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."

Tuesday, 24 August 2010


Sometimes I wish God cared as much as I do! I know this sounds blasphemous, but I must say it. God knows how many prayers I've offered for peace in troubled areas of the world, and for those who have had their lives washed away by exceptional floods. So frequently have I prayed the Litany of the Saints that the Lord would save His people in the Caribbean from lightening and tempest, from the scourge of earthquakes. I am also thinking of the many very sick people I have prayed for, with the longing that they would be restored to health.

I care! I pray! What has happened to my prayers? They don't seem to be producing results. Jesus said that the one who prayed with faith no greater than a tiny mustard seed would be able to move mountains, and by implication, anything else. Shifting mountains has no appeal to me.

No results, so I question my prayer-life and my own spiritual life. Does the answering of my prayers really depend on their frequency and intensity? If this were so it would be a terrible burden for me that the well-being of those I care about were to be impeded by my undoubted spiritual deficiency.

How can it be that I am unable to bring God round to my point of view? I must ask this seemingly absurd question, "Is the problem with me or with God?" Neither. My problem lies in my accepting that God is a mystery to us. God Himself recognizes this,
"'My thoughts are not your thoughts and your ways are not my ways,' declares Yahweh. 'For the heavens are as high above the earth as my ways are above yours, my thoughts above your thoughts,'"
(Isaiah 55. 9).

This means that the most difficult of prayers to say with sincerity is, "Thy will be done Lord. I want what you want -and only that. But how I wish you wanted what I want!" Isn't this very like the Gethsemane prayer,
"And going a little further He fell on His face and prayed, 'My Father,' He said, 'if it be possible, let this cup pass me by. Nevertheless, let it be as you, not I, would have it.'"
Here is Jesus, in the rawness of His humanity entering into the mystery of the divine will of His Heavenly Father.

The agenda of God is inscrutable to me -beyond my understanding. I must not, then, try to pressurise God. I must not strive to manipulate God into responding to my will. I'm convinced that God is sensitive, caring, loving to an infinite degree -far, far more than any of us could ever be. This, my greatest certainty about God, must never be eroded because my urgent prayers are not answered according to my longings. Accusing and blaming God will never be appropriate. God is certainly not to be blamed because His response does not meet my expectations of Him. And I'm certain God will never blame any of us for asking too much of Him. Nothing is too much for God, but many things of our choosing are not of the best for us.

I'm engulfed by mystery -the mystery that is God Himself...the mystery about how significant are our prayers. Jesus made it abundantly clear that He wants us to continue to pray with all the love and compassion at our command; also with total, unconditional trust in our heavenly Father.

As I see it, gradually our prayers change us -rather than change God. As we pass from bewilderment and even protest to acceptance we make His will our will. So when we obey the divine command to pray for our enemies they cease to be people whom we want to harm and become people we want God to bless. Through prayer they cease to be enemies. Through prayer our wills become aligned with God's, and so we draw closer to Him.

Such prayer helps us to mature spiritually. I would like to think these explorations into the value of our prayers have enriched our understanding of the mystery of God. Now we are called to make an act of faith in God Himself -that He responds to our petitions according to His wisdom and His love. In ways that are not obvious to us our prayers do benefit those we care intensely about, bringing to them blessings that we would never have suspected. So much will always remain unknown to us.

I'm convinced God never says, "No, I'm not interested in your prayers!" It's rather the case that God is profoundly interested, but not in the way we had anticipated.

Our prayers are helpful, in ways that we cannot discern, to a degree that we cannot measure. Our prayers will never be a waste of time and effort. Through them God reaches out to us. Through them God reaches out to those for whom we pray.

Peter O.P.

'Are you a battery hen or a free range chick?' wonders Isidore next week.

Monday, 16 August 2010


Some can't wait for holiday time to come. They feel stale and weary and need time to stand and stare without feeling guilty. Holidays break the routine of daily life, relieve the pressure and give us the chance to go to different places and do other things.

But there are also those who can't be persuaded to take a holiday. As for standing and staring...for them that's a shear waste of time. There's too much to do, and they think they can't be spared. They feel uncomfortable about taking time off. With this kind of mentality they become like hamsters on a treadmill, compelled to keep moving, simply to stay in the same place. From childhood they may have been told that the devil makes work for idle keep busy! They feel guilty if they're not always doing something useful.

But I wonder if 'Standing and Staring' is really such a waste of time. The poet, William Henry Davies, certainly didn't think so. He realised the need for us to be still and look if we're ever going to appreciate the beauty of the world around us. Those who are constantly in a hectic rush will notice nothing. That will impoverish the quality of their lives. And so Davies concludes:
"A poor life this, if full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare."

It's not just a question of noticing the world around us. We can be so busy doing things for people that we literally have no time for the people themselves -to be with them and enjoy their company. But if we don't make time for each other we will find that love and friendship will grow cold and we will drift apart.

The same is true with our Love for God. That's why the Psalmist urges us, (46. 10),
"Be still and know that I am God!"

It's through stillness, listening, talking, or simply being together and silently enjoying each other's company that we draw close to one another.

And that's the point of observing the Sabbath day of rest. This compassionate law was intended to give people, and even the beasts of burden, such as oxen and horses, a break from the rigours of weekday work. We're given a chance to re-build our strength. This break, this change in the rhythm of life, gives us quality time for God and each other. It's wonderful that when God's involved holidays become holy days.

The change in pace of holiday-time gives us the opportunity to develop hobbies which enrich our lives, and this makes us more interesting to other people. There's much truth in the saying, "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." We certainly do become crashing bores, if we can only talk about our own work and can take no interest in other people. And if we have no outside interests won't we be lost when retirement puts an end to our employment?

Peter and I had a retired aunt who used to go on holidays with our widowed mother. When our aunt returned home she would give an annual talk to a woman's group about the adventures and mishaps they'd experienced while on holiday. No one was certain whether she was simply accident-prone or looked for trouble in order to provide material for her talks. Poor mother certainly had to brace herself for the unexpected.

We brothers used to be very active in the Scout Movement. We'd cycle off with our camping kit. At dusk on one occasion we pitched our tent on an open common. Early in the morning, while we were still sleeping, we were roused by a loud, steady thumping outside. Peeping through our tent flaps we saw an enormous carthorse trotting around our tent. We feared it might take a short cut across us and our tent!

On another occasion, when our troop was on its annual camp, we senior scouts had to break camp unexpectedly one night. We then had to carry all our equipment on our backs and hike along a route flashed to us in Morse Code. In the dark we had to construct a rope bridge across a river, make a stretcher on which we were to carry one of the troop to the other side of the river. We dropped the poor fellow into the rushing water and the fast current carried away his trousers! So, he had to continue the hike without them. Fortunately for him all right-minded people were tucked up in bed and no one saw him.

Now advancing age has slowed us down. When one of us is able to cross the Atlantic for a holiday we're happy relaxing together, playing chess, listening to music....Most of all, we simply enjoy being together.

All of us feel fresher and better able to carry on after a break from the routine of our daily work. Recreation becomes re-creation or renewal, and so is not a waste of time.

Jesus realised this. When the apostles returned from gaining pastoral experience He urged them to come to a quiet place and rest,
"The apostles gathered around Jesus and told Him all they had done and taught. He said to them, 'Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.' For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure, even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves,"
(Mark 6. 30-33).

If they needed to relax and recoup their energy, so too, did Jesus. We can easily forget that the constant demands made upon Him must have left Him feeling physically and emotionally drained. He needed time and space to be still and quiet, to rest His mind and body, to rest in the Lord. And as He stopped and stared He was able to notice the ripening harvest, the lilies of the field, sheep and shepherds... and so much of daily life, which He was able to use in the powerful imagery of the parables of the Kingdom.

I hope I will always remember that being still and relaxing is an essential part of a well-balanced life. This is vital to my meeting God and my growing closer to Him. I must not only work for God, but also make time to relax with Him. Otherwise I will simply go through the motions and become zombie-like -dead inside.

Throughout the process of composing postings for our blog Peter and I have become convinced that God is to be found not only in the serious moments when we're explicitly doing His work, but also in the crazy light-hearted moments that He has provided for our refreshment. In God's world recreation becomes re-creation, holidays become holy days. With Paul's encouragement I don't need to feel guilty about wasting my time when I stand and stare,
"Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord, giving thanks to the Father through Him,"
(Colossians 3. 17)
Isidore O.P.

Next week Fr. Peter will wonder "What happened to my prayers?"

Tuesday, 10 August 2010


Such a darling child with a dazzling smile and a gurgling laugh....the child everyone wanted to hug...and why not? It was her birthday. Friends of the family dropped in to pay their respects and present their gifts...a variety of dolls, big ones, small ones; simple ones, others extravagant.

Each present reflected a calculated guess of what the child would appreciate. Or have I got it wrong? Could be the presents were chosen according to what would gain the respect and approval of the parents. I ponder. I wonder. I'm not into the dynamics and diplomacy of present-giving to other people's children.

Have you noticed how small infants are not well versed in the social graces of showering volumes of tactful gratitude upon those who appear to be in desperate need of it? This sweet mite impulsively grabbed the rag-doll from the pile of expensive presents. What she wanted, what she needed, according to a sublime instinct was this puny object, obviously made out of the off-cuts from the dressmaker. I stress the need because cuty-child and rag doll became inseparable companions, night and day.

No learned explanation do I have to offer why she preferred this ordinary scrappy thing to an exceptionally splendid doll that was huge, lavishly dressed, with eye that closed if it were held in a position of repose and which burped if its tummy were unceremoniously squeezed. (Who wouldn't do likewise?)

At the risk of making a fool of myself, I would like to suggest that there's a season, very early in life when instinctive cravings -such as to be nourished and comforted -correspond to absolute needs. It seems as though this infant craved for the rag-doll, rather than for the pricey one, because that was what she needed, must have. In her rag-doll she found peace and security.

Before not too long this child would come to want what she didn't really need. This would become the pattern for most of the rest of her life. I find this is also true of myself! And what about you?

I'm reminded of Luke 18. 15-17
"People even brought babies to Him, for Him to touch them; but when the disciples saw this they scolded them. But Jesus called the children to Him and said, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such that the Kingdom of God belongs. In truth I tell you, anyone who does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.'"

This little one is teaching me that I must revert to that distant time when my longings were far more simple and corresponded to my real needs...wholesome cravings implanted in me by God, my Creator. He, my Heavenly Father, has always intended me to live a wholesome life...with my ways being in step with His ways.

I, Yesterday's Child, am today to welcome the Kingdom of God by way of my godly choices. I, as an adult, am to learn that this all has to do with seeking and attaining simplicity and innocence. And this I find myself learning from a baby girl clutching a rag-doll!
Peter O.P.
Next week Fr. Isidore will meet God by Standing and Staring

Tuesday, 3 August 2010


"They have ears but cannot hear"
(Psalm 115. 6)

With these words Holy Scripture mocks pagan wooden idols. But deafness is no joke. Nor are those who are unable to hear to be despised.

When I wrote this piece I'd just experienced almost total deafness, which had taken me completely by surprise, even though my hearing had been gradually getting worse. I don't want to turn my problem into a major tragedy, especially since, thanks to de-waxing and a hearing aid, I can now hear the pattering of rain, and the whispering of people who would certainly have kept quiet if they'd realized I could now clearly hear what they were saying about me! Much to my relief, during my deaf period earphones had enabled me to listen to the radio and TV. But it was really distressing that my deafness prevented me from taking part in conversations. That, I found, made me feel very isolated and lonely.

My brief experience of almost total deafness gave me a hint of what it must be like for those who have never been able to hear anything at all. They spend their lives in a completely silent world, unable to hear the sound of voices, the song of birds, the beauty of music. They are deaf to warning signals, such as fire alarms, which would protect them from danger. When a member of my community came into my room to borrow some keys I didn't hear him knock on my door. His unexpectedly tapping the back of my shoulder to announce his presence made me jump up with fear.

Oh, I realize the deaf can learn sign language and lip reading. Although these skills are a great aid to communication they are but a poor substitute for the joy of really hearing a sound. But until I lost my hearing I hadn't realised how isolated deafness can make us; how much we take our hearing for granted -until we lose it.

When Jesus cured the deaf He not only restored their ability to hear the sounds of daily life, but also enabled them to get involved in conversations and discussions. Jesus broke down their isolation and enriched the whole quality of their lives. Such healing miracles are certainly powerful signs of the way the gift of faith opens our ears to the word of God, so that we can hear His voice and communicate with Him.

During my deafness I was really surprised that while I couldn't hear other people speaking I could still hear my own voice. How or why I don't know. This unsuspected blessing gave me the confidence to continue to say Mass and to preach. But if someone had heckled my sermon I wouldn't have heard him!

Being able to hear my own voice, but not other people's, got me thinking. Forget my temporary deafness. Before that occurred was I not so fond of the sound of my own voice that I didn't hear and listen to other people? And worse still, when I pray do I not go in for far too much talking without giving God a chance to get a word in edge-ways? In so doing, I deprive myself of hearing what He and they have to say to me. We, who are hard of hearing do tend to monopolize conversations so that we can control the situation and don't become isolated!

So, I realized that as I asked God to restore my physical hearing and strengthen my faith I also needed to ask Him to enable me to be quiet and listen to other people and to God Himself. I also need to realize that there's a vast difference between casually hearing and really listening, and by that I mean giving someone our undivided attention and actually heeding what he says.

I must meet God in the quietness of attentively listening to Him. Only in such silence can I hear what He is saying to me in ways which transcend physical sound. Perhaps God wanted my temporary deafness to teach me the value of silence, and most certainly to appreciate the wonder of being able to hear and listen once more.

Isidore O.P.
Next week Peter will Meet God in a Rag Doll