Saturday, December 24, 2016

Happy Christmas

We wish all our readers a grace-filled and peaceful Christmas and we share with you  a Christmas reflection:

Christmas Eve Reflection during Vespers
The theme of my reflection, on this Christmas Eve night, is ‘ Peace’. Conscious of the lack of peace in Syria, Iraq, Africa,  the Holy Land and in various other countries of the world and bearing in mind especially the lack of inner peace in ourselves at times  and so prevalent in people in general, I was led to ponder the title given to Jesus before his birth, that of Prince of Peace,  in the book of the prophet Isaiah, which will be read tonight at Mass:

            For there is a child born for us,
            a son given to us
            and dominion is laid on his shoulders;
            and this is the name they give him:
            Wonder – Counsellor, Mighty –God,
            Eternal- Father, Prince-of –Peace.
            Wide is his dominion
            In a peace that has no end.( Is. 9 )

We long so much for this peace that ‘has no end’. We long for it for ourselves, our families, our communities, our friends and for the world at large. We want Isaiah’s prophecy, which says;
            For all the footgear of battle,
            every cloak rolled in blood,
            is burnt,
            and consumed by fire

- we want that to be realised now, without further delay. The Gospel tonight further reinforces this message of peace when it says:

            And  suddenly with the angel there was a great throng of the heavenly host,
            praising God and singing:

 ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace to
                        men who enjoy his favour’

This theme of peace abounds everywhere in the Liturgy tonight and tomorrow. In the entrance antiphon, Jesus is personified as peace itself as it says:

            ‘ True peace has come down to us  from heaven’

On the very first weekday of Advent, and on all Mondays in Advent, I was very struck by the post communion prayer, again referring to peace; it said:

“Come, O Lord, visit us in peace, that we may rejoice before you with a blameless heart.”

In all these quotes humanity and God are linked together because peace is a gift bestowed on us by God  the Father, through and in his son Jesus Christ

The truth of Isaiah’s words come to mind:

     You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.
     Trust in the Lord for ever for the Lord God is an everlasting rock. ( Is.26)

This is really  to say that our peace, our inner peace is dependent on our relationship of trust in God. Peace is the fulfilment of our deepest needs. It is the fruit of a personal relationship with the Eternal. We are not alone. God, gentle and humble, is with us, watching over us and guiding us. As we learn to  relax and trust in love we become free of the walls and barriers that imprison us in fear, prejudice, hostility and guilt. We are filled with a new joy, a new life, the very life of love.

Sometimes when I feel my own inner  peace is disturbed I remind the Lord of his promise in St. John’s Gospel, when he says:

            Peace I bequeath to you, my own peace I give you.
            A peace the world cannot give, this is my gift to you.

In speaking about peace St. Thomas quotes St. Augustine in defining peace as the tranquillity of order. Peace consists in the calm and union of our desires and is twofold in that there is perfect peace and imperfect peace.

Perfect peace, he says, consists in the perfect enjoyment of God which causes all our desires and tendencies to be united and at rest in one. This perfect peace is only possible in Heaven.

Imperfect peace, on the other hand, is the peace  which we can have in this world. It is imperfect because, even though the soul’s principal movement is to rest in God, there still remain certain obstacles, both within and without, which disturb the soul’s peace. St. Thomas goes on to say that peace is the effect of charity since charity means that we love God with our whole heart by referring everything to him, all our desires become focused on loving God in Himself and we know that love is always a unifying force.

I have come to understand that ‘the peace which God gives is not a freedom from the storms and conflicts of life, but a mysterious strength and comfort amid the storms; not the removal of pain, but the bestowal of a precious gift. The gift is God himself, the comforter, the one who stands alongside us. However, receiving God’s peace is not automatic; it requires the work of faith.

Also peace is not just the work of governments or armies or diplomats but the task of each one of us. We can all become makers of peace. Peace  must begin with myself, within my own heart and from there radiate outwards. This is in fact possible because tonight we celebrate what God, in his infinite love for us, has done by sending Jesus, the Prince of Peace, to dwell among us and in our hearts, as the teacher and bestower of peace.

 The kingdom of God is within us but there, it has to grow and spread. In that process we may experience the apocalyptic chaos and disruption and the Messianic peace and harmony – and everything in between! Our lion may have to learn to  lie down with our lamb! And then after coping with my own lion what about coping with the lions in everyone else around me!?

 The following medieval verses recognised this inner world and the transformation Christ’s coming brings:

            You shall know him when he comes
            Not by any din of drums,
            Not by anything he wears,
            Nor by the vantage of his airs;
                        Not by his gown,
                        Nor by his crown,
            But his coming known shall be
            By the holy harmony
            That his presence makes in thee.

May all of us experience this holy harmony, this peace, fruit of the Holy Spirit, and true effect of charity, gift of God to be received by faith, as we celebrate  with thanksgiving the great mystery of Christ’s incarnation, of his coming among us and within us, as the Prince of  Peace. Amen

Thursday, December 22, 2016

O King - 22nd December

“O King,
whom all the peoples desire,
you are the cornerstone which makes all one.
O come, and save man
whom you made from clay.”

In today’s antiphon we address Christ as “King” the desire of “all the peoples.” Reflecting on this Antiphon, I wonder to what extent Christ is truly “king”  in my life. Is he “the cornerstone” of all I do and say?
Do my thoughts and decisions take account of his will for me at this moment, even if only by, as Frank Duff advises, glancing towards him and asking internally “what do you want me to do?” before making decisions.

This kingship in an individual’s life is very important because we are all members of the mystical body of Christ. Just as the holiness of one member benefits other members and the whole Church (CCC 1474-5), so also Christ’s kingship in my life is of benefit to and helps the growth of his universal kinship for the salvation of all human beings.

May God grant each of us the grace to welcome him this Christmas as “King”  and “cornerstone”  of our lives.

22nd December - 800th Anniversary of the Approval of our Order

Today we unite with all our Dominican brothers and sisters throughout the world in giving thanks for the life and example of our holy father, Dominic and for all his followers over the past 800 years.

On the 22nd December 1216 he obtained Papal approval for his vision of an Order of Preachers. May we his sons and daughters continue to bring the love, light, joy and hope of Christ to the people of our times.

More information on Order of Preacher and 800th Jubilee can be found here

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

O Rising Sun - 21st December 2016

O Rising Sun, you are the splendour of Eternal Light and the Sun of Justice.
O Come and enlighten those who sit in darkness; those who dwell in the shadow of death, Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus, come.

As I read this very beautiful O Antiphon, a memory comes to mind of long summer evenings spent in the high field – the moinin ard as we called it – sitting under a haystack just watching the breathtaking sight of the sun going down beyond the woods and bog lands of our farm in the West.

The silence was full, deep and quiet, except for the little birds on their way home to roost and the friendly crickets close by.  But as the last lights faded what a mystery it was to my child’s mind!
Where, oh where had the sun gone?!

No grown up’s explanations prepared me for what was always a fresh experience of another rising sun as it streamed through the trees – right into my room the next morning.  The chorus of birds as they flew again to the cornfields and the grass glittering with dew drops and diamonds to me.  Even then this scene had power to thrill me with anticipation of something I knew not what! - was it a foretaste of another Rising Sun still unknown to me?

What or who is this ‘Splendour of Eternal Light’ coming to enlighten those of us who sit in darkness – lost in our own little worlds?  It is the Lord Himself, majestic and glorious “wrapped in light as in a robe.”

Come then my Lord, my God, teach me where and how to find you – you who dwell in light inaccessible and I desire to come close to you, to be warmed by you.  Oh Fire of Love, I beg you, “lead kindly light amid the encircling gloom ...lead thou me on.” (Newman)

You are a Living Flame, always burning with love for me, for every person in the world.

Enter into us this Advent-tide and set our hearts on fire with love for you.  What is it that inspires you with such love for us - your poor children? What draws you to us?

In a few days time you will be born in a poor stable warmed only by your mother's loving care - just what draws you to us? – love is the answer.  Love alone impels you to come once again this Christmas night – not as I tasted you in your glory as a child, but as a tiny Babe – Oh you our Tremendous Lover – Maranatha.

The King shall come when morning dawns
And light triumphant breaks,
When beauty gilds the eastern hills
And life to joy awakes.

O brighter than the glorious morn
Shall this fair morning be,
When Christ our king in beauty comes
And we his face shall see.

The King shall come when morning dawns
And light and beauty brings,
Lord Jesus Christ, your people pray,

Come quickly, King of kings.  (John Brownlie)

O Key of David - 20th December 2016

O Key of David and sceptre of Israel, what you open no one else can close again, what you close no one can open, O come and lead the captive from prison; free those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

This ‘O Antiphon’ that the Church sings this evening at the Magnificat, has its roots like all the other Antiphons in sacred scripture, in this case in Isaiah chapter 22 and in Luke chapter I.

Our Lord is addressed as Key of David – Jesus is Son of David through his foster father, St Joseph, who was of the house of David.  David was the most beloved and important King in Israel’s history – “a man after the Lord’s own heart” as it says in the Acts of the Apostles.  So Jesus in his human ancestry is truly one of us as he is truly Son of God in his divine nature “conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary by the Holy spirit. (Mt Ch 1)

A key is an indispensable instrument for opening and closing a door, so it is a very appropriate symbol with which to address our awaited Saviour. The Babe of Bethlehem, whom we await, did not die because he was born but He was born in order to die – the Crib and the Cross are closely associated.  By His obedience in suffering His Passion, death and Resurrection, Jesus opened the gates of heaven for the whole human race which our first parents had closed by their disobedience.  There is a lovely Icon called ‘the harrowing of hell’ where Jesus on Holy Saturday is seen in His descent into hell and taking  both Adam and Eve by the hand raised them up to come with Him into His Father’s House and all their posterity after them.

After that liberation is there any prison, darkness or death from which Jesus cannot free us? Yet we need another key – the key of faith which we receive at our Baptism to help us lay hold of the blessings Jesus is offering.  We join Bartimaeus, the blind man, at the side of the road, who, when he heard that Jesus, the Nazarene, was passing by, cried out: ‘Jesus, Son of David have  pity on me (cf Lk Ch 18).  We do it, not only in our own name but in the name of all who are captive in any way, in darkness and the shadow of death.  May we too, hear Jesus’ response: “Receive your sight, your faith has saved you.”

Monday, December 19, 2016

O Root of Jesse - 19th December

Today, we pray the third of the seven ‘O Antiphons’ leading up to the celebration of the fathomless mystery of the birth of Jesus among us over 2000 years ago:

O root of Jesse, set up a sign to the peoples, come to save us, and delay no more.

On the first of these seven days, the Church placed on our lips, the plea ‘come and teach us the way of truth’ – on the second day we are called upon to plead ‘come and save us with your outstretched arm (a truly beautiful concept ),  and now today, with still four more days to  go before Christmas Eve,  we are called to  echo the longing of the peoples over the ages, who suffered such anguish in their waiting for the Messiah – yes, we are called to this insistent prayer – ‘come and save us and delay no more.

This longing of the ages is expressed so well in one of the Advent hymns:

‘Long the ages rolled and slowly to the coming of the Word. 
 Fervent longings grew more fervent, undismayed by hopes deferred. 

Weaker spirits sighed and whispered, “Could the Lord of all forget?”

While the prophets scanned the portents, And in patience said, “Not yet”.

So how do we in this day and age, prepare for this great joy of Jesus birth among us which occurred over 2000 years ago?
In answer to this question , I would like to share a few thoughts from an article by one of our English Dominicans written many years ago.  He commences by quoting the Scripture text: 

“While all things were in quiet silence…thy almighty Word leapt down upon the earth”. 

Then he goes on to remind us “ In the stillness of the night, the mystery of Christmas was enacted.  In silence, lowliness and poverty, the Word of God came into the world.   This mystery shows us under what conditions a holy birth should take place in us and how we can have that union with God for which we long.   Not in noise, turmoil or worry can Christ be born in us.  Only when we lie low and listen to God’s will, can he be born in us.

The gift to give God is our nothingness, the gift God is waiting for us to offer him is the very wretchedness which humbles us.  The stable in us to which we should invite God to come, that place is like a slum which we run away from.  Where we are weakest, the things we fail in, where we are characteristically weak, where we commit faults week after week, this is the very stable to which we must invite him.

So often we strive to become better before we will invite God to come  to us, but we must let God come to the poor sinner that we are and not to be ashamed to let him come to our slum.
God will come – God will come -  God will come”.

“We will not have paid true homage to Christ unless we have a  crib in ourselves, the very thing which we think is an obstacle  to union with God is the very means by which we can come to him.  So let us bring him to that slum that inner crib, and it will  become a holy cell in which Christ can dwell. God loves us, so we need to have confidence to let his mercy and love come to us where we are weak and lowly, we must not run away, the most precious thing we have to give him is our weakness”.

These encouraging excerpts end here – and so we pray:           

O  root of Jesse, come to save us and delay no more.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

O Adonai - 18th December

O Adonai and leader of Israel, you appeared to Moses in a burning bush and you gave him the Law on Sinai, O come and save us with your mighty power.

Our O Antiphon this evening invokes God as Adonai and Leader who appeared to Moses in the burning bush and gave him the Law on Sinai, as we read in the Book of Exodus.  God, the Lord of creation, intervened in the life of his people at a time when they were sorely oppressed and forsaken in Egypt – when their situation seemed humanly hopeless and Moses himself was fleeing for his life from Pharoah, having killed an Egyptian and buried him in the sand.

When we look around us today our situation is no different – we see people in their millions fleeing for their lives from war and violence; people enslaved in so many ways by the glamour of riches and addictions of every kind; the problem of human trafficking and pornography – just to name a few.  There are so many people searching frantically for happiness which eludes them and lets them continually disappointed and depressed because they are searching in the wrong places.  Sometimes, like the Israelites in Egypt, we can feel that God has abandoned us or we even question if He really exists. 

Yet it was He who took the initiative to reveal Himself to Moses as he went about his daily tasks of attending the flocks and told Moses that He, God, was well aware of the suffering of His people and that He intended to rescue them from their slavery and redeem them with ‘outstretched arm’– and He gave them the Law, not to enslave them again but to lead them to true freedom as His very own people and He would be their God. 

However He needed Moses’ co-operation – He gave him the mission of leading His people from slavery to freedom and when Moses objects God simply re-assures him of His Divine Presence – ‘I shall be with you’ was his reply.  In revealing the Divine Name YAHWEH – I AM WHO AM - He empowered Moses for his mission. 

In this morning’s Gospel the angel appears to Joseph and tells him that Mary, his betrothed, has conceived a child by the Holy Spirit and he must name him JESUS because he will save his people from their sins.  He will be Emmanuel – God with us – thus fulfilling in a wonderful way the promises made to Moses.  Whereas when God appeared in the burning bush, Moses was told to take off his shoes and come no nearer, as he was standing on holy ground, Jesus the very Son of God comes among us as a baby clothed in our skin so that we can all draw close to him and he to us.

As we prepare for his coming to us anew this Christmas, may we who bear the name Christian open our hearts and allow him to enter our lives with his light and love; his peace and joy – gifts which riches cannot buy.  May he so live in us and we in him that we in our turn will become beacons of his light and hope for all our brothers and sisters near and far as we journey towards our Father’s house.   

O Adonai and leader of Israel, you appeared to Moses in a burning bush and you gave him the Law on Sinai, O come and save us with your outstretched arm.

The Great 'O Antiphons - O Wisdom - 17th Dec

O Wisdom, you come forth from the mouth of the Most High.  You fill the universe and hold all things together in a strong yet gentle manner.  O come to teach us the way of truth.

We are immediately reminded of the wonderful passages in the Old Testament which speak of Wisdom.  There we read of Wisdom as proceeding from God, as being begotten by Him, as being the beloved who at the beginning stood beside Him, assisting at the creation – ‘ever at play in His presence and delighting to be with the children of men.’

These passages concerning Wisdom can be applied to the Word who in the fullness of time took on our human nature and pitched his tent among us.

While in the Old Testament God’s Wisdom was manifested by His governance of the created universe in a strong yet gentle manner, being lenient and merciful to all because He loves all that exists – it is in the crucified Christ on the Cross that we experience the full revelation of divine Wisdom, of God’s infinite love and mercy for us human beings.  As St Paul tells us “God’s folly is wiser than human wisdom and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.  In Christ are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge and of his fullness we have all received.  He has become our wisdom and our holiness.” (1 Corinthians)

O Eternal wisdom come and teach us the way of truth – He is Truth itself who leads us to all Truth – the truth about ourselves, about our world, about situations in which we find ourselves.

In spite of whatever pain and contradictions we experience in our own lives and in our broken, wounded and violent world may we never lose faith in the fact that His strong yet gentle power is at work and can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.  To Him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

O Wisdom, you come forth from the mouth of the Most High.  You fill the universe and hold all things together in a strong yet gentle manner.  O come to teach us the way of truth.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

3rd Sunday of Advent, Year A - Gaudate Sunday

Wait for the Lord
We are waiting for the Lord like the farmer from today’s second reading from the letter of St. James:   
“Be patient … think of a farmer how patiently he waits for the precious fruit of the ground.  … You too have to be patient; do not lose heart, because the Lord’s coming will be soon.”
Several months ago we received the gift of avocados, and I kept the stone to see if it would grow into a tree.  I was told how to plant it – that half the stone must be above water; while half must be covered with water, so I took a plastic container with a lid, in which I cut a hole the same size as my avocado stone, and I filled the container with water.  The stone was secure in the hole, half submerged, half dry.  I had done as much as I could to help it grow and now there was nothing I could but wait.  From time to time I would add more water to the container, like the autumn rains and spring rains.  And I waited.

At the end of a month, nothing seemed to be any different, … all my patience!
No signs of life at all – the stone wasn’t getting any bigger … but I continued to add more water, still nothing.

And then … finally the stone started cracking – it almost split in two!  In my ignorance I thought this meant that it was dead.  But I was hesitant to lose faith, so I did not immediately throw it away.  Then, from the crack, I saw a single root begin to grow; then after some more time, a leaf appeared.  And so it had not died after all!

Now it was big enough to be transplanted into a pot with earth.  And it continues to grow nicely.

The same happens in the life of faith, when we wait for the Lord. After the excitement of encountering the Lord in our faith, the time comes when everything seems somehow lifeless – nothing is growing in our eyes, visibly.  We may go to pray and nothing seems to be happening.  We need to be cracked and broken, like the avocado – or we would die inside.  We need to watch and wait and wait and watch for Him: not to look for entertainment in anybody or anything else.  Just wait for Him.

For He will come: it could take until the very end – even the day of our death, when He will come, but He will surely come.  We need only to wait patiently for Him.