Tuesday, 29 June 2010


Just after World War II Army Surplus Stores were rich quarries for lads like Peter and me! They were real treasure-troves in which we could rummage through what other people had rejected. For us this was a real adventure -a journey of discovery. We delighted in using our ingenuity to see if we could find the components for making something useful out of what had been discarded. We relished the challenge -we still do.

From the shop near our home in Birmingham we found all we needed for making a 'cat's whisker' radio crystal set. Imagine our excitement when it produced its first sound, which was remarkably clear. From the same source we also made a photographic enlarger. And in the same spirit I later cannibalized two old cameras and made a zoom lens. In an earlier blog posting Peter has shown how eagerly we rose to the challenge of solving a problem by putting a familiar object, such as a flower support, to a new use -organizing his pens.

I suppose this instinct to throw away nothing and re-cycle everything was developed during wartime austerity. Since new materials and objects were scarce the motto was, "Make do and mend." Delight in responding to this challenge has stuck with us. And not only with Peter and me. A fellow Dominican student far surpassed us in his creative scavenging. He took great pride in showing us the bicycle, which he'd put together from parts he gleaned from a scrap yard. What's more it worked! To do something like that is much more satisfying than going to a shop and buying a brand new bike, radio or lens.

True, my refined and well-organized brethren mock me for being an incurable and somewhat chaotic hoarder, who believes that everything will eventually become useful. But they don't hesitate to come to me when they need something, such as a piece of string, a nail or a tool. Usually I've got it, and smugly I would give it to them!
While Peter and I have made an exciting hobby out of rescuing rejects from the scrapheap, this, precisely, is God's speciality. His focus is not on material objects, but on people. In this He seems to go out of His way to stack the odds against Himself. He chooses the most unlikely people to do His work -the weak and foolish of this world, So St.Paul tells us,
"God chose what is foolish in the world in order to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong," (1 Cor. 1. 27).

Thus, the prophet Ezekiel likens God's Chosen People to a baby girl, abandoned in the desert to die. He found her, took her into His home, bestowed His riches on her and made her His queen and bride, (cf. Ezekiel ch. 16). In similar vein God chose Gideon -the least from the weakest of the tribes of Israel -to defeat their powerful enemy. David, a shepherd boy, not a powerful warrior, was chosen to slay the giant, Goliath. And Jesus selected a small group of fishermen to become the foundation stones of the New People of God, with the responsibility of spreading the Gospel throughout the world.
Jesus reached out to those who were in any way marginalized as social rejects. He had a special affection for those whom others dismissed as worthless. He mixed with lepers, who would have made Him ritually unclean. He made time to welcome those whom the self-important brushed aside -young children or the blind beggar, Bartimaeus. He drew attention to the generosity of a poor widow, who gave all that she had. Jesus held such despised people up as having the qualities required of a true disciple.

Above all, Jesus welcomed sinners, whom the self-righteous dismissed as worthless no-hopers. As He forgave them He welcomed them into a loving relationship with God. He gave them back their self respect, and removed their crushing burden of guilt. God's love and mercy gives even the greatest of sinners another chance. When they -we -have fallen, He gets us back onto our feet so that, with His help, we can move forward.

Not only does God rescue those who have been confined to the scrapheap of life. Through the power of His loving mercy they receive the dignity of becoming the children of God. They begin to share His divine life and happiness. And no matter how limited our powers, and however weak and frail we may be, God has a special role for each one of us to play. No one need feel useless or worthless.

By reflecting on my delight at the way other people's rejects can become treasures for Peter and me I've come to realize something of God's joy at rescuing those who have been cast onto the scrapheap. They have been restored as His beloved sons and daughters. If I'm to meet God I must share in His rescue operation, helping those who have become the flotsam of life to gain the dignity and respect of being the children of God. Above all, I must remember with eternal gratitude that it's not just other wretches whom God has salvaged from the scrapheap of life. It's you and me -the whole human race -which had become no-hopers, cut off from God through sin.
"Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people;
once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy."
(1 Peter 2. 10)
Isidore O.P.

Next week Fr. Peter will meet God as he reflects on 'Lead Kindly Light.'

Tuesday, 22 June 2010


O.K -I'm not that old, even though I may be past my prime! In fact dinosaurs lived long ago and became extinct millions of years ago. So, I've never seen one. Nor am I likely to. But their remains have been fossilized and these are fascinating. If you've seen the film, 'Jurassic Park' you will know that some dinosaurs were enormous. The name 'dinosaur' means 'Powerful Lizard.' Some of them certainly lived up to that name and were shapely.. weird and wonderful!

I, like many others, am fascinated by dinosaurs, and with the other beasties which lived in that period. In fact I'm proud to say I have a fossil of a small ammonites, which lived about sixty millions years ago -long, long before people inhabited the earth. The fossilized remains of that small creature, resting on my mantle piece, take me back to the age of the dinosaur. That puts small-time me in perspective!

Suddenly these weird creatures of long ago became extinct. Scientists suggest that there must have been some cataclysmic event which wiped them out. Possibly a dramatic change in climate, perhaps caused by an enormous meteorite falling into the Gulf of Mexico, or an unusually large volcanic eruption. Whatever the cause, there was widespread extinction of many life forms. Even the most powerful of creatures were vulnerable to the immense forces of nature. We puny creatures wouldn't have stood a chance -if we'd been around in those days.

As I look at my ancient ammonite my mind reels at the thought that it lived so long ago. We human beings are a mere blip in the passage of time. We seem so insignificant in comparison with the age of the dinosaurs, which itself lasted millions of years. The Psalmist expresses my sense of wonder and awe, "What is man that you, (God), are mindful of him, that you care for him?" (Ps. 8. 4). And yet, and yet Almighty God has been mindful of us. He has made us in His own image and likeness. He has called us to share His own life and happiness. The Son of God has even become one of us -a human being. He has lived among us, has died for us and has risen from the grave for us. God did none of this for any of His other creatures -not even the magnificent dinosaurs.

I'm filled with a deep sense of wonder at what God has done for us people. The greatness of His love has raised us from the smallness of our creatureliness. God has indeed exalted the lowly and put down the mighty! In a Christmas sermon Pope Saint Leo the Great wrote,
"O Christian remember your dignity!"
-not something we deserve, but something freely given us by God, simply because He loves us and want us to share His very life, enjoying His company and happiness. If God can love and respect us so much we have no right to despise ourselves or anyone else.

And as I marvel at the dinosaurs I'm filled with wonder at the great variety in creation. Each animal or plant gives glory to God, simply by being itself. We people can reflect on God's creation and can speak. We should thank and praise Him for the wonder of His creatures, both the tiny and the huge ones. Each of them reflects something of His glory. And we people are the most amazing of all His creatures.

So, I thank God for the dinosaurs. Even though they became extinct long ago and I can never see them they can still lead me to God -without their knowing it. Just to think about tyrannosaurus rex makes me feel puny. I'm forced to wonder that God should even notice me. And yet I'm far more important to Him than the largest and most powerful of dinosaurs. My amazement grows as I reflect on the millions of years separating the dinosaurs and me. But if the dinosaurs cut me down to size, God's love lifts me up to share His eternal life and happiness. It is in this sense of wonder, inspired by the enormous dinosaurs and my small ammonite fossil, that I meet the God of glory.

A final thought -although I'm fascinated by dinosaurs I would be terrified if I ever met one!

Isidore O.P.

Next week Isidore will meet God in Scavenging.'

Sunday, 13 June 2010


"Papillon! Papillon!"...."Butterfly! Butterfly!"

We all thought the world had gone mad when our quiet and seemingly respectable guest stepped out of his room, dressed in his hunting attire and equipment...fit for hunting what? Not foxes or elephants, but butterflies!!!

This all happened at our Dominican priory in Grenada...a charming place with flower garden and wasteland. This man, this zealot, this fanatic charged up slopes and through bushes, waving his net on a long pole, gleefully yelling, "Papillon! Papillon!" -"Butterfly! Butterfly!" as he swooped down triumphantly netting an exotic butterfly...not because he hated it, just the opposite.

He admired its beauty, its rarity and wanted to preserve it so that he could show it to others. This collector of butterflies surged forward, clambered and thrust himself with the enthusiasm of a committed collector. and, as with all true collectors, the hunting, acquiring or even the capturing are far more to be treasured than the possessing.

As a schoolboy I was an avid collector of stamps. The satisfaction came in swapping stamps with friends with all the haggling and bargaining this involved. There's nothing very clever in having enough money to buy what you fancy from the store that you are certain will have it in stock!

What a tale 'Monsieur Papillon' would have to tell when he proudly showed off to his friends and family the new acquisition to his collection from the glorious islands in the Caribbean. He might have had a thing to say about us Dominicans, as we quizzed him about his exploits in building up his collection! His butterflies would speak more eloquently about the kind of vacation he had had than any souvenir that a tourist could purchase from a road-side vendor.

And this brings me to my fascination at the way Jesus drew upon the symbolism we attach to things to enable Him, with masterful ingenuity, to wriggle out of a catch-question that had been put to Him. "Is it permissible to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?" "Should we pay," yes or no?" Pay to Caesar, the much resented imperial master of the Land God had given to His people.
Jesus asked for a coin to be given Him. No doubt someone in the crowd dipped his hand into his pocket or purse and brought out a collection of coins -just as I have to do when I'm paying my bus fare. He then asked them whose face was depicted there, and whose name? Caesar's of course! And everyone knew the significance of the name...that of the Roman Emperor. All were aware of the significance of the coin -paying taxes to the much loathed Roman Empire.

Every time these coins were used for the payment of taxes they carried a message..not simply conveying a piece of information about their commercial value...but a distasteful reminder of the humiliating situation of the people subjected to foreigners.

I love the way Jesus was able to put a spiritual, theological, and very pragmatic spin to the significance of this common coin. "Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God."

To me it is very, very interesting that in the early years of Christianity people were faulted for having statues and paintings of religious persons or events...faulted because they savoured of idolatry. Even in our own day there are those who make this accusation. According to this mentality these images are dead. They are meaningless. They are misleading. It's a waste of time to pay them any attention.

Nowadays, those who display religious images in public places are faulted because their images are alleged to be saying too much, conveying a weighty meaning that is offensive to some. I think of the unspoken eloquence of the crucifix or the crib, a picture of the Madonna. They bear witness to a faith that people cherish, and even die for...a faith that others abhor.

Monsieur Papillon, Butterfly Man, you crazy, beloved collector, you have brought me to appreciate what is so helpfully present to us in symbols. They point us towards mysteries too vast, too sacred for us to be able to grasp with our senses or express with words. You have been for me mywaygodsway of coming to some understanding of the present controversy between those who insist on displaying symbols of their religious convictions, while others resort to every means to prevent this.

Peter O.P.

Next week Dinosaurs and Old Fossils will help Fr. Isidore meet God.

Monday, 7 June 2010


Locked in their own world...Bouncer the Bunny and Tina the Teenager. This was at Spode Conference Centre in the Staffordshire countryside. There we had a group of teenagers, whom we were trying to help to prepare for 'life after school.' They were to think what it would mean for them to be young adult Christians.

In the field we had a pet rabbit, for which I'd built a hutch and run. People of every age loved him. And many of them would talk to him -nothing unusual about that. Most of us talk to our pets, and they often listen, without understanding what we are saying.

But on one occasion I noticed something special. A young girl was talking earnestly to Bouncer, the rabbit. Later she told me how much it had helped to off-load her problems onto the rabbit, which would listen attentively to her gentle voice. Not that she expected Bouncer to provide answers, but to be a good listener. She knew that she could trust the rabbit not to repeat anything she said, however shocking that might have been.

And long ago a fellow Dominican told me he had found it more helpful to talk to the cows in the field than to his student master! The problem was not a lack of trust, but of their being on different wave lengths. Any way, he wasn't looking for answers, but for a good, placid, non- judgemental listener -such as the cow.

There are times when all of us need someone on whom we can unload our troubles, and with whom we can let off steam. Hopefully we have a good friend, whose discretion we can trust. We need to be certain that the unguarded remark, which we all make, will go no further.

Sadly there's a long and sordid tradition of the betrayal of trust, epitomized by Judas. The tabloids thrive on those who are prepared to gain some one's trust and then 'kiss and tell' or usually, 'kiss and sell.' Entrapment and betrayal is the name of the game.

Obviously there are times when it's necessary to infiltrate criminal or terrorist gangs in order to prevent them from harming others. But there must be serious grounds for winning and then betraying such trust.

The Scriptures urge us to entrust our troubles to the Lord, since He cares for us, (cf. 1Peter 5. 7). He knows us through and through -better than we know ourselves -and yet He still loves us. There's absolutely nothing we can tell God that He doesn't already know. He is utterly discreet, and like Bouncer, the rabbit, won't betray the trust we place in Him.

Bouncer the Bunny and Tina the teenager have brought me to realize how much I need to meet God by trusting Him sufficiently to be absolutely honest with Him when I pray. I know He will never betray my trust. I also realize that I can never have an honest relationship with Him, if I'm suspicious, evasive and, therefore, dishonest with Him. I also realize that I am called to be like God, in sharing His trustworthiness -never betraying those who confide in me. If I were to do so, I would forfeit the right to expect anyone to trust me again.

Although most us of enjoy hearing gossip, we must realise that it's perpetrators are just as likely to talk maliciously behind our backs as they do behind other people's. If we had any sense we would never confide in such gossips, who would be sure to make our private lives public. Similarly no one would trust any of us if we had the reputation of being gossips. Most of us have probably been harmed by people we trusted gossiping about our faults and failings. And at times we have probably had loose tongues, which have caused us to be indiscreet.

But we mustn't become cynical and refuse to trust anyone, even if we have been hurt. After all Jesus was prepared to entrust the continuation of His mission to the very people who had deserted or disowned Him in His greatest need. Hopefully all of us have friends or relatives in whom we can confide without fear of betrayal. If so, they reflect the trustworthiness of God -and in it's own way, so did Bouncer.

I thank Tina, talking to a rabbit, for showing me how to meet God in total honesty and trust. And I'm grateful to Bouncer, the rabbit,for teaching me that other people need and expect me to be a good, trustworthy and discreet listener -just like God, or even a rabbit or cow!

Isidore O.P.

Next week Fr. Peter will reflect on meeting God through "Papillon! Papillon!"