Thursday, 20 March 2014


Great excitement! A  few years ago an Anglo-Saxon burial ground was discovered in Cambridgeshire.  Why the fuss?  Because a grave contained what could well have been the earliest Christian remains to be found in England. The deceased was thought to have been a sixteen year old girl of noble birth, possibly a princess.  She died some 1,400 years ago.  And why was she thought to be a Christian?  Because she was buried holding a cross in her hands.  That cross was a clear, unmistakable sign that she had been a follower of the crucified and risen Christ, and had placed her hope of eternal happiness in Him. And these were surely the sentiments of those responsible for her burial!  An object close to her heart in life was placed close to hear heart in death!

  Much more recently, when our mother died, my brother Peter’s crucifix, given him as a First Communion present, was placed in her coffin.  That simple gesture expressed their deep shared faith in the crucified and risen Lord. This cross and actual gesture of placing this family treasure spoke beyond the grave and the separation caused by her death, to their hope of being re-united in God’s eternal happiness. 

 For them and for Christians throughout the ages the cross was the sign of our salvation, and remains so for Christians throughout the world, even to this day.  The cross denotes our identity as followers of Christ crucified.  That was true of the teenage girl buried some 1,400 years ago; that is true of Christians today.  For all of us the cross is a visible, silent witness to our faith.  We wear it with pride, but not with aggressive arrogance.  

For us the cross is the sign by which we have been saved.   If we want proof of God’s love and concern for us, we don’t need special visions and revelations.   Look at the cross; that’s the only sign we need.     In fact Jesus was exasperated with those who were forever seeking signs!  That showed a lack of faith in Him.  We shouldn’t be constantly putting Him to the test by asking Him to prove Himself.  That’s what the devil did when he tempted Jesus in the desert. We shouldn’t behave like the devil!

But sadly, for many the cross means little or nothing. For others the cross can be an uncomfortable reminder of the way the crucified Christ challenges our secular way of thinking and behaving. Others find the cross either ridiculous or offensive.  I’m always amused and confused when a boxer makes the sign of the cross as he steps in the ring.  He then proceeds to knock the living day-light out of his oponent!   Sadly, in so-called Christian countries, believers have been denied the right to wear a visible cross at the work-place.  It’s feared the cross might offend non-believers.  Strangely they don’t seem to object, nor do they find offensive the Nativity being portrayed in civic Christmas decorations or on postage stamps. 

But sadly, for many the cross means little or nothing. For others the cross can be an uncomfortable reminder of the way the crucified Christ challenges our secular way of thinking and behaving. Others find the cross either ridiculous or offensive.  I’m always amused and confused when a boxer makes the sign of the cross as he steps in the ring.  He then proceeds to knock the living day-light out of his opponent!   Sadly, in so-called Christian countries, believers have been denied the right to wear a visible cross at the work-place.  It’s feared the cross might offend non-believers.  Strangely they don’t seem to object, nor do they find offensive the Nativity being portrayed in civic Christmas decorations or on postage stamps.

  There’s a danger of the minority of the so-called ‘politically correct’ projecting their views onto others, and forcing the rest  of us to conform.  Anyway, we Christians are called to give public witness to our faith, not to hide it.  Wearing a cross makes clear what we believe, without our forcing our faith upon anyone.   

 And as we look upon the cross we discover its meaning.  We see an image of the Son of God made man.  Far from being a criminal, He was completely innocent.  Although despised and rejected as a failure He was enthroned there on the cross as the triumphant victor over sin and death. He confronted evil and conquered it, not by force of arms, but by the power of His goodness and love. 

As Jesus hung upon the cross it was as though, as man, He stretched out one hand to His heavenly Father, and as God, He reached out with the other hand to us sinners. His love has drawn God and man together in His crucified person. He has made our peace with God through His death on the cross. 

In Christ’s crucifixion we see the triumph of love over malice, goodness over evil, life over death. God has used the horrific instrument of execution –the cross –to achieve His purpose –the salvation of the world. This will seem madness to non-believers, but for us it is the wisdom of God, which defies human logic.  In the crucified Christ we see the sublime folly, the extravagance, of God's love for us.

 But to those who are scandalized by our professing our faith in the crucified Christ, or simply think we are mad, St. Paul replies, “Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,  but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength,” (1 Cor. 1. 22-25).

 Let us not allow the expression of our faith be driven underground, but wear a cross and witness to it with pride.   With St. Paul let us proclaim, “May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world,”  (Gal 6. 14). Again, with Paul, let us rejoice that, “I have been crucified with Christ: and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me, (Gal. 2. 19-21).

For many it is more than an accessory of their costume jewellery; for many it is a charm that is supposed to bring good fortune – such as a horse-shoe or a black cat. However, there is the beautiful custom of kissing the figure of the crucifix before reciting the Rosary.  Others who are proud to wear upon their person this emblem of their Christianity might do well to show it this same affectionate reverence.  We make exception for those whose crosses are permanently attached to their ears! – would like to insert this piece of mischief?
Isidore O.P.

Thursday, 6 March 2014


"Be holy as I am holy; be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect."
We wouldn’t take this seriously if it weren’t for the fact that these are the Words of God to be found in the Sacred Scriptures which He inspired. Isn’t our Heavenly Father asking too much of us, expecting too much from us? Not really, if we remember that God asks of us nothing that is impossible, but makes what is difficult possible.

The call to share in the life of God who is holy, or, better, to live by God’s gift of His very self to us, must be the core of our Christian spirituality – the very essence of the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As God’s beloved children in our own lives we are meant to mirror the holiness of God’s own life!
What dignity God has conferred on us, His beloved children for whom He wants so much, from whom He expects so much! Sadly, for all of us there have been times when we have been a disappointment to God. We have to ask ourselves, "How much or how little it has meant to us that we have offended the God who has showered so much love on us?"
I dare to suggest that regular, humble self-examination and self-accusation, together with the recognition of our personal sinfulness in thought, word, deed, and omission, are not prominent on today’s Christian landscape. Far too seldom do we beat our breasts and mutter, "Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault!’

And yet, without a sense of sin there can be no sense of the need of that repentance, causing us to yearn for His forgiveness, nor the felt need to be reconciled to Him, by Him. In such a vacuum what sense is there in singing, ‘God of mercy and compassion, look with pity upon me?’ What motivation is there to recite the much loved Jesus Prayer, 
'Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner?'

Could it be we have come to resemble those who regarded Jesus as stimulating company but never saw themselves of needing from Him any spiritual healing? To the likes of these Jesus said, 'It is not those that are well who need the doctor, but the sick. I have come to call not the upright but sinners to repentance,’ (Lk. 5.31).
Much as I dislike it, I have to suggest our generation is on the way to losing its sense of an urgent need for a Saviour. And yet Sacred Scripture describes the mission of Jesus in terms of being Saviour.

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,.' ( Mtt.1.21); and ‘For God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but so that through him the world might be saved,’ (Jn.3.17).

As I see it, in our promoting the New Evangelization we simply must restore Jesus as Saviour to the place where He belongs, at the heart of our Christianity. Then and only then will we, as regular Church goers, appreciate the need for, and the beauty of, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the Sacrament of the Forgiveness of Sins.

Perhaps now you will understand why I entitled this meditation:


I ask you, ‘Have we lost Him, as our Saviour? If we have, when we have such beautiful liturgies and devotions, do we really miss Him as our Saviour.

Peter Clarke O.P.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014


What a temptation! And this at a most sacred and sober moment! On Ash Wednesday of all days, at the very moment of distributing the ashes! It is then that the person before me opens his or her mouth, as I reach forwards with a thick layer of ashes on my thumb…ashes to consumed?!? Surely not! Dirty ashes to be smeared on the forehead…not the Lord Jesus to be con...sumed in Holy Communion. I leave you to speculate how I’ve handled this situation on more than one occasion.
Suffice it to say that ashes do nothing to beautify our appearance. They’re not meant to. In a tradition dating back to Saint Gregory the Great, pope in the sixth century, ashes have been distributed at the commencement of the season of Lent. During this time we are to reflect on the certainty of our dying, sooner or later, and we are to repent of our sins. With the grace of God we could conjure up these sombre sentiments without our having to be daubed with ashes. Indeed, we hear from the Gospel of today that Jesus warned against the misuse of outward expressions of piety … parading good deeds in the streets to gain the admiration of others. The public distribution of ashes is meant to remind us that we, as the People of God in our very togetherness, have a fragile hold on life and that we need to repent of our collective sinfulness.
When distributing ashes I find myself in something of a dilemma. I have to choose between two formulae each of which carries a powerful message. The more familiar one is,
"Remember, man, you are dust
And to dust you shall return."
“Remember you are dust and unto dust you shall return” reverberates with one tone in the ears of those of us of advanced years; with a completely different tone when heard by a young mother cradling an infant in her arms. And yet I feel good when I remember that the dust which is me has been made sacred because it has received the creative breath of God himself. I’m deeply moved by the thought that my being human means that I, yes I, am made in the image and likeness of God Himself. So much more marvellous is it that the Son of God, in becoming man, has clothed Himself in this, my dust-prone human nature and…yours…and yours…and yours!
Born of the Virgin Mary, Jesus suffered and died. Entombed in the dust of the earth, He did not become part of the dust. On the third day He rose from the dead and in so doing He defied the finality of "to dust you shall return." The Good News of the Gospel is that although in death every single one of us shall return to dust, through Jesus the dust that is ourselves will be raised to share in the glory of His resurrection.
“Christ has been raised from the dead, as the first- fruits of all who have fallen asleep… in Christ all will be brought to life; but all of them in their proper order; Christ the first-fruits, and next, at his coming those who belong to him,” [1 Cor. 15.20]
Thus the Church carries us from a realistic acceptance of our sorry condition, “you art dust” to the joyful celebration of our faith in Jesus,
"Dying you destroyed our death,
Rising you restored our life.
Lord Jesus, come in glory"
For me the alternative formula for the distribution of ashes is far more challenging. It reminds me that a living Christianity requires of me repentance and fidelity,
"Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel."
It doesn’t come easily for any of us to repent of those things that at some time have caused us joy, brought us success and may even have defined our life-style. At the time these seductive attractions all seemed so good for us. It seems to me there’s little credit in that remorse that only occurs to us once we’ve been found out and are in danger of being shamed or even of being punished.
All of us need the grace of God to convince us that aspects of our lives that have given us satisfaction and pleasure have been highly offensive to God and that there was dust-like ugliness in their fraudulent beauty. It is the grace of God that brings home to us the awfulness of offending the God who loves us- the God whom we profess to love. In repentance we yearn to be reconciled with God and we resolve to be more faithful to Him. The Good News is that all this is possible because of Jesus dying on the cross for us and rising from the tomb for us.
Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent, during which our minds and hearts are prepared for the celebration of the Paschal Mystery, accomplished by Jesus on the Cross and from the Tomb. Ashes on the forehead in the form of a cross express the Christian conviction that the eventual resurrection of our bodies and God’s loving forgiveness of our sins derive from our crucified and risen Lord Jesus. Our repentance makes us open to this.
"Lord, by your cross and resurrection
You have set us free.
You are the Saviour of world."
Our wanting the Church to taint our foreheads with ashes gives us plenty to chew over in our minds and in our hearts, but no reason whatsoever to open our mouths!     

Fr. Peter Clarke, O.P.