Friday, 8 December 2017

2nd SUN. OF ADVENT



A BETTER WORLD




Today, 2nd Sunday of Advent  we reflect on  Mark 1.1-8. Here we are introduced to John the Baptist – a rugged man, leading a rugged life in a desolate wilderness.. He is the man sent by God  to proclaim the need to prepare a highway   along which God would travel to meet His people.  We also hear of a multitude of people making their way towards the Baptist.
We must see this as an exciting convergence of God coming to meet His people and their making their way towards Him.     Far from being a righteous crowd they were responding to the Baptist’s call to repent of their sins. They were even prepared to undergo the humiliation of requesting the Baptist to duck them in the water of the River Jordan...thereby publicly admitting their need for a spiritual cleansing. 

 And then the Baptist drew attention to someone much, much greater than himself.  He, Jesus,  would  baptize them with the Holy Spirit. Jesus would lead them out of their sinfulness, reconcile them with God.
Our hearing of these people being introduced to the adult Jesus when He was about to launch His public ministry is vital to our celebrating Advent. During this season of Advent the Church realizes the absolute necessity of our grasping the origin, the identity of Jesus. 

At Christmas we profess our faith that the babe in the crib – Mary’s child - was, in truth, the Son of God. This infant, Jesus, would  be the person John the Baptist presented to the crowd at the River Jordan. This same infant, Jesus, who would later known as the Man from Galilee, the carpenter’s son would finally be known as the Man on Calvary – Jesus, our crucified Lord and Saviour.   

The beauty of the incarnation must never be isolated from the harsh necessity of the Paschal Mystery – the saving, sacrificial crucifixion of Jesus leading to His glorious conquest over sin and death through His Resurrection. It is for this very reason that in religious art a cross often is inserted into the halo of the infant Jesus; or  a  cross is painted on the wall of the birth-place of Jesus.  The Christmas  Crib and the Calvary Cross are inseparable.

Consequently, during Advent as we prepare to joyfully celebrate the serenity of the birth of Baby Jesus  we must remain  aware  of the are  multitudes suffering man-made, man-allowed, miseries. Our Christmas merriment over the birth of Jesus must not be allowed to obscure the shear nastiness, the desolation, that some of God’s children are inflicting on others throughout the year, every year. 

Now as our thoughts turn to this Advent, this Christmas, I refer to a message Pope  Benedict XV1 gave on World Youth Day 2008. In so many of our societies, side by side with material prosperity, a spiritual desert is spreading: an interior emptiness, an unnamed fear, a quiet sense of despair. How many of our contemporaries have built broken and empty cisterns (cf. Jer 2:13) in a desperate search for meaning – the ultimate meaning that only love can give? This is the great and liberating gift which the Gospel brings: it reveals our dignity as men and women created in the image and likeness of God. It reveals humanity’s sublime calling, which is to find fulfilment in love. It discloses the truth about man and the truth about life.”

These words of Pope Benedict XV1 convince me that Jesus, and all He stands for, is immensely relevant to today’s world. Jesus, the adult, is urgently needed to be its Saviour.  Jesus the Saviour is the reason for the Advent Season! 

The Saviour, impossible though  it may seem to us, can change, can frustrate,                                       the values, the behavior,of those whose  contentment and fulfillment depend on what is contrary to the Good News of the Gospel. Jesus, the Babe of Bethlehem, Jesus, of Calvary,  Jesus of the Empty Tomb gives us the confidence to hope for, work for,  a better  world!                                                   .                                                                                                                                                                      

May you have a blessed   Advent! 

Thursday, 30 November 2017

1ST SUNDAY OF ADVENT 2017








Today  we turn to the 1st Sunday of Advent and  the  Gospel of St. Mark 13. 30-37. In  this Gospel we have Jesus using a parable to sound the alert. It’s about a house-holder going away for a time and leaving his affairs in the care of his servants.      The doorkeeper is told to stay awake.


 Through the parable Jesus is warning His disciples that He’ll be away from them for a time. If, when He returns unexpectedly, He finds them to have neglected His affairs; if  they’re asleep when He  comes back to them, they’ll be in real trouble! What is more, they’ll be losing for themselves the joy of having their master back home with them!

Today the Church begins a short season of preparation for   the celebration of the greatest event into the whole of human history – the coming (Advent) of the Son of God into our world as the Son of Mary – the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. Christians confidently assert ‘Jesus in the reason for the season!’   He came that we might have life and have it to the full – a share in God’s own life. He came for our sake and for our salvation. He came to show us how to learn from His teaching and from His example the way to lead godly lives. 


By our  celebrating each year at Christmas the birth of Jesus we      celebrate the reality that Jesus continues in every generation what He achieved in a life-time of   just over thirty years. Jesus now glorious in Heaven continues to straighten and heal whatever twisted moral, spiritual sickness we have brought upon ourselves, and what has been inflicted upon the world in which we live.

Today’s parable is  telling us we must be awake to this tremendous reality of Jesus here and now in our lives. We simply can’t afford to overlook it nor can we afford to be unfit to receive Jesus when He comes. During Advent the Church is calling us to explore how significant to us is Jesus. Out of honesty with Jesus and with our  own selves we would do well to see the value and beauty of  receiving from Him His Sacrament of Reconciliation – the forgiveness of  our sins.

This celebration of Christmas is not only about making a huge thing of commemorating a uniquely significant event that occurred long, long ago - the birth of the greatest of our heroes – the birth in Bethlehem of Jesus, the Son of Mary, the Son of God.  Christmas for us must be the celebration of the birth  of Jesus,  who, being both human and divine, is and will always be gloriously alive.  What is more it is our celebrating this same  person, Jesus, fulfilling His promise to His followers, “I am will you always; yes, to the end of time,” (Mtt. 28. 20).
To crown it, all Christmas is meant to be our capturing the excited enthusiasm of St. Paul, “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. 2.20).
The Gospel for this 1st Sunday in Advent is urging us to wake up and to keep awake to the sheer wonder of the Son of God being born into our world; His even now longing to come into our lives and intimately bring His divine life into our personal lives. This Gospel is warning us not to be such fools as to take this lightly or even ignore this.                          
I wish you a blessed, well- focused Advent leading to a Christ-filled Christmas.

PETER CLARKE OP



ADVENT 2017 COMING TO BETHLEHEM




“He came to his own and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believed in his name 13 who were born not from human stock or human desire or human will but from God himself. 14 The Word became flesh, he lived among us, and we saw his glory, the glory that he has from the Father as only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth,”

(Prologue to the Gospel of St. John).

These words taken from the Prologue of the Gospel of St. John are all about Jesus, truly the Son of God, truly become man, the Son of Mary and dwelling among us, the human family. These words are about the birth of Jesus in a sheltered place outside Bethlehem. These words are about some rejecting Him and others accepting Him – Shepherds, Magi, people such as you and me.

These words are all about Christmas – either the celebration of this wonderful, sacred birth or, sadly a harsh rejection or total indifference to anything that smacks of religious piety associated with this end of the year Party Time, Exchange of Presents, and Greetings Cards.

And now I quote a learned Scripture scholar, ““If ever we lose the sense of wonder of God becoming man we shall never appreciate the meaning of Christmas.”

Ever since I’ve known myself, and that’s many, many, years, I’ve accepted Jesus and celebrated the birth of the Son of God, the Son of Mary. This faith has reached its climax at Christmas. At my baptism I received from God the power to become a child of God and to live as such. And now as I write ask myself about my sense of wonder about all that is so familiar – a sense of wonder that brings me to my knees in adoration and thanksgiving.

I see the need to refresh my sense of wonder at the Incarnation of the Son of God, my enthusiasm, my excitement. And what is more, I am aware that the Church realizes this need for you, me, all of us. And that is why the Church has given us the season of Advent for a spiritual build-up to the Solemnity of Christmas. The Church has given us a beautiful liturgy and beautiful hymns to help us to be spiritually, emotionally eager to have Jesus continuously coming to us. It is vitally important to us that we consciously want His coming to us personally. Call it a hunger, a thirst to have Jesus in our lives, influencing the shape of our lives.

The word Advent means ‘Come’ as a request, a pleading, as in the hymn, ‘O come, O come, Emmanuel!’ The Advent Liturgy feeds us with the promises God made long ago to His Chosen People that He would send them a Messiah- one anointed with His Spirit, a leader, saviour. We are to make the yearning of God’s People our own

. During Advent it is important that we anticipate as we await the birth. This sense of needing Jesus to come is lost if we start singing carols such as ‘Away in a manger,’ as if the liturgical celebration of the birth had already taken place, the One who was to come had already arrived.

While Jesus, in the womb of Mary, and Joseph were coming towards Bethlehem for the census three Magi were travelling from afar towards the birthplace. Somewhat later shepherds on the hillside were summoned by an angel to make their way towards the newly born babe. For Magi and shepherds, and now for you and me, Advent means making a journey, coming towards a personal encounter with Jesus and on arrival adoring Him.
Advent,

I now see clearly, means you and I making a journey towards Jesus, an encounter with Him in His infancy, and there adoring Him. It is to be a journey of faith. We have nothing to offer Him but ourselves. All He wants of us that we be acceptable to Him. As far we are concerned it means we would be well advised that we embrace the gift Jesus wants to make to us – His forgiveness of our sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

It’s never too late to start on our journey towards Jesus. I wish you and yours very special Advent.

Peter Clarke, O.P


Friday, 24 November 2017

YES! I AM A KING






A few thoughts for the Solemnity of Christ the King which the Church celebrates this Sunday. “Yes, I am a king.” So said Jesus to Pontius Pilate.  “I was born for this, I came into the world for this, to bear witness to the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.” 


Shortly before this He had told His apostles, “You call me Master and Lord, and rightly; so I am. 14 If I, then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you must wash each other's feet.” Jesus also allowed Himself to be called Rabbi – which means ‘teacher.’
Yes, Jesus  allowed these and other leadership titles to be applied to Him. There’s a verse in the Letter to the Hebrews, (12.2), Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection.”  As I meditate on the Solemnity of Christ the King it occurs to me that anyone who holds a position of authority would do well to keep his or her eyes fixed on Jesus.  Were they to do so it would be of great benefit to all those over whom they preside. Those leaders who fix their eyes on themselves in one big ‘ego-trip’ of self-admiration and self-inflation are much to be regretted!  
For Jesus the defining quality of any leader should be that the greatest of all should be the servant of all - whether he or she be king, queen, president, prime minister, manager, head or whatever.  The greatest of all would be the servant of all. Their ideal should be unity and collaboration rather than division and confrontation, reconciliation rather than retaliation.


The Mission of Jesus Himself  is  stated in the Preface of the Mass for the Solemnity of Christ the King, “That  He might accomplish the mysteries of human redemption and, making all created things subject to His rule, He might present  to the immensity of the majesty of His Heavenly Father an eternal and universal kingdom, a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace.”


Jesus was the valiant, conquering King who alone could overcome the enemies of mankind - death and sin. And this He did through His Crucifixion and Resurrection. 


We ourselves, as we follow the leadership of Jesus, are called to allow Jesus to continue His great good work through us. This is to live according to the values of His Kingship, to promote these values and thereby have a godly influence on others.


Our Christian Faith should convince us that those who are brash and self-centred, those who measure significance by wealth and weaponry, power and persuasion, were never meant to control and demean the quality of living of the human family.


As we celebrate the Kingship of Jesus we are to realize that when the   Son of God became man He affirmed and elevated the humanity, the dignity, of every  boy and girl, every man and woman, that ever existed. Each and every one without exception is made in the image and likeness of Almighty God, Heavenly Father of them all – His beloved children.


Every day the Media make us aware that God’s beloved sons and daughters are being made to suffer, allowed to suffer, throughout the world. Pope Francis describes this as a culture of global indifference. And yet people talk of human progress! God the Father realized the Son He sent into the world had to be Savior as well as  King.


Yes, as we celebrate Jesus as King we must rejoice over the blessings Christianity has brought the world throughout the ages. Yes, we must look forward to that day when Jesus will come in all His Kingly Glory to welcome us in to His Father’s Heavenly Kingdom.


But, in the name and power of Christ the King, we must also do all that is  possible  to save multitudes from having to endure man-made hell on earth. Attempting  to do this, empowered the grace of God, is surely the most effective way of celebrating the Christ as King!

GOD BLESS YOU

Peter Clarke, O.P.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

LOADED WITH TALENTS




In the Gospel for the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time we have Jesus speaking to His disciples shortly before He goes towards His Crucifixion and Resurrection. I entitle this reflection ‘LOADED WITH TALENTS.’
Jesus  wants  His disciples to understand what a privilege it will be for them to be His Ambassadors, how much He is entrusting to them, and how much He will expect of them. He does this by way of the parable of the man who entrusted his property to his servants while he was away.     

Each was entrusted with an amount of silver coins, talents, according to his competence. Each talent was worth as much as could be earned in a lifetime! Money must be made to work, increase, or at least be placed in a bank where it could earn interest. To bury this fortune in the ground, as did one of the servants, was commercially a dead loss. In the parable his fate was far worse than being told to ‘GET LOST!”

This parable, as an earthly story, is a cautionary tale for all bankers and those in business. The spiritual  impact  of this parable was  intended   be a rallying call for the disciples of Jesus and for all others, people like ourselves, who were to continue His own good work.  Pope St. John XX111 puts it marvelously: “We are not on earth to guard a museum, but to cultivate a flourishing garden of life.”
It was Pope John XX111 who convened the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) at a time when many were preoccupied with keeping the deposit of faith secure. He saw this as being too much on the defensive.  

He boldly called for  renewal  of the Church and for a dialogue between the Church and the modern world. Perhaps the crowning point of this Council  was the inspiring PASTORAL CONSTITUTION ON THE CHURCH IN THE MODERN WORLD.

Just listen to its opening words, “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, THESE are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.” 

These joy, hopes, griefs and anxieties were surely on the mind of Jesus when He told the Parable of the Talents to His disciples. They, His servants, were to carry the Good News of the Gospel to the ends of the earth. 

And now, by a happy coincidence  Pope Francis is declaring to us that THE FIRST WORLD DAY OF THE POOR is to be celebrated this very 33rd Sunday – with its Gospel of the Talents. His theme “Let us love, not with words but with deeds” endorses our own thoughts for today. 

We  as Church, we as missionary disciples, are to be ‘upbeat’ as we face the future. We have been entrusted with the talents that are the Buried Treasure and the Precious Pearl of the Gospel.  With St. Paul we are to see ourselves as “only the earthenware jars that hold this .treasure.” 2 Cor. 4.8. 

These talents are infinitely more precious than all the gold in the world! We who are baptized have received the priceless gift of Faith in Jesus Christ, Life in Jesus Christ.  We do not hold this gift as though it were our very own.    We are stewards of this gift. As missionary disciples of Jesus we are to give to others the opportunity to become believers in Jesus who are to have the same minds as Jesus and to live as Jesus did.

 Through this parable Jesus is telling us a time will come when He will evaluate our stewardship; how we have used the all the talents,time  and opportunities that have been entrusted to us. Notice that in the parable the committed servants did not only do well for their master. They themselves were handsomely rewarded. 

We who are empowered by the grace of Jesus to be His diligent servants, His heralds, will be thrilled by the greeting we receive from Him, “Well done good and faithful servants…come and join in your master’s happiness,” (Mtt.25.21).


Let us stand together for what we believe 
and work for what must be done! 
God bless you!

Sunday, 29 October 2017

FINELY TUNED

A young lad proudly approached us carrying an enormous cello, bigger than himself.  Who could blame me for groaning,   “That child gives me an inferiority complex!”  “Me, too! “He’s my youngest son!” sighed the woman standing next to me.   I’d put my foot in it once again!

The occasion was Spode Conference Annual Classical Music Week.   Keen gifted amateurs as well as a few well-known professionals had come together   for the sheer delight of  making music, some of it secular, some sacred -to accompany High Mass. 
 On one such occasion a lady had just finished playing a trumpet on the sanctuary.  Some mischievous person persuaded the altar-server to stand with his thurible belching out clouds of smoke in front of her! With streaming eyes the poor dear all but choked! And then there was the man so wedded to his violin that he brought it to breakfast with him.  Could be he slept with it?
One of the most delightful features of this week was the solo or group performances given by the singers and instrumentalists, including a world famous harpsichordist.   Fr. Conrad Pepler, Warden of the Conference Centre, would give us an annual performance on his violin.
As chaplain to the music group he would preach at the Masses.  In one such sermon he drew on the skill needed to tune his violin.  He told us that with too much tension the strings would snap; then the instrument could produce no sound.  But the same would be true if the strings were too slack.    The strings had to be tightened to the correct tension if they were to produce a melodious sound. As for playing in a group or orchestra, your instrument must be in tune with all the others.  Otherwise you will produce a dreadful row.
Fr. Conrad then applied the image of correctly tuning a violin to the whole of our lives.   Without the right amount of tension we won’t strive to achieve anything.   We need a challenge to get us moving!   We need to want something very much before we will make the effort to go after it.  Jesus tells us to seek first the Kingdom of God.  St. Paul urges us to, “Set your minds on things above,  not on earthly things,"(Col. 3.2). We must be convinced that with God’s help we can overcome our human limitations and the tension of being tempted to sin.  But if we are in tune with God our whole lives can become a hymn of praise to the glory of God. In that, even now, we’ll have a hint of what will be  our eternal happiness.
But if  we can’t find any challenge in life we won’t strive after anything and will achieve nothing. Imagine how very dull life would be if we had all our needs being satisfied  without having to make any effort.  We’d be  like the violin strings which are so slack they are incapable of producing a worthwhile sound.
Finally, St. Paul reassures us that God won’t allow us to be tempted beyond what we can handle, God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it”.  (1 Cor. 10. 13).    Confidently he declares, “I can do all  things through Christ, who  gives me strength,” (Philip. 4. 13).   He won’t let us snap under the tensions of life  - so long as we turn to Him for help.
So, let us pray that we are always in tune with God.  When we go off key, let us turn to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and ask God to remove the discord from our lives. Together, may our lives be a symphony of praise to the glory of God!
With the psalmist let us, “Give thanks to the Lord  with the lyre;  sing praise to Him with the harp of ten strings.   Sing to Him a new song; Play skilfully with a shout of joy.…” (Ps. 33. 2-3).  
Isidore O.P.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

MONKEY BUSINESS


A cat can look at a king  and a king can look at a cat!  Two priests can look at two Barbadian Green Monkeys and two Barbados Green Monkeys can look at two priests! Why not? Who’s to stop them?

 Fr. Clement and I were in the chapel chanting the Evening Prayer of the Church, with God very much on our minds and in our hearts. Taking turns to sing the verses of the psalms allowed me to raise my head and look around. Behold! Before my very eyes were two very special monkeys - Barbadian Greens – sitting cosily on a branch like two lovers! They were looking in our direction. Did they find beauty in our singing? Or did they  consider we were not worth a second thought?
 Should I repent of  admiring monkeys when I should have been caught up in praising God?  Did God deliberately send them at that time, to that place?   To catch my attention?  To set me thinking that perhaps we humans weren’t the only ones who pray!
I have every reason to believe these monkeys were praising God – precisely by being their God-designed selves. He Himself declared that everything He made was good. Their praising God when they steal my mangoes and bananas – even though I find it impossible to praise them. And what is more, these monkeys could never for a single moment cease pleasing God, praising God.

Inevitably our Barbadian Green Monkeys  would  find themselves in this splendid chorus urged on to praise of  God by the young men in the fiery furnace,
Bless the Lord, all the Lord's creation: praise and glorify him forever! 58 Bless the Lord, angels of the Lord, praise and glorify him forever! 59 Bless the Lord, heavens, praise and glorify him forever! 79 Bless the Lord, whales, and everything that moves in the waters, praise and glorify him forever! 80 Bless the Lord, every kind of bird, praise and glorify him forever! 81 Bless the Lord, all animals wild and tame, praise and glorify him forever!   (Daniel Ch. 3.58…).

All these  could indignantly reply, “You don’t need to tell us.   We’ve always been doing it. We can’t stop doing it. It just comes naturally to us.”  It’s mankind with its free will that needs to be told, “Stop messing up people. Stop messing up God’s world, our home, the home of all creation.”  There are those who need to hear, need to act upon, this now desperate pleading,
82 Bless the Lord, all the human race: praise and glorify him forever! 87 Bless the Lord, faithful, humble-hearted people, praise and glorify him forever!
And no wonder! Man alone   has the freedom to choose whether to protect and enhance God’s creation or to ravish and ruin it. There are the people who don’t consider themselves accountable to man or God as to how they treat this wonderful world which is  home of all creatures.  Even there some who are truly pious and outstanding for their  good works.    Yet they do not  recognize a morality that obliges them to take responsible care of  God’s Wonderful World…its environment, it ecology.

Pope Francis, together with many others, is sounding the alarm bells. This generation more than any other, through its self-centred consumerism, is callously destroying the very environment in which they and the entirety of mankind live (including their own darling children and grandchildren)! They are hastening the extinction of the very resources upon which life itself depends. And they are in a state of vigorous self-serving denial! None of this expresses praise to God!

Thank you Lord for bringing these two Barbadian Green Monkeys into my prayer-life. In their way, simply by being themselves,       they have caused me to realize that all the time, in every deed and situation, I must be true to my  God-given humanity  as a steward of creation and never  as its self-absorbed bossy-bully!

If I were able, I’d be tempted to   embrace these Barbadian Green Monkeys in  the Sign of Peace and Fellowship. Perhaps not!  One of them might bite my nose off!  Would you blame it?
Peter Clarke O.P.
 
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