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.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

AN AWESOME PLACE

"How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven," Jacob exclaimed in what most of us would consider  the most unlikely of places -a stony wilderness (Gen. 28. 17).  I have found the patriarch’s words to be so true in what most people would dismiss as secular, as distinct from sacred, places such as church.  I discovered God’s awesome presence manifest in a hospital ward -in the medical staff who continued Christ’s ministry of healing, in the patients, including me, who readily identified with Christ in His weakness and suffering.  Above all, Jesus came to me in the Sacrament of the Sick and in the Blessed Sacrament.
The same has proved true over the past half century, during which I’ve been in and out of hospital.   Each time I’ve found God to be there; each time it’s been awesome.

Now, at eighty five, I’m too frail, for the moment, to leave my room.  Certainly, a constricted existence, but not a bleak one.   Thank God, every effort is being made to keep me in my Dominican community!   I’m living in a house of prayer.  Although I can’t be physically present with my brothers in church for community prayer, I can be there with them in spirit.  

This sense of belonging to a praying community is strengthened as I look out of my window.   There I see the roof top, the towers of our church and the eight bells which I’ve photographed.
They chime to summon my brothers to Mass and the Divine Office; they joyfully peel to proclaim the marital celebration of a couple’s loving commitment.  One of those bells solemnly, mournfully tolls to call the faithful to pray for the eternal salvation of one our recently deceased brothers or sisters.  These bells loudly proclaim to those within ear-shot our faith in God being in our midst (the meaning of, “Emmanuel.”)  They summon people to worship.   These bells provide an eloquent form of preaching.  In my room I can, in spirit, respond to their call to prayer.

That’s where for now I spend all my time. That’s where I must seek and find God.  As I raise my head above the view of the church and its bells I see a small old crucifix hanging on the wall -I received this cross at my First Communion, nearly eighty years ago!  If ever I needed a reminder of God’s loving compassion I find it there.   In my weakness I can identify with the crucified Christ, and He with me.   I can recall, in His dying moments, His entrusting His Church, including me, to His Beloved Mother.   That crucifix reminds me that my room is a sacred, awesome place.

So, does my community, as it practises the works of mercy in visiting the sick and comforting the afflicted -me.  Individually they come and keep me company and we have a good laugh.   Each one of them is the temple of the Holy Spirit -and so I am   surround by the sacred! Together they come to celebrate my receiving the Sacrament of the Sick and Our Lord Himself in the Blessed Eucharist.  They give me a sense of very much belonging to a  caring Dominican  house of prayer.  That means so much to me, since I have been a member of the Order of Preachers for nearly seventy years.   That is my life -the very air I breath.

But you don’t have to be a Dominican to realise that you can meet God whatever your walk of life, in whatever circumstance you find yourself.  If you are sensitive to His presence you will realise that the whole of creation proclaims the glory of God.  The secular becomes sacred.  I have come to realise that even when I’ve walked in the ‘valley of darkness’ the Good Shepherd has been with me, guiding me, protecting me. The same is true for you.  That really is awesome!!!
Isidore O.P.

Monday, 11 September 2017

EXALTATION of the CROSS


What a crazy thing to do; what a horrific thing to do –to glorify in the brutal instrument used to execute a criminal!   And yet that is what we Christians do.  We have crucifixes in our homes and wear them round our necks.   But Paul tells us that the folly of the cross defies the wisdom of human reason.   Not that the pain of Christ’s crucifixion was good in itself.  It was brutal and unjust.  And he was no masochist, who delighted in suffering.    The Romans crucified many people –a thousand at one time on the Appian Way, when they crushed Spartacus’ slave revolt.   Though they were martyrs for the cause of freedom, their execution did not have the same meaning and effect as Christ’s.

Christ used his death on the cross as the means to saving the world from the power of sin and death.   Far from being defeated as a tragic, misguided failure Christ was triumphantly enthroned as king of heaven and earth, on the very instrument, which was meant to humiliate and destroy him –the cross.   Pilate condemned him as king; the Roman soldiers crowned him with thorns and mocked him.  The crowds taunted this crucified king.   Even in mockery they were all so right in calling Jesus ‘king,’ but none of them understood the nature of his sovereignty.

That’s the triumph of the goodness of love over the evil of hatred.  Not force of arms, but the power of love and mercy -those were His weapons.       By dying He has destroyed the power of death, and opened the way for us to share His divine life.    As Jesus hung upon the cross it was as though, as man, He stretched out one hand to His heavenly Father, and as God, He stretched the other hand to us sinners.  In His crucified person Jesus drew God and us sinners together in love.   Paul speaks of Christ reconciling us to God through the blood of the cross.    

In his Gospel John has Jesus expressing the Exaltation of the Cross by using the phrase ‘Lifted up.’   This harks backs to Isaiah’s Suffering Servant of the Lord who would be raised up as the triumphant saviour of the world.  The phrase ‘Lifted up’ also harks back to the brazen serpent, which Moses raised up in the desert, as a sign of God’s healing mercy for those who looked upon it and repented for their sins.    Now Christ, lifted up on the cross, is the source of God’s mercy for all who believe in Him.   When He is raised on high, triumphantly on the cross, He will draw us up with Him to share in His victory over evil.  Then, indeed, we will know that He is the God of infinite love, mercy and power –our saviour.   No one but God could show such sublime, crazy love as to become one of us, allow us to crucify Him –simply because He loves us and judged that was the best way to enable us sinners to share His divine life and happiness.       To the unbeliever the crucifixion is sheer madness; to the believe the cross is the sign of the wonder of God’s love, which defies human logic. 

On Good Friday we sing the hymn, ‘Vexilla Regis’ -‘Abroad the regal banner flies.’ That proclaims our loyalty to the crucified, yet triumphant Christ.  Under the Sign of the Cross we join Him in His battle against evil and march triumphantly with Him to His Heavenly Kingdom.   The cross gives us our identity as followers of Christ.   Not that we glory in suffering, nor do we honour the cross as a means of brutal execution. To do so would be sick!       But we venerate the cross as the means whereby the Son of God saved the world.  That’s why we raise the cross on high and humbly thank God.
On the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross let us exclaim with St. Paul,


Isidore O.P.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

"YOU ARE SAILING..."

“YOU ARE SAILING…IN 3 WEEKS…TICKETS BOOKED!” Those were the instructions my brother Peter and I received from the Superior of the English Province of the Dominican Order!   This was straight after  we young inexperienced priests had finished our theological studies, in1958.  No if or buts, no consultation.   No complaints.   After all, we’d taken a vow of obedience.   We were to sail for the W. Indies.  We’d just enough time to get our passports. As we embarked, the risen Lord’s words to His apostles seemed very appropriate for us budding missionaries,  As the Father has sent me, so I send you,"  (Jn. 20.21).

For us young priests sailing for the W. Indies was an exciting journey into the unknown, the exotic tropical island of Grenada.  Our speedy dispatch allowed no time to learn about its history and culture.  After years of philosophy and theology we were eager to get on with the work to which we’d been called.  We were so urgently needed that we were exempted from the usually required course of Pastoral Training. We were thrown in at the deep end and expected to learn to swim.

Getting there meant embarking at Liverpool docks on a wet, cold, foggy November night.    Our ship, the ‘Hilary’, was a  ‘Distinguished Old Lady.’   She had served gallantly during the War -in the invasion of Sicily, the Atlantic Convoys, the D. Day Landing.  She had survived being hit by a torpedo, which fortunately didn’t explode.  

 Now-a-days people fly to their postings in the W. Indies in a matter of hours.   Not us.  We would cruise at a leisurely pace and our journey would take nineteen days.   That in itself was a real holiday, a wonderful, colourful experience.  We had been warned that the Bay of Biscay could be rough -but not for us.  Instead, it was as calm as the proverbial mill pond, covered by a dense fog.  Our speed was reduced to dead slow; around us fog horns lowed like a heard of mournful  cows, hopefully preventing us from crashing into other ships.  It was all so still and eerie.

Life on board was colourful.  Among our  fellow passengers there was a number of W. Indians, who delighted us with calypsos. The First Class passengers decided that they gave us a much better time than the entertainment provided for them.  So, they joined us in their formal evening dress after their dinner.  (I doubt if we would have been allowed to join them!)

Many ocean-going ships have a chapel.  Not ours.   When the sea was sufficiently calm we could say Mass in the bar, before the other passengers were up.   Not a particularly devotional atmosphere, with chairs stacked on the tables and a pervading smell of stale beer -not incense.  With some of the passengers joining us, we formed a miniature Pilgrim Church.

Our long voyage was punctuated by the exotic colours and sights of the places we visited -Vigo, Lisbon and Madeira,   where we made a pilgrimage round its famous wine cellars, taking a sample at each.  From Madeira we set out on the long haul to Barbados and then Trinidad.    Gradually the temperature became hotter; that helped to prepare us for working in a tropical climate.  From Trinidad we flew to Grenada. As we stepped off the plane we were struck by a blast of hot air, as though someone had just flung open a furnace door.  The atmosphere was strongly perfumed by the spices for which Grenada is famous.

Reflecting on our voyage to the W. Indies, to share the Good News, sums up what is true for all Christians.   As members of the Pilgrim Church, we have been commissioned to proclaim the Good News.   We’ve been called to be working members of the crew, none of us passengers, whatever our age or strength.   Sometimes our journey will be smooth, at other times rough.   Sometimes we will be lost in a dense fog.  (Peter and I seem prone to that!)  But always Jesus will be leading us to the safe-haven of the Kingdom of Heaven.   Bon Voyage!
Isidore O.P.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

AND THE FATHER DID DANCE....

Never, never, never, imagine being a priest has to mean having a boring life…just prayers, preaching and people. Yes, it is all this and much more…encountering God and sharing God with others. If this is your vocation you will find, as I have, this to be enriching and fulfilling. 

And yet it is also full of surprises…experiences that were never considered during the many years preparing us for ordination and then launching us into priestly ministry.
Just look at the illustration to this, my priestly reflection. This was drawn by my twin priestly brother, Isidore, in response to my describing to him an experience I had in the very early days of my ministry as Pastor  of a parish in Barbados. 

 The ugly, terrified fellow grasping the lawn mower is supposed to be me. I would remind him that we are reputed to be identical twins. In the days of the drama of me and the goat, over fifty years ago,  we  were  passingly handsome…I'm sure I was! Just look at me now.  

From my childhood I’d become accustomed to mowing lawns. This was expected of me and of my brothers. I was used to the mowers that  required energetic pushing – not the lazy-man’s motorized machines. This task demanded artistic skill in producing a well-shaved lawn with straight lines of the same width.   

I shall never forget the day some child was passing by with his parents.  With a tug and a yell he exclaimed in surprise, “Look, the priest's doing some work.”  Truth from the mouths of babes! Those of considerable age will remember the song about 'MAD GOATS and ENGLISH MEN' go out in the midday sun. I’m English. Some think I’m somewhat mad, especially when aged, as I am. I get my exercise by taking walks in the heat of the tropical sun.  

To return to the lawn-mowing. None of my alleged craziness induced what happened next. The work was going smoothly.  And then... I sensed a tingling excitement in the air… tense, threatening.  I paused, raised my head and there before me was what you see in Isidore’s illustration – to me, a bad-tempered goat with a long beard and huge horns. Its eyes fixed on me. It was breathing heavily as it braced itself to make the grand charge IN MY DIRECTION. 

Never did I feel it was seeking for us to have a playful time together! I had disturbed it,   irritated it.  This goat wanted to  charge me out of the way. Surely a miss-match – goat with huge horns and thrusting body, me, a timid priest armed with my lawn mower, fearful for my life. Here was the drama of the bull-ring with none of  the arrogant confidence and  elegant artistry.

Where this goat, this monster, came from, I can say with all reverence, ‘God alone knows!’ This at least I know: as far as God is concerned, nothing happens by accident. My simple faith tells me that  Almighty God  wanted this encounter to take place.
  
As I write  this  now  I feel the tension, the fear, of yesteryear.  With head lowered the goat moved cautiously towards me.  What could I do  but  point the mower directly at my adversary?  Then I eased myself backwards towards the presbytery. Not to be out-witted it increased its pace and attempted to out-flank me. I swerved the mower round to face it head – on.  This manoeuvre was repeated over and over again, with me and goat trying to out-guess each other. Step by step I backed closer to the wooden steps up to the presbytery. 

My  heal   pushed against the bottom step. I yelled some loud war-cry; shoved the mower towards the startled goat; pounded up the steps towards the security of the presbytery.  The goat vanished!!!  where???

And the Father did dance, this Father Priest! He did dance, he did prance, he did weave and he did duck....not on a day of joy but on a day of desperation...against a rival with evil intent. And the Father did leap...up steps. He did thrust ....with a lawn-mover. And the day was saved. He arrived where he belonged! 
All this is saying so  much to me about the pattern of my own personal salvation history?  Is it saying something to you about yours?


Peter  Clarke, O.P.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

RISING EARLY IN THE MORNING


  Today I’m going to reflect on why the early morning is the best time of the day for me.  Hopefully this will say something to you.
Some people can leap out of bed at the last moment and spring into action.   Not me! That’s too violent.  I need to surface gradually, early in the morning.   That, for me is the most peaceful time of the day, before the hectic bustle of life begins.
That was especially true when I was working in the W. Indies. After being woken at sunrise by a cacophonous chorus of donkeys I would get out of bed and make myself a mug of coffee, sit down and prepare myself to say Mass.  Early in the morning is the coolest, the freshest time of the day, in a tropical climate.
The same was true when I returned to England and worked at a large conference centre in the countryside.  I would rise early and make myself a mug of coffee and wander across the fields.   On one occasion some scouts were camping on our land.   They were still tucked up in their sleeping bags.   It was so peaceful to see their silent tents.  Soon, I knew, the lads would be up, busily lighting the camp fire, cooking and eating breakfast.   Soon they would be rushing around in their busy noisy activities.   But not yet.  For now peace, stillness and quiet.  For me it was a wonderful start to a busy day.
As I walked along the banks of the canal  the rising sun burnt off the mist and I saw a moored barge. Again no-one was yet up.   Not even the family dog.  There was a wonderful mystical, misty stillness and quiet.  Everyone was still asleep.   Although I value and need company, this time of quiet, this peaceful solitude before the hurly-burley of the day was precious.    Not just precious, but necessary…for me, at least!
Some people argue that we Dominicans should be in the towns and cities, among the people.  Certainly I agree with that.  But we who were working in a countryside conference centre found that people in the cities needed to come to us for a break.   They needed physical, emotional and spiritual space.   They needed to be still and quite and have time to sit and watch the rabbits and hear the birds.   They needed to stop and listen to God. They even needed get away from their busy, noisy lives to hear and be nourished by the conferences we provided! They couldn’t do any of that while hurtling along a busy road, with the radio blasting away! 
In our busy, noisy world there’s an increasing need for periods of stillness and quietness, to give us quality time for God, each other and for ourselves. Could be, that we’d be less irritable when we arrived at our work-places if we came from a contented rather than quarrelsome home.  We need to make time to relax and unwind emotionally and spiritually.   That’s why holiday’s are so important.  Hopefully, they will not  be just recreational but also re-creational.  Let’s admit it, we might be doing others  a favour if we cleared off and took a holiday. It’s more than likely we’d be less ‘on edge’  (please  God!)  when we returned.
I’m sure family life and our relationship with God would be greatly improved if we made special time when we all switched off our mobiles and computers, were still and listened to God and to each other.   That’s why God urges us, through the psalmist,
Be still, and know that I am God!”  (Ps. 46.10).
P.S.                 Have you ever met a person who can’t cope with total silence  -no loud music, no  mobiles. Is that person you?

Isidore O.P.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Bodily into Eternity – The Assumption of Mary.


In 1950 Pope Pius XII declared as a dogma to be believed by Catholics as a matter of Faith that 'Mary, the immaculate perpetually Virgin Mother of God, after the completion of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into the glory of Heaven'.

Many of us reacted, 'What's new? For years we've been reciting the Glorious Mystery of the Holy Rosary, "The Assumption of Our Lady into Heaven."' For centuries this has been accepted as part of the believing and devotional life of the Catholic Church.   Why, then, under-score what was already taken for granted?

One reason, among many others, could be that the dogmatic definition of Mary's Assumption into Heaven emphatically affirmed the feminine bodiliness of her humanity. The Preface of the Solemnity proclaims how fitting it was that God 'would not allow decay to touch her body, for she had given birth to His Son, the Lord of all life, in the glory of the Incarnation.' What was uniquely glorious during her life on earth is now uniquely glorious in her life in eternity. 

Mary was essentially, vitally, involved in the redemption of mankind through her child, Jesus, whom she had carried in her womb, brought to birth, and suckled - the Son of God Himself.
Jesus gave great glory to his heavenly Father in and through the humanity that He had received from His mother. In His so doing Jesus was Himself supremely glorious in the fullness of  His humanity - body, together with soul.

 Indeed, it was through His mother, Mary, that the Son of God was a full member of the human family. Mary gave great glory to God in her mothering of the Saviour, and in her being there at the foot of the cross giving loving, motherly support to her dying Son.   In so doing Mary was herself supremely, uniquely glorious in the fullness of her humanity.

We, through our baptisms, are united with Jesus as members of his Body, which is the Church. With this in mind, St. Paul cajoles the Christians of Corinth living in a milieu that he considered to be sexually hyper-active,
'Do you not realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you and whom you received from God? You are not your own property, then; you have been bought at a price. So use your body for the glory of God,' (1 Cor. 6. 19).

 Your bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit! …Use your body for the glory of God! This is exciting Good News that needs to be proclaimed in our day when men and women are regarded as sex objects, and even consider themselves no better than this - devoid of dignity as human persons. Is not human parenting also being debased with genetic engineering, in vitro fertilizations, and cloning which are paraded as clever and acceptable substitutes or replacements for the two-in-one-flesh coupling of spouses who are bonded together in love?  

Where is reverence for the human body in a world of terrorism and of weapons of mass destruction; a world that has the resources and skills to provide for the hungry but acquiesces to the starvation of millions; a world that deprives the frail and sickly of easily available life-saving medicines?

Contemplation of the Assumption of Mary should convince us that upon this canvas of contempt for the bodiliness of each human being we Christians must paint a message of beauty and of hope, one that inspires and one that cherishes, one that respects and safeguards, one that loves the human body here and now, and reaches out into eternity.

Peter Clarke, op
 
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