Tuesday, 31 March 2015


   Actions certainly speak louder than words! That was especially true when Jesus washed the apostles’ feet. That simple gesture has so many layers of inter-related meanings. And yet St. John’s Gospel is the only one to record it.
The setting was of vital importance –a meal anticipating the celebration of the Passover, and resonant with its meaning. This, the greatest of Jewish festivals, celebrating God delivering the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt and leading them to freedom in the Promised Land.
With each annual celebration God renewed His commitment to rescuing His People from further oppression; they, in their turn renewed their commitment to be faithful to Him.
Jesus made the celebration of the Passover His own as He brought its promise to fulfilment. His hour had now come for Him to deliver the whole human race from its enslavement to sin and death; He would set us free to enjoy the glorious liberty of the children of God.
How would He defeat the power of evil, which entrapped us? How would He set us free? Not by a magnificent display of power and force, but, as St. Paul tells, by ‘emptying Himself and taking the form of a slave, obedient even unto death on the cross,’ (Philip. 2.8).
That’s what Jesus wanted Peter, and us, to understand when He insisted on performing the menial task of washing His disciples’ dirty travel-worn feet. The creator of heaven and earth performed a service, which was considered too degrading for a self-respecting Jew!
As Jesus washed His disciples’ feet He showed that to become a liberator He must Himself become enslaved.
Jesus was to be the Second Moses, a slave himself, leading God’s People out of bondage; He was to fulfil the role of the prophet Isaiah’s Suffering Servant of the Lord. He would bear our iniquities; by His wounds we would be healed.   It was precisely as servant that Jesus was saviour. His loving obedience to His Father’s will would reverse the rebellion of sin, and would repair the damage that caused.
By washing Peter’s feet Jesus showed that He had come to serve. Not to be served. Obedient, loving service –that was how Jesus wanted us to understand His Passion. Through obedient death on the cross He would save the world. Through His Agony in the Garden, through His suffering on the cross He would learn the cost of loving obedience to His Father’s will. That is what the washing of the feet proclaimed!
To underline that point St. John’s Gospel places a reference to Judas’ betrayal immediately before and after the washing of the feet. Surrounded by this treachery -the most radical of all acts of disobedience against God -the crucified Christ would be triumphant in His obedience. What a contrast between Judas’ betrayal and Christ’s total commitment to His Father’s will!
That should helps us to understand why Jesus insisted on washing Peter’s feet -why He made it a necessary condition for true discipleship. Quite simply, Peter, and the rest of us, must accept Jesus on His own terms. That means we must welcome Him as the Servant-Saviour, if we are to enjoy the salvation He has won for us. Like someone who is sick we must allow the doctor to heal us. If we’re too proud to allow him to help us, we won’t be cured.  In other words, we must admit that we can’t save ourselves from the power of sin and death. Humbly we must place our hope of salvation in the One who came to serve us, not to be served. He is our only hope of salvation!
In washing Peter’s feet Jesus has shown us what He expects of us, His followers. Like Him, we must be servants of the Lord, and of each other. We must show Christ’s total commitment, not the treachery of Judas. Far from this being demeaning, such service shows the depth of Christ’s loving obedience to His heavenly Father, His love for each one of us. Jesus has shown us that true greatness lies in serving, not being served.
Like Jesus, we will find true greatness in our being generous-hearted servants of the Lord. But first we must accept our total dependence on the Lord, before we can be of any help to anyone else. We must learn to receive, before we can give; to serve, to obey, to follow, before we can presume to lead.
The Washing of the Feet shows us that Jesus understood His saving Passion in terms of loving, obedient service. His obedient sacrifice on the cross is made present in every Mass. With Jesus we are called to be generous givers, loving servants of the Lord, and of each other. That should express our whole attitude to life. And that simple, humble gesture of feet washing tells us what a true follower of Christ should be like.

Isidore O.P.





Thursday, 26 March 2015


Palm Sunday –what a mass of contradictions! It begins with a joyful procession of pilgrims. They have come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. That feast commemorated God delivering His people from slavery in Egypt. In each annual celebration God renewed His commitment to rescue His people from evil, and they renewed their commitment to be faithful to Him.
In one such group of pilgrims the crowd proclaims Jesus to be the son of David, who has come in the name of the Lord. He, they realised, was the promised Messiah who triumphantly enters the city of God to claim His kingdom. In his honour the crowds strewed His path with their cloaks and with branches. What a joyful, exciting occasion!
But then, what a contrast in the Passion narrative! Jesus would not be enthroned in majesty in the temple, but on the cross. On His entry into the Holy city He had been joyfully, triumphantly, celebrated as the Messianic king. On His journey out of the city He was condemned as a criminal, carrying the cross on which He would be executed.
He, who had so recently been exalted, was now despised and rejected. Christ’s closest supporters, His disciples, had deserted Him. Their leader, Peter, had thrice disowned Him. The crowd, which had enthusiastically proclaimed Jesus as king, had turned against Him. True, they, with the Jewish religious leaders and the Roman soldiers all called Jesus, ‘King.’ But now that title was given in mockery, and not as sign of loyal allegiance.
And yet, they were all so right in calling Jesus ‘King,’ all so wrong in their understanding the nature of His sovereignty. While the Jews had hoped for a leader who would deliver them from Roman occupation, Jesus had come to free the whole world from a far greater tyranny –that of sin and death.
His weapons were not military strength and force of arms, but the power of His love. His kingdom was not territorial, but in our hearts. Far from being a defeated failure, nailed helplessly to the cross, it was there, on the cross, that Jesus was enthroned and defeated all the forces of evil arraigned against him.
As we begin Holy Week we are called to travel with Jesus. With the pilgrims waving their palms, we are called joyfully to welcome Jesus as the promised Messiah. As we do so, we must recognise that His kingdom is very different from any other. His is a kingdom of love, justice, peace and truth.
If we are to enter that kingdom and share in Christ’s victory we must follow Christ on the Way of the Cross, to the glory of the resurrection. That means we must die with Him to sin, if we are to rise with Him to share in His victory over sin and death. Only then will we really welcome Christ as our king. Only then will we be His true subjects.
I do hope that you will enter the spirit of Holy Week by coming to its services.
Isidore Clarke O.P.

Thursday, 12 March 2015


‘Do priests have blood???’ Such was the startling question the little girl put to me when she saw my raw, bruised knuckle. Carelessly, without noticing it, in my haste I’d brushed my hand against a rough wall.  Do priests have blood? Where on earth had she dug up the impression that we priests might be bloodless aliens that look like humans?
 There came a point when the disciples no longer had vague or far-fetched impressions about Jesus. By the grace of God, Peter could profess with confidence, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,’ (Mtt.16.16) The response of Jesus was – more or less, ‘Well done! You've got it right!’                                           I’m going to great things through you!’                                   So far so very good!
What were the disciples then to make of Jesus soon afterward telling them, ‘Look, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man is about to be handed over to the chief priests and scribes.  They will condemn Him to death 19 and will hand Him over to the gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified; and on the third day He will be raised up again,’ (Matt.16.21)
. Jesus was someone they someone they admired, respected and  loved. They were hearing this so soon after Peter had made  such a magnificent act of faith in Jesus; and Jesus had so roundly expressed His approval. This shocked them, hurt them, confused them.  Their  immediate reaction had to be, ‘This must not happen! We won’t let it happen! For starters, don’t go to Jerusalem!’
What followed was explosive, feelings were so intense, so raw,Then, taking him aside, Peter started to rebuke Him. 'Heaven preserve you, Lord,' he said, 'this must not happen to you.' But He turned and said to Peter, 'Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle in my path, because you are thinking not as God thinks but as human beings do.' 24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me, (Matt.16.22).
Matters couldn't have been worse.  The disciples were bewildered, baffled. They could not cope with what they were hearing so soon after they had identified Jesus as the Christ. The title ‘Christ,’ that is ‘Messiah,’ was so loaded. It spoke of the promises that God had long ago made to His People; promises that were cherished from one generation to another. It described a man with an exceptional God-given mission that would herald in an age of well-being, even of liberation from the various humiliating oppression the people had suffered over the years and were still suffering.
Just what Jesus had mean to His followers was eloquently articulated by two of HIs disciples on their way to Emmaus ‘Our own hope had been that He would be the one to set Israel free,’ (Lk, 24.21).
              The Christ had been expected to be LEADER, LIBERATOR!                                Not simply a NICE GUY – no matter how kind He was,                   no matter many how miracles of healing He worked. 
The disciples must have thought that the rejection, suffering and death Jesus had predicted for Himself was in total contradiction with all that God had led His People to expect of the Christ. God’s very own plans would  have been  frustrated.  How could the disciples avoid concluding, ‘If all this is going to happen to you, then you will no use to use to us? One who is rejected, scourged and crucified can’t help but be a failure.’
Now I want to leave you, and even myself, to ponder the dilemma, the bewilderment, the dismay of the  disciples of Jesus. What say you, what say I, to these words of St. Paul, ‘God's folly is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength,’ (1 Cor. 1.25)? 
Peter Clarke, O.P. 

Saturday, 7 March 2015


What! Me give up my faithful friend of fifty years and more! Unthinkable! But that’s just what I’ve done. I’ve given up smoking my beloved pipe! This friend brought me so much joy, was there to comfort me when times were bleak, and then came to my rescue when I was in need of inspiration. When asked an awkward question I would start filling up my pipe –that gave me time to think up an answer. Pipe-less, I no longer have that line of defence.
I kidded myself that my pipe kept me peaceful and tolerable to live with. I was prepared to sacrifice my lungs for the sake of my community! For the sake of a tranquil puff I became the master of self-deception. But I have a good precedent. There was a fellow pipe-lover in one of my communities. He decided to give up his pipe for Lent –a heroic sacrifice. But after a short while he became so irritable, we implored him to get back to his pipe and give us some peace. We even bought him his favourite tobacco.
My love affair with my pipe began 60 years ago. As a Rite of Passage to manhood Dad solemnly presented each of us lads with a pipe, and initiated us into the arcane science of filling and lighting it. One brand urged us to ‘tease’ the surface before applying a match –never a petrol-lighter. Have you ever tried teasing tobacco? People many times, certainly! Tobacco?
In those days of seeming innocence smoking was more than acceptable; it was expected. Women even said they liked the smell of pipe tobacco! Certain brands were supposed to make us men irresistible to women. I tried them all and they didn’t work! Puffing away was supposed to make us look thoughtful, even intelligent.
In those days there was no scare about the about the damage I could do to my own health; no one had ever heard of ‘passive smoking,’ and the harm that could do. So, for over half a century of blissfully ignorance I puffed away at my beloved pipe. But then, alarm bells were sounded. Medical research had proved smoking could kill, not only the smoker, but also those around him. I myself, of course, was impervious to such hazards! So unconcerned I blithely puffed away. True I did make half-hearted attempts to stop, but failed dismally. That was on the day I threw my pipes and tobacco into the incinerator. That made me feel strong willed and decisive.  But I proved to be a short-lived hero when I simply had to rush out and re-equip myself at the tea interval of a Test Match in which England was being thrashed by Australia. Weak old me needed the comfort of my pipe!
But circumstances, not a strong will, forced me and my pipe to part company. A fortnight in hospital with viral pneumonia put an end to what I thought had been a beautiful friendship. What had been a comfort and joy had seriously damaged my health and had caused me great distress in hospital. Years of smoking had given me chronic emphysema. The decision to quit was forced upon me .
From the cold ashes of my pipe-smoking I was able salvage something positive, as I bid a sad farewell to  my good and comforting friend –my pipe.  My sense of taste and smell had remarkably improved. And that, I realised is why expert wine tasters don’t smoke. Nor, for that matter, do they eat pickled onions or a strong curry while drinking a good wine. Instead they prefer to cultivate a sensitive palate by foregoing the joys of strongly flavoured food –or a pipe.
This got me thinking. What is it that damages my spiritual health and taste for the things of God? What are the dense clouds of tobacco smoke choking my life in the Spirit? We know bad company can easily lead us astray. Unsavoury books or similar material on the TV or Internet may be fascinating and exciting. But they can lead us to developing a taste for this kind of thing. If so, it’s likely that our palate will become jaded for the things of God. The same’s true if we become obsessed with materialism or with sensual pleasures. Our hearts will be where we think our treasure is to be found. Gradually our palates –our minds –will become coarsened. As with years of smoking, we may not realise the harm were doing ourselves.
But if we give Him the chance, the Holy Spirit will help us gradually develop a taste for divine things. We will learn to savour them and enjoy them. As I’ve found with giving up my pipe, the sacrifice was worthwhile. My palate has become more sensitive and my health has improved. So too, it’s worthwhile giving up harmful delights if that helps me to savour the infinitely greater joy of what God has to offer. That’s nothing less than Himself. 
If you doubt it, listen to the psalmist who urges us, "O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him," [Ps. 34:8]. Just as giving up my pipe has helped me to have a better appreciation of food and drink, so, too, I must try to develop my taste for the things of God by being more discriminating in what I look at and how I spend my time. A good Lenten resolution for all of us!

Isidore Clarke O.P.