Thursday, 30 December 2010


There is no choice. There is no other way. At this season of the year the only way I can reach God is through the birth of His Son, Jesus.

Whenever I've been writing for this blog at the back of my mind have been the opening words of the Letter to the Hebrews,
"At many moments in the past and by various means, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets,"
(Hebrews 1. 1)

Over the past years I have come to recognise many and varied prophetic moments when God has been speaking to me -many of them fanciful and bizarre. These have been moments of grace, full of insight. I have attempted to respond to what God has been saying to me.

The Letter to the Hebrews continues,
"In our time, the final days, he spoke to us in the person of His Son."

I have celebrated many a memorable Christmas when I've felt close to God -those of my childhood, those in large communities during the years of my Dominican formation as a priest, those as pastor of several parishes. Each in different ways has quickened and inspired my spirit. I cherish them all. On a few occasions there has been a Christmas of sad bewilderment when I've mourned the death of a member of my family. Such a variety of ways in which God has been speaking to me at Christmas. It has been up to me to discern how He expects me to reach Him this year.

What, then, stands out for me as something that I would want to share with you?
I think of the time I was making the rounds of the General Hospital in Grenada during the Christmas season. The lights in the maternity ward were subdued. There, in a corner, sat a father and mother silently gazing at their newly born son, lying in a hospital crib. It was a spectacle of love, awe and thanksgiving. I approached with diffidence, not wanting to disturb the magic of the moment. Behold, this family tableau was one of the most moving experience of my life.

Here I saw the beauty of Bethlehem -Joseph and Mary speechless as they looked down upon Jesus, lying in the manger. How great must have been their love, wonder, thanksgiving. Jesus was, literally, an adorable child.

And then I made my presence known to the father and mother -dear friends of mine. My arms encircling them in a loving embrace. Words of congratulation mingled with joyful laughter. And then I gently kissed the brow of their baby boy. Even now, as I write this posting, I tremble with emotion.

My thoughts return to Bethlehem. How would I have responded if I had been there on that Holy Night? Just as I did in the maternity ward, with hugs and kisses, laughter and congratulations. And of course I would have kissed the brow of the baby Jesus.

What a wonderful way to reach God...My way -letting my impulses to love gush forth upon the Tableau of my friends' family -holy in its own right -and, in so doing, reach out to the Tableau of the Holy Family -there in my heart, though not physically, present to me.

Peter O.P.
Peter and Isidore wish our readers Every Blessing
Christmastide and the New Year

In a fortnight's time Isidore will reflect on meeting God as he made an omelette.

Saturday, 18 December 2010


"The Word (of God) became flesh and dwelt amongst us"
With those few words John's Gospel expresses the wonder of Christmas.

Artists throughout the ages and of every race and culture have tried to express what the birth of Jesus meant for them and their people. They realized that He was not simply a Jewish baby born at Bethlehem some two thousand years ago. Certainly He was all that. But Jesus was, is, one of us -whatever our culture and wherever we live. He lived and died for each and every one of us. Whatever our backgrounds we are no longer outsiders to Jesus, or He to us. While respecting our differences He has broken down the barriers which separate us.

With this in mind I used Google Search to discover how artists of different cultures had depicted the Nativity and Epiphany in paintings and crib figures. What I found was a real eye-opener! What a rich cultural variety!

When I typed in "Eskimo Nativity" I found crib figures based on that culture. Jesus was born in an igloo. The Holy Family were all clothed in typical animal skins. To suggest that the whole creation welcomed His birth there's a polar bear and seal come to adore Him. Another search revealed a statue of an exquisite Eskimo Madonna and Child.

Then I discovered a Peruvian Epiphany. To my delight the Holy Family was dressed in the clothing of that culture. Instead of the Magi's camels there were llamas.

Excitedly I looked for pictures from all round the world. The pattern was the same. From the Far East to the Americas, from Africa to India, and from Europe to the Caribbean each country presented the birth of the
Saviour of the world in the imagery of its own culture.

And what a rich creative variety of pictures and statues I found! In so many of them people have woven elements from their own particular cultures to express their belief that the Son of God became a human baby and dwelt amongst us. The variety in the representations of the Nativity proclaims our shared conviction that the babe born at Bethlehem comes to us where we are. Though He was born long ago in a distant land He is far from being a stranger. He is one of us. He identifies with us, and we with Him.

I say, "We" rather than, "You" because my European culture has its own particular way of expressing its faith in pictures, statues and crib figures -just as yours does.

I don't know of any contemporary European artist portraying the Holy Family in modern dress, with the Magi arriving in a luxury car. But I did find a Haitian Nativity with Mary wearing a blouse, skirt and knotted head scarf, while Joseph wore a T shirt and jeans. Deliberately very contemporary. Shocking? If so, why?

That reminds me of the time when I was working at a conference centre. Deciding to give a hand with the Christmas decorations I made several mobiles -not portable telephones, but figures hanging on threads from bits of wire. One of my mobiles had angels playing musical instruments. Not the traditional harps and trumpets, but guitars and bongo drums. I was accused of being irreverent. Why?

John's Gospel tells us that, "The Word (of God) became flesh and dwelt amongst us," and that "He came to His own people." But who were THEY? Most obviously Jews living in the land of Israel some 2000 years ago. So the appearance and clothing of Jesus would have been typical of that time, place and culture and race. That's what it meant for Him to be a historical person, who blended with His background.

But the faith and imagination of artists has leaped beyond the historical. Rightly they realized that in becoming man Jesus identified with the whole human race, which He had joined and which He had come to save. That includes peoples of different times, races and cultures. There's not a single person on the face of the earth, or even in the womb, without his or her particular race and culture.

Though Jesus has broken down the barriers which separate us, the differences remain and enrich the life of the Christian community of the Church. Paul reassures us,
"There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for you are all one in Christ,"
(Galatians 3. 27). And again in Ephesians 2. 19,
"So then, you are no longer strangers or aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God."

As I ponder the different ways each culture depicts the birth of our saviour I'm powerfully reminded of our conviction that the Son of God shared our human life so that we could share His divine life. He comes to each of us where we are, in our own personal culture and background. That's where He approaches us; that's where we meet Him; that's where we draw close to Him. He builds on our cultural and racial heritage, bringing to perfection all that is good in them.

My discovery of such a variety of images of ethnic Nativities, including my own, has taught me that not only is Jesus an individual Jew, born in the Middle East a long time ago; He is also Everyman for Everybody. Whatever our race or culture He is one of us, and we, who come from diverse backgrounds, are all members of His single family. Our particular cultural heritage gives a special quality to the way each one of us meets God and expresses our love for Him. And He comes to us in our racial and cultural individuality.

I welcome not only you brothers and sisters of my own background, but also those of you who are very different from me. In you God's image is expressed in so many different, wonderful and beautiful ways. In you I meet God dwelling within you. You offer your culture not only to Him, but also to me. That enriches my understanding of the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us.
A suggestion. Try using Google Image Search to discover your own and other people's cultural expression of the Birth of Our Saviour. I've only hinted at the treasures waiting to be discovered!
Isidore O.P.
In a fortnight's time Peter will reflect on a Nativity Tableau.
In the meantime we both wish all our readers
the special Christmas joy, peace and happiness,
which only the Babe Born at Bethlehem can give.

Monday, 6 December 2010


"Happy Families" is a simple card game, which has entertained many of us on dark, wet nights. Each family is identified by the employment of its bread winner, in some ways the defining member of the family. Notice how people thought of Jesus,
"This is the carpenter's son, surely?
Is not his mother the woman called Mary?"
(Matt. 13. 55).

That got me doing some hard thinking. What happens when we no longer have a job? Perhaps we can't get employment, or we've been made redundant, become chronically ill, or have retired. What do people think of us then? More important, what do we think of ourselves? Does being unemployed mean we lose our own and other people's respect? Because we can no longer be defined by a job do we fear we have become non-persons? Can we still be happy members of our families or communities when we can no longer hold down a job? These can be very real, painful questions.

Many of you will have had to try to come to terms with enforced unemployment. That was certainly true for me when aged thirty I picked up a tropical illness, which it was thought, would mean that I would never be able to work again.

As I imagined the years, the decades ahead, my future looked very bleak. I had to ask myself whether my Dominican vocation was determined by what I did as a member of the Order of Preachers. In other words, had I become a lesser Dominican because I was no longer an active one? At times I felt like a goldfish trapped in a small bowl as I watched life, and saw my active brethren dash past me, leaving me behind.

This was a very critical time for me. I hit rock bottom. At times I felt full of despair -a useless burden to myself and everyone else. My years of Dominican training could not have prepared me to face such a crisis. As a matter of personal survival I had to find a positive approach to my enforced inactivity and self-doubts.

Very gradually I came to realize that there was much more to being a Dominican than being an active preacher. Gradually I came to recognize that God was calling me to a special expression of our Dominican vocation. As members of the Order of Preachers we are called to witness to the Good News of salvation through the suffering, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

That, I realized, could be done in a special way by frail and sick people, including me. Although I couldn't be actively involved in preaching at home or abroad, my prayers could support those who were on the front line. All who are frail and sick can play a vital part in the life and mission of the Church. This is a difficult, but very special vocation. St. Therese of Liseaux used to say, "Being sick is hard work." It is, indeed!

But St Paul goes much further and reassures us with the words,
"I am now rejoicing in my suffering for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of His body, that is the Church,"
(Colossians 1. 24).
What on earth could that mean? Certainly Jesus didn't fail to do sufficient to save the human race from the power of sin and death -with the implication that we had to make up the deficit.

But if the Church as a whole is to share in Christ's victory over evil she must first identify with Him in the suffering through which He gained that triumph. For Christ and for us, His followers, the cross is the way to glory. Those who suffer can identify with the crucified Christ in a unique way. With Him they can offer their afflictions for the salvation of the world. They don't just talk eloquently about the pain of Christ, but witness to it's value by sharing in it.

Paradoxically, Jesus achieved most when He was utterly helpless, apparently a useless failure. Knowing that should makes us revise our ideas about who is a success or failure. Who, in fact, are the real achievers? Certainly we shouldn't value other people, or ourselves, according to the amount of work they and we can do.

I've been fortunate in that unexpectedly I've made a remarkable recovery and have been able to do a considerable amount of work. Now old age is restricting my activities and I can't do nearly as much as my younger brethren.

But I do hope that my experience has enabled me to empathize with those who suffer, and that I can convince them of the special value of their lives. I am certain that illness modifies, but does not change our identities. It doesn't make us any less a person. With God's grace it can even make us a better one.

Today the aged and chronically sick are increasingly seen as being a disposable burden on the community. But my personal experience has taught me that we have a special dignity, deserving respect. We have a unique way of identifying with the crucified Christ. Through our weakness and suffering we meet Him in a special way, and share in His work of salvation. Those who are active and healthy can help us to become fulfilled and happy members of the human family by showing us the dignity and respect they -we -deserve.

God has shown me that His special way for me to meet Him is through the suffering and death of his Son, Jesus. Then it's been up to me to decide whether I can accept this as being my way of meeting God. For me this is God's way, my way, for finding peace, meaning God-given identity!
Isidore O.P.

In a fortnight's time Isidore will reflect on meeting God in "Llamas, Polar Bears and the Baby Jesus"

Monday, 22 November 2010


I must have my own space! I must have my own time! On Sunday morning with several Masses to celebrate and sermons to preach, the last thing I need is to be rushed, without having the leisure to loosen my limbs and tune into God -after the heavy drowsiness of a good night's sleep.

And so it happened that on one Sunday morning both my usually reliable 'body clock' and my alarm clock failed to awaken me. Neither did the Holy Spirit or any of my Guardian Angels. Far be it from me to suggest that they were sleeping at their posts.

The time came when two worthy parishioners were pounding on my door and calling my name. Much was their relief to find that I was still half alive in a distant drowsy fashion. They told me I was already late and that there was no need to stampede myself into action.

In the twilight world of semi-consciousness I groped my way to the car. As I made my drowsy way down the aisle of the church I heard a small boy whisper, "Mummy, Father's still asleep!" True! True! True! With my head aching at the effort of trying to become devotional, and, harder still, to sound coherent, I would not be surprised if many in the congregation thought I was talking in my sleep as well as sleep walking.

One of today's worn out cliches is people talking about their having got their act together, at long last and after so much effort...not without moments of elation and heart-break. To reach the peak and remain at the top is an enviable achievement.

But then I pause. What if God saw it fitting for my personal formation that I should never feel totally secure, never utterly self-confident? What if throughout my life it were needful for me to be continually aware of my creaturely fragility? Then, surely if ever anything that I attempted were to"come off" just as I intended, instinctively I would say, "Thank you God, for bringing me through."

For me it simply is not true that practice makes perfect. Having been Fr. Reliable for so many years is no guarantee that I will wake up at a given time on any given Sunday. I've heard it said of some priests that they have preached so many sermons they could do it in their sleep.

Come to think of it, I remember a time when I was surging through my sermon when it seemed as though there were a power-cut in my brain. For a while my brain went blank. When I returned to the real world I wondered where I was and what I was doing. What could I do but ask an altar server what was going on? Politely he told me he thought I was preaching. Obviously I had failed to make much of an impact on him.

What to do but to tell the congregation God had shut me down for a moment, and this I took to be an indication that He wanted me to shut up. Since no one protested I suggested we recite the Creed together. This certainly restored my wavering self-confidence.

My personal experience tells me that at the very time when I'm doing something important for God, He allows me to have a "power failure" and a "black out" in my preaching. He even allows my inner being to be in a state of flux. He's teaching me never to think in terms of my performance or my personal achievement. Mine is to be the instability of a jelly and the insecurity of walking on shifting sands.

I and the People of God are to be made to realize and accept what God has to offer: Preachers and Ministers who are no better and no worse than, "earthenware pots holding a priceless treasure, so that the immensity of the power is God's and not our own,"
2 Cor. 4. 7).

It's somewhat unnerving not to know what God is liable to let happen to me once I set about doing something for Him! For the elite this may mean martyrdom. For the likes of me it may come down to a fuzzy head or loose bowels! Such is my spirituality of encountering and serving the Divine, mywaygodsway. This I must learn to live with, and, I fancy, so must you!

Peter O.P.
We have been asked to give you longer to look at each posting. So, in future these will be made fortnightly, rather than weekly. You can easily find about 100 back numbers, which are never deleted. In a fortnight Isidore will meet God in an identity crisis.

Monday, 15 November 2010


Each month we young Dominican students used to be turned out of our Oxford priory with a bit of pocket money and the sandwiches we had made. In the summer we would pool our funds to hire a punt for the day. And we would buy some cider, which we kept cool by towing it in the water. If the weather were fine we would have a swim -an idyllic way of spending a day!

But not so on one occasion. Although I was quite proficient at punting I certainly wouldn't claim to have been an expert. But for all of us it was a matter of pride not to lose the punt pole or fall into the water. And pride, literally, was my downfall!

There was I, with a certain elegance, propelling the punt forward as I prodded the river bed with the long pole. Woe is me! The pole got caught in the branches of an over-hanging willow tree. To my dismay the punt and I parted company. As it raced away from me I instinctively grabbed a branch, hoping to avoid falling into the river. A big mistake! I was no heavy weight, but solid enough for my shoulder to be jerked right out of its socket. Good thing I was wearing my swimming trunks when I fell into the water!

Seeing my painful distress, a burly young man in another punt claimed he'd dealt with similar accidents on the rugby field. So he kindly offered to pull my dislocated shoulder back into its socket. But, being unsure of his expertise I graciously declined his generous offer and chose to be taken to the local hospital. There, much tugging and twisting failed to get my shoulder back into its socket. So I was given a shot of morphine to relax the muscles and relieve the pain.

That did the trick and I was taken to the recovery room. There I sat groggily on the bed. On that gloriously hot summer day I was wearing only my swimming trunks -that's important for what happened next. A young nurse drew back the curtains, and to my surprise and alarm asked, "Are you the young man with the hairy legs? I've come to shave them!" Never before have I had less desire to have smooth limbs! What, I wonder, would have happened if I'd been unconscious and unable to tell her she'd got the wrong patient. I could have lost a leg!

My floundering helplessly in the river has reminded me of Christ pulling the fool-hardy Peter out of the sea. His pride had led him to start trusting himself as he tried to do what was humanly impossible -to walk across the water. Inevitably he began to sink beneath the storm-tossed waves. Only then did he cry, "Save me, Lord, I'm sinking!" Peter could only be saved when he grasped the hand Jesus extended towards him.

But what did my dislocating punting experience tell me about my relationship with God? And now my imagination leaps off in several directions.

First of all, after I'd dislocated my shoulder I no longer had the strength to get to safety in the punt or onto dry land. I needed to use my good arm to grasp the hand reaching out to rescue me. I could not manage by myself. I needed someone else to save me from the water. And so did Peter, when he was in danger of drowning. He was helpless; he was terrified -until Jesus reached out to him. Only then was he safe.

For me, that simple gesture of their grasping each other's hands sums up the whole of salvation history. In our helplessness God reaches out to save us. As we grasp His hand we are saved. Like Peter, I must place my trust in Christ, and not try to go it alone. With Peter I desperately, yet confidently cry, "Save me, Lord, I'm sinking!" That is the only way, I, or anyone else, can meet God.

Then, in hospital, I see the medical staff continuing the work of Christ, the Good Physician, who came to repair our relationship with God, dislocated by sin. As for the nurse, who threatened to shave my hairy legs -at first she was sinister, threatening, scary. But then I quickly realized how zany, how hilarious was her question. Decades later I still chuckle about it. I'm sure God sent that charming ministering angel to distract me with something crazy when I was feeling sorry for myself. What a delightful way of experiencing God's compassion, expressed with a divine sense of humour! But I do thank God for delivering me from that close shave, which was meant to be the prelude to something more drastic -what? And I do hope the nurse found our brief encounter as amusing as I did -and still do.
Isidore O.P
Next week Fr. Peter will meet God while sleep walking

Monday, 8 November 2010


We're now in November and already I've heard mention of Christmas on commercial radio. In the next few weeks the airwaves will be saturated with Christmas melodies -some sacred and some very profane. Before long shop windows will be decorated with streamers and balloons and with trees garlanded with flashy baubles and twinkling lights. There we shall see the figures of bearded old men in red pyjamas and floppy hats, and of bewildered reindeer with ruddy, cold noses. This will be a season when people are intent on getting me to buy loved ones presents that they scarcely need and perhaps don't really want.

All the Christian Churches are concerned that the season has become hijacked by commercialism. Before I take this up I would say, "Spare a thought for the business houses that have had a lean year, and, for their survival, look to this season for some trade!"

The stores have seized hold of the traditional optimism and high spirits long associated with this season and have turned it to their advantage. Excitement and the anticipation of embraces, laughter, joy and peace build up to a climax towards the end of December. Then there will be family get-togethers, parties, and an out-pouring of good-will that expresses itself in the exchange of greetings and gifts.

It's not absurd to ask, "What's all the fuss about?" We should not be surprised if we meet people who have never thought about it and can't give a coherent answer. Could it be said that the celebration of a highly significant event has been reduced to a 'feel-good' festival and nothing more?

The Churches must reclaim their own festival.
My belief is that this must be stated loudly and clearly at the very beginning of the Liturgical Season of Advent. Everything that is read, preached and sung should be directed to emphasizing this, so that we become and remain focused people...with the focus being on the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Son of Mary.

The very idea of it arouses in me emotions of eager anticipation. And what about you? None of us should ever lose sight of why we are so excited.
THIS IS IT: God so love the world that He sent His only Son...
His loving the human family with such intensity is breath-taking. What amazing compassion that He should send His Son -NOT to condemn the world, BUT TO SAVE IT.

Such fantastic optimism that God was convinced that He could save our world, with all its sinfulness, through His Son, born of a woman in a stable outside Bethlehem! But is this world worth saving? Yes! Yes! Yes! This is God's unwavering such strong contrast with the common tendency to find so much to condemn and so many people to condemn. By sending His Son God defies the assertion, the counsel of despair, that ours is a hopeless world, a God-forsaken place to live in.

Rather, the Father knows well enough the power of His love to save through His Son, Jesus. He is confident that He can inspire people to respond to His love, and thus allow themselves to be saved.

As I strive to reach God my way, during this approach to the Christmas season, I find that what God had to offer seems so paltry, so puny -an infant born to a poor family. The salvation of the world was cradled in insecurity -Jesus being born into an unfriendly world, utterly dependent on His being wrapped in the swaddling clothes of good-will sufficient to ensure His survival.

As a Christian who enjoys all the strident, clamorous merriment of the build-up towards Christmas, with the expectation of a somewhat carefree, extravagant season of jollity, I must hold fast to my primary focus -the birth of the Saviour, Jesus. This means that my hope for better, happier, more loving, more prosperous times must not be mere half-hearted wishful thinking.

As a Christian I must imbibe something of God's fantastic optimism -the world is not beyond redemption. It can be saved. This is not merely a genuine possibility. It is both an accomplished and an on-going and through the One born of Mary, centuries ago, and now, in this generation and in every generation born in the hearts, the very lives, of those eager to receive Him.

At this season I reach God by sharing in His optimism, by not allowing myself to become discouraged by the presence of evil in my own life and in the lives of others. If I am capable of being saved by my responding to the love God shows me through His Son, Jesus, there is absolutely no reason on earth why others should not respond in the same way.

This great Good News deserves to have Banner Headlines at the beginning of Advent, throughout Advent and throughout our lives. This Christmas meeting God in the Word become flesh and dwelling amongst us is most surely the greatest of all encounters...myway is supremely godsway.
Peter O.P.

Next week Isidore will reflect on meeting God in a "Hairy Scary" experience

Tuesday, 2 November 2010


Dad was always one for the occasional flutter with the horses. What better time than that year, never to be forgotten, when he had every reason to flutter -when he became the father of us twins -Isidore and me.

Happy chance or a sign from heaven that there was a horse running in the Epsom Derby named "April the Fifth"...the very date of our birth! With twins to cope with he sure needed a win, a consolation prize -and win he got.

And while I'm on the subject of chancy enterprises I must tell you about a friend of mine who used to fill in her Football Pools while enthroned in a private room. One blessed day her random crosses on the grid yielded her a 'big win!' I have to tell you she was a person of exceptional piety.

My appetite is for something more spiced with a challenge -those games that are a battle of wits in which you need to weigh up your opponent -his strengths and weakness. To all this add a tincture of good fortune...that he'll have a momentary lapse in concentration and make a foolish mistake. Then exploit the slightest advantage to the full.

With such frisson of excitement I target all my craftiness against Isidore when we square up for a game of chess! I try to thwart him by setting traps, calling his bluff and by making seemingly careless moves that turn out to be match-winning sacrifices. "Fooled you this time, Isidore! Check-mate!" Wily fellow that he is, he is quite capable of out-maneuvering and surpassing me in cunning and foresight.

How can I not mention the time my student master challenged me to a game of chess? Here was a logician of world renown with a razor-sharp, quick-silver mind. For pedestrian mortals like me the only effective winning strategy was to take time in brooding over my next move, so as to get him frustrated with impatience. And then I would shift a piece in a way that seemed utterly illogical...foolhardy. His logic couldn't cope with my nonsense!

Eagerly, with an incisive killer instinct, he swooped down to make dull-headed me pay for my stupidity. Unhappy the impetuous mouse that espies the cheese but is blind to the trap to which it is pegged!

Now to more serious business...the nitty-gritty of life. At best I can only make an informed guess as to what the future holds for me; and then make sensible provision that will enable me to cope. I'm far from being in control. I'm just not able to bring about what I most desire and prevent what I most fear.

In this life of uncertainty the only thing is 'contingency planning.' For me, a one-time smart Boy-Scout, this would require I go to camp with band-aids and antiseptic ointments in case I cut myself. It would never cross my mind to carry a surgical collar on the off-chance that I might strain my neck!

Second guessing Isidore at chess and shielding myself against the normal hazards of camping have never been a big deal. However, no way would I presume to second-guess God. I shall never be able to spring any surprises on God, nor call His bluff. Never, never, will I or anyone else, be able to out-wit Yahweh-God and gleefully exclaim, "Check-mate!"

Not even the death of the fledgling sparrow, falling from its nest, escapes his notice, nor does the solitary hair that strives to break the surface of my bald pate. Never will I be able to force His hand, nor limit His options as to how He should act.

And yet I scream with all my humanity that I am a free person. God, my creator, has made me so. I have the freedom to choose what is good behaviour and to reject what is evil. Or I can decide to do exactly the opposite.

I'm in a quandary. How can I balance what I believe about myself as being a free agent with what I believe about God, Who is the sovereign Lord of me and of all creation?

I align myself with the bewildered, subdued, reflective Job:
"Job replied to Yahweh, 'My words have been frivolous: what can I reply? I had better lay my hand over my mouth. I have spoken once, I shall not speak again; I have spoken twice, I have nothing more to say," (Job 40. 3).

This is no 'cop-out.' It's mywaygodsway for me to relate to God. When He and I face each other across the chess-board of life...I am transparent to God and He is inscrutable to me! I like it that way. I don't think I ever want to check-mate God! The consequences don't bear thinking about.

Peter O.P.
Next week Peter will make a seasonal reflection on 'Fantastic Optimism.'

Sunday, 24 October 2010


Peter and I have recently discovered the wonders of Skype. Now we can use our computers to have endless chats without having to pay anything. Webcams enable us to see each other. And, wonder of wonders, we can have three-way conversations with our eldest brother or a friend.

This splendid technology spans the Atlantic Ocean and draws us very close. It has an intimacy and immediacy which a phone call or email lacks. Being apart has now become much easier to handle. This will become increasingly important for us if the frailty of old age makes long distance travel too arduous or even impossible.

Meanwhile, Peter and I find Skype not only enables us to have gossipy chats and swap jokes, but it is also a great asset to our working together. We can have live discussions about our work and bounce ideas off each other. The Webcam enables me to show Peter the rough drafts of cartoons I've painted for our blogs. He's then able to suggest improvements -which I sometimes heed.

But I must confess that while we both enjoy these Skype encounters neither of us always gives the other his undivided attention. Often we will leave the radio or TV on. Then Peter will suddenly ignore what I'm saying and let out a yell of delight at seeing a brilliant goal, golf stroke or piece of cricket on TV. As he explains his unexpected enthusiasm he draws me into sharing his excitement. I must admit that I am just as bad as him. Delight in sharing our common interests draws us closer together, instead of pushing us apart.

This kind of casual behaviour is fine between brothers and close friends, who don't always need to be formal and serious. But it does become a problem when visiting someone who leaves the TV on while you're trying to talk to him or her. It soon becomes clear that you yourself, a valued friend, are actually resented because you have become an intrusion to their following a favourite programme. You are made to feel that at that time it's more important to watch the programme than to see you. You feel they wish you would go away, but are too polite to say so.

To me there seem to be several solutions to this situation. The most obvious would be for your host to switch off the TV, make you welcome and give you his undivided attention. Alternatively, you could be invited to share in the enjoyment of watching the programme together. What's not on is for your host to watch the TV while talking to you about something completely different. If you can't hold his interest you may as well cut your losses and leave.

These rambling thoughts got me thinking about different approaches to prayer. Certainly there are times when we should switch off from our daily interests and try to give God our undivided attention. Putting it mildly, it would be very bad manners if I were to focus half of my attention on watching a football match and the other half on saying the Divine Office. In fact I suspect I would simply be reading the text and not really praying. And I wouldn't really enjoy the game!

But it could be a different matter with my informal personal prayers. I could try sharing my daily interests and concerns with God. That would be like Peter Skyping me and explaining and sharing his excitement at seeing something brilliant on TV. The invitation would have been welcoming, and the enjoyment would have been greater because it was shared. Similarly I can get God involved in what really interests me -not just serious religious matters, but also the light-hearted and crazy moments of my life. Then what would have been a distraction is brought before God in my prayers and would help me to draw closer to Him. That way I would not be pushing Him to the fringe of my daily life.

A final thought. Our Dominican motto is to, "Contemplate and to hand on to others the fruits of contemplation." Peter and I use Skype to discuss new ways of meeting God. That reflects the contemplative side of our lives. There we spark ideas off each other, criticise and hone them and eventually post them on our blog. For both of us this is an exciting, godly experience in which we try to distill what God is saying to us and what He wants us to say to you through our blog. So, we believe that we meet God throughout the whole process of our joint Skyped contemplation and that He is involved in the shared composition of our blog postings. After all, Jesus did say that where two or three are gathered together in my name I am there in their midst -today, even in Skyping! And the same can be true for you. As you and a friend talk over your faith you can help each other to draw closer to God -perhaps through Facebook or Twitter.

So, for a change, let's rejoice in the wonders of the computer and the exciting new opportunities it provides the preacher, enabling him to reach a world-wide audience. We prefer to rejoice at this modern creativity, rather than constantly decry the very real dangers of the Internet. Like most other things this new technology can be used for good or evil; it can help us to draw close to God or can distance us from Him.
Isidore O.P.

Next week Peter will muse on "No check-mating God"

Monday, 18 October 2010


Old enough to be retired from being a parish priest; not so old as to be retired from all parish pastoral a mood for a little nostalgia...that's me...Peter Clarke O.P.

For me, a recently ordained priest, there was a brief season of simple idealism. when I fancied I could centre my life around celebrating the Eucharist, administering the other Sacraments, preaching the Word, and becoming involved in a myriad of pastoral experiences. In this I expected to find fulfilment in serving God and His people.

All too soon I became aware of the effort needed to be willing and able for 'whatever,' when both body and spirit were weary beyond all describing...worn out listening to the troubles and griefs of God's beloved them the support and encouragement they sought from me...and as well as sharing in their joys and successes. Through this I came to recognize that the spirituality of a priest lies in his sharing the ministry of Jesus Himself -meeting and greeting, teaching, healing and compassion. Jesus had so much love that He wanted to share.

St. Paul gave this advice to the Christians in Galatia, "Let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart," (Gal. 6. 9). I find it hard to accept the admonition not to get weary...even in well-doing. Surely there were times when Jesus was worn out with fatigue. The important thing, the special grace, is not to get 'fed up,' not to 'lose heart.' Jesus, like us, needed to get away, be still and relax in order to become refreshed for further activity.

Far be it from me to give the impression that I have entirely put my act together. Here's one of the priestly tasks that really irked me...having to produce the Annual Financial Statement for my parish. For me there are far more interesting and important things to occupy me than balancing books. Thank God I've reached an age when I no longer have this kind of responsibility!

I used to feel so guilty and inadequate when I was reminded that my accounts were long overdue. I'd tell myself that the apostles were never burdened with book-keeping. They had troubles in plenty, but were spared this particular trial.

All praise to those priests who revel in everything to do with administration. Glibly they would advise me to organise my life and make time for what had to be done. Meet Rev. Fr. Disorganized O.P.

Totting up figures with the aid of my pocket calculator has always been for me a dreary task. Half way down a column my mind would wander and I would have to start all over again...and again, and again. Then I'd get mad with myself and fret that I was never ordained for this kind of fatigue.

Golden moments have been when I've just completed the accounts. Suddenly I've felt virtuous. In some small way I've contributed to the justice of the Kingdom in my parish. Like it or not, I've always known I was accountable for any cash that passed through my hands -mostly out, sometimes in.

Times have changed. Nowadays competent and willing lay people fulfil tasks that priests like me had to perform even though they lacked the aptitude to learn to do so. Believe me, I would never have chosen to reach God though doing my parish accounts. By necessity this has had to be my way to meet God...His way.

It's a sobering thought that He may create ways of my reaching Him that are more uncongenial than balancing books. but then, I reflect to myself, the Father chose that His Beloved Son should reach Him through the Cross. Who am I to get peevish over my petty gripes over being obliged to track down what has happened to petty cash?

Peter O.P.

Next week Isidore will meet God through "Skyping Peter"

Tuesday, 12 October 2010


"In the world you were known as......In the Order you will be known as...."
Peter and I heard these solemn words sixty years ago. There we lay prostrate on the highly polished floor, with outstretched -cruciform arms -between the choir stalls of our novitiate priory. We'd just been clothed in the Dominican habit, (cf.Peter's previous posting). We'd just become Dominicans! Now we waited apprehensively, wondering what new name the Order would give us to mark this radical development in our Christian vocation. We realised that with a new name we would assume a new, Dominican, identity.

What would that be? In a spirit of apparent democracy we were told to select three names -the only condition being that none of them had already been taken by a living member of the English Province. Quite a problem, with large numbers joining the novitiate in the 50s -twenty in our year. So we scoured lists of saints to discover decent names which hadn't yet been appropriated. Our choice was important, since we expected to be stuck with our new names for the rest of our lives. There weren't many left that appealed to us.
But there was a catch to our being given a new name. Even if we did manage to find at least one reasonable name that didn't mean we would be given it. Just the opposite! In fact our choice guaranteed we wouldn't get the name we wanted. God only knows why we were put through the pantomime of having to select names which our superiors would certainly reject. Perhaps this was meant to teach us obedience, as we embarked on Dominican life? To raise our hopes and then dash them? To make us realise that while obedience involves consultation our superiors always have the last word?

Peter and I presented a special challenge for those selecting names for us twenty novices. They decided it would be smart for us twins to be given the names of two brother saints. That drastically limited the options. As we lay spread-eagled in our newly acquired Dominican habits we waited apprehensively for the prior to say, "In the world you were known as...In the Order you will be known as....

Up till now...."Peter"....from now on.... "Leander." Whaaaat! Who on earth was he? Sadly not the tragic romantic Greek character who drowned while swimming the Hellespont to be with his lover, Hero. This is certainly not the ideal role model for a Dominican novice! Instead Peter's Leander turned out to be the saintly, but less colourful, bishop of Seville. As for Isidore, he was Leander's younger brother, who succeeded his elder sibling in the same bishopric -nothing like keeping the episcopacy in the family! Saint Isidore is now proposed as patron of the internet. Since he's also my patron I think I have a special claim on his assistance when my computer misbehaves.

Our new names gave both of us an identity crisis. When someone used them we naturally thought they were referring to someone else. At first we took no notice. It takes time to grow into a new name and accept it as being yours. A newly-wed bride must have the same problem when she takes her husband's surname.

Peter had a special problem with his name -"Leander". Living in the West Indies, it was almost inevitable that people would shout, "Fr. Oleander!" -identifying him with the beautiful, but poisonous, flowering shrub, oleander. But after a few decades the joke became tiresome. It's not always true that the old jokes are the best. So Peter reverted to his Christian name. That was possible because we Dominicans had already dropped the name-giving custom. It caused him too much confusion having dual identity -civil "Peter", aka "Leander" -professional title.

But in the UK there was already a confusing number of brethren with my Christian name, Robert -or to family and friends, "Bob." Reverting to either of these names would have added to the already existing chaos. In my priory at Leicester there were already a Robert and a Bob. And there were more with the same names in other houses of our Province. To have added yet another one would have created further chaos, especially in answering the telephone. So, for better or worse I've decided to stick with 'Isidore.'

Celebrating the 60th anniversary of our receiving the Dominican habit, together with our new names, got me to musing about the importance of names.

These mark our individual identity and distinguish us from other people. If we lose our passports, or in wartime our identity cards, we become suspect non-persons. We're de-humanised when our name is replaced with a number. But we're delighted when someone remembers our name and doesn't refer to everyone as 'You.' One of our brethren, who had a poor memory for names, used to call everyone. "What's-his-face" -not to their faces! Another called every woman "Gladys."

Parents usually give a lot of thought to naming their babies. Sometimes they want to pay tribute to a special friend. Often the same name is handed down from one generation to the next to express family continuity. This is certainly true with surnames, and sometimes with Christian names. That's the case in our family. On Dad's side there are generations of 'Thomases,' and of 'Benjamins' on Mother's side. I haven't yet discovered how"Wolwyn" got onto our family tree.

Sometimes babies are given the names of current pop stars, such as "Elvis" or "Kylie." The names of TV soap stars are also popular. I've heard of a child being called, "Beaver," -after the make of a piece of heavy excavating machinery his Dad drove. He was lucky it wasn't a "Caterpillar!"

Nicknames are fascinating and are usually a sign of friendly familiarity. So, Dad, like many Clarke's of his generation was called, "Nobby." The late opera singer, Joan Sutherland, was called, "La Stupenda," on account of her magnificent voice. And I've heard of someone being called, "Donkey Meat," because that is what she is said to have eaten. Some of the saints were given nicknames. To quote one example, Thomas Aquinas is called the "Angelic Doctor" -on account of the sublimity of his writings. His fellow students were less kind and called him a "Dumb Ox." Then there was the English theologian, Alexander of Hales. He was known as the "Unanswerable One." It must have been difficult living with someone who was always right -never open to contradiction!

After pursuing these fascinating red herrings my muse turned me towards our baptisms. As we're christened in the name of the Blessed Trinity we receive our family identify as the children of God, sharing in His own divine life and happiness. With our baptism our human identity is enriched. When a child of man is born again, from above, he or she becomes a new creation as a child of God.

My grasshopper imagination then leaped off in another direction. Certain people were given a new name to indicate that God had chosen them for a special task. Abrahm's name was changed to Abraham when the Lord made His covenant with him. At Saul's conversion he was given the name, "Paul." So, when we Dominican novices were given new names these denoted that we had been given a new identity and special mission as members of the Order of Preachers. That was a fresh dimension to our Christian vocation.

Sometimes the name denotes the particular task for which God has chosen someone. Simon was given the name, "Peter" -meaning he would be the "Rock" on which Jesus would build His Church. And of course the name, "Jesus" means "Saviour," "Christ" or "Messiah," anointed as priest, prophet and king.

"Emmanuel," meaning "God is with us," reassures us that God will never abandon us. The Emmanuel theme and our names come together as Isaiah comforts us with the words, "Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine...Do not fear, for I am with you," (Is. 43. 1,5). Almighty God has loved us with an everlasting love; He has called each one of us by our personal names. That is our only hope of salvation, which Jesus repeats when He speaks of His knowing each of us, His sheep, by name.

God revealed His presence to Moses in the Burning Bush and instructed him to speak to Pharaoh. When Moses asked in whose name he should speak the enigmatic reply came from this mysterious bush -ablaze, but not consumed by the flames, "I AM, WHO AM" -or in Hebrew, "YAHWEH." He is the One-Who-Is, as distinct from false deities or idols, which are nothings. The Jews hold that name in such reverence that they will not utter it.

What about us Christians? Jesus Himself has encouraged us to address God as, "Father." He has promised that the Father will grant requests made in His Son's name -"Jesus." The sacraments are administered in the name of the Blessed Trinity; we bless and conclude our prayers in its name. Such should be our reverence for the name of our Saviour that the Letter to the Philippians tells us, "Therefore God has highly exalted Him, and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father," (2. 9-11).

As I kicked around the topic of names I was struck by how precious they are to us. We resent those who treat our names with contempt. That's a sign they despise us personally. If this is true for our names, it is far truer for God's. And yet we are liable to be casual with the divine names, and even use them in swearing. If we think about it, that's an insult to God Himself. It's dreadful that the divine name should more often be used as a curse, rather than as a blessing.

Mywaygodsway of meeting God must including loving and respecting His holy name, and certainly not abusing it.

Isidore O.P.

Next week Fr. Peter will meet God in "Petty Cash."

Tuesday, 5 October 2010


Sixty years ago a group of about twenty, including us Clarke twins, was knocking on the door of the Novitiate House of the English Province of the Dominican Order. We were seeking to be accepted as members, Friars of the Order of Preachers. Not one of us really knew what he was getting into. After sixty years I'm still finding out!

A few days of settling in and of being 'shown the ropes' was followed by a week's retreat to prepare us for what would be one of the defining moments of our lives. We were to be clothed in the Dominican Habit. On that day we were to be clothed by the Prior of the Community, and in the presence of all its seasoned members, in a liturgical rite loaded with symbolism.

The Dominican habit was not something any of us could lay claim to as being his own, like all the items of clothing stuffed into the draw of my room. The Religious Habit was given to us, put on a privilege, in deed , as a grace. We were to be clothed in an 'outfit' or uniform, which had been the identifying signature of the Order of Preachers since its foundation in the 13th century. The design of this Dominican apparel has not changed over all these years. It has been able to give a certain distinction to friars of every shape and size, and has clothed individuals of outstanding sobriety and eccentricity.

On this day we were to be clothed in the culture, tradition and mission of the Dominican Order, with the particular, I won't say 'peculiar' flavour, of the English Province. This outfit is known as the 'Habit of the Order.' Members will habitually be seen wearing it when preaching, lecturing or taking part in liturgical celebrations. This is the way we Dominicans 'dress up' for such occasions. We are seen for who we are. The expectation and ambition of each of us is that he will be clothed in his Dominican habit when the time comes for his burial.

As I reflect on my wearing the habit for sixty years I see my vocation as a gift from God through the Dominican Order. By no means is it an achievement on my part. Now, day after day, I clothe myself in the Dominican habit that was originally given to me all those years ago. This is my deliberate preference over all other possible garments. Some would say my threadbare habit looks every bit of that vintage!

Our Dominican habit comes to us in three pieces. It's whiteness symbolizes the purity of heart to which we are called.

Firstly, there's the tunic, girded by a belt from which hangs a large Rosary. Tradition has it that it was revealed to St. Dominic that members of the Order of Preachers should have a special devotion to Mary. They would use the Rosary as an aid to their preaching that Jesus was truly human and that He accomplished our redemption through the humanity He received in His mother's womb.

Then there's the scapular. This is a wide piece of cloth that hangs over the shoulders to remind us that we have been called to follow Jesus in carrying the yoke of the cross. Over the head is placed the capuce -a hood -that serves as the blinkers worn by race horses -limiting the range of distractions of the wandering eye. Last of all, the black cape -cappa -and black capuce, which have earned us Dominicans the title of Black Friars. Black symbolizes the life of penance to which the friars are vowed.

"The cowl does not make the monk" -nor the habit the friar -so the saying goes.
As I mused about the habit with which I'd been clothed 60 years ago I speculated about the habits I'd acquired during my time as a Dominican -what I'd absorbed, what the Order had done to me in shaping my personality. At this moment I'm not interested in what I have done in and for the Order. I'm trying to discern what God has been doing in me over these years, during which I've been meeting God mywaygodsway -dominicanway -ways both mysterious and baffling. What have I become? And what have I prevented God from doing in my life?

I am reminded of the words of St. Paul, "Every one of you who has been baptized has been clothed in Christ," (Gal. 3. 25)...all of us mystically, spiritually clothed in Christ by His Church, acting in His name. This was symbolized when as an infant I, and Isidore, were clothed in a special garment once we had been baptized. I fantasize about which of us kicked and screamed the most when the water was poured over our heads. It was our baptisms that projected us into becoming Dominicans. Dominican Christians? Certainly. Christian Dominicans -through and through? Or no more than somewhat? I ask this of myself and do not presume to speculate about others.

Meeting God -mywaygodsway as a Dominican...over almost a lifetime...trying to understand the 'what' and the 'how' in the interaction between me and God...a journey of highways, byways and seeming dead ends. Believe me, it takes time and patience just to ponder these things. Gladness and sadness intertwined together. It's worth it. Why not ask yourself about your own trajectory of life...from the decisive moment of your being conceived and of your being reborn at baptism?
Peter O.P.
Next week Fr. Isidore will reflect on 'What's in a name?'

Monday, 27 September 2010


We Dominicans are a bunch of eccentrics! We know this and rejoice in it. The brethren provide us fodder for many a laugh. The big laugh is that each of us would pride himself on being the only sane member of the community.

Let me tell you about some of our 'oddities.'
There was the absent-minded brother A., who wanted to put a joint of meat in a secure place. Come the time for cooking the lunch, all of us 'cased the joint,' but none of us could find the joint -and the person who had originally put it away had forgotten what he had done with it. But then someone, intent on doing his laundry, opened the washing machine. There was the meat inside the washing machine!

Then there was brother B., an expert in repairing clocks and watches, (as well as picking locks). Since he was about to go away for a few days, he wanted to ensure that none of us would enter his room and disturb the innards of the timepieces he'd left on his table. So he sealed his room and filled it with tear gas.

Then there was an elderly priest -a popular author and retreat giver. He leaned out of his upstairs window and shot a water pistol at an over-solemn priest saying his prayers in the garden. While on the subject of shooting from windows, there was the brother who made a powerful long-bow. Wanting to test it out, he randomly let fly a lead-tipped arrow, and just missed a fellow student. He got his revenge by using extra hot olive oil, when, as infirmarian, he had to de-wax the archers ear.

One of our Dominican brethren tells the story of a member of his community needing psychiatric treatment. When the doctor came to the priory he happened to be the one to answer the door bell. When the doctor asked who needed treatment his patient replied, 'Knock on any door!'

We could tell you about many more of the brethrens' eccentricities, but, finally Peter has allowed, and even encouraged me, to record one about himself. Once, as he rose sleepily from his bed he automatically changed his clothes -as would anybody. But, in his semi comatose state he had confused the beginning of the day with the end of his customary siesta -necessary in the tropics. Hastily he made straight for his car -whereupon he discovered he was sitting at the steering wheel, and wearing only his pyjamas. Pity he made that discovery before reaching town, says I!

We Dominicans pride ourselves on not trying to tame each other's personal idiosyncrasies would be a mouldy sort of life if we were all cast in the same mould! Suppressing our eccentricities would make us into dull conformists -easy to manage, but totally lacking in imagination and initiative. Our oddities add colour and interest to all our lives, even though, at times, they can be infuriating.

Our foibles remind us that each person is unique and should be valued for the individual he or she is. Our perfection lies in developing our own personalities, and not trying to be someone else.

Jesus tells us that the Good Shepherd knows each of us, his sheep, by name. He loves each one of us as someone special -for who we are and for what we can become with His help. And that's the way good parents should love each of their children. It's also the way good teachers appreciate each pupil in their classrooms. It's good we are not all alike. Peter and I, who are identical twins, insist that each of us is an individual. While we can understand people confusing us, because we do look somewhat alike, we do resent them assuming that we always hold the same opinion. We certainly don't.

Thinking about our Dominican eccentrics led me to reflect on what God is like. Certainly He is consistent in His perfection, and He is absolutely steadfast in His love and mercy. But He can take us by surprise, by acting in ways which are unexpected to us with our very limited knowledge of Him.

Jesus found that people constantly tried to force Him into a mould of their own fashioning. They rejected Him when He failed to conform to their misguided expectations of Him. They refused to welcome Him on His own terms and for being Himself. We can treat each other in the same way, dismissing those who do not fit in with our particular way of thinking and behaving. Rarely does it occur to us that the odd one out, could, in fact, be right, while the rest of us could be wrong.

If we reflect on the Blessed Trinity our faith tells us that the one God is three distinct persons, each relating to the other two in a unique way. Each person is equally and completely one and the same God. There's no confusion. We, who have been made in God's own image and likeness, grow in perfection by becoming ever more united in our families or communities, while respecting the diversity of each of us as being a unique individual. That's not easy!

I thank God for my eccentric brethren. In an extreme way they have taught me to respect each person as someone unique, someone very special to God and to me. Though we Dominicans certainly have a family spirit and share the same ideals we are definitely not clones of St. Dominic. And while we are all called to be Christ-like there's an enormous diversity within the Church -men, women and children of different races, colours and cultures. Each one of us has his or her own unique personality, with its particular strengths and weaknesses. Such variety should enrich our lives rather than being divisive.

Our eccentricities have even helped me to understand something of the mystery of the Blessed Trinity, imperfectly reflected in the unity in diversity in my community and all our families.

I realize that while I think of myself -and even Peter -as being normal -even the only sane members of our communities -our brethren may think that we are the eccentrics! And you, who read our blog, may well be convinced that, as they say in the UK, it's authors are 'two prawns short of a cocktail' or 'one sandwich short of a picnic.' If so we thank you for being so indulgent of our oddities.
Isidore O.P.
Next week Fr Peter will reflect on 'Petty Cash'

Tuesday, 21 September 2010


It was 2.00am and jumbled ideas were swirling around my head like agitated bees.
The past few days have been deeply moving for me. I've been to hospital for minor surgery, and must now take it easy for a time. Here in the Caribbean, I've been able to follow the Pope's visit to England and Scotland and have entered into glorious liturgies, seen on my TV screen.

It has meant so much to me that my Dad and three of my brothers and I received our Grammar School education at the Oratory School founded by Cardinal Newman, in Birmingham. Grandma, who as a very old lady lived in the Oratory parish, even met an ancient Oratorian, who, as a young priest, had been a member of Newman's community. And last week Pope Benedict XVI declared Newman to be one of the blessed in heaven -Blessed John Henry Newman.

It has been a deeply moving experience to have been able to see on screen the Vicar of Christ, the Successor of St. Peter, actually celebrating the Eucharist, hear him actually pronounce the Words of Consecration, and witness him actually distributing Holy Communion to young and old. But it was more than that. Instinctively I participated in the reverence that was clearly present at the different venues of the actual celebrations. In so doing I made a 'Spiritual Communion.' In spirit I was part of the action, even though several thousand miles of ocean separated me in the Caribbean from what was happening in the United Kingdom.

Through TV I've also been 'glued to the screen' when watching the World Football Cup, Test Match cricket and much else, including T/20s. I've been grabbed and held by these events. But not one of them has stopped me from picking up the phone and getting in touch with a friend, just for the sake of chatting together. I've no problem in working at my laptop or reading some light literature, while following such items.

It might surprise you to know that all these thoughts were buzzing in my brain from 2.00am onwards. They would give me no peace until I'd nailed them down in print on my laptop. Having got this far I now realized the need to check on what I personally do with the various media outlets -and what they are doing to me. I must work out for myself some kind of personal spirituality about this.

For me personally, I must insist that no media coverage of the splendid Papal Masses could ever compare with the simple Mass I was just able to celebrate on Sunday afternoon. There I sat before the altar, because as yet I was not strong enough to stand for the duration of the Mass. My congregation was the two nurses who had dressed my wound. In this basic, unadorned liturgy the Eucharistic Sacrifice was actually, sacramentally, celebrated. Jesus was actually present, and consumed in this, our chapel. Here there was genuine adoration for the reality in our midst.

That cannot be said for what has been presented to me on the screen. Visual images inspire me to genuine reverence, as would any Crucifix, as being bridges between me and the divine. Helpful, indeed! But in no way an equivalent or optional substitute for the real thing.

And here I want to pay tribute to one of the great blessings of this age. The regular Radio and TV transmission of Sunday and weekday Masses has been an enormous blessing to those confined to their homes or elsewhere, because of infirmity or sickness, to those taking care of them, as well as to the many who would love to be able to attend Mass but are prevented from doing so by reason of their work.

On occasions such as the Papal visit Radio and TV give viewers a sense of the Church being Catholic -Universal. Seeing the crowds of young and the not so young displaying such spontaneous enthusiasm was a real boost to my faith and enriched my confidence in my own priestly ministry.

So this is where I stand. It would be a far richer experience for people to attend and participate in my simple Mass than for them to watch and share in the magnificent Papal Mass that is accessible on TV. Putting it another way -there's something far more nourishing in eating real bread and cheese on the table before me than in looking at the TV image of a magnificent meal. So, too, we're far more involved when we join the crowd watching a football match than when we see the same game on TV.

As we have seen -so many ways for you and me to meet God mywaygodsway. From the time of the Apostles the Church has celebrated actual participation in the liturgy, and always will do so. We can count it as a blessed bonus that we can now follow on our TV screens images of real live liturgies in localities far and wide.

P.S. In 1958 Pope Pius XII designated St.Clare as the patron saint of television, on the basis that when she was too ill to attend Mass, she had reportedly been able to see and hear it on the wall of her room.

Peter O.P.
Next week Fr. Isidore will Meet God in 'Odd One In.'

Sunday, 12 September 2010


A lobster is one of the tastiest dishes -also one of the most expensive in an English restaurant. But it's not the flavour, but the life-style of the lobster that intrigues me.

While watching a TV programme I realized that the lobster is a very strange and fascinating beastie. Instead of having an internal skeleton which grows, it is encased in a hard shell, which doesn't. So, the lobster has a problem. It's body's growth is restricted by the size of its shell. It can only get bigger by shedding its small shell and growing a larger one. After a time that also becomes too small and it has to go through the process again, and again, and again....

During the period between shedding one shell and growing the next the lobster is very vulnerable to predators. But it has to take that risk, otherwise it would always remain small and immature. In fact, it's only while the lobster is free from a hard non-stretch shell that it is able to grow. For the lobster growth and vulnerability go hand in hand -or claw in claw!

This got me thinking about myself and the Church. Certainly I don't have a hard shell, restricting my growth. But young ladies used to be trussed up in tight whale-bone corsets, to give them a slim waist-line. And my brother Peter found himself in a similar situation! When he complained about a severe stomach ache mother told him to loosen his trouser belt. Although that relieved the pain he was vulnerable to his trousers falling down! And Medieval knights were encased in metal armour. Youngsters began with small suits, which were replaced by larger ones as they grew. Between suits they were vulnerable to attack. How very lobster-like!

If we have been damaged in a relationship we may be afraid of getting involved with anyone else. Instinctively we grow a protective shell to prevent anyone getting through our defenses and harming us again. We prefer lonely security to risking becoming vulnerable to other people. But only when we come out of our protective shells and make ourselves vulnerable to rejection can we develop as people, once more capable of giving and welcoming love. It takes courage to risk being hurt, but that's far better than becoming turned in on ourselves in lonely isolation.

It also occurred to me that the Church's life-cycle is similar to that of the lobster. Periodically, the Church, like the lobster, becomes uncomfortable with the hard shell she has developed. She realizes that if she is to develop she must abandon some ofher protective, rigid defenses, which may have grown over several centuries. That happened between the Council of Trent and Vatican II. Old and familiar structures were questioned and some of them were discarded, as having served their purpose. Some feared that we were betraying our heritage. They mourned the loss of what had become so familiar and dear to them. They felt they and the Church had become very vulnerable.

But this kind of oscillation between periods of rigid structures and change has always been true of the Church's life. She is very different today from what she was like in Apostolic times. As she has grown and spread throughout the world she has had to become more organized. Prayerful reflection and the need to respond to attacks on our faith have led the Church to gaining deeper insights and greater clarity in expressing what we have always believed. Between these periods of growth there have been times of stability, with little change. These have mirrored the lobster, encased in its hard shell. These have been followed by lobster-like vulnerable development, after the hard shell has been shed. This process is a sign of vitality.

We and the Church resemble the lobster in two other important ways. First of all, none of us can return to the shell we have shed. We've outgrown it; it no longer fits. We can't return to our childhood and refuse to grow up. The babe must leave its mother's womb, and can't return there. It must then grow into childhood, become a teenager and finally an adult. There's no going back to an earlier stage in our life-cycle. So too, the Church cannot, and should not want to, return to the simplicity of Apostolic times. We've developed over the centuries. This rhythm of periods of flexible vulnerable growth followed by stability will continue throughout the life of the Church until it has grown into its full maturity in the kingdom of heaven.

But it's reassuring to remember that throughout all the changes the lobster, and the Church do not lose their identity. Nor do we, as we develop from a unique tiny embryo, through childhood into mature adults. As we leave one state behind and grow into the next we remain the same individuals. As for the Church, well, the Holy Spirit guarantees that she won't lose her unique identity, as He inspires and guides her development.

Perhaps it's worth noting that while the lobster's new shell is simply a large version of the old, discarded one , our growth and that of the Church is much more complicated and subtle. Far from just being small people -or the infant Church -growing physically bigger while looking exactly the same, the quality of our lives should be enriched as we leave one state of life behind and grow into the next.

Like the lobster, we must all shed the various protective shells, which restrict our growth, not only as human beings, but also as followers of Christ.

Incidentally, although the lobster's life-cycle requires it to have periods of vulnerability, it doesn't take dangerous, unnecessary risks. Nor should we, nor the Church.

Isidore O.P.
Next Fr. Peter will reflect on 'Meeting God through Petty Cash.'

Wednesday, 8 September 2010


My life was programmed right from my early school years. Immediately after leaving school those who believed they had a Religious Vocation entered an initial formation-programme. If ever there were a programmed life this was it. Every moment of each day was pre-determined from the summons to rise in the pre-dawn darkness to the lights-out when healthy young men would be stepping out.

At the time I accepted this without question, because this was the 'required thing.' Looking back over many years I see that my life from birth to young adulthood was very much like a bird in an to flutter around in a confined but not too cramped space. Of course there was that absolute freedom to fly away from this kind of life so that I could live my life on my own terms. Such escaping never occurred to me.

I was freed from the responsibility of deciding what I should do and when I should do it. At times I was so frustrated at my not being the one to decide how I should occupy myself. I had no doubt that this restricted existence was imposed upon me by the will of God.

Some might say I was being kept in a state of immaturity. It has taken me many years to realize that I was being taught a most crucial lesson...not by word of mouth, not by the example of others, but by my lived experience. I state this boldly:
without there being any time off from God.

The programming of my life, with all the directives and the need to request permissions, had one purpose -to create a docile person -not one who was an efficient, skilled person, learned but determined to be self-determining.

Of course this pattern of life was never meant to last forever. There came a time when the rather petty restrictions of my life were removed. The aviary door had been opened. It was then I enjoyed the freedom of the wild bird in the forest or meadows...within the confines of an aviary the size of the universe itself -the extent of the Lordship of God over my life and the whole of creation. Within these boundaries I had committed myself to carrying out the will of God according to the dictates of my vocation.

The implication of this came home to me forcibly when as a young priest I was given charge of my first alone in the presbytery. Certainly plenty of work came my way without my having to look for it. But there remained a fair amount of open space which I could decide to fill either according to my whims and fancies, or what I perceived to be the will of God for me at that time. Within this frame-work one of the most responsible choices I had to make was about how much leisure time God wished me to have and what form that should take. I didn't see God wanting me to be a workaholic...go, go, go all the time without easing up at all. Also, since it was a huge temptation for me to go for the most congenial work, I had to ensure that my feelings and inclination were not to dictate my choices.

Now that I've reached the age of retirement from the office of parish priest and have been relieved of many of the commitments that used to fill my life, I can say there has been much joy and personal fulfillment through having my life circumscribed by the will of God. On reflection I think I have come to understand a little of what St. Paul meant when he wrote of
"the glorious freedom of the children of God," (Rom 8. 23).

This answering the call within the environment of the will of God, as His beloved children, is open to all of us as baptized people. My vocation, and, in deed, your vocation, is to follow Jesus who said, "my food is to do the will of the one who sent me, and to complete His work," (Jn. 4. 43). I think of how the Lord said through the prophet Hosea (6. 6), "Faithful love is what pleases me, not sacrifice; knowledge of God, not burnt offerings."

Across the board, we, as baptized persons -Laity, Clergy and Religious -are to discover fulfilment, what today is called 'job satisfaction,' in faithful love, with daily expressions of love, that amount to re -commitments to living according to the will of our loving Heavenly Father.

Far from being oppressive, this is liberating...Jesus Himself never found it easy. He never told His disciples it would be easy. This is how I have come to understand LIVING BY MY DECISION TO BECOME A DOMINICAN ... mywaygodsway in the mid twentieth century and to remain a contented and fulfilled one right into the early years of the twenty first century.
Peter O.P.
Next week a lobster will help Isidore to meet God.
Please keep the comments coming, and don't be discouraged by the slight delay caused be the filter we've had to install.

Monday, 30 August 2010


Has he gone mad? I wouldn't blame you if the title of this posting led you to question my sanity.

These musings came to me while I was reflecting on Christ's mission manifesto, in which He quoted the prophet Isaiah, (cf. 61. 1; Luke 4. 18-22). There He said that He had come to set prisoners free. But free from what; free for what? What striking image could I find to express the contrast between a godless captivity and the freedom Christ offers us? It was then that I remembered battery and free range hens -both of which I've seen. Perhaps they could provide a fresh approach to Christ's work of salvation.

Very, briefly -since you probably already know -free range hens can flap their wings and roam around the farm yard and fields, searching for nutritious grubs and insects. That's the natural life-style for them. But this form of poultry farming does have its disadvantages. It's more work to find and collect the eggs, and the hens are vulnerable to predators, such as foxes. This method is not intensive and efficient. In contrast, battery hens are cooped together in many small cages, in large sheds. The only light they see is artificial. Their whole existence is geared to the mass production of the cheap food which we all want. There's a vast difference between the poor quality of life of the caged battery hen and that of the free range-chick.

Of course Jesus didn't use this bizarre imagery. But he did contrast the slavery of sin, which restricts our development, and the freedom to be our true selves. He did promise to set us prisoners free and give us the fullness of life. That's what everyone wants. We all want the freedom of the free range chick to spread our wings and fly. We resent anyone who clips our wings and restricts our movement.

But where does true freedom lie? For some of us that consists in being masters of our own lives, with no one having the right to boss us around, telling us how we should behave. Taken to its extreme, this would mean that we would have no concern for the damage we did to ourselves or others -as long as we got our own way. Such would be the mentality of someone driving his car at literally break-neck speed. He may persuade himself that such freedom was necessary for his personal self-expression and fulfillment. No way is he willing to be inhibited by rules and regulations, which would prevent him from sharing in the enjoyment of seemingly free spirits. Could be, we may envy such people.

But the life-style of the libertine is far from liberating. Through sinful habits we construct our own cages, which restrict our development and growth as human beings and as the children of God. Bad habits and actions bring out the worst in us and often harm other people. We become enslaved to what the Letter to the Hebrews calls the, "Sin that clings," (12. 1). We resent someone like Jesus telling us that we are enslaved and need Him to set us free.

Jesus, in fact, tells us that only the truth can set us free, (John 8. 32). He strips away false notions about what freedom really means. He exposes the ways we deceive ourselves into thinking that when we chose to sin we are showing a mature independence. He opens our eyes and shows us that only He can offer us true liberty, real happiness, the fullness of life with His heavenly Father. He points out how destructive it is for us to choose to coop ourselves up in our sins, preferring the darkness of the cages we have fashioned for ourselves, to the freedom to spread our wings and fly upwards to the light of Christ.

Jesus Himself is the truth that sets us free. Not simply by giving us information, opening our eyes to what is right or wrong, true of false -though that is very important. He shows us that we can only find true liberty by following Him. The Truth, which is Christ Himself, is a divine source of power and energy. Not only does He show us the way to the Father, but He is the Way. He gives us the will and the strength to make the journey -to follow Him. If we believe in Him and trust Him He will break the shackles of sin and raise us beyond our human limitations to share God's own life.

Strangely, the prospect of freedom can be frightening. The person released from prison will no longer have the security of his cell and of a structured institutionalized life. Someone trying to come off drugs or alcohol dependence may fear losing these supports, even though they've ruined the quality of his life. So, too, we may wonder how we could cope if we were to decide to abandon a sinful life-style, which we must have found in some way attractive. We can become so used to the cage we've constructed for ourselves that we've become nervous about stepping outside and embracing the freedom Christ offers us.

The truth which sets us free, far from leading to anarchy, enables us to make the right decisions and act upon them. That's real freedom! The liberating truth -Christ Himself -transforms us miserable battery hens into free-range chicks, enjoying the glorious liberty of the children of God!
Isidore O.P.

Next week Fr. Peter will reflect on meeting God by "Living by my decisions."