Thursday, 7 March 2013



I was hoping for a piece of driftwood to adorn my church during the Lenten season. Placed at the foot of the altar this would have provided an austere beauty that would have reflected the mood of that most sacred season. We were to focus our spirituality on preparing ourselves for the celebration of the Paschal Mystery of the dying and rising of Jesus Christ, through which he has recaptured for us the sanctified life that has been destroyed, or at least damaged, by sin. Indeed, not one of us has the capacity to undo the spiritual damage our sins have inflicted upon us.

The arid beauty of this  lifeless branch of wood, bleached and hardened by the sun and the salt sea, would have reminded us worshipers of the frail beauty of our  bodies – mortal and yet Temples of the Holy Spirit. This same branch would also have reminded us of our erstwhile fullness of grace that has been distorted and blotched by our sinfulness. The broken limb of a luxuriant tree had reached a dead end!

I was so disappointed not to get my piece of driftwood. Instead, I was provided with a straggling,  good-for-nothing branch– dry, dead –fit for nothing but to be burned on the rubbish heap.   And yet it had some kind of message to give me. We are to see ourselves, anyone, everyone, stretched out before the altar like this branch - wretched in our mortality, wretched in the faded beauty that was once our grace-filled selves. There is absolutely nothing we of ourselves can do about this.

It spoke to me of the ordinariness of life.  Such dead branches are to be found anywhere and everywhere. They’re so common that there’s nothing special, nothing news-worthy, nothing ornamental or decorative about them. Such is life and such are we all!
It is at this point that I recognize and marvel at the crafty scheming of God. The withered branch that spoke to me about the trashiness of life has taken me by surprise and shamed me. This Lent, my negative expectations of this branch before the altar have been shattered. They have turned out to be unfounded.  I had dismissed it as worthless and useless, and now, without any help from me or anyone else, it has begun to sprout minute leaves that are growing and growing day after day. And they’re increasing in number.   It is all of God’s doing.
It's no big thing if I get it wrong about a dried-up branch and discard it as finished  beyond all possibility of being revived. But it verges on the outrageous, even the blasphemous, if I should ever think that any fellow human being could be so spiritually dead to God that not even He could do anything about it.   I must never give up on anyone…no matter how bad that person may be. This branch is telling me that if I give up on someone then I’m giving up on God Himself. He can remove the heart  of  stone and replace it with a heart of flesh.

This branch has given me hope … a vital component of our Christianity. Ours is a God so slow to anger, so ready to forgive.  He can bring people to the point at which they long to be at peace with him. A major theme of Lent is that whatever godliness in us that has been lost through our sins can be restored if only we will come repentant before the Lord in the Sacrament of Reconciliation

Peter Clarke  O.P.


1 comment:

  1. A salutary warning from Fr Peter--not to ever give up on anyone however badly they have wounded us and not to reject ourselves however ashamed we feel of our our own ugliness and unworthiness. There is a God who can see beyond all this with the eyes of love.

    A haunting and prophetic piece of writing!

    And I think that Peter is also craftily scheming in his efforts to bring us home!!