Friday, 25 May 2018

BLESSED TRINITY SUNDAY

Bishops have been known to provide a pastoral letter for Trinity Sunday.    They wanted to spare us priests the task of having to talk about the Trinity, which could get us bogged down in abstract philosophy and could be a real turn-off for the congregation.   So, they provided us with the escape root of a pastoral letter, usually about the feast of Corpus Christi.
 But some years ago, as a community, we decided that the feast of the Blessed Trinity was far too important to pass over.  Hence this back-page comment.       I will try not to be abstract, and to show that the Blessed Trinity is at the heart of our Christian daily lives.   
Why is the Blessed Trinity so important to us?   Well, we were made in God’s own Trinitarian image and likeness.  When we were baptised in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we began to share in God’s own life.  The Blessed Trinity gives us our identity as God’s children.   Our perfection consists in becoming ever more like the Blessed Trinity. Our happiness lies in knowing and loving God as He really is.   That means as one God, who is three equal persons, each being fully God, not a part of God.   We express our faith in the Blessed Trinity by beginning our prayers by saying, ‘In name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,’ and are blessed in the name of the Blessed Trinity, which is involved at every moment of Our Christian lives.  
When we try to know and love the Blessed Trinity, let alone explain it, we’d be right to think that’s taking us out of our depth, as we realise we’re confronted with a mystery –the greatest of all mysteries.  But let’s not panic!   We’re used to living with mysteries in our daily lives.   We don’t fully understand ourselves, let alone anyone else. We’re constantly being taken by surprise. 
But that doesn’t prevent us loving each other. In fact, the mystery makes us much more interesting to know and love.   We can destroy love by too much analysis –by trying to define and categorise people.   So, we shouldn’t be put off by God being the greatest of all mysteries.
Instead, we should welcome and love the mystery of the Trinity, which is God.  If we try to force God to fit into our limited understanding we will end up with a deity of our own fashioning.  That would be idolatry.   If we can’t force people into pigeon holes and then think we understand them that’s much truer of the Blessed Trinity.   For people to love a fantasy of us would be an insult. The same would be  truer if we treated God that way.  He, we, want to be loved for ourselves, not for what people want us to be.
God has revealed something of Himself by telling us the different ways in which each member of the Trinity is involved in our salvation.         In John’s Gospel we’re told that God loved the world so much that he sent His only Son, not to condemn the world, but to save it.  The Son expressed God’s love for us by becoming one of us and sacrificed His human life so that we could share His divine life.   No one could show us greater love than that.  And before ascending to heaven Jesus sent God’s Spirit into the world to enable us to share the divine happiness which Jesus had won for us on the cross.    Without the activity of each member of the Blessed Trinity our life as Christians would be meaningless.
Obviously there’s much more that could be said about the Blessed Trinity.  But in the end, we don’t get to know someone by putting him or her on psychiatrist’s couch or anatomist’s dissecting table. That’s no way to get develop a loving relationship.  Instead. We welcome them for who they are.   We welcome the wonder, the mystery of their being.  We delight in being with them, and have the confidence to share our joys and sorrows, hopes fears.  That’s how human relationships grow, not through cold analysis.  The same is true for us getting to know and love ths Blessed Trinity.
So, let us not be put off by God being so mysterious, but welcome him for what He really is –the Blessed Trinity.      Today, above all others, let be reduced to silent adoration before the mystery of the Blessed Trinity.   We will know, love and praise God much, much better in heaven.   That will be our eternal happiness.
Isidore Clarke O.P.  

Saturday, 19 May 2018

THE FEAST OF PENTECOST

In the 1950’s I  read a wonderful encyclical on the Holy Spirit, written by Pope Leo XIII.   When I suggested it should be published, to my surprise and horror, I was told there was no I demand for a pamphlet on the Holy Spirit!    Thank God that has all changed.  The Holy Spirit is no longer the forgotten person of the Blessed Trinity!
The Church has re-discovered the Holy Spirit.   I say ‘re-discovered’ because from the earliest days the Church has realised the vital role the Holy Spirit plays in her life.   St. John’s Gospel, the Acts of the Apostles, St. Paul’s letters and the Book of Revelation tell us so much about the Holy Spirit.   The Scriptures proclaim that the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Blessed Trinity, who plays a vital role in God’s plan of salvation.
The role of the Holy Spirit is  be the great communicator.   The word ‘Spirit’ suggests the breath of life.    As God breathes his Spirit into us we come alive as God’s children.   Through the Spirit we are born from above to share God’s  own life.   From the same Spirit each of us receives different gifts.   That could easily cause divisions among the Christian community. But the Spirit who is responsible for our diversity is also responsible for uniting us in the one Body of Christ.
The Holy Spirit not only communicates God’s life, but also his saving truth..  Before his Passion Jesus promised to send the Spirit of Truth.   He would remind the community of Christ’s teaching after he had ascended to heaven.   The Spirit of Truth would guarantee that the Christian community would always remain faithful to Christ’s teaching.   The Church as a whole can’t go wrong in the essentials of what we should believe and how we should behave.
The rushing wind at Pentecost suggests the Spirit’s hidden power, giving the disciples the courage and strength to start preaching the Good News in a hostile world.         The title ‘Holy Spirit’ also suggests God’s breath of life.   Through the Holy Spirit we become alive in Christ, and share in the saving power of His death and resurrection.            
The nature of the Spirit’s activity was not only revealed in the rushing wind, but also in the tongues of fire, which rested over the heads of the disciples.            These obviously suggest the gift of eloquence, which would be necessary to preach the Good News to the whole world.  The fire also suggests a source of light, which would illumine the way to salvation.   In the power of the Spirit the disciples would burn with zeal as they carried out the mission Christ had given them just before He ascended to heaven.
It was most appropriate that the Holy Spirit should have been given on the Jewish feast of Pentecost.      Originally this was a harvest festival, which later developed into the celebration of God’s giving the Law on Mt. Sinai, 50 days after he had freed His people from slavery in Egypt.  
Through that Law God defined His covenant relationship with His people.    Jews from eastern Mediterranean lands and speaking a variety of languages made a pilgrimage to celebrate the feast of Pentecost.           This provided the apostles with the perfect opportunity to start preaching the Good News to the whole world.          People from foreign lands were already there in Jerusalem. God’s harvest was ready to be gathered in.           
And the Holy Spirit enabled the apostles to overcome the language barrier.  Strangers not only understood what the apostles preached, but also welcomed the salvation which the Good News offered them.      The Holy Spirit was effective in both the preachers and their audience. When they returned home they would have told their people about the faith they’d just received.   They would have been the first overseas missionaries.  The Holy Spirit certainly enabled the infant Church to get off to a flying start!     The gathering in of God’s harvest into His Kingdom made a dramatic start at the first Pentecost.
But the Holy Spirit, who descended on the apostles in such a dramatic way at Pentecost, is still with the Church, and always will be.  The Spirit of Truth, promised by Christ, guarantees that the Church would always be faithful to his teaching.   The Good News is now preached throughout the world in many different languages.      And the Spirit has inspired millions of people to welcome Christ and follow Him.          The old covenant proclaimed at Sinai and celebrated at Pentecost is now fulfilled and proclaimed in the New Covenant of Jesus Christ.
 On the feast of Pentecost we celebrate the gift of  the Holy Spirit as the great communicator.     Through the gift of the Spirit God shares his life with us.  Through the Spirit the Good News preached by Christ is handed on to the Church.  And the Spirit empowers the Christian community to hand on to the world the faith we have received.   Breathing in and out sums up how the Spirits helps us to spread the Good News.  First, He helps us to breath in and understand our faith. Then the Spirit enables us to breath out –to share the faith we have received.   
May we always be grateful for Christ sending his Spirit into the world to help us carry out the missionary task he has given us.  And let us rejoice on this, the birthday of the Church.

Peter and Isidore O.P.


Thursday, 17 May 2018

A VARIETY OF GIFTS

We've just completed our reflections on the classical list of the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, which we all received at  baptism.   But Paul reminds us that God endows us with a wide variety of gifs or skills, which we can too easily take for granted.   That can lead to ingratitude and conceit.  
I hope this meditation will help us to have the generosity to appreciate other people's talents, together with the gifts we have received.  With the psalmist may we say, "Not to us, Lord, not to us, but to your name give the glory," ( Ps.115. 1).   God expects us to develop and use each of these gift for the benefit of the whole community.
 St. Paul tells us,"Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good," (1 Cor. 12. 4-7).
Some gifts, such as speaking in tongues, were more spectacular than others. Not surprise this led to rivalries and jealousies! Paul had to reprove the Corinthians and remind them that the one Spirit was the source of their unity amidst their diversity. Whatever the gift, it was for the common good. No matter how spectacular the gift, the greatest of all had to be charity. Without love, the other gifts were worthless.
That insight was a great comfort to St. Terese of Liseaux. She felt so depressed at having no special talents with which she could serve God – until she read St. Paul emphasizing that love was the greatest of all gifts. Loving would be her vocation, as it is ours. It’s vital that all of us should realize this!    But sadly, in our materialist world, success tends to be measured by our earning capacity and the status symbols it can buy. But that’s not the only measure. 
What a wonderful gift it is to be warm-hearted, loving and caring! So, too, is being a peacemaker. In fact, one of the Beatitudes tells us that such people are called the children of God –precisely because they are sharing in the work of the Son of God Himself.
A few years ago a university degree was thought to be an essential mark of success and the passport to prosperity. Without a degree you were considered second-rate. That has proved an illusion. Some degrees are worthless. But now we’re shifting our focus to appreciating the value of technical skills and other accomplishments –such as making people laugh or cooking a tasty meal.  Rightly, we say that those with practical skills are gifted.
The Bible says God had specially gifted those who constructed the Tabernacle and Ark of the Covenant,  "He has filled them with skill to perform every work of an engraver and of a designer and of an embroiderer, in blue and in purple and in scarlet material, and in fine linen, and of a weaver, as performers of every work and makers of designs," (Exod. 35. 35).
Being able to serve the community in any way should be welcomed as a gift from God. All travelers should be grateful to whoever was inspired to put wheels on a suitcase! It’s so important for us to appreciate whatever others have to offer and to give them encouragement.
It can be so destructive and demoralizing to despise some and envy others. As a counter-blast to this negative approach Pope Francis wrote, "We rejoice at the good of others when we see their dignity and value their abilities and good works. This is impossible for those who must always be comparing and competing, even with their spouse, so that they secretly rejoice in their failures. (Amoris Laetitia, 109).
So let us rejoice in Gods gift of the Holy Spirit Himself, and the rich variety of gifts, which He has bestowed on different individuals for the good of the whole community.
P.S. The best way to show our gratitude for a gift or talent is for us to say, 'Thank you,' to use and develop it -not hide and forget it.
                                                  


Peter and Isidore O.P.
This reflection concludes our series on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit -Peter and Isidore's final joint project -I.C.

Monday, 14 May 2018

7 FEAR OF THE LORD


A friend told me that as a little girl she had a picture of a large eye hung on her bedroom wall. God was seen as being like  a security camera, used to catch thieves.  That was to remind her that God was always watching to see and punish her every fault. So, behave! And so she did. She obeyed Him, because she was terrified of Him. Such an ogre could inspire submission, but never love. Her whole relationship with God had been warped by that terrifying impression.
 But that certainly is not the image Jesus wants us to have of God. He wants us to respond to Him as a loving, caring, merciful Father -like the Father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Hes full of love mercy and compassion. He wants only what is best for us. He watches us because He loves us and wants to protect us.
 The God who is love would not have provided us with a special gift to terrorise us into submission. Instead, St. Johns 1st Letter tells us, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love," (I Jn. 4.18)
 So, how are we to understand the Holy Spirit’s Gift of Fear? It’s certainly not meant to terrify us. So let’s take an image different from the watchful eye, eager to catch us out, condemn and punish us.
 Let’s think of a couple who are so close they feel secure in each other’s love. They certainly are not terrified of each other. They are filled with hope that their present happiness together will last and increase. Their only fear is that they will do something that would weaken or, worse still, destroy their love for each. It’s not fear of each other that makes them spontaneously do what they know will please the one they love. Rather it’s fear of themselves and their doing anything, which would undermine their loving relationship. They don’t want to do anything that would offend the one they love. They do recognise that sometimes they will fail, but confident in their love for each other, they trust they will be forgiven.
 Pope Francis makes the point that loving fear of offending God provides an instinctive protection against sinning. It’s inspired by love, rather than terror of punishment.
 The gift of fear protects our love for God and enables us to rest secure in His love. That transcends fear of punishment. This gift provides stability to our love for God and is a great source of hope. Terror of His punishment would drive us to despair, and has nothing to do with the Holy Spirit’s gift of fear.
God is not like Orwell’s ‘Big Brother,’ or a security camera, forever watching to catch us out and punish us.  No, He is like  loving parents watching to make sure their beloved child comes to no harm.

 Peter and Isidore Clarke O.P.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

7 SUN. of EASTERTIDE -MARKING TIME


This 7th Week of Eastertide falls between the Ascension and Pentecost. It provides an interlude, a time of waiting, which is far from empty. This is a time for prayer. The 1st Reading tells us that the disciples prayed that the Holy Spirit would guide them in choosing a replacement for Judas Iscariot. This disciple, Matthias, would make up the twelve leaders in the new Israel. Their special mission would be to witness to Christ’s resurrection. During this interlude Mary, the Mother of the Church, prayed with the apostles for the gift of the Holy Spirit, Who would enable them to preach the Good News to the whole world.
The Gospel reading also reflects a time of waiting, as Jesus prepared for His Passion. As in the first reading this interlude is prayerful. First, Jesus prays for Himself, that He would be glorified in His death. That it may be a triumphant victory over evil, not a tragic defeat.
Jesus then prays for us, His followers, in our mission to continue His work. He realise that the world is a dangerous place for His disciples. People would resent Christ’s way of life and would persecute those who preach it. The pagan values which surround us can so easily undermine our commitment to Christ. We can become worldly. Jesus tells us He’s not going to take us out of a hostile world. He has work for us to do there. But we do need the support of His prayers if we are not to become worldly.
Not that the world is evil. It certainly isn’t. After all, God has created it, and has seen that it is good. And earlier in John’s Gospel we’re told that God loved the world so much that He sent his only Son, not to condemn the world, but to save it. From what? Quite simply, from shutting God out. Jesus lived among us and died for us, to bring God back into our world, to make it a holy place, where God would be welcome. Our task is to share the Good News of God’s love for us -to be His witnesses, consecrated in the Truth. Christ realised we couldn’t do this by ourselves. So, He prayed that the Father would send the Spirit of Truth. This He did at Pentecost.
Today’s readings remind us that we can’t do God’s work without His help. That’s why the disciples prayed for guidance in choosing someone to replace Judas. That’s why they prayed before Pentecost, for the gift of the Spirit. That’s why Jesus prayed for us, who are to continue His work. And we need interludes of prayer, asking God to help us in doing His work. Time spent in prayer is certainly not wasted, especially today when life is so hectic and we expect instant results.
Isidore O.P.

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

FEAST OF THE ASCENSION


“God has ascended with a shout, the Lord, with the sound of a    trumpet.       Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises.  For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a skilful psalm…God reigns over the nations, God sits on His holy throne,”
(Ps. 47. 5-6).
Today’s feast marks the conclusion of Christ’s  visible presence among us, the climax of his work of salvation.   It means much more than Christ disappearing into the clouds 40 days after his resurrection.         That is but a symbol of his ascent to glory with His heavenly Father.  His ascension is not so much a question of physically rising in space but the enhancement of the quality of his life.  That is the real meaning of the Ascension.  
Both St. John’s Gospel and St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, ch. 2, present the whole of Christ life and work of salvation in terms of a circular movement.
The Son of God became man precisely to raise us from the depths of sin and lift us to heights beyond our wildest dreams. To make this possible He first came down to our level.  He put aside his divine power and glory and became a  human being, as weak and  vulnerable as the rest of us.        Paul tells us Jesus went so far in his descent as to become a slave, obedient to the death of the cross.
He reversed our rebellious pride by become the obedient servant of the Lord.  He plumbed the very depths when he allowed himself to be unjustly executed as a criminal. The God of glory was despised and rejected.        
But Jesus was not defeated by the apparent degradation of the cross.   By dying on the cross his love defeated the malice of sin.       The crucified Christ was the triumphant conqueror of sin and death.      On the cross he was lifted up in glory, not humiliated.   This was the first act in the single drama of salvation, and of Christ’s ascent to glory with his heavenly Father.   Next, after his death and burial, Jesus rose to a new and glorious life, while remaining the same person.   He was no longer weak and vulnerable.   Through the resurrection Jesus, the God-man, has ascended to a state of glory, which transcends our natural human condition.
Far from being a slave, He is now triumphant Lord of heaven and earth.  Now Jesus, our saviour, has ascended to glory one of us, a fellow human being, is seated in majesty at the right of His heavenly Father, as Lord of heaven and earth. What is so staggering is that one of us, the Son of God made man, should be a member of the Blessed Trinity, fully enjoying its life and happiness.  That is the climax of His circular journey of descent and ascent.
But the feast of the Ascension does not just celebrate Jesus’ triumphant return to glory with His heavenly Father.       We believe that the glorified Christ has gone ahead to  prepare a place for us,  and that we will share in the glory of His ascension, if we follow Him.          Jesus promised that when He was lifted up, exalted, on the cross He would draw us up with Him, to Him. When we’ve fallen into sin His mercy heals us and lifts us up back onto our feet.  He raises us beyond our human limitations to share the very life and happiness of the Blessed Trinity.  When Jesus returns in glory He will raise us to share, bodily as complete human beings, in His ascent to His heavenly Father.   This ascent has already been achieved in Christ Himself, and has begun in us, when, at baptism, we started to share God’s own life.          In the meantime, Paul reminds us that we have been raised with Christ, and should to set our sights on the things that are above, where Christ is, not on things that are on earth.  (cf. Col. 3. 1-4).
It’s no wonder the disciples were not saddened by Christ’s ascension, even though they could no longer see Him.           They knew he would remain with them in a different way through love.    They believed He would return to gather his followers to share in His heavenly glory.       The feast of the Ascension not only honours Christ, but gives us hope. Today we have good reason to rejoice!

There's an upward moement in the composition of this picture -
the hands suggest the Father drawing up, glorifying, His crucified Son,
the Son's raised hands suggest His raising us up  to share His glory
Our raise hands suggest our "yes" to Christ.
Isidore O.P.

Monday, 7 May 2018

6 THE GIFT OF PIETY


Worship, Adoration, Gratitude – as a matter of justice we owe God that supreme act of justice.  Why? -because all that we are, all that we have comes from Him.     What is more, God  wants  us to accept Him as the most loving, the most caring of parents. This combination of RESPECT for One who is greater than ourselves and LOVE for One who has chosen to see us as His beloved children is known as ‘PIETY.’
On Mt. Sinai  the Lord God revealed to Moses that His Chosen People were duty bound to show Him a level of respect that belong to Him alone, “I am the Lord your God… You shall have no other Gods to rival me,” to which He immediately adds, “I act with faithful love towards thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”   (Exodus 20.2,6).   To God alone do we owe the supreme act of worship; Him alone must we adore.   Such reverence is inspired by the gift o piety.  The closer we are to God the more we will appreciate His awesome majesty and in comparison, our nothingness.  In wonder we will exclaim with the psalmist, "What is man that you take thought of him, and the son of man that you care for him. . "(Ps.8. 4-5).
It is our glory that we are in such a beautiful, intimate relationship with our Creator.    To Him we owe respectful, obedient love – that is, Piety. Something of the sort must surely filter down to the most basic  of human relationships – those within the family…the nursery of humanity.  For better or for worse the level of  this Domestic Piety will impact upon the stability and contentment of the home, and ultimately on society itself.   Knowing this the Creator  decreed , “Honour your father and mother so that you may live long in the land that the Lord God is giving you,”(Exodus 20.12).
We are entitled to infer  that the orderliness and  decency  of  Domestic Piety  should be woven into  those situations that require leadership and co-operation - a reasonable exercise  of authority, a willing compliance and, most certainly, mutual respect. This surely is basic common sense. Would that it were common practice!
This bed-rock justice in human affairs becomes a dimension of religion when inter-action between humans is determined by what God intends and requires of us. Our  Piety, or loving respect, towards God then leads to Piety  towards each other. It is in this context that the Holy Spirit breathes His Gift of PIETY,   into  individuals and into society itself.
Jesus – the Son  of God, the Son of Mary, lived Piety from the Nazareth  childhood  within the family, (Lk.2.51),  to the Calvary  obedience even unto death.   (Phil. 2.8).
St. Paul described how a culture of Piety is meant to Christianize family life,  “Whatever you say or do, let it be in the name of the Lord Jesus, in thanksgiving to God the Father through him. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as you should in the Lord.  Husbands, love your wives and do not be sharp with them. Children, be obedient to your parents always, because that is what will please the Lord.  Parents, do not irritate your children or they will lose heart," (Col. 3).
Speaking globally, our relating to God is scarcely flourishing; to a large extent traditional family relationships are  floundering.  There is an urgent  need for us to re-discover and strongly promote the Gift of the Holy Spirit known as ‘Piety’.  Through this we welcome each other, first, as being made in God's own image and likeness, and, then through baptism, as being His children -our brothers and sisters -sharing His divine life.  This gift of piety should give us a divine sensitivity to each other's dignity and inspire us to treat each other with loving respect.
Peter  and Isidore Clarke, O.P.
 
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