Monday, 31 May 2010


The church was packed for her funeral. She was a loving person, famed for the delicious cakes she made and sold at the supermarket. As for the icing on the wedding cakes, birthday cakes and cakes for every kind of celebration! The icing was imaginative, sometimes spectacular. When people praised and congratulated her for her wonderful cakes she simply told them that God had given her the gift.

No surprise, then, that an elegant iced cake should be carried to the altar, together with the other gifts at the Offertory Procession. This was the family's way of honouring God, the Giver of All Gifts, and of recognizing the beauty of a woman who had raised her family by using the skill her Creator had entrusted to her.

To me, the Celebrant at the Requiem Mass, this was all eminently suitable. As was the sacristan's insistence that the priest should take away the cake. Triumphant, bearing my funeral trophy on high, I entered the kitchen where my Dominican brethren were gathered. Immediately one of them, with an eye and a belly for cakes, seized a long-bladed kitchen knife and plunged it into the centre of the shimmering white surface.

Abruptly, he halted his downward thrust. The dagger-sharp point had met no resistance. The rest of us looked on, amazed and bewildered. The thwarted brother raised the feather-light cake and examined it closely. Nothing but a cardboard box, decorated with icing! A pseudo cake! A taunting cake! Such as would be on stage at a school play.

Man that he was, he howled with laughter at how he had been taken in. So did we all. Not least, myself! I, who had carried this gloriously deceptive delicacy, had never noticed how light-weight it was.
I could scarcely wait to tell the sacristan, who had dutifully, proudly, given me the cake. Not a smile from her. She was furious that anyone should have mocked and insulted the priest by presenting him with a cake -so to speak. As for God? Who would dare to present at the altar a box covered with icing instead of a genuine cake? In the Bible we hear plenty about what God thinks of those who offer Him inferior gifts.

Immediately the sacristan announced that she would tell the bereaved family that they must apologise to the priest and give him a decent cake. Perhaps he would then be placated and would forgive.

"Lord have mercy," I think to myself! The Almighty allowed all this to happen. Why? To teach us a lesson about where your heart is there is your treasure? Or to give a warning to those whose god is their belly? I would like to think that God had none of these lofty thoughts in mind.

As for myself, I admire God precisely because He is a joker, a teaser, who enjoys giving us a good laugh and is not above laughing Himself. Or perhaps God is more composed and only allows Himself a quiet chuckle. I find this a rather nice way of meeting God...mywaygodsway!

Peter O.P.

Next week Isidore will meet God in "Talking to a Rabbit"

Monday, 24 May 2010


It's often so hard to make time to listen to old people. Our lives are so busy. But it can be very fascinating and very rewarding! It's also very important for them that we should take an interest in their past. Their memories reach far back to times which were very different from our own.
Take my mother, for instance. She lived to be 93 and experienced two world wars. As a child she saw a German zeppelin bombing Hull. She witnessed the development of electricity, radio, TV, computers, flights not only to the other side of the world, but also to the moon and beyond. Rapid developments in medicine have made it possible to cure many diseases. During her lifetime weapons became ever more destructive. Since 1945 we have all lived under the shadow of nuclear warfare.

It's difficult for young people to appreciate the enormous adjustments the elderly have had to make in such a rapidly changing world. Even Peter and I, who are in our late seventies, can remember the tractor replacing the carthorse on the farm.

The young have to take an enormous leap in their imaginations to realise that the elderly were themselves once young. They were strong and vigorous, and,this may come as a shock, passionate. I've found it difficult to imagine a frail old man having been a skillful footballer. or an elderly woman once working in a factory making Lancaster bombers.

In so-called primitive societies the aged are venerated as providing a link with their people's past -a past that has given them their identity, and has shaped not only their present, but also their future. I've found the same can be true in our Dominican communities. In one of our Study Houses there was a frail old priest who was a wonderful asset, even though he could do very little active apostolic work. But he was able to hand on to us young students the traditions of our Order and of our English Province. Such people have fascinating tales to tell of bygone ages, if only we are prepared to listen to them.

Now, numbering myself among the elderly, I know I can become a crashing bore if I constantly repeat the same old stories. But such memories are the repositories of our family and cultural histories. It's a tragedy that these personal recollections should be lost when the elderly die.

The Bible did not make that mistake. It sees remembrance of the past as a vital part in our relationship with God. Story-telling recounts an essential part in salvation history. This reminds us of what God has done for His people in the past. That is seen as pledge for what He would do in the future. This is expressed and celebrated in the liturgy.

Salvation history is enacted not only on the grand scale, but also in the lives of each one of us. As we listen to the aged we learn how God has helped them through the difficulties of a long life, and of the many ways He has blessed them.

And I have noticed that as they approach death, on the one hand they require more and more support from others, as their own strength diminishes; while, on the other hand, their personal needs become fewer and simpler. And their perspective on life often changes. While still recalling the past when they enjoyed the vigour of youth, they increasingly look to the future when they hope to enjoy the fullness of life with God in heaven. Increasingly their minds and hearts become set on the things of heaven. I can remember my mother saying, "I've had a long life. I'm ready to go. I hope God will take me soon."

Far from being morbid, she was expressing her longing to be with God, and to re-join Dad and our brother Geoff, in heaven. She, like so many others, had experienced God's love and mercy throughout her life. And they had tried to respond with love. For such people of faith death is not seen as a tragedy, but a joyful home-coming. Far reducing them to nothingness, they believe it's the gateway to the fullness of life. They are filled with hope, not despair.

This was brought home to me very powerfully when I had to tell my aged mother that her son, Geoff, had died unexpectedly of a heart attack. Her immediate reaction sprang from the faith which had sustained her throughout her life. That enabled her to draw comfort from the conviction that soon she would be re-united in God with Geoff and with dad, who had died long ago. Of course she grieved. Her tears were an expression of love for her son and for God, to whom she entrusted Geoff. Her grief was filled with a hope, which gave her a deep sense of peace. And instead of my comforting her, she reassured me.

I thank God for the old people I have met. Not only have they taught me the importance of recalling the past, during which God has shown them His mercy and support. Their faith, as they approached death, has inspired me to try to get my own life into perspective. They have reminded me of what is really important.
Now that I've joined their ranks and become old and grey-headed I hope I will be able to hand on to the younger generation the salvation history I have personally experienced. This has given me hope of an eternal future with God. I hope I can do this without becoming a crashing bore!

A final thought. I'm sure you've noticed how well the very young and the aged get on together. Maybe we need to become like little children if we are to span the generation gap and appreciate those who are very old. It is, of course, possible that I'm arguing for a greater appreciation of the aged, now that I've become one of them!

Isidore O.P.

Next week Fr Peter will reflect how we can meet God in Icing on the Cake

Saturday, 15 May 2010


"Empty your pockets, take off your shoes, remove your belt, now walk through the scanner. Sorry, there's still something there...making a pinging sound. Stretch out your arms. We'll try the manual scanner."

And this is where it gets difficult. With no belt to keep up my trousers with my arms outstretched like a scarecrow, somethings's got to self self esteem.. my trousers!

You've got it...I'm the tourist passing through 'Security' at the beginning of my vacation. At last the long awaited moment has arrived..after all the hassle of booking my flight, striving to strike the right balance between what I need to take away with me and the weight I'm allowed to carry without further expense. Most importantly, there's the visit to the bank to purchase foreign currency.

Indeed, I've felt like the tattered rags draping Scarecrow Peter. With a certain amount of trepidation I've survived the scrutiny at the ticket desk. All my documents were in order. Thank God for that! Big sigh of relief! Then, much humbled, I've cleared the last hurdle and am allowed to emerge from 'Security,' -more or less unscathed. Once again, 'Thank God!' Eventually I was able to enjoy the blissful serenity of simply relaxing, waiting in the Departure Lounge until summoned to go to the appropriate embarkation gate.

This is what we have come to in this day and age of much vaunted enlightenment and progress! 'And I said in my alarm, 'No man can be trusted..' These days no one trusts anyone any more. It's a sad state of affairs in which each and all are suspected of being possible terrorists, carrying some kind of explosive in the heel of his shoe or in the lining of his jacket...So help us, the most innocent looking guy or doll may have a heart encrusted with violent intentions.

What to do, but subject every single person to the most meticulous scrutiny? There's no point in getting worked up that modern-day scanners can reveal invisible unmentionables. Better for us all to have been exposed and to have been granted a fair chance of staying alive than for everyone to have been left alone and for none of us to have come through to be welcomed at 'Arrivals.'

After writing all this I feel disposed to compose a Novena for the Conversion of all Would-be Terrorists...God has no problem in replacing hearts of stone into hearts of flesh. In the meantime I meet God, mywaygodsway, through Psalms such as,

"He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High and abides in the shade of the Almighty says to the Lord: "My refuge, my stronghold, my God in Whom I trust!" (Ps. 91).

Better than this I cannot do!

Peter O.P.

Next week Isidore will meet God in old people

Monday, 10 May 2010


Peter was home on leave from the W. Indies. On an exceptionally hot evening I decided to treat him to a meal. Peter, who was used to the much greater tropical heat, wore shoes and even a pullover. But not me. I wore a cool short-sleeved shirt, light weight trousers and had bare feet in sandals.

This seemed to us to be sensible attire. But not to the beefy bouncers barring our entrance into the restaurant. They were quite happy to admit Peter, but not me. My sandals were the problem. They were thought to lower the tone of the place! To them they suggested I was a trouble-maker! But eventually we were able to convince the bouncers that we elderly gentlemen were harmless, and that I would be safe, since I was accompanied by the respectable looking Peter.

When we entered the restaurant we noticed that all the patrons were dressed in casual, cool clothes appropriate to the hot evening. Many of the young women wore short skirts and sandals. Obviously no one had objected. As a man, that inequality of treatment about the sandals riled me. And the young waitress wore a casual T-shirt and jeans. Perfectly respectable, but not, I would have thought, such as to raise the sartorial tone of the restaurant.

So, why this prejudice against sandals, which has since extended to trainers...even in some pubs? Obviously it’s thought that certain kind of people wear sandals or trainers. And they are instinctively considered to be undesirable and perhaps even violent.

Peter and I have been able to laugh about this trivial example of prejudice, especially since the bouncers had relented and had allowed us into the restaurant where we had a delicious meal. What Peter and I had experienced was of little importance, especially since it was over and done with in an evening.

But what about those who are the victims of life-long prejudice, due to, say, the colour of their skin. They must feel permanently rejected, marginalized and deeply hurt?!?!

Our mild experience of prejudice made me realise how easily we can judge people by their appearance, accent or colour of skin. We may then lump them all together and dismiss them as undesirable, if not dangerous. But if we take the trouble to get to know them we find that we have so much in common and can get on well together. And the differences can enrich both our lives.

That was my experience when I was working at Spode Conference Centre many years ago. A group of young men and women asked if they could doss down on the floor for the night. They were marching to London to protest against the government about the lack of jobs. The young men in this group had the exotic brightly coloured Mohican hairstyle. I must admit they were not the kind of people with whom I’d had the chance to mix. Many would have kept clear of them –simply because they looked different and presumably dangerous. But I found them very pleasant and easy to talk to.

One of them told me that he’d chosen his exotic hairstyle so that people would notice him. He felt that being unemployed had led to his being treated as a non-person. That’s certainly true for the homeless people on our streets. We hasten past them without looking at them.

The prejudice about my sandals got me thinking about the prejudices against Jesus, which were much, much more serious. Those with whom he’d grown up simply accepted him as the ‘son of Joseph, the carpenter.’ They believed they knew all about his background. So when he started preaching they considered he was getting above himself. They wanted to cut him down to size –their size. These people were only comfortable with him as long as he remained like them. As soon as he proved to be different they resented him and wanted to throw him over a cliff top. Instead of being proud of the ‘local boy made good’ and encouraging him, their hostility forced him to preach elsewhere, to strangers who were not already blinded by prejudice. They would be more likely to be open to him.

The problem for Christ’s neighbours was that he didn’t fit in with the label they’d already stuck upon him. They thought that if they could put him in a pigeonhole he would be far more manageable. But Jesus refused to be manipulated. He was not going to satisfy the false expectations people would later have of him. He was determined to do the will of his heavenly Father, even if this led to his crucifixion because of people’s prejudices and their disillusionment that their false expectations had not been satisfied.

It’s strange how the prejudice against my wearing sandals has led me to realise that if I’m to meet God I must accept him on his own terms and allow him to be himself. It would be idolatry for me to try to force him into a mould of my own fashioning, or for me to want a God I can understand and control.

Those bouncers unwittingly did me a favour. They showed me the danger of prejudice, which in different ways excludes not only groups of people, but even God himself. If I’m to meet God I must allow him to be himself and must accept him on his own terms, not mine.

Isidore O.P.

Next week Peter will Meet God by Being Like a Scarecrow

Tuesday, 4 May 2010


A priest-friend of mine had excruciating toothache. A pious soul admonished him, "If you had faith you would be freed from pain." A number of replies come to mind...not all of them printable. But this was a holy priest. He answered that perhaps God thought it good for him to suffer an amount of penance for his own sins and those of the world.

And yet there are times when God does help us, heal us and shield us from misfortunes in ways that we don't understand. But for the most part, God takes care of us without there being supernatural apparitions or interventions.

It falls within God's beautiful plan for the world that He has created that my priest friend could take his toothache to one whom the Almighty Creator had given the ability to learn and apply the wisdom of dentistry. God had enabled him to acquire knowledge about pain-suppressors and antiseptics, which 'earth has given and human hands have made.'

The priest could have replied with a Caribbean saying,
When God can't come, He does send" providing the local community with a dentist.

It is a beautiful thing that God has accorded to us human beings, made in His own image and likeness, the privilege of being stewards of His creation. Different people are to tend , develop, safeguard us and even deal with our toothaches.

To my mind, it isn't so much a case of, "When God can't come" nor, "When God doesn't want to come."..."He does send." This is no 'either or' situation. God either visibly comes to the rescue or else He sends His agent. It's like this...God is actively present in the person He sends. God loves people, guides them, protects and helps them through people like you and me. And we are helped in our times of distress by those whom God has sent to us. He has provided us with a beautiful support system!

And so I love the tune:
People who need people,
Are the luckiest people in the world."

What foolishness to regard being dependent upon others as a sign of being inadequate. What selfishness to consider that having people dependent upon us as an intrusion upon our freedom. There are people who extol themselves for being self-reliant, self-made, and sufficient unto themselves; and those who rejoice if they have no need of anyone. Perhaps they hope no one will make any demands on them.

Personally, I would find it a very lonely kind of existence for me to barricade myself from the caring interest others have for me. Shame on me if I were to cultivate indifference to those who are helpless! Certainly I am not attracted to a spirituality of not needing the companionship and loving support of others because we have God as our refuge and our strength. Nor do I subscribe to a piety of thanking God for a good meal, without my thanking mother, who went to all the trouble of cooking it!

Yes, we can say, "When God can't come He does send" long as we're not suggesting that God is sending us a substitute for Himself. No creature could fulfil that role. What we mean is that God is there channeling His healing power and love through the dentist dealing with our toothache, feeding us through mother's scrumptious meals, rescuing us through the life-saver hauling us out of the towering waves.

In this kind of world God wants me to reach out to people through my being 'there for them' in their anguish and pain. And when I find myself forlorn or forsaken I trust there will be those who are all of this for me. I love the idea that "When God cant come , He does send." So much richer than the arid secular approach of hoping people will conveniently 'turn up' in our moments of need!

Peter O.P.

Next week Isidore will reflect on Meeting God in a Pair of Sandals