Sunday, 26 February 2017


Pope Francis has given me a fresh approach to celebrating the Holy season of Lent, which I hope you will find helpful.
“Mercy,” he said, “is the face of God”; Jesus gave a human face to divine mercy. We, who have been made in the image and likeness of God and, through baptism, share His very life as his sons and daughters, must radiate God’s mercy in our daily lives. 
First, we must begin with ourselves and our need for God’s mercy, before we think of other people’s guilt and their need for forgiveness.  On Ash Wednesday we expressed sorrow for our sins by receiving ashes -a very ancient way of expressing guilt and repentance. As our foreheads were marked with an ash cross we were given hope of forgiveness, with the words, ‘repent and believe in the Gospel’ -the good news of the power of God’s loving Mercy.   We should follow this up by seeking God’s mercy -by going to confession.
Surprisingly, this should be a joyful experience.  Of course, none of us likes admitting we’ve done wrong.  It’s hard to be honest with ourselves, much more difficult with someone else.  We feel ashamed and embarrassed, perhaps afraid the priest will be very fierce with us.
Let me try to reassure you.  Always remember in this sacrament we priests are ministers of Christ’s peace-making.  Our job is to help you find  peace with God, peace within yourself.   We are there to forgive, not condemn, to heal, not to inflict wounds.  If you’re nervous in coming to confession, you should leave with joy in your heart joy that God, in His loving mercy, has removed the burden of your guilt.  Never should we priest scare people from coming to confession!
It’s worth remembering that we priests need to confess our sins.   We have the same sense of embarrassment and shame as anyone else, the same sense of relief when we’ve been forgiven. My approach to hearing confession is to try to show the penitent the same understanding and compassion as I hope and need to receive from God and those I have harmed.
Jesus repeatedly insisted that if we want to receive God’s mercy we must forgive those who have harmed us.   We must be as merciful as our heavenly Father is merciful.   We must radiate God’s ‘face of mercy.’  There’s great scope for us to be peacemakers in our daily lives.  We hurt each other and we get hurt, sometimes accidentally, sometimes deliberately.  Instinctively we argue, “It was his or her fault; they must make the first move.”  
But that’s not God’s way, nor can it be ours.   Though completely innocent, He took the initiative at repairing our relationship with Him, damaged by sin.  As images of God, reflecting His mercy, we must make the first move, whoever was at fault.   That’s the quickest, the only way to restoring the peace for which we all long.
That certainly was the approach of the crucified Christ.  As St. Paul tells us, For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him, and through Him   to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through the blood of His Cross,"  (Col. 2. 20-21).   In the crucified Jesus God has fashioned an indestructible bond  between Himself and the human race.  There, on the cross He has shown how much He loves each one of us –“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends,” (Jn. 15. 13).   But Jesus’ love went much, much, much further -He prayed for the very people responsible for His brutal, unjust execution, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,"    (Lk. 23. 34 ).
In the crucified Jesus we see the human face of God’s loving, healing mercy. That’s what we are preparing to celebrate during Lent. This will reach its triumphant climax in Holy Week.  
During this sacred season let us focus on Mercy being the Face of God. First, we must seek the healing balm of His forgiveness.   As God’s children let us focus on reflecting the face of His mercy.  In other words, let’s take the initiative in healing the wounds we have inflicted, the wounds we have suffered.  That means having the courage to say, “sorry,” the generosity to forgive.  
Especially during this Lent let’s determine to be peace seekers and peace makers. Let’s make Lent a special time for bridge building, for repairing the damage caused by demolition experts, including ourselves!
Isidore O.P.

Monday, 6 February 2017


(with apologies to 'Richard III')

Let’s face it.  Much of our lives are uneventful.  Hopefully we do have high points when we can celebrate and enjoy ourselves.  But for much of the time we live a monotonous routine. We may well ask, ‘What’s the point?’
The Church comes up with a brilliant answer. It sanctifies the tedium of life with what we call ‘Ordinary Time.’ That’s when we’re not preparing for great liturgical festivals or actually celebrating them, but just getting on with the routine of following Jesus in our daily lives.  About 30 years of His short life were as mundane and humdrum as ours.  From infancy, through childhood, youth and manhood He was being prepared to carry out His saving mission.  Each stage of that preparation was vital to His success.
For Jesus and for us Ordinary Time is Sacred Time. It’s in the routine of our daily lives that we love and serve God and each other. In this He draws close to us, and we to Him. Each stage of our Ordinary Time is meant to help us on our journey to the Kingdom of Heaven. The routine will vary as we develop and grow from being an infant, then a child, then an adult. 
As I approach 85 I have a special interest in making sense of what the Ordinary Time of ageing can mean for me and others like me.  With God’s help I need to see if the autumn of my life can become the fruitful and positive climax to my vocation to follow Christ. 
Increasingly that’s meaning not being active, but sharing in our saviour’s weakness and vulnerability. Through us sick and frail people the Church identifies with the crucified Christ and shares in His redemptive suffering, (cf. Col. 1. 24).  We are called to witness that lives like ours are not a meaningless waste, but an essential part of the life of the Church.  Ours is a difficult vocation; we need and value the respect and support of those who are active.
People like me are often accused of living in the past. Certainly we can be crashing bores as we reminisce about the ‘good old days.’  But for most of us oldies our faith shifts our perspective.  Instead of looking back, we look forward.  We’re not so much preparing for death, but for eternal life.  As I contemplate the sunset of death I     look forward to the sunrise of the resurrection.  My longing to dwell in the house of the Lord increases as that approaches.  I’m like an old horse which gets excited as it nears home! 
One of the things about extreme old age is that you survive your contemporaries. Gradually they’re stripped away and you’re left alone.  Since they were part of your life, with their death, part of you dies.   And in many other ways ageing strips us of our various props and supports.   That must mean coming to terms with my mind and various parts of my body wearing out and breaking down. Though this is frustrating, so far I’ve been spared any great pain or disability.
For me the Ordinary Time of ageing forces me to let go, to give back to God -my physical and mental strengths, my loved ones, my mobility, the opportunities to be an active Dominican.
The more I have to surrender, the more I’m challenged to trust, to believe that God’s hands will sustain me and bring me to my heavenly home with Him.  As death knocks away the final prop, I’m called to pray with the dying Jesus, “Father into your hands I commend my life, and death.”
Letting go of everything and trusting in the Lord -that’s what I must do during the Ordinary Time, the Autumn, of my Old Age.

Isidore Clarke O.P.