Wednesday, 28 October 2015


Some of the saints can be very intimidating! They are so heroic in their sanctity we fear we couldn’t possibly be like them. We fear we wouldn’t have the courage of the martyr, willing to sacrifice his or her life for their faith. We’re so conscious of our mediocrity as Christians, as well as our sinfulness, that we think all we can do is stand back and admire the saints.

And some of the accounts of their lives give the impression that they were not real men and women of flesh and blood, who share the same emotions and temptations as the rest of us, and who sometimes sin. Instead, we get the impression that they are plaster saints, with no hot blood coursing through their veins. Sadly, we think we couldn’t possibly be like them, that we could never be saints. Rightly, we wouldn’t want to be like such anaemic caricatures of holiness!

But we would be mistaken if we thought we were not called to be saints; that we couldn’t possibly become one!   In many ways the saints were people just like us. They came from every walk of life, social class and race. Some were adults, others were children. Some of them were laymen or women, married of single. Others were priests or members of religious Orders. Each one of us is called to follow Christ in the way appropriate to our particular walk of life.

If we think we are not good enough to become saints we would be right. By ourselves we can’t bridge the gulf between the creature and the Almighty Creator God, the sinner and the all-holy One. But if we cease to rely on our very limited efforts God can raise us to share in His own divine life and happiness. If we place our trust in God, not ourselves, we, too, can become saints.

It may come as a surprise to know that the saints suffered the same kind of temptations as we do. Like the rest of us, they sometimes failed. But when they did sin they repented, sought God’s forgiveness and, with his help, made a fresh start. It’s worse to stay down than it is to fall. But saints don’t sink into despair and give up.

But what is a saint? A saint is someone who never gives up on the life-long journey of following Christ into the Kingdom of God. That’s a journey of loving service of God and man. A saint is someone who has learnt to love in the same way as Christ loved. On this journey Christ offers all of us the same assistance as He gave to the saints. This He gives through the sacraments and through prayer. Through prayer our relationship with God is deepened and we draw closer to Him, and He to us. Through prayer we seek His help in overcoming the difficulties of life. If we do not draw close to God it could be that’s not what we really want. And if we don’t receive the help we need in following Christ, that could be due to our not seeking His assistance.

Today we don’t celebrate the feast of any particular saint, but of all of them together. That gives us a sense of belonging to one big family –God’s family –which we call the Communion of Saints.

And we don’t just honour the hundreds officially recognised by the Church. There are many, many more good and holy people, who for the most part go unnoticed, except by God. You may well have met people who are generous in their love and compassion, people who are prepared to make great sacrifices for others. Some of them care for the sick, the homeless and hungry; others work for peace and justice. For others family life provides the context for them to grow in holiness. Others are heroic in the way they cope with suffering, and in a special way identify with the crucified Christ. But whatever our particular situation it is there that God will approach us and we will draw close to Him.

I am inspired by how many people are so prayerful. All around us there are saints in the making, if only we have the sensitivity to notice them. What is more, each of us is called to be a saint. That includes you and me.

Today’s feast of All Saints gives us the encouragement that we, too, can join their number.

Isidore O.P.

Monday, 19 October 2015


"A handbag!" Shrieked Lady Bracknell in the play, "The Importance of Being Ernest." Jack had just told her that, as a babe, he’d been adopted after being found in a handbag at Victoria Railway Station.

Her startled reaction only served to confirm my amazement at what women keep in their handbags. But then, I’m but a mere male; I can’t be expected to understand such feminine mysteries! Anyway, I shouldn’t feel superior. While my brethren would say my room looks like a junkyard, I would argue that to me it’s a treasure-trove. I prefer creative chaos to sterile rectitude!

So I should not have been surprised when a friend told me of her recent discovery. Avis –not her real name –had three budgerigars and a couple of cockatiels. Brilliant were the flashes of blue, green and yellow as her feathered friends flew around her room. Our phone chats were punctured by their squawks –especially loud when two or three of them perched on her head or shoulder. Clearly, Avis and her budgies were very close! They felt really at home with each other.

So much so that one day she noticed a bright yellow budgie flying into her fashionable and expensive handbag, lying open on a sideboard. What could be the attraction for her budgie? Curious Avis had to investigate. Who but she would have been so enchanted to discover her beautiful budgie had made a nest in her handbag? Yes, in her handbag! What is more, she –the budgie, not Avis -was incubating two eggs!!

What was Avis to do? The simple answer, "NOTHING!" Unthinkable for her to disturb the nesting bird. Impossible for her to use her stylish handbag until the eggs had hatched and the baby budgies had fledged.

In spite of this inconvenience Avis was overjoyed at the prospect of having a young family of budgies in her home –no matter that they would have left her quality handbag in a real mess.

That outrageous-to-all-church-cleaners passage in one of the Psalms immediately sprang to my mind. It runs, "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).
What a lovely idea –wild creatures making their homes in the House of the Lord??? Not just swallows, but ants and spiders. We have a saying about being as poor as a church mouse. The Lord welcomes all of them as His creatures. As for us clergy, we call in pest- control officers to remove these messy beasts! Could it be these favoured creatures of the Lord might see us clergy as pests to be removed?

But what’s so amazing is that the Lord, the All-Holy Lord, welcomes us sinners into His home. Instead of clearing us out, He invites us in, especially if our lives are in a mess. His mercy transforms us from being pests into becoming God’s beloved children. As far as He’s concerned we’re neither rejects, nor outcasts, even though the self-righteous may consider us unfit for their company. But not so Jesus; He seeks us out and makes us welcome as people who recognize our need for Him.

We, and so many others, have good reason to rejoice that He wants our company. Not only does He welcome us into His Church buildings, made of bricks and mortar. He even welcomes us into the intimacy of His very life, And so St. John’s letter tells us, "And we have known and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him," (1 John 4. 16).

Wonder of wonders, not only does God want us to be at home with Him, but He wants to be at home with us. That’s why He sent His Son into the world to become one of us. Now, through the Holy Spirit we become the very temple of God –His sacred abode. Eagerly St. Paul reminds the Corinthians. "Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?" (1 Cor. 6. 19).

In us Almighty God has certainly chosen some unlikely places to make His abode –much weirder than a budgie making its nest in my friend’s handbag. As for us, the Psalmist sums up what should be our deepest longing, our most fervent prayer, "One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the day of my life," (Ps. 27. 4). He is our lasting abode; nowhere else will we find real happiness; nothing else matters!

A final question. Do we treat strangers –beggars, refugees, asylum seekers -as unwelcome pests? Or do we show them God’s hospitality–illustrated by Avis allowing her beloved, messy, budgie to make its home in her squeaky-clean handbag?

Isidore O.P.


Thursday, 15 October 2015


For months now,  the Synod on the Family has occupied centre stage in private conversations and in every form of Social Communication. Rightly so, because how  family and human sexuality are to be understood touches the lives of everyone.

 The Catholic Church has seen the necessity to hold a most important forum, known as a Synod, to discern and declare how Almighty God, the Creator, intends family life to be lived and human sexuality to be exercised.
In the world of today these are highly contentious issues, even within the Church itself.  

At times there have been, and still are, fierce and furious clashes between exotic optimism over expectation of changes in the Church’s teaching and abysmal despair  that the Church was losing its integrity  in a soft-hearted desire to respond with compassion to every  human problem.

In the heat and cloudiness of argument I fear the well-being of the family, of flesh and blood human beings, has become obscured.
In all discussions about human behaviour the basic issue has to be, “Where do people get there certainties from?” Note that often with a sense of certainty goes a sense of security!

 Christians take as their point of reference Jesus Christ, the Son of God made Man…the one who claimed to be, “The Way, and the Truth, and the Life,” (Jn.14.6). He described the height of blessedness to be to  “HEAR THE WORD OF GOD AND KEEP IT!” (Lk. 1.28). For the very early Christian Communities the watchword had to be   LET ANYONE WHO CAN HEAR, LISTEN TO WHAT THE SPIRIT IS SAYING TO THE CHURCHES,"(Rev. 2.29).

In His final discourse to His closest friends Jesus assured them, “I still have many things to say to you but they would be too much for you to bear now.  However, when the Spirit of truth comes he will lead you to the complete truth, since he will not be speaking of his own accord, but will say only what he has been told; and he will reveal to you the things to come. 14 He will glorify me, since all he reveals to you will be taken from what is mine.(Jn. 16.12-14).
In the midst of all the heated discourse all of us, as Church, must be attentive to what the Holy Spirit is now saying to us and then be willing to put this into action. We must not be full of our opinions, simply because they come from us. I presume to say this applies to each and every member of the Synod. “COME HOLY SPIRIT; SPEAK LORD, I’M LISTENING” should be the dominant refrain throughout the Church…prayer for the docility to listen to God, to promote and live the life God is calling us to.
Now is the time when we should ask ourselves how much does it mean to me, to any of us, to  profess, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church?
 Closing time will come when  the proceedings of the Synod.  Resolutions will have been formulated and handed to the Pope.  The participants will have departed for their homes. Pope Francis will prayerfully ‘LISTEN TO WHAT THE SPIRIT HAS BEEN SAYING TO THE CHURCH’ OF  TODAY  THROUGH THE SYNOD.

 After prayerful deliberation the Pope will follow the post-Synod custom of writing an authoritative letter, known as an Encyclical.

 The conclusion of such a momentous exercise within Church should resound with the confidence of the of the early Church when it pronounced its decision after serious deliberation, “IT HAS BEEN DECIDED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT AND BY OURSELVES ….,” (Acts 25.28).

I believe that we should see the working of the Holy Spirit in the election as Pope someone of immense pastoral experience and sensitivity. He would surely be able to address those very issues – family and human sexuality - that are of major concern to those whose ministry in the Church is essentially pastoral rather than administrative.

It is bound to be that those who think the Pope has been too liberal will be shocked. Others will be dismayed that he has been too rigid. 

My final words, to you and to myself, are taken from the prophecy of Haggai, "MY SPIRIT IS ABIDING IN YOUR MIDST; DO NOT FEAR!" ( Haggai. 2. 5). Be assured that neither the Pope nor the Synod will betray the teaching of the Church.

Peter Clarke, O.P