Tuesday, 29 March 2016



I really put my foot in it when I gave a talk to a group of middle aged women. I dared to criticise the cult film ‘Love Story,’ which many of them had seen in their youth. I’d presumed to accuse their heroine of talking sentimental rubbish. Her crime? -to say, "Love means never having to say ‘sorry.’’’

That can only be true of God, who never has to apologise. As for the rest of us, we’re all sinners and sometimes hurt each other. Real love then means being able to apologise when we’ve harmed someone, and forgiving him when he’s hurt us. If love is to last it must have the resilience to heal the pain we inflict on each other. Without mercy love would be so brittle that it could not last. Our love for each other must reflect God’s steadfast love for us, which is always eager to forgive the repentant sinner. 

To forgive is hard enough; to do so willingly –that’s really difficult! Yet that’s what the 5th Spiritual Work of Mercy expects of us. Forgiving those who hurt us is the most God-like of the Works of Mercy. Mercy is the very Face of the God, in whose image we have been made. That means we must be as merciful as our heavenly Father is merciful.

But that goes against our natural instinct. We fear that will be taken as a sign of weakness. If we don’t stop him he will continue his violence. But we know only too well that if we retaliate the situation will escalate. The innocent person will become as aggressive as the one who started the violence. Nothing will be solved, and we may say and do things which we later regret.

So Jesus takes a different, two pronged, approach, aimed at defusing a hostile situation. Firstly, we should correct the offender (3rd Spiritual Work of Mercy). Next, we should forgive him or her. That’s the present, 5th Work of Mercy.

So what does forgiveness mean? Certainly not denying that someone has harmed us. That would be dishonest. It would also be cruel to prevent him apologising and finding forgiveness. Only through apologising and forgiving can wounds be healed and peace restored. To say, ‘Forgive and forget’ is asking too much, even the impossible. We can’t wipe our memories clean, like a blackboard. Instead, we have to learn to come to terms with past injuries, put them behind us and together make a fresh start.

To help us, Jesus urges us not only to love our enemies, instead of hating them, but also to pray for them. That’s not a pious after-thought, but an essential part in healing a dysfunctional relationship. As we pray for our enemies our attitude towards them changes. We cease to wish them harm and want only their good. That gradually heals our bitterness, anger and desire for vengeance. As we pray for those who are hostile to us, we ask God to heal their aggression. Only when hatred has been removed from both the aggressor and the victim can there be real peace. Shakespeare’s ‘Merchant of Venice’ puts this very well, "The quality of mercy is not strained… IT BLESSETH HIM THAT GIVES AND HIM THAT TAKES," (Merchant of Venice, Act 4 Scene 1). Both parties benefit from the merciful removal of hostility and tension. 

But let’s face it, forgiveness can be very difficult when we’ve been badly hurt. We really want to forgive, but unwanted anger and resentment can suddenly flare up, sometimes long after the injury. We then wonder whether our forgiveness was genuine. It was. Such unwanted resentment simply means that the wounds we suffered are still raw. We don’t need forgiveness, but inner healing. Since the same may well be true for someone we’ve hurt we will both need to be patient and pray. That links up with the previous Spiritual Work of Mercy -‘to bear wrongs patiently.’  

Jesus has given us the supreme example of what forgiving willingly means. He not only preached a Gospel of forgiveness, but lived it, above all, on the cross. As He prayed for the forgiveness of those responsible for His death He showed us what it means, in practice, to forgive our enemies. He has shown us the way to be true sons and daughters of our heavenly Father.


Heavenly Father, God full of mercy and compassion, we turn to you in are need for forgiveness. But your Son taught us that your mercy is dependent on our readiness to forgive those who have harmed us.

But when we’ve been harmed we find it so difficult to overcome our anger, bitterness and resentment. We feel hurt and humiliated. Instinctively we want to fight back; we fear that if we don’t, the aggressor will continue and repeat his violence. We know that one way or another he must be stopped. But your Son has taught us that retaliation is not the answer. Like Him we must love and forgive our enemies. Like Him, we must be peacemakers, not warmongers.

Father, since such god-like generosity of spirit is so difficult we beg you to help us. Help us to overcome are instinct to retaliate; heal the wounds of resentment and anger which can still flare up long after we were first hurt.
Father, we know that, if there is to be true peace, the aggressor must be healed of the violence within him. And so we pray that he may find inner peace through loving and respecting the dignity and rights of other people.

May we all find peace through sharing your Son’s healing ministry of reconciliation. 
 We ask this through Jesus Christ ,Your Son, Our Lord.

For the sake of His Sacred Passion have mercy on us and the whole world.
Isidore Clarke O.P.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016



Bear Wrong Patiently.

Ever been worn out by people filled with self-pity, always moaning about the way they’ve been ill-treated? Why can’t these tedious bores show us a little mercy? Why can’t they bear their troubles patiently? That’s what  the 4th Spiritual Work of Mercy is telling them, us, to do!  Bearing wrongs patiently, out of compassion, out of mercy, for others.
If we attempt to correct them with sweet persuasion or quarrel with them mightily and savagely, where does this get us? Some of them just can't help being abusive – verbally, emotionally, physically and even spiritually. Such tyrants (dare I call them ‘monsters’?) are to be found in the home, in the work-place, in the sporting arena, and, let’s face it, even in Holy Mother Church herself.
 Most of us would probably think they shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it. And they might self-righteously retaliate by telling us we ought to BEAR WITH THEM PATIENTLY!
 The remaining possibility is to choose to suffer in silence, be a martyr. We might well think this might secure a measure of peace, however wretched and that this would be better than endless conflict. Others will find the only thing to do is clear out rather than be crippled emotionally and even physically! And who can blame them? In my pastoral ministry I’ve seen this ‘Worst possible scenario’ all too frequently.
We, as Church, must be very diffident in the advice we offer to those who are victims of such oppressive behaviour. Out of mercy towards them we must try to protect them from being coarsened by seemingly justifiable anger, hatred, bitterness and even a lust for revenge.  

I’m thinking of deeply wounded people whose self-esteem has been badly damaged.  They need to be affirmed, cushioned by love and compassion, and healed by the grace of God. All this is necessary if  they are ever going to be able ‘Bear Wrongs Patiently.’ Don’t let anyone dare to say, ‘All you have to do…!

Out of his own often tormented pastoral experience St. Paul was still able to write, ‘If your enemy is hungry, give him something to eat; if thirsty, something to drink’(see Proverbs 25.22). By this, you will be heaping red-hot coals on his head.  Do not be mastered by evil, but master evil with good, (Rom. 12.20). 

Jesus carries this approach yet further. For Him ‘Bearing Wrongs Patiently’ meant sacrificial love; healing mankind through patiently welcoming the very wounds mankind so unjustly inflicted upon Him. This is what His Heavenly Father intended for Him, as was described by the prophet Isaiah, 
“But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed."
Taking Jesus as his mentor   St. Paul presumed to identify his own persecution and suffering with that of Jesus,
I have been crucified with Christ  and yet I am alive; yet it is no longer I, but Christ living in me. The life  that I am now living, subject to the limitation of human nature, I am living in faith, faith  in the Son of God  who loved me and gave himself for me,” (Gal. 2.19).

 St. Paul himself suffered persecution, imprisonment, scourging and much more, as he proclaimed the Good News of Jesus Christ. He realized he was a member of the Body of Christ, with Jesus Christ Himself being the Head. It was not fanciful, therefore for him to see himself bonded with Jesus, in His suffering and in His mission. Sharing in the vulnerability of Jesus, the Suffering Servant, St. Paul would be contributing to the Salvation of Mankind.
What St. Paul wrote to the Colossians, we can, and should, make our own:
   “It makes me happy to be suffering for you now, and in my own body to make up all the hardships that still have to be undergone by Christ for the sake of His body, the Church,” (Col. 1.24). 

It has been humbling for me  to hear people telling me that, in union with Jesus in His agony, they are enduring their own acute pain. Whether in their sickness or trapped in hideously tense relationships they have told me, ‘He suffered from me. Now I’m suffering for Him.’  Their carrying their crosses in union with Jesus has been offered for  the healing of some sick person, for the patching up of a family that is falling apart, or for world peace....
In bearing patiently wrongs done to them and misfortunes that befall them they are not surrendering to the unavoidable. They are grasping the opportunity to take up their crosses alongside Jesus. 

They are the unsung heroes of the Church – living in our midst.  We must look out for them; we have so much to learn from them!

Let us Pray

Almighty Father, the life of each one of us has its sweet moments and its sour ones, smooth ones and rough ones.  
We implore your grace always to trust you and to have confidence in you - no matter what is happening in our lives.      
Come to our rescue when we are being treated unkindly, unjustly, even violently.  If needs be we beg your grace to bear these wrongs with patience. 

Your Son, Jesus was rejected, scorned, maligned and cruelly tortured and put to death. 
It was by His innocent wounds that He healed the wounded sinfulness of the human family. Grant to us the serenity that filled His sinless, loving heart.
Grant we may follow the example of Jesus in accepting our pain creatively for the well-being of others. Amen

For the sake of His Sacred Passion have mercy on us and the whole world.

Peter Clarke, O.P.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016


Let’s get this straight from the beginning! "Correcting the Sinner" adds a new dimension to condemning wrongful or illegal actions. It relates them to Almighty to God. They are offensive to Him, against His will, His expectations of us and even His demands of us. Correcting the Sinner means helping him to restore a wholesome, holy, relationship with God -to share in God’s own holiness. This is a loving merciful thing to do, because it is an attempt to save a person from his ugly, ungodly ways. It is a loving merciful thing to assist someone to become pleasing to, rather than displeasing to God. St. James' letter tells us,
"My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins,"
(James. 5. 19-205. 19-20).
For example, it’s against God’s will for us to be drunken drivers, endangering our own and other people’s lives. That shows a callous disregard, a lack of love, for ourselves and them, as God’s children. It’s an expression of caring compassion to show them a better way, God’s, by urging someone going against God’s will, to seek His forgiveness and, with His help, change their ways.
And yet love demands that we should protect those who are dear to us from ruining their lives. A timely warning could save them. But we fear we could do more harm than good if handled this badly. Tension and hostility would follow -the problem would remains and we ourselves would become problems to the ones we’ve tried to help.
So we think it better to remain silent. But avoiding confrontation for the sake of peace can be a sign of not really caring for those we claim to love. With every good parent we have to admit that the ‘tough love’ of admonishing the wrong-doer is difficult and painful for everyone. God knows we need to pray for prudence in giving advice; we also need to ask the Holy Spirit to touch the minds and hearts of those we are trying to help.
For me the best approach is to be found in two Gospel passages. Let’s start with the parable about the plank and the splinter. In concluding the Sermon on the Mount Jesus condemns our eagerness to correct other people’s minor faults, especially when we are blind to our own major sins, especially of our self-righteousness. So Jesus says,
"Why do you look at the splinter that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the plank that is in your own eye? "Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the splinter out of your eye,' and behold, the plank is in your own eye? "You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the splinter out of your brother's eye,"
(Matt.7. 3-5).
So, before pointing out other people’s lesser faults I must first recognise and correct my own greater ones. As we correct the sinner we must show him the same understanding and compassion as we hope to receive from God and those we have offended. That’s very important for us priests when hearing confession.
In the story of the woman taken in adultery Jesus shows the compassion we need when correcting the sinner, (Jn. 8. 2-11). Instead of condemning her to death, as the Law required, He challenged any of her accusers, who was without sin, to cast the first stone. As He began to write in the dust, presumably a list of their sins, they all slipped away. Jesus then told the woman that He, too, would not condemn her. Not that He denied her sin, but in sparing her life and telling her to go and sin more, He gave her the chance to make a fresh start. That’s real compassionate, healing ‘tough love!’
That’s what this Spiritual Work of Admonishing the Sinner is all about. And that’s the point St. Paul makes in his 2nd Letter to the Corinthians. After realising the difficulties and dangers in trying to correct the Corinthians, he concludes, "I am writing these things ….which the lord gave me FOR BUILDING UP AND NOT FOR TEARING DOWN,"
(2 Cor. 13. 10).)
Heavenly Father, your Son commissioned His followers to proclaim the Good News to the whole world. We have been baptised to share in that mission.

But we are only too aware of the difficulties of that task. Many people do not know or accept your Son’s teaching and way of life. We realise that teaching includes correcting faults. Few of us welcome that!

Since you have called us to carry out such a difficult and unpopular task we turn to you for help. In correcting others may we always remember that we, too, are sinners in need of correction.

As we condemn sin may we always act out of a spirit of love and respect for the sinner. May our whole purpose be to save him or her from endangering their eternal salvation and from harming other people. May the courage needed to confront others with their sins always be tempered with tact, humility and, above all, love.

We ask you to send your Spirit to teach us your saving truth, to help us repent for the times we have failed to follow your Son and to guide us in helping others to discover your will and rejoice in doing it. Touch their hearts and help them to become open and eager to welcome your healing mercy.

For the sake of His Sacred Passion have mercy on us and the whole world.
Isidore Clarke O.P.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016




"Let your acquaintances be many. but let your advisers be one in a thousand, "
To Counsel the Doubtful - The 2nd Spiritual Work of Mercy .What a huge responsibility to undertake – to presume to advise a person who is confused – so full of doubts! What an impertinence to rush in where angels fear to tread!

And yet many of us do have our anxieties and doubts, even about God Himself and His Church. What to believe? Does it make sense even to believe there is a God? And then, what exactly does God tells us to do and not to do? People talk about Gentle Jesus. And yet He made keeping His Commandments the yardstick for measuring whether or not we love Him (cf. Jn. 14. 15; 23)?

We are to ‘Counsel the Doubtful.’ Now in the Prophecy of Isaiah we read of God promising to send someone who would be known as WONDERFUL COUNSELOR,’ (Isaiah 9.5). Christians believe this turned out to be Jesus, the Son of God, the Son of Mary. In His own time He proved to be someone of great compassion in His relating to people and so wise in His teaching whether to individuals or to immense crowds. He spoke of Himself as the Good Shepherd, searching, reaching out to those who had lost their way in life. And what is more, He claimed Himself to be,
‘the Way, the Truth and the Life!’ (Jn.14.6).
And yet many of us do have our anxieties and doubts, even about God Himself and His Church. What to believe? Does it make sense even to believe there is a God? And then, what exactly does God tells us to do and not to do? People talk about Gentle Jesus. And yet He made keeping His Commandments the yardstick for measuring whether or not we love Him (cf. Jn. 14. 15; 23)?
And yet many of us do have our anxieties and doubts, even about God Himself and His Church. What to believe? Does it make sense even to believe there is a God? And then, what exactly does God tells us to do and not to do? People talk about Gentle Jesus. And yet He made keeping His Commandments the yardstick for measuring whether or not we love Him (cf. Jn. 14. 15; 23)?

We are to ‘Counsel the Doubtful.’ Now in the Prophecy of Isaiah we read of God promising to send someone who would be known as WONDERFUL COUNSELOR,’ (Isaiah 9.5). Christians believe this turned out to be Jesus, the Son of God, the Son of Mary. In His own time He proved to be someone of great compassion in His relating to people and so wise in His teaching whether to individuals or to immense crowds. He spoke of Himself as the Good Shepherd, searching, reaching out to those who had lost their way in life. And what is more, He claimed Himself to be,
‘the Way, the Truth and the Life!’ (Jn.14.6).
Someone to turn to, someone to cling to.
Jesus knew a time would come when He would return to His Heavenly Father. No problem for Him. He, glorious in Heaven, would act through His Church. He would prompt those with spiritual, religious doubts and problems to search out people like you and me to continue His sensitive ministry of counselling. In our ministry of assisting them we were to share with them God’s truth, God’s wisdom…not our personal opinions and piety. Even as pious people, especially as pious people, we must know our limitations. It would be irresponsible, even dangerous, counselling, to tell a person, "If you have faith and I pray for you, all your problems will be solved." That person may urgently need to see a doctor, a psychiatrist, or a professional counsellor.
Counselling the doubtful is a vitally important ministry of the Church. Our mandate is that St. Paul gave to Timothy long ago,
"I want you to know how people ought to behave in God's household -- that is, in the Church of the living God, pillar and support of the truth,
(I Tim.3.15).
Like Solomon of long ago, we must pray we may have the humility to want to receive the Wisdom that comes from God (Wisdom 9.3). We must also pray for those coming to us with their religious doubts and problems...that they receive the grace to act upon the GODLY WORD they have heard – perhaps from us. God does not expect the impossible of anyone, but He does make what is difficult possible.
These days there are so many self-appointed directors and shapers of public opinion; so many mixed messages, so much confusion! Vast amounts of money and so many Means of Communication make this possible. We should note well what St. John wrote in his First Letter,
"My dear friends, not every spirit is to be trusted, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets are at large in the world,"
There is a desperate need for this 2nd Work Spiritual Work of Mercy - Counsel the Doubtful. It is indeed a great act of mercy for godly sanity to save the world from the self-destruction it is bringing upon itself through the persuasive lunacy that advocates the soft option rather than the tough necessity!
Does anyone seriously believe that "The Voice of the People is the Voice of God?"

Let us pray
Lord Jesus, Philip, one your disciples asked you to show him the way to your Father. And you replied that you were the Way.
And Lord Jesus, you now are asking us to follow you. At times it is not easy for us to discern how you want us to live; how to apply to our daily lives what you are teaching us through your Church. And we are not alone in our doubts and uncertainties. People come to us expecting us to have the answers, your answers, to their problems.
In today's world there is so much confusion, with so many voices confidently lending their advice to the world's problems. We urgently need your help. Give us the wisdom to discern true prophets from false ones - those who speak in your name and those who do not.
When people come to us seeking our advice, share with us your wisdom and your merciful compassion. Give us the grace generously to share our time with them, as well as our interest. With humility may we utter your word of wisdom to them.
And Lord, there will be times when we ourselves are confused and have our doubts. It is then we need someone to counsel us. Send someone who speaks in your name. Give us the courage to follow the counselling you have sent to us. Amen

For the sake of His Sacred Passion have mercy on us and the whole world.

Peter Clarke, O.P.



Tuesday, 1 March 2016



I would never describe someone as 'ignorant!'  If someone called me that I would be furious.To me it sounds arrogant and condescending. But St. Peter makes sure we don’t fall into that trap by urging us,
“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,” (1 Peter 3. 15).

Gentleness and respect -that must always be our approach. After all, we all start off ignorant and have to learn before we can teach. Never can we drain the inexhaustible fountain of wisdom, knowledge and understanding.

That applies especially to the mysteries of faith. All of us must remain life-long learners.  Each and every one of us, and the Church as a whole, must constantly be learning, constantly teaching. Hence the motto of the Order of Preachers; “To contemplate, and to hand on to others the fruits of contemplation.” Otherwise we become spiritually and intellectually fossilised; in other words, dead!

Through our baptism each of us has been consecrated to share in Christ’s Prophetic Mission of handing on the Faith we have received. To keep us humble we need to remember that our faith is a gift from God –not something we can acquire by our unaided reasoning. It’s not something we deserve. To instruct, to teach, is to share God’s gift, to share His generosity. That’s both a privilege and responsibility. Hopefully we will do so with love for God’s saving truth, love for the people Jesus came to save. Hopefully, our sharing will always be inspired by a sense of wonder for God and the things of God as St Paul reminds us, “Oh, The Depth Of The Riches Both Of The Wisdom And Knowledge Of God! How unsearchable Are His judgements And unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counsellor? or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever.” (Rom. 11. 33-36).

To share the Good News of salvation is both a wonderful privilege and also a daunting responsibility. Daunting only because we’re not only imparting information, but also advocating a way of life –Christ’s way of life. And that’s what’s intimidating. If we’re honest with ourselves we all must admit that we fall short in practising what we preach. That sense of inadequacy, if not hypocrisy, can be paralysing.

My way of coping is to remind myself that I’m not preaching my way of life, but Christ’s. And if we all waited till we were perfect, the Gospel would never be heard. But Jesus has chosen imperfect messengers, like you and me, and makes up for our deficiencies, by sending us the Spirit of Truth to help us.

He works within both the sharer and receiver of the Good News, giving us the sensitivity, an instinct, to discern what is true or false, right or wrong, to have a correct appreciation of the goodness of this world, and the awesome majesty of God. In other words, through the Holy Spirit we gain the mind of Christ. We learn to,
“taste and see that the Lord is good,” (Ps. 34. 8).
This sensitivity grows from our closeness to God, rather than our academic prowess.

And how is handing on our faith to the so-called ‘ignorant’ a Spiritual Work of Mercy? Well, St. Mark’s Gospel gives us the answer, “When Jesus went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things,” (Mk. 66. 34). We have been called to follow the compassionate Christ in instructing the multitude. Deep within each one of us there’s a hunger for more than a materialistic world can offer. The Scriptures tell us we long for the fulfilment which only the Good News of salvation can give us, “man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God," (Matt. 4. 4). According to the prophet Amos the worst thing that could happen to us would be, “not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord,” (Amos 8. 11). That would mean that communication between God and man, and therefore our relationship with Him, had broken down.

It’s our responsibility to ensure that that does not happen –to provide this spiritual nourishment. While realising that we are to be shepherds, guiding people to the Kingdom of Heaven, we must always remember that we, too, are ignorant sheep, who need to follow the Good Shepherd. As the Father said on the Mount of Transfiguration, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him.” He is the only way to the Father!



Heavenly Father, we thank you for calling us to find eternal happiness in your knowing and loving us, our knowing and loving you. We thank you for all the people who have revealed your glorious plan for us. Above all, we thank you for sending your beloved Son to express in human terms the wonder of your being and the depths of your love for us. May we always love your saving truth and be faithful to it.

This you have entrusted to each one of us, not as a private gift, but for us to share with others. Realising this is an enormous privilege and responsibility, we turn to you for help. Inspire us with a deep love and enthusiasm for your saving truth. Give us the eloquence to share you with others, not simply as providing information about you, but as proclaiming your Son’s way of life as the true path to eternal happiness with you. May our lives be a greater witness to you than our words.

Last, but certainly not least, we pray for those to whom you send us to share the Good News. May the Spirit of Truth touch their minds and hearts, so that they may welcome and follow your Word. May your Spirit guide all, who have been called to hand on your Word. We ask this through your Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ.

For the sake of His Sacred Passion have mercy on us
 and the whole world.

Isidore Clarke O.P.