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?'