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 ...it 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.
Next week Fr Peter will reflect on 'Petty Cash'