Friday, 25 November 2016


Mention a wreath and our first thoughts are liable to be about funerals and Remembrance Days. In fact, the use of wreaths has an ancient and   distinguished history.     Centuries  before the birth  of  Christ  winners at the Greek Olympic Games  had a wreath place upon their heads, likewise Roman emperors and victorious generals.   In  various  ways  they  were  people of  eminence and achievement.

For several centuries Christians have had an Advent wreath hung   over the front doors of their homes.  In our churches a wreath is given a prominent place in the Sanctuary. 

The Advent Wreath is loaded with sacred symbolism.  Being circular – without beginning or end - it represents the eternity of God.  The  wreath   was  often  made  from a laurel branch. It being in leaf throughout the year   pointed  to the immortality of Jesus – truly human while remaining truly God.  

The human family has had Jesus as its most outstanding   member ever since that definitive moment in the history of mankind when Mary pronounced her FIAT at the Annunciation. The Son of God had become Jesus, the Son of Mary.

Year after year the Church has relived the centuries’ old yearning of God’s Chosen People. They   were impatient   that His promise to  give them  the Messiah would be fulfilled. His People struggled with  a  sense of emptiness, a hunger,  a thirst,  that only the coming of Jesus would satisfy. 

In the prophesy of Isaiah we find this desolation being described in terms of ‘walking in darkness’ and welcoming the Messiah as ‘seeing a great light.’  “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light,“  (Is. 9.1).

Very recently the force of this prophesy has come home to me!   
Against a dark tropical sky shone the enormous dazzlingly brilliant moon. The media had predicted that on a certain night people all over the world would be able to have this experience.  Here would be something not to be missed!  As the night approached eager anticipation intensified. This was a moment of unique beauty, never, ever to be forgotten.   

I could not help but think of the words of Jesus, “I am the light of the world; anyone who follows me will not be walking in the dark, but will have the light of life,“ (Jn. 8.12).  Having Jesus as the light of my life is something to be treasured more than anything else imaginable.

Now to return to the Advent Wreaths in our churches.  On the rim of each s circle of leaves are place four candles – representing the four Sundays of Advent. Three of the candles are purple – symbolic of a sinful people longing for, awaiting, the arrival (advent) of the Promised One who would come to save them from their sins. On the third Sunday of Advent a pink candle denotes  a cheerful people confident that their Saviour is well  on His way.

Advent begins with one candle being lighted; week after week another candle is lighted. As we draw ever closer to the birthday of the Light of the World the light radiating from the wreath becomes brighter and brighter. Through this we are meant to experience our increasing longing, our need, for Jesus. The crescendo of fulfilment is stated by a white candle being   placed in the centre of the wreath… Christmas Day.  For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given,” (Isaiah 9.6)

 The Advent Wreath provides us with a spirituality of  our journeying towards Jesus with ever-increasing urgency and joy.  As one candle after another is lighted we are to become ever more aware of Jesus eagerly coming towards us.

This year, more than any previous year, I have a sense that we who still believe in the beautiful necessity of Jesus in our lives have a responsibility towards this world that is our home.

 We are in duty bound  to  bear witness to  the Good News that is Jesus Christ. We are to pray that the sublime graces of Christmastide may   overflow   into   the whole  world…fearful about the mess of itself it is creating…bewildered about where it is going.

I wish all of you a very blessed Advent Season!

Peter Clarke, O.P.

Thursday, 24 November 2016



Have you ever felt like giving God a good shake to wake Him up?   If so, you’re in good company.   Impatiently, the Psalmist, speaking for his people, exclaimed, “Arouse Yourself, why do you sleep, O Lord? Awake, do not reject us forever. Why do you hide your face and forget our affliction and our oppression?"  (Ps.44. 23-24).

He was desperate.   Where was God when he most needed Him?  Where is He now, when we most need Him?  Has He forgotten us?   Does He no longer care for us?   Or is He just asleep and needs waking up?   With the prophet Isaiah, expressing the longings and frustrations of God’s people, we may well cry,  O, that you would tear open the heavens and come down!  (Isaiah 64. 1).

God’s very own People had joyfully  returned  from the misery of exile in Babylon.  But they had found their land devastated, Jerusalem in ruins, its temple destroyed.  They became depressed by the arduous task of re-building their lives.   Now the God who had rescued them seemed so distant; their commitment to Him had grown cold.   A spiritual lethargy had set in.

Against this background the prophet reminded God of His commitment to His People.   He begged God to tear open the heavens and come down to help His People - -to re-enkindle their enthusiasm to do His will. The prophet wasn’t just speaking about his own people. His message speaks to us at this very moment!

We can become so depressed at the conflict in the world, especially in Syria and Iraq, the increasing number of homeless refugees, the mounting racial intolerance.  It can all seem too much for us.  We can so easily sink into despair or a spiritual lethargy as we face the dreary routine of our daily lives. We need God to re-enkindle the fervour of our commitment to Him.  We long for Him to tear open the heavens and come to us.

God responded to our needs when His Son was born at Bethlehem.  The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  He has shared our human life so that we could share His divine life and happiness.  He has come among us to save us from all that oppresses us.

Advent is a special time for us to reflect on our constant need for God to enter our lives, for us to make Him welcome and transform our lives.

But Jesus has ascended to heaven and is no longer physically present among us.   We could so easily fear that He has deserted us, especially when life is difficult.   Our faith and commitment to Him could easily grow cold.  With the prophet we may long for God to tear open the heavens and come to our rescue.

To this Jesus gives two answers.   He has promised to remain with us always, in new and wonderful ways.  He comes to us in the Sacraments, speaks to us through the Scriptures and the teaching of the Church.  Through Baptism the Blessed Trinity abides in us and we in it, and we draw ever closer through the dialogue of love, which is prayer.   And Jesus identifies especially with the needy, whom we meet in our daily lives.  He certainly hasn’t abandoned us.  The Holy Spirit gives us the sensitivity to recognise our Saviour and make Him welcome.

And Jesus has promised to return in glory at the end of time.  That should fill us with hope of eternal happiness with Him, rather than fill us with fear.  Since we don’t know when He will come in glory, today’s Gospel urges us to get on with whatever work Christ has given us to do.  We must watch, so that we are always prepared to welcome Christ whenever He returns in glory.  If we are prepared, then it won’t really matter when that moment comes.

Especially during Advent, we should want God to come alive in each one of us and transform us, so that we can embrace the salvation Jesus has already won for us. That has been the central theme of the Year of Mercy, which we have just celebrated.

During Advent we will sing, “Oh, come, oh come, Emmanuel.”    That expresses our need for Jesus, our longings for Him to enter ever more deeply into our lives, and we into His.
Isidore Clarke O.P.

Sunday, 13 November 2016


Christ Reigns in Majesty
'The Prior's Door' Ely Cathedral, England
A year ago Pope Francis proclaimed a YEAR OF MERCY. Indeed, a Door of Mercy was designated in Rome and in dioceses throughout the world. In a highly symbolic gesture the Pope opened the locked Door of Mercy. In so doing he proclaimed the openness of God’s mercy… His eagerness to forgive sinners.

Through that door we entered the House of God -the focus of His
mercy. This we first experienced at our baptisms when we infants were carried through the church doors as strangers and were welcomed with joy into the community of the Church. We became members of God’s family.

Later we would frequently pass through the Door of Mercy to ask God to forgive our sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. There, in God’s House, we celebrate the sacrifice of the Cross, the sacrifice of the Mass, through which Jesus our Saviour has made our peace with God. 
The Door of Mercy has represented the gateway to salvation!

Pope Francis has urged us to see mercy as being the face of God, Jesus as the human expression of divine mercy.  Jesus tells us, that we, who have been made in the image of God must be as compassionate as our heavenly Father is compassionate, (cf. Lk. 6. 36).  Our very personalities must radiate this compassion as we personally experience the wonder of God’s mercy, the wonder of other people showing us compassion.  Now, to mark the end of the Year of Mercy the Door of Mercy will

be solemnly closed.  The question for the Church and for each of us must be, ‘What next?’  Has the past year been like a bright, exciting shooting star, which rapidly disappears into the distance and is soon forgotten?  With the closing of the Door of Mercy are we going to let our hearts become closed with what Pope Francis describes as ‘global indifference’ to the sufferings of others.

If so, all we could say of the Year of Mercy would be, ‘It was good while it lasted.’ We would then slip back into our normal humdrum routine, as though the Year of Mercy had never happened.  If so, it would have had no lasting value.

 We must not let that happen; we must not fritter away this special Year of Grace. The past Year of Mercy must not become a conclusion, but a launching pad for us to continue spreading the wonder of God’s mercy throughout the world.  The past year should have produced a radical conversion in us, leading us to be more eager to seek forgiveness from God and each other, to forgive those who have harmed us. Hopefully, the Year of Mercy will inspire us to be more caring and compassionate.

 It is very fitting that the feast of Christ the King should conclude the Year of Mercy.  His life-long mission was to defeat every form of evil and establish God’s reign of Peace, Love, Justice, Holiness and Truth.

That was finally won when the crucified Christ was enthroned on the cross.  Not by force of arms but by the power of His merciful love He defeated the destructive might of sin and death. His is a liberating victory, setting us free to be fully human, fully children of God. In Him everything in heaven and earth has been has been reconciled to God.  In Him there is a new creation, restoring and renewing God’s original creation, damaged by sin.

But if we are to share in the victory of the cross, we must join Jesus in His battle against evil.  For us, as for Him, our only weapon must be merciful love. That is how He has established His Kingdom.  Only through merciful love will we be His true and loyal subjects.

Though the Year of Mercy may have concluded, its mission continues till the end of time, when Christ the King will return in glory, finally to establish His sovereignty over the whole of creation.  With the whole heavenly choir we will triumphantly sing, “Our God reigns!” His loving mercy reigns! 

Isidore Clarke O.P.