Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Meeting God through a Possible Child

"I'm not a problem...I'm a possibility."

So sang a group of youngsters at the ceremony marking their graduation from primary to secondary school.


What a marvellous self-affirmation from these children! God bless those teachers who instilled this truth into these young boys and girls!

I think of my own childhood when the Parish Priest complained to my mother, "Why has God sent me such awful altar servers? He, poor man, was referring to my twin brother and me. Between us, at different times, we had ruined his precious sanctuary carpet. One by vomiting on it, the other, as thurifer, by burning a hole in it. I wonder if we were more problematic than other youngsters. Surprise, surprise, we both became priests!

Possibilities...not problems. After more than sixty years I vividly remember the time when my eldest brother proudly showed Dad a wooden aeroplane he had carved. He eagerly waited to be congratulated. To his heart-breaking dismay Dad threw it on the fire and then gently showed him how he could do a far better job. Even now, this same brother of mine is making exquisite model planes and boats. The complacent under-achieving model-maker carried within him the seed of so many creative possibilities.

For me, this goes t the very heart and soul of the Gospel -the heart and soul of the way Jesus related to people. He saw them as possibilities rather than problems, or, perhaps saw that their real problem was that they despaired of their possibilities.

Time and again Jesus reached out to the despised, the marginalised, to those at the bottom of the pile that is humanity. And there he affirmed them. He saw them as people capable of being transformed by his saving love; people of God -given dignity, people worthy of respect and acceptance ...from Jesus himself...and from the rest of us.

Many did not admire Jesus for "lowering" Himself like this ...not even his intimate friends, the disciples. While he was never standing on his dignity, they were blustering among themselves about who was the greatest. Jesus gently, but firmly, cut them down to size.

"Anyone who wants to be first must make himself last of all and servant of all. Then he took a child, set him in front of them, put his arms round him , and said to them, 'Anyone who welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me: and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me,'" (Mk. 9).

Jesus would have us know that this greatness, that his greatness as the Son of Man among men, his greatness as our Lord and Saviour, lay in his giving himself to people, welcoming them, believing in them -even children. It's so wonderful, so beautiful that Jesus should be able and willing to fulfil their possibilities...our possibilities as only he, the Son of God, could do.

The way of Jesus, godsway, was surely one of extreme optimism -possibilities, not problems. If I am to make any significant difference this must be myway.

Peter O.P.

Next week Isidore will reflect on meeting God in the Questioning Sphinx

Monday, 7 September 2009


Some time ago I saw the popular film and stage show 'Chicago.' As well as having some great tunes it's a wonderful satire of 1920's showbiz, with the glamorisation of criminals and a celebrity lawyer.

Amidst the exotic characters there's an exception. Since no one notices him he feels he's become a non-person. He sings a poignant song about his being 'Mr. Cellophane.' As far as people are concerned he's invisible. He sings, 'You look right through me, walk right by me, and never know I'm there.' He thinks he's 'invisible, inconsequential.' He has no power or influence. Any views he may have are dismissed as worthless. He's thought to be of no importance. No one has any time for him. He's completely ignored.

Sadly, there are far too many 'cellophane' people in the world today. They include those who live on the fringe of society, the marginalised, the outcasts. There's the refugee, the asylum seeker, the beggar on the street. At the same time we glorify pop and sports stars. The media turns notorious criminals and their lawyers into celebrities.

All this hype is in sharp contrast to the way Jesus treated people. He mixed with sinners, whom the self-righteous shunned. Instead of writing them off as worthless he led them to find God's mercy. He died between two criminals and promised to welcome the repentant thief into his kingdom. He enabled those who had become marginalised -lepers, the possessed and sinners -to take a full part in the life of the community.

He alone noticed the poor widow putting all of the little she possessed into the temple collection box. When those who were filled with a sense of their own importance tried to prevent children and the blind beggar, Bartemaeus, from bothering Jesus he welcomed these social rejects. Jesus even said we must become like these seemingly unimportant people if we were to enter the kingdom of heaven. God certainly is not impressed by celebrities and status seekers.

Jesus identified with the under privileged, the needy and the outcast and told us that as we welcome them we welcome him and the one who sent him. He knows and calls even the least of us by name. God even knows every sparrow that falls, and we are worth more than many sparrows. As far as God is concerned none of us loses his or her identity or individuality in the vast crowd of humanity.

For Jesus no one is a cellophane person. As far as he's concerned we are so important that he has lived and died to save each one of us. His love for us has given us the dignity of becoming the children of God, sharing his own divine life.

Mr. Cellophane in the musical, 'Chicago,' has reminded me of the pain we can cause by failing to notice and value people. I've also realised God is to be found in these so-called 'cellophane people,' whom nobody notices. Our love and concern for them, having time for them, can restore their self respect and prevent them feeling they've become transparent and invisible. As we meet and recognise God in them they enrich our lives.
Or can they and Christ condemn us with the words from 'Chicago?' 'You look right through me, walk through me and never know I'm there.'

The musical 'Chicago' has taught me that if I'm to meet God I must recognise and welcome him in the cellophane people, whom nobody notices or, if they do, considers them to be of no importance.
Isidore O.P.

Next week Peter will meet God through a 'Possible Child'

Saturday, 5 September 2009


I have so many good friends....people who are good to me and people who are good for me. As it says in the Book of Ecclesiasticus ch 6, "A good friend is the elixir of life" and "A kindly turn of speech attracts new friends, and a courteous tongue invites many a friendly response." Such people bring joy, love, kindness and merriment into my life, as well as inspiration and consolation. Good friends in the deeply religious sense are exceptionally godly people.

But I find many of them bewilder me. I don't take offence because I know they mean no harm. Let me explain.
Several times a week I receive an email from one or other of such friends...something that quite literally is going the rounds...circling the globe many times over. Often it is something of exquisite beauty -a picture, a poem, a real-life story...something that moves me to compassion and prayer, something that inspires and edifies me, or gives me some much needed advice. I am deeply grateful to them for taking the trouble to send me this spiritual nourishment. Frequently I forward these messages to people I think might appreciate them.

However, it so happens that there's a point when I begin to choke with resentment. I feel like a fish that gleefully snaps up a tasty morsel, only to find that a concealed hook has become embedded in its throat. This is when these delicious messages from delightful friends are rounded off with a promise and a threat...menacing messages. This punch line catches me in my gullet. It goes like this:
"If you forward this message to a minimum given number of people within a certain time -it could be within ten minutes or perhaps by tomorrow -you'll be handsomely rewarded!" But then the flip-side to the promise..the menace. "If you don't meet these requirements you're in for a lot of trouble."

I ask myself, "What kind of person addresses a friend like that...with promises and threats?" Don't they trust me to use my judgement as to whether the message is worth sending to someone else? Have they themselves been threatened into sending these messages to me, so that if there had been no menace, generating fear, they wouldn't have bothered?

I am prepared to allow that they simply had not thought out the implications of what they were doing in sending me this material, wrapped in a package of promise and threat. I even credit them with believing they were doing me a favour and never intended to give offence.

My conclusion is that the whole process of mass distribution of the Good News through emails is being depersonalised, stripped of the basic courtesy that might incline people to welcome what is being sent and even pass it on.

As for me, if I think the message is worth forwarding I shall delete the promise and threat. No way will I use promises or threats, carrots or sticks to pressurise anyone to be an email evangeliser! Let me know what you think of myway of spreading the Good News.

Do you think it's godsway of getting it done?

Peter O.P.

Next week Isidore will reflect on Mr. Cellophane.

Friday, 4 September 2009


"You must have had beautiful curls as a baby!" My prior was not paying me a compliment, but sarcastically telling me my hair was too long and looked a mess. Usually he didn't go in for such subtleties. But that day he did. In plain language he was telling me, "Get a hair cut!"

Most of us strive to create a good impression so that people will admire and respect us. We fear that we will be despised and rejected if we fail. Image making has developed into a sophisticated art. A politician is thought to stands a better chance of being elected if he looks like a film star. That's what Ronald Reagan actually was. It's been argued that one of the reasons why Kennedy beat Nixon was because on a TV debate Nixon was thought to look like a thug, while Kennedy appeared handsome and honest.

I must admit that I'm not very bothered about how I look. Perhaps I should be. But my prior certainly was right. My scruffy appearance let my community down, if not myself.

But certainly a good impression goes way beyond how any of us looks. What people think of our behaviour is much more important. That's where the real problems begin. Before couples get married they strive to do their best not to reveal any defects, which may put off the one whose love they want to win.

But no one can keep up the appearance of being a paragon of all that is desirable. We all have faults. These will become apparent over years of marriage, or of Dominican community life. At times we will behave badly. We will be moody, selfish and unforgiving. We will be petty and reveal irritating habits. We may be seen without our teeth and our normally well groomed hair may be a mess first thing in the morning. People only discover what we're really like by sharing our lives for a number of years. Hopefully we will still take them and ourselves by surprise.

These musings came to me during our community prayers. As we sang the Divine Office I realised that while some of the psalms expressed respectable sentiments of adoration, praise, thanksgiving, joy and repentance, other psalms reflected the ugly side of human nature -anger with God and with life, bitterness, revenge and self pity. Some people have wanted to remove these psalms from the Prayer of the Church.

But wisely, the Church has retained them. Why? Certainly we are not meant to imitate these ignoble reactions, but to copy the psalmist in praying with absolute honesty. As he does so he brings before God what people actually feel. As we pray these ignoble thoughts we ask God not to confirm them but to heal them. Sometimes we will need God to heal what is wrong in the way we react or feel. And if the Prayer of the Church doesn't express our present sentiments it certainly sums up how other people are feeling. So, then we stop thinking about ourselves and turn our prayers towards our brothers and sisters who are going through a rough time.

With great honesty we exposed to God the side of us and them that is ugly. That takes great trust that he won't reject us. We are prepared to make ourselves vulnerable by stripping away the mask of pretence. We stop trying to create a false, good impression. Any way God already knows us better than we know ourselves, so there's no point in trying to deceive him.

And yet we are convinced that he will always love us, with all our faults and failings. His love for us is utterly unconditional. But he can only heal whatever is wrong in our lives if we are prepared to be absolutely honest with the Good Physician. As we bring our unworthy thoughts before God he is able to heal them and bring peace and order to our lives when they are in a mess. As he loves us as we are he helps us to become what we should be.

God's unconditional love for us is the model of how we should love each other. We will need great courage and trust to reveal our true selves, warts and all. We may well fear we will be vulnerable to contempt and rejection. So, too, will our loved ones as they make themselves equally vulnerable. But if we have the courage to welcome each other unconditionally we will not only grow in love, but also help each other to become better people. Loving mercy and compassion can help to heal the messy, ugly parts of our lives.

True. I do look more respectable and younger when shorn of my unruly grey locks. But far more important, God's love doesn't depend on the tidiness of my life, or even of my hair!

Isidore O.P.

Next week Peter will meet God - Not Through Menacing Mesages