Friday, 22 January 2010


My brother Peter and I have taken to computing late in our lives. In fact so late that a student was amazed that someone of my antiquity could teach himself this modern technology. He must have thought I belonged to the pre-industrial age and hadn't got beyond writing with a goose quill. But you would be amazed what we 'silver surfers' can do!

Peter and I are always delighted when one of us has learnt a new computer technique and we can share it with each other. One of the most useful ones he taught me is entitled, 'Restoring Settings.' As you probably know, this is a form of crisis management, when for some mysterious reason, the computer refuses to function properly. We've all experienced that, and it's both frustrating and infuriating. But Peter showed me a way of putting the clock back to a time when all the settings functioned properly.

Reflecting on the relief and joy that gave led me to musing on how wonderful it would be if we could put the clock back, and so undo, the mistakes we've made in our lives. We've all said and done things we regret -hurtful words to someone we love, and wish we'd never spoken. We've made rash decisions, which we wish we could undo. Sadly, desperately, we fear that what's done is done. Wistfully, we may sing, "Yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away..." Or we may echo the song in "Jesus Christ, Superstar," with the plea, "Can't we start again?"

Then I recalled the hope given me by the technique of restoring the settings when my computer refused to function properly. I wondered whether the settings could be restored when serious sin had caused our lives to descend into chaos. Or does that damage our relationship with God irrevocably?

Certainly it would be dishonest for us to pretend that we hadn't behaved badly, when we had. Not even God can make the past not to have happened. But he can "restore the settings" in our lives, by forgiving us when we have sinned. His mercy restores our innocence. When we've fallen he lifts us up, so that we can make a fresh start. He bridges the gulf between him and us, caused by serious sin. Then we can function properly as true followers of Christ.

There's no pretence here. God doesn't deny that we've sinned, nor should we. Nor does he say sin doesn't matter. It does. It damages our relationship with God, often harms other people and brings out the worst in us. But God takes the initiative in extending the healing hand of peace. Without denying our sins he puts them behind him and us. It's as though he said, "That's over and done with, let's make a fresh start together."

And the technique of restoring settings taught me what I must do if my relationship with God has gone wrong. Just as I must turn to the "Help" facility and follow the instructions, which will enable my computer to function correctly again, so, too, I must seek the help of God's loving mercy when my life has gone wrong. I have the wonderful reassurance that in his infinite power he can "restore the settings," however badly my life may have crashed.

Sadly, this isn't always true when things go wrong in human relationships. To "restore the settings" all who are involved must want to bury the past and make a fresh start together. But however willing one of us may be to do that, he or she will be stymied in these efforts at reconciliation unless they're met half way.

But thank heavens God always wants us to be at peace with him and is prepared to reach out to us, even though he's the innocent one who has been offended. He waits for us to grasp the hand of love and mercy. As we embrace, he "restores the settings" so that we can respond to each other with love.
So, to the question, "Can't we start again?" The answer is a definite "YES!" -through God's loving mercy restoring our settings when our lives have crashed through sin.

I thank Peter for showing me how to deal with my recalcitrant computer. The technique for "restoring settings" has given me a fresh insight into the healing power of God's mercy. For me this is yet another way of meeting God.

Isidore O.P.

Next week Fr. Peter will meet God through Counting Your Blessings

Wednesday, 13 January 2010


Cool Bear dreaming of Cool Beer.

Many of you reading this blog would give anything for a hot drink. Just the opposite for me in the Caribbean. What wouldn't I give for a cool beer or a cool anything -at any time of the year, night or day! I believe I could work out a blog about reaching God -myway..perhaps..godsway..through a COOL BEER.

Instead, I shall attempt to reach God..through a COOL BEAR

This is thanks to my brother, Isidore, who sent me a picture by email. It filled me with envy. Here was a polar bear relaxing with all feet in the air. You might think this was his way of conveying to me how he thought I spent my time. No such luck!

This much-blessed bear is lying on the Arctic ice, looking cool, cool, cool! The caption he sent to me read, "Keep cool, brother!" My riposte was, "Give him a can do it." No sooner said than done. Bear dreaming of a glass of beer hovering over its head. A perfect image of a well-appointed heaven -cool beer in a cool bed. I'm dreaming impossible (?) dreams.

The sad thing is that, little though the bear knows it, global warming is causing its Arctic Ice Bed to melt beneath it at an alarming rate. Its natural habitat is being dissolved even while it takes a cool sleep. Surely this is a metaphor of what is happening to the world in which we live -the world that we are to hand down to succeeding generations.

I can think of rivers in which I used to enjoy bathing. Not again! Now, on coming out of the water, my skin would be itching because of all the insecticides, fertilizers and detergents that have found their way into the clear, pure water. You will have your own tales to tell. This is a crying shame. I really mean it. God, the Creator, must feel like weeping at what we are doing to the world He made for us and found to be so good.

When God put man in the Garden of Eden it wasn't so that he should demolish it. It was so that he should cherish it, develop it and protect it. There's no denying man's marvelous achievements through ever-evolving skills and technology...from Cave Man to High-Rise Man. But at what a price! How far has man fallen short of the expectations God had when "He took man and put him in the Garden of Eden to till it and keep it," (Gen. 2. 15).

Remember how Jesus was able to find explanations and excuses for the men who were nailing him to the cross? "Father forgive them: for they do not know what they are doing," (Lk. 23. 34). Well, there was a time when we had no awareness of environmental issues. Now we know all too well what is happening to our world and why. We know, but we don't care sufficiently to do anything about it. We can't plead ignorance.

My friend the bear, is telling me from his cool repose that our Christianity, our humanity, should make us more responsible, more protective of our environment...for God's sake, for our sake and for bear's sake. If I take this to heart then I can claim I know how to

Reach God...My Way...Through a COOL BEER.

Sorry! I mean a COOL BEAR!

Peter O.P.

Next week Isidore will meet God through "Restoring Settings."

Saturday, 9 January 2010


"Hallo, my friend!"
That was how Brother Joe used to greet everyone who came to the door of our priory. To him all were welcome, everyone was a friend. No matter that they were strangers or looked rather unkempt. If they wanted a cup of tea or a sandwich he gave it to them.

What was much more important, Brother Joe's warm greeting gave respect to these outsiders, living on the fringe of society -people who were ignored or despised. As far as he was concerned these social outcasts were not rejects. They were people with dignity, who had fallen on hard times. The respect he showed them helped them to respect themselves. As they were welcomed as friends they ceased to be strangers and outsiders. In this there was a great healing.

This incredibly strong ex coal miner had a wonderful gentleness with vulnerable people. It's not surprising that Joe was much loved, not only by every community in which he lived, but also by those who met him at our priories. I know this, since I lived with him in four of our houses.

Thinking about Brother Joe and the welcome he gave strangers led me to reflect on the way God welcomes the outsider.

Paul tells us that sin had alienated the whole human race from the friendship God had wanted us to have with him -a friendship beautifully expressed at the very beginning of the Bible, where we are told that He walked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the evening. Once that friendship had been disrupted God set about repairing the damage sin had caused. That's the central theme of the whole of salvation history. That's why the Son of God became man, lived among us and died for us. In everything he did he reached out to us sinners and offered us the hand of God's loving friendship.

To do so, Jesus himself became an outsider. He was despised and rejected, unjustly executed as a criminal, who died between two thieves. On his shoulders he carried the burden of all our sins. He certainly knew what it was like to be an outcast!

Now he continues to identify so closely with all who are in any kind of need that he has told us that whatever we do for them we do for Jesus himself, (cf. Matt. 25). So when Brother Joe said to the stranger at the door, "Hallo, my friend " he was meeting and greeting Jesus himself!

And the stranger at the door met Jesus in the person of Joe, as Christ identifies with all, including Joe, who continue to express his loving compassion for the needy. At different times we have all met Christ in those who have helped us in any way. And we've also met him in the needy we have assisted. As we come to their aid we identify with the compassionate Christ and the needy meet him in us. For many people that will be the only way they will get to know what being a Christian really means, the only way they will meet the compassionate Christ.

The Gospels are full of examples of Jesus reaching out to those who have in different ways become marginalised as social or religious outcasts. He made friends with those whom respectable religious people shunned. Above all he reached out to us sinners, and through the healing balm of God's love and mercy draws us into the intimate life of the Blessed Trinity. As God abides in us and we in him we cease to be marginalized outsiders and become God's children, sharing his divine life and happiness. Now we have a wonderful sense of belonging to God and his family.

I like to think that at the moment of Joe's death Our Lord greeted his good, faithful and loving servant with the words, "Hallo, my friend!" That's not too fanciful, since in the Mass we pray for "all those who have left this world in your (God's) friendship." Knowing Joe, I wouldn't have been surprised if he had responded with the same words he had used when he had met Christ in the stranger at the door -"Hallo, my friend!"

And I hope and pray that when we meet Our saviour at the moment of our deaths he will say to each of, "Hallo, my friend." That, Jesus tells us, will depend on whether or not we have extended the hand of loving friendship and compassion to the outsider, with whom Jesus identifies. Brother Joe certainly did!

Isidore O.P.

Next week Peter will meet God in a Cool Bear.