely part of the lives of us all – nothing could quench his on-going joy in his Lord Jesus Christ.  He was bubbling over with a joy that could not be contained. It had to be shared. For St. John, MY JOY IN IMMANUEL had to become YOUR JOY IN IMMANUEL and by this it had to become OUR JOY IN IMMANUEL. A shared joy finds itself multiplied over-and-over again.

I would like to think that what I have unearthed about the IMMANUEL-SPIRITUALITY of St. John has helped me to understand my own spirituality this Christmas. I would like to think you would here find your own spirituality. Then together we would have the highly-charged joy of it being OUR IMMANUEL-SPIRITUALITY.

Were you surprised that I spoke of unearthing the spirituality of St. John? Let me tell you, it did not come easily to me. I had to dig deeply into own self, ponder, reflect and muse in silence to discover what the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ meant to me personally. Eventually I came to see with a great intensity that the birth of My Lord Jesus Christ, meant He IS MY IMMANUEL….JESUS CHRIST IS THE SON OF GOD, THE SON OF MARY. He IS WITH ME…HE IS MY IMMANUEL!

I am overjoyed to be sharing this with you now.  I urge you to take time off to dig deep into yourselves, take nothing for granted, and discover afresh the meaning of the babe-in-the-manger, Immanuel, has for you…so that you may be overjoyed.  Share this with others and your joy will be complete!
Your Twin-Bloggers,
Isidore and Peter Clarke, OP,
Wish abundant Christmas blessings
To you and those nearest and dearest to you.
Peter O.P.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

BIRDS and BEES


 
What should we do on such an important occasion?  The bishop had come to our priory to ordain some of our fellow Dominicans.  Peter and I were the acolytes. And my brother had to kneel, holding a large book, before the seated bishop. 
All was going smoothly as planned -until a buzzing bee made a beeline for a resting place and   decided to settle on Peter’s face.  ‘Why on his face,’ we wondered? ‘Surely, on such an occasion, a bishop’s face would have been the far more deserving!’ Peter looked as though he was bracing himself for a divine visitation of the not so consoling brand.
 As the insect explored Peter’s face I’m ashamed to admit we watched with deliciously tingling fascination and apprehension. All of us, including his Lordship, froze into absolute stillness. All things considered, none of us wanted to provoke the bee into stinging Peter.  The only movement came from the rabbit-like twitch of the Petrine nose as the bee walked over it.  What should we do?  If we tried to shoo the bee away it might panic and sting Peter.  Any way the bee solved the matter for us by flying away.  Obviously Peter was not a good source of pollen!
This incident reminds me of other occasions when various beasties became involved in the liturgy.  When I was working in a country parish in the W. Indies I had to contend with a bleating goat tethered under a chapel resting on stilts…perhaps it thought the voice of the choir needed reinforcing! And there was a nearby donkey which seemed to have been trained to bray loudly whenever the priest started to preach. Which voice should have been given the chance to be heard?
As for birds in church, once one enters the church every eye follows it and the preacher loses the attention of his congregation. The same was true when a frenzied hen dashed across the sanctuary as an acolyte stalked it with a six foot long stick with a brass candle snuffer on its end.  And I always delighted in the evening solemn procession of bats entering the church through one window and making an orderly exit through another.  But then there’s the myriads of termites, silently munching away at any piece of timber, craftily starting from the inside, until it’s held together only by a lick of paint? Then, unexpectedly, your seat collapses or the roof falls in!
What am I to make of the liturgical involvement of these beasties?  Well, the Bible tells us that simply by being themselves they proclaim the glory of God, their maker. So, when Daniel was spared from the flames of the fiery furnace, he sang, “…All you birds of the air, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever. All you beasts, wild and tame, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever,” (Dan. 3. 80-81).   It is for us people to put into words the worship they give to their maker, simply by being themselves.
 
Tertullian (160-225) expresses this beautifully in his Treatise on Prayer, “All the angels pray. Every creature prays. Cattle and wild beasts pray and bend the knee. As they come from their barns and caves they look out to heaven and call out, lifting up their spirit in their own fashion. The birds too rise and lift themselves up to heaven: they open out their wings, instead of hands, in the form of a cross, and give voice to what seems to be a prayer. What more need be said on the duty of prayer? Even the Lord himself prayed. To him be honour and power forever and ever. Amen.”
So what right have I to consider the Lord’s creatures intruders when the Psalmist tells us the Lord makes them welcome, Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.”  (Psalm 84.3).  Surely I’m meant to welcome all God’s creatures in His house –provided they don’t make a mess and threaten to sting me!
 
A final, sardonic thought.  With all these beasties coming to church, making it their home, where are the People of God?
 
Isidore O.P.
 
 
 
 

Friday, 23 November 2012

LOOKING IN A MIRROR

 
Most of us look in a mirror at least once a day. For us men, it's usually while we're having a shave. The mirror helps us avoid cutting ourselves. Women need a mirror so that they can put on their make-up and do their hair. Looking in a mirror is part of our daily routine.
 
But what do we see? Now that sounds a stupid question! Ourselves, of course! More important, how do we react? Some of us may be very dissatisfied with our appearance. We compare ourselves with super-models - male or female - and find ourselves wanting. But we will never have peace of mind unless we can accept what we see in the mirror and say, 'That's me! I'm glad!'
 
Or we may be so pleased with what we see that we become like Narcissus, who fell in love with his image, reflected in the still water. That can lead to our becoming so conceited that we're completely absorbed in ourselves and have no time to appreciate other people; so we may well find that they have no time for us. And if our happiness depends on our good looks we will feel very insecure. We know that with the passage of time we will all lose the freshness of youth. And yet the wrinkles etched by age and experience can give us a much more interesting appearance than the characterless smoothness of a young face. Any way that's my comfort in old age!
When we look in a mirror we see not only our own image, but also God's. The first book of the Bible  -Genesis -tells us that He made us in His own image and likeness, and that he was very pleased with His handiwork.
To illustrate this I have painted a cartoon of a very ugly wild-haired man, with a blue, stubbly chin and a large red belly, perched on his spindly legs.  As he looks in the shaving mirror he sees a reflection –not of himself, but of Christ. Amazed, he exclaims, “What me? -an image of Christ! Who’d have thought it!”  
Each of us can and should repeat his astonished surprise, “What me? –an image of Christ!” And even, “What him, her? –images of Christ!  Who’d have thought it? -God”  That insight should change the whole way we look at ourselves and each other.
But even though the likeness is much more than skin-deep not one of us mere human beings could ever claim to be the perfect image of God. Only Jesus, as the Son of God made man, is the perfect image of the invisible God, (cf. Col. 1.15). As Jesus told Philip, "He who has seen Me has seen the Father," (Jn. 14.8).
So, in and through Jesus, God could be seen, touched and heard; in Jesus divine love is perfectly embodied and expressed in a human form, readily accessible to us.
Imperfectly, we mirror God's likeness in our capacity to know and to love Him as He really is -the One Who is supremely good and true, loving and lovable. In such loving knowledge of God lies the happiness for which He has created us and to which He calls us.
He loves and respects each one of us so much that that He has sent His Son to share our human life and to lay down His very life for us, on the cross -precisely because He wants to remove the barrier of sin, which prevents us from sharing His own divine life and happiness. God could not have paid us people a greater compliment than by His becoming one of us.
Our way to perfection is, then, to strive, with God's help, to become ever more like His Son, Jesus Christ, who is our way to meeting God.
So, as I look in the mirror I see someone loved by God, Who has gone to such painful lengths to rescue me from making a compete mess of my life -from distorting and destroying myself as God's image. If God can love me so much, who am I to despise myself or, indeed, anyone else? God has convinced me that not only am I lovable, but also loved. The same is true for everybody else. Even when my sins have distorted His image in me He still loves me and is eager to repair the damaged image.
As I look in the mirror I realize that God has given me all that I have, all that I am. Without God's creative love I simply would not exist. If I achieve anything in life it's only because He has given me the ability to do so. Without God I can do nothing. Without God I am nothing.
So, as I look in the mirror I mustn't become like Narcissus and fall in love with myself. Instead, I must see myself as reflecting God, and should fall in love with Him. My perfection is to become ever more like God.
A final thought. In the musical, 'Les Miserables' there's a beautiful song with the line, "To love another person is to see the face of God."
Love is the key to discovering something of the glory of God, mirrored in each one of us. It's sad but true that many people will only get a glimpse of what God is like by seeing Him reflected in the love, mercy and care we show each other.
Isidore O.P.

Friday, 9 November 2012

BUILDING UP, KNOCKING DOWN

Those were glorious childhood days!  Each summer our parents would take us for a holiday at the seaside. There my brothers and I would process to the beach with our buckets and spades.  Naturally our eldest brother was Chief Architect and Clerk of the Works, as we set about building a magnificent sand castle.
With delicate precision one of us would gently shape the walls with his hands. Another of us would cut a channel to bring water from the sea to the moat, dug by another brother with his wooden spade. Once these tasks had been completed we would fill our buckets with damp sand, then turn them upside down to make the turrets. The ‘moment of grace’ came when we adorned our beautiful castle with shells and sea-weed. Construction completed, Union Jack hoisted on the largest central turret, and then, that special moment when the Master-builder, our eldest brother, would remove the sand dam from our channel. Imagine our delight and pride when the water rushed up the channel and surrounded the moat one of had dug. 
But, then as we stood back to admire our magnificent edifice, a large wave rushed in and swamped our beautiful castle.  What had taken hours to build was washed away in seconds.  What a shame; what a loss.  We were distraught.
But much later in life I reflected on other buildings -the much older, beautiful medieval cathedrals of England…far more substantial and vastly more worthwhile than our ‘play-time’ sand castles! These ancient places of worship were labours of love, expressions of deep faith and devotion. Skilled craftsmen constructed them. These were experts in carving stone and wood, and making stained glass. They devoted their skills to the glory of God.
No rush job for them!  They were prepared to take their time in producing the best they could. God, they thought, deserved only the best. A cathedral might well take decades to build. And over the centuries there would be additions and modifications.
But, horror of horrors, these masterpieces were as vulnerable as our childhood sand castle, destroyed by a not-so-giant wave. We only have to think of Coventry and Dresden cathedrals, bombed to ruins in the Second World War. Laboriously produced masterpieces were reduced to ruins in a matter of moments.  More recently, ancient monuments, thousands of years old, were shattered to pieces in the war on Iraq –the cradle of civilization.
How laborious and time-consuming it is to build; how easy and swift it is to destroy!  If that’s the case with buildings made with wood, stone and mortar, it’s much truer and more devastating with people, made of flesh and blood.  A single bullet can instantly put an end to a life; a vicious, perhaps careless, word can destroy a person’s reputation or self-confidence. These may have taken years to build up. In an instant they can be shattered.
Jesus came to restore and renew our lives shattered by sin.  He is the Good Physician who came to heal us people, who have been damaged, wounded, in so many ways.  He wants to give to us, restore to us, the fullness of life.
Certainly I meet Jesus by recognizing my need of Him, and then by turning to Him for the balm of His healing mercy. But He has also called you and me to work with Him in building people up, when they’ve been brought low. 
Though a devastating word may give us a great sense of power and satisfaction, being demolition experts has no part in our Christian vocation. We have been called to be re-construction workers, restorers of God’s damaged masterpieces. 
In such casualties I meet the wounded Christ.  With love and care, and above all with the grace of God, our task is it to build people up, not tear them down.  Thus St. Paul writes in his 2nd Letter to the Corinthians, “Everything we do, beloved, is for the sake of building you up,” (2 Cor. 12. 19).  That is especially true when we have to correct someone, as Paul again says, “So I write these things while I am away from you, so that when I come, I may not have to be severe in using the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down. (2 Corinthians 13.10).
Isidore O.P. 
 

Thursday, 25 October 2012

MY BABEL MOMENT


Have I gone mad?   Or is it the rest of the world that’s gone crazy?   That disturbing question was forced upon me when I was doing some typing on my computer.  Inexplicably a pair of scissors, scissors -instead of the intended letter -appeared when I struck a key.   That was followed by a pair of spectacles –yes spectacles.   What had I done to deserve this?!  Something similar happened on another occasion when my computer produced Greek letters.  Why? Why? Bemused, I exclaimed, “It’s all Greek to me!”  -a phrase we English use when we don’t understand something, but which would be completely intelligible to the inhabitants of that country.
As with the scissors and spectacles I asked myself, “What had I done to provoke my computer to react in such a bizarre and unpredictable manner?  More importantly, how could I remedy a text which had become absolutely meaningless, totally useless?”  As I pressed different keys no solution appeared. Gradually panic set in, then hysteria.  I seemed to be trapped in a world of gobble-di-gook.   How could I escape?  Would I ever again be able to compose something coherent?
Was I or my computer having a Babel moment?  Remember the Biblical story of people, in their pride, building a tower tall enough to reach up to heaven, to God’s realm?  What folly to think anyone could reach God by his own efforts!  To cut them down to size the Lord knocked over their tower and reduced them to a state of confusion. That was the popular explanation for the present diversity of languages, with the lack of understanding that causes. 
My computer and I were certainly sending each other incomprehensible messages! As I typed what seemed to be reasonable my computer responded by babbling nonsense.  I hold those Babylonian builders responsible for driving a harmless old Dominican out of his wits!
 How does God want me to react to this confusion, to this madness–to my orderly world getting out of control?  How did I react?  Certainly my confusion revealed how little I knew about the inner workings of a computer.  Surprisingly, my problem was solved when I abandoned what seemed to me to be reasonable solutions. Only when I tried what seemed to me to be totally illogical did my computer begin to perform correctly!
Perhaps that’s what God wanted my crazy, wayward computer to teach me.  Sometimes the best, or even the only, solution is not the most obvious and rational. Frequently God’s wisdom defies human logic.   The way He behaves doesn’t seem to make sense. We are baffled; we are confused when things go wrong in our lives, when our lives descend into chaos.  We panic when we feel overwhelmed and can find no answer.   Desperately we cry, “Lord, save me. I’m sinking.”
So how did He reply to our longing for Him to rescue us from the destructive powers of sin and death? To us God’s solution seems absolute madness. Not one of us would have thought the answer would lie in the Son of God Himself becoming man, living amongst us,  dying on the cross and rising from the dead. God’s ways are certainly not our ways!   Realizing this, St. Paul exclaimed with wonder, “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable his ways!  34 ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord?”  ( Rom. 11.33-36).   When speaking of the crucifixion Paul even had the temerity to exclaim, “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength,”   (1 Cor. 1. 25).
By accidentally stumbling on a solution to my wayward computer God wanted to remind me of the limits of my understanding, even of computers, still less of the mysteries of life and death, pain and suffering.  Humbly I must admit that I am bewildered and confused.  Humbly I must trust in God’s infinite wisdom, which defies human logic. 
And from the builders of the tower of Babel I must realize that it’s folly to try to reach God by my own efforts. Only He can raise me up to share His divine life and happiness.  My computer has taught me to recognize my limitations.  Now with Paul I can rejoice in my weakness and lack of understanding.  With him I can say, “Over to You,” as I rely on God’s wisdom and strength, not my own.  This kind of humility is not humiliating if it draws me close to God!
Isidore O.P.

Our next posting will be on 9th Nov. 

Friday, 12 October 2012

AN 'OWLING SHAME!

I was in absolute heaven!  There was I in the cool of the evening, relaxing on the verandah, from a height gazing out over the Atlantic Ocean- silver-plated by the brilliance of the tropical full moon. On a table by my easy chair was a glass of iced lime-juice and a bowl of mangoes.   What more could I desire?
 
Quite simply, a challenge!  I felt bored, restless, frustrated. I needed something that really absorbed me and defied me to get the better of it. I needed to confront and to prevail  over it.     Gazing around, wondering if anything could put some zest into my life  I found a worthy target - an owl perched on a branch that draped the parish church.
 
This was no blinking owl, no winking owl! This owl was motionless, totally absorbed in itself.    At peace with itself and with the world around it. as though nothing could disturb its serenity,  its composure..   For some reason I was annoyed with this rigid, frigid, bird          that had not the slightest interest in me.      With indifference it dismissed me as a person of no consequence..me its parish priest!      As far as it was concerned I was meaningless,  non-existent.
Well might you ask, ‘Why did I care? Why should the owl have any need of me?       And, more seriously, ‘ Why should I feel a need for this the owl to pay me the slightest attention?’ Because at last I had found the challenge I needed.     I would force this bird to acknowledge my existence. I would impose my will upon it.      I would out-face it. I would out-stare it! I would compel it to notice me!
With all my powers of concentration I stared at this owl eye-ball to eye-ball, so to speak.     I expected to make it so uncomfortable through my steady staring   that it would shift and shuffle, or better still, turn away from me.   It must have known that I had come there, into its territory, into its hunting-ground.     Fool that I was, it hadn’t occurred to me that it might have pounced on this hostile intruder!
By now you might be thinking I’d embarked upon a crazy escapade.     Kindly take note. When travelling in a bus or when at the cinema     I’ve amused myself  by staring hard at the back of the neck of the person in front of me  -a complete  stranger.  On rare occasions I’ve been successful.      Eventually, my target has looked round, bewildered, unsettled  and smiled  at me sheepishly…and mumbled some kind of  greeting. 
What more could he do? He couldn’t accuse me of anything.       There have been times when I’ve been able to disconcert the odd cat or dog – by staring at it.
As for influencing owls…I’m a failure.    An ‘Owling’ failure!  And for me this is an ‘owling shame.  That unyielding owl convinced me it had its own life to live and so had I.     it was not my business to want to control its life.    And now I think of it, it’s quite out of order for me to try to control the life of another single person… not even when I mean well.
 


As a priest I’m not meant to try to live anyone’s life for him…  to be a director or controller of anyone….ever.   
This is one of the hardest things for a conscientious priest to accept…and one of the most humbling.     The same is surely true for caring devoted parents.    They long for their children to lead godly lives, but there comes a time,  as they approach young adulthood, when they, priest and parent,   can do no more than lead by example, offer advice, try to persuade and love and pray,  love and pray!  And never give up loving and praying for anyone.
This may sound like a counsel of despair. Far from it!        Right from the very beginning God gave human beings their own free wills.       In so doing God has always allowed them to make their own choices, even ungodly ones.
BUT– and it’s a mighty big ‘but’ – God will never, never, abandon any one of us  –no matter how  wicked the choices we may make.       He will never cease to offer us the graces that would persuade us to turn towards Him.     His will to save will remain unwavering.
                          This I know, God really cares about me, takes care of me,                    
       but somehow,    I don’t think God is particularly interested
         about whether or not owls care one hoot for me!’
Peter O.P.
On 26th Oct. Isidore will reflect on Meeting God  in "My Babel Moment."



Thursday, 20 September 2012

TIN-CAN GLORY


I’ve spent almost the whole of my priestly life working in the Caribbean islands of Grenada and Barbados. That’s over fifty years. I know what it’s like to labour in the heat of the day. My heart goes out to that little girl who asked of her mother why they always had to have a tired priest for their Sunday Mass. Hers would have been my third celebration of the morning – each one being in a different place; each one being a gorgeous act of worship lasting well over an hour.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. Mine has been a very contented priesthood, sprinkled with the sweet and the sour, the smooth and the rough. Taking a rest after my Sunday lunch has made it possible for me, from a temperate climate, to cope with the tropical heat and humidity, as well as with the heavy work-load.

Life was never meant to be as easy as we would like it to be! Time was when I was pastor of a parish with the church and presbytery right in the heart of the town.   There was this darling toddler who would bottle up his noisy energy throughout the week and then release it on Sunday afternoons as he paraded up and down the street that passed just under my room. He’d got hold of a large dried-milk tin and, in a state of sublime ecstasy, was pounding the very life out it with a stick.

Perhaps he’d been captivated by the melodious sounds stroked out of the steel pans of the  West Indies. Could be this little fellow aspired to belonging to the police band when he grew up. One thing I do know for sure is that drums belong to the culture of the West Indies. Many a secondary school has its drum corps which leads the ‘March Past’ of the competing Houses at the annual sports.   Even the infant schools have to find some drummers to ‘ beat the beat’ as they proudly  ‘march the march’ at their own sports.

My head throbbed with weary pain as this drummer- boy adorned the Day of the Lord with tin-can glory! Grudgingly I groped towards the window to see what was going on.  There, before my sleepy eyes, was a child radiant with joy as admiring folk clapped their hands to his beat. If I’d intervened I would probably have lost next Sunday’s congregation (as well as the collection).

All this happened many years ago but it surfaced in my memory as I listened to the readings of the Mass of the day. Sorry but it’s true …irreverently, uninvited, this Blog sprang into being as I heard of St. Paul carrying on about booming  gongs and tinkling cymbals. Perhaps his siesta had been disturbed by a lusty drum-beater or tin-can- basher. Any way he was one who in irritation considered that those who speak without love had much in common with the gongs and cymbals that emit a hollow, empty noise! ( see I Cor. 13) I’m sure he would have added tin-cans to his list of offenders.

Now I must watch myself. I find myself rushing in a direction that is totally unacceptable to me.  I would never have wanted to chide the little boy for being so noisily naughty. (Or should it be ‘naughtily noisy?’) There was never a grain of malice in his little heart.  That Sunday afternoon he was a source of laughter and happiness to his admiring audience.

His spectators were in step with his exuberance. I, the sleepy priest, was probably the only one in town who was out of step with his beat!

Now, what about this for a happy liturgical coincidence? In the Gospel of that same day Jesus spoke of  those grumbling discontents who were like, children shouting to one another while they sit in the market place: We played the pipes for you, and you wouldn't dance; we sang dirges, and you wouldn't cry,’(Lk.7).

I feel that this memory, brought to the surface during the Mass itself, was godsway of telling me I will never be happy, and I will never deserve to be happy, if I insist on people accommodating themselves to my convenience. Once I allow other people  (such as this little boy) to have ‘their moments’ I shall find inner peace- even though it may be amidst some tribulation –such as the loss of a much desired, greatly needed, siesta!

Friday, 7 September 2012

TUNING IN



A few years ago I had to start using a hearing aid.  I was told that it would take a few months for my brain to filter out the background noise.  That certainly proved to be very true!   At first the birds were deafening.  But after a time I hardly noticed them, unless I deliberately wanted to tune into them.
This reminded me of my first going to the W. Indies.  There, in the evening, lots of tiny tree frogs, smaller than a finger nail, would whistle so loudly that I could hardly think.  I don’t know whether it was my imagination, but they seemed to make much more noise after a down-pour of rain.  But, as with my hearing aid, after a time my brain-filter worked so well that I didn’t notice the little frogs singing their hearts out.

But after I’d returned to England Peter sent me a recording of an evening Mass in Barbados.  Since the recorder lacked a sound-filter the chorus of frogs drowned out the beautiful singing of the choir.  At least I’m told it was beautiful, but I must take that on trust, since the frogs didn’t allow me to hear it!
This got me thinking about the way the background or surrounding noise in our lives can easily drown out the voice of the Lord.  It’s not only that today we seem uncomfortable with silence, but life is so hectic.  We don’t have time to stop, to listen, to notice. As the poet, W.H. Davies wrote, “What is this life so full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.”  In our hectic, noisy rush we can miss so much that is good and beautiful.  Because it is priceless it is dismissed as worthless –a waste of time.
This can be very true of God. In the Book of Revelation the risen Lord says, “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me,” (Rev.3.20).  Jesus wants to enter and share our lives, but He won’t force Himself up us.  So he knocks and waits for us to open up to Him and let Him in. That word, “listen” is vital.  He respects us too much to force Himself upon us, when He’s not wanted. So He knocks and waits. But if there’s too much background noise in our lives we won’t even hear His knock and He will remain outside.

But perhaps, horror of horrors, that’s what we really want!  We fear that what He has to say will be uncomfortable and demanding.  So we turn up the volume, smother the sound of His knock and try to get on with our lives without Him.   And yet to stifle the Word of God would be the worst thing we could ever do to ourselves.  That would mean that we had deliberately broken off communication between us and God!   Amos makes the dire prediction,  The time is surely coming, says the Lord God, when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord,” (Amos 8.11).  Starvation of the Word of God means spiritual death!  For as St. Peter said, Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn. 6. 68).  Life would be meaningless without Jesus nourishing us with His loving word.

The whistling frogs have taught me that if I am to meet God I must not allow the clamour around me to deafen me to the voice of God, sometimes speaking with a soft, gentle voice.  When I really want to concentrate I may need to switch off my hearing aid and close my windows so that I can shut out all distracting bird songs, or in the W. Indies, whistling frogs. Switching to the image of a radio, I need to tune into the “God Station” if I’m to hear His voice loud and clear, and tune out of other stations that are enjoyable but distracting.  Then, hopefully, I will heed the Psalmist, “O that today you would listen to His voice!  Do not harden your hearts,” (Ps. 95. 7-8).   And, hopefully, with the young Samuel I will always reply, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” (1 Sam. 3. 9).
Isidore Clarke O.P. 
P.S. Peter has just told me that recently one of these tiny whistling frogs hopped into his glass of rum.  Had it evolved with a taste for the golden nectar?  If Peter had swallowed it, he would have had a frog in his throat and would have whistled whenever he spoke. That would have made for unusual sermons!

The next posting will on 21st September when Isidore will reflect on Meeting God in his 'Babel Moment.'
 
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