Monday, 30 November 2009


Already I'm beginning to feel guilty! As I move around the stores I see all those Christmas cards displayed for sale. It's high time I attended to my Christmas mail.

You know what it's like -the agony of making decisions. The cost factor looms large. How many cards can I afford to buy? But this should not really worry me. There's a host of people who would be happy to receive my seasonal greetings by email -especially if I've designed something myself.

Then there's a different kind of affording that troubles me -can I afford not to send a card to this person or that? There would be those who would be greatly hurt if they did not hear from me. Others would be pleasantly surprised if they did. Do I want to give them this unexpected joy? Do I need to?

Then there's the sad side to this matter of getting in touch at this time of the year. Since last Christmas dear friends have died. They were certainly on my mailing list a year ago. A line has been drawn through their names in my address book. A laconic RIP marks inexpressible grief. I draw comfort that this year they will be celebrating Christmas in Heaven, or if they have not reached there yet, my fond hope is that they are on their way there.

For me, selecting Christmas cards is no casual exercise. With its pictures and words, a cards is a means of communication. Carefully, I weigh up what message I wish to convey to this person or that. Some cards marvelously express what Christmas means to me. I am delighted when I'm certain that what is precious to me will find its echo in those who receive the greetings. Not so easy when some of my friends are not especially Christian.

Then I decide it would be a mistake for me to send them cards depicting snowmen, robins or red-nosed reindeers. They know me and would expect me to bear witness to my belief that the Son of God was born on Christmas day.

Some Nativity pictures are glorious works of art. Others can be described as religious cartoons or fall into that marvelous internet category of clip art. No matter which, in some way they are all declarations of my faith and piety. Long before printing and photocopying, sacred art was a powerful means of evangelization -statues, paintings, stained glass. It remains true that a single picture says more than 1,000 words.

At this season, then, I reach God, my way, through the whole business of sending cards. It is something I either do for myself or I don't want to be done at all. For me it is meditation.
What does the Christmas theme mean to me?
This year, where would I like to place the emphasis?
Then I meditate in an almost religious way on the significance people have in my life and what they mean to me.

At one and the same moment I am very much in touch with God and with those I love. This has just occurred to me...getting down to sending Christmas cards is something like entering into a holy communion...I'm drawing friends around me, around the babe in the Bethlehem crib. This is not time wasted. Some may trash my greetings as junk mail. I really believe that in sending a Christmas card I'm sending something of me -my faith, my love -to people of my choice...
What a wonderful phrase, "People of my choice!"
Peter O.P.

Next week Isidore will meet God in a Smile

Friday, 20 November 2009


The grey squirrel has had a bad press. It's condemned as a vermin -like a rat with a bushy tail. Worse still, it's accused of being a foreigner, which has driven out our beautiful native red squirrel. Few people have a kind word to say for the grey squirrel.

And yet most of us love to see them in our gardens or parks. I was recently able to take the present picture in a beautiful avenue in Leicester. Whenever I tried to draw near to take its photo it played hide and seek with me, as it ran round the back of a tree. I got the feeling the squirrel enjoyed the game as much as I did!

As you can see from the colour of the leaves, it was autumn. At that time of the year the grey squirrel is especially busy gathering and burying nuts and acorns. These will provide it with food for the winter. Fortunately for us it doesn't find all its buried food. What remains hidden is able to grow into oak, beech and hazel trees. So the despised squirrel plays a useful part in the spread of our trees. And it's a fascinating, skilled acrobat, which can defeat the most difficult of obstacle courses in its attempt to reach food. It can run paw over paw, upside down along a washing line, and can make prodigious leaps and open food containers.
There is indeed much to admire in the despised grey squirrel, which only does what comes naturally, without any malice. I suspect that is true of all the beasts we dismiss as being evil, including wasps and snakes. If we did but know it, each one of them plays its part in the balance of nature, even if that's mainly to provide food for other animals. But much more important, in different ways each creature gives glory to God, simply being itself.

My reflections on the grey squirrel have led me to conclude that I can find much that is very positive in an animal we have come to despise. If that's true for me with my limited perspective and all my prejudices God is infinitely better at seeing the whole picture when he considers us. He sees not only our failures and faults, but also our successes and the difficulties we have had to face. God takes into account what other people fail to notice.

Reflecting on the despised grey squirrel and finding good in it has taught me to try to be equally generous with people, whom I may too readily shun or condemn. If I can look for what is good in them I will realise that they are God's children, made in his image and likeness. They are my brothers and sisters. If I'm open to them, each will provide a new and unique way for me to meet God in them.

Thinking about the grey squirrel has taught me to try and overcome my prejudices. These certainly blind me from seeing what is good in people and prevent me from meeting God in them.

I'm grateful to the grey squirrel for the way it has helped me and for the joy it has given me. I don't see it as my foe, even if it may be that for the red squirrel, which also gives me great joy. Each has it's place in the glory of God's creation.

Isidore O.P.

Next week Peter will reflect on Sending Christmas Cards

Friday, 13 November 2009


A moment of utter peace....a moment to take in the wonder-world of the Caribbean island of Grenada where I have served as a priest for many years. There was I one night, seated on the balcony of St. Martin's Retreat Centre, facing the avenue of tall palm trees. How majestic they were, against a backdrop of total darkness, gloriously bathed in the soft glow cast by a lamp fixed to one of the trees! Up and down the avenue these stately pillars receded into the blackness of the night. Sadly this avenue was destroyed by hurricane 'Ivan' in 2004.

I can't help thinking of that avenue of Royal Palms. Yet even more wondrous were the moths flitting into and out of the light. For a brief moment among the trees these iridescent creatures danced their ecstatic ballet, oblivious of their reflected glory. These silvery moths made me think of us Christians, beloved children of God. As the New Creation, we reflect the glory of our risen and glorious Lord, Jesus Christ.

For most of the time we Christians, like these moths, go about our unspectacular lives without drawing attention to ourselves. But then, like the moths approaching the source of their brightness, we Christians offer a glimpse of the radiance with which we have been clothed. Such are the times when people witness something of the beauty of Christ within us. It could also be how we see them ...for a brief moment as luminous mysteries.

The words of St. Paul come to mind,
"I live now, not with my own life, but with the life of Christ who lives in me,"
(Gal 4: 19). And,

"All of us with unveiled faces, like mirrors reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the image that we reflect in brighter and brighter glory: this is the working of the Lord, who is the Spirit,"
(2 Cor. 3. 18).
We are not very much aware of this about ourselves. Nor do we often credit this of other people. Our preoccupation is with the ordinariness of our lives, or with the dark side of our sinfulness. With faith, and with the moths, to remind me of this I recognise that this is far from being the total picture. There is about us a life that is hidden with Christ in God. Mostly hidden, and when it shows itself we are scarcely aware of it.

For me that moment with the palm trees and and the moths was one of startling grace. It comes back to me now, with all its excitement and breath-taking beauty as I prepare to celebrate the Kingship of Christ, gloriously reigning in heaven. We are touched by his glory. We re transformed by his glory. In our own small way we reflect the glory of Christ within us. We are meant to convey a glimmer to the people around us.

I really and truly believe those moths were meant to say something memorable and inspiring to me. And they had no idea that this was so!

It is St. Paul who once more expresses my thoughts,

"Since you have been raised up to be with Christ, you must look to the things that are above, where Christ is, sitting at God's right hand. Let your thoughts be on things above, not on the things that are on earth, because you have died, and now the life you have is hidden with Christ in God. But when Christ is revealed and He is in your life -you too, will be revealed with Him in glory,"
(Col. 3: 1-4).

I can only say that those moths have led me to think of myself as having a significance that I would never, never, have dared to claim for myself.

Peter O.P.

Next week Isidore will reflect on how he met God in a 'Friend or Foe?'

Tuesday, 10 November 2009


In a jam, in a mess, in a sticky situation! None of these to be recommended! But I'll tell you, it was the lady who made raspberry jam who brought so much sweetness into my life, and more than that -deep friendship. You see, I love homemade raspberry jam, and was fortunate in having a friend who delighted in making it. Strangely, she didn't like eating it. But how happy she was to grow the raspberries from which she made the jam -and then to give it to someone who would enjoy it.

After tasting her jam I was full of praise and gratitude. As a result she gave me a regular supply.
But much more important, her kind gift and my grateful response drew us closer as friends. What a difference between finding a friend in a jam and finding a friend in jam! That probably wouldn't have happened if she hadn't given me the jam, and I hadn't shown my appreciation of it.

That gift of jam and my response taught me something very important about gratitude and ingratitude. People deserve to be thanked for what they've done or for what they've given. Of course, wanting to be thanked should never be the motive for their generosity...but rather love, simply love. But no one likes being taken for granted. We all like our efforts to be appreciated. There used to be a notice in our kitchen, which read, "No one notices what I do till I stop doing it." How true that is, perhaps especially in the home! Ask yourself how often you have thanked the person who has cooked your meals, tidied the house or earned the wages. And if you've done all that for others, how often have you been thanked? I bet you would welcome some sign of appreciation for your efforts.

Ingratitude is churlish. It creates resentment and tends to drive us apart. On the other hand, when we say, "Thank you" and show our appreciation the one who gives and the one who receives instinctively warm to each other and draw closer to each other.

These reflections made me realise how much we take God for granted. We owe him our very existence, as well as the fertility of our planet and the mineral resources it contains. He's given us the ability to develop technical and artistic skills, and so much more. In addition to these natural gifts God has given us his Spirit through whom we share God's own divine life and happiness. The Son of God has become one of us and has given his very life to save us from the power of evil and to grant us the fullness of life. Love for us is his only motive, and that is his greatest gift.

How easily do we take for granted all that God has done for us, all that he has given us! We are eager enough to ask him for many things, but how often do we bother to thank him? Our ingratitude prevents our responding to God's generosity with love. That distances us from him. But if we do take the trouble to thank him our gratitude will draw us closer to each other in love. And if we tell him we appreciate his gifts he will be ever more generous in loving us.

It's so easy to say, "Thank you." And yet those words mean so much. The gift of the pot of jam has taught me the importance of gratitude in helping us to draw closer to God and each other.

A final thought. Apart from saying "Thank you" the best way to show our appreciation of a gift is to use it, not throw it away or forget it. If it's a pot of jam, eat and enjoy it. If it's a garment let the giver have the satisfaction of seeing you wear it. And let's use God's gifts to express our love for him and each other.
Isidore O.P.

Next week Fr Peter will muse upon Meeting God in Reflected Glory