Monday, 27 September 2010


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 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.
Isidore O.P.
Next week Fr Peter will reflect on 'Petty Cash'

Tuesday, 21 September 2010


It was 2.00am and jumbled ideas were swirling around my head like agitated bees.
The past few days have been deeply moving for me. I've been to hospital for minor surgery, and must now take it easy for a time. Here in the Caribbean, I've been able to follow the Pope's visit to England and Scotland and have entered into glorious liturgies, seen on my TV screen.

It has meant so much to me that my Dad and three of my brothers and I received our Grammar School education at the Oratory School founded by Cardinal Newman, in Birmingham. Grandma, who as a very old lady lived in the Oratory parish, even met an ancient Oratorian, who, as a young priest, had been a member of Newman's community. And last week Pope Benedict XVI declared Newman to be one of the blessed in heaven -Blessed John Henry Newman.

It has been a deeply moving experience to have been able to see on screen the Vicar of Christ, the Successor of St. Peter, actually celebrating the Eucharist, hear him actually pronounce the Words of Consecration, and witness him actually distributing Holy Communion to young and old. But it was more than that. Instinctively I participated in the reverence that was clearly present at the different venues of the actual celebrations. In so doing I made a 'Spiritual Communion.' In spirit I was part of the action, even though several thousand miles of ocean separated me in the Caribbean from what was happening in the United Kingdom.

Through TV I've also been 'glued to the screen' when watching the World Football Cup, Test Match cricket and much else, including T/20s. I've been grabbed and held by these events. But not one of them has stopped me from picking up the phone and getting in touch with a friend, just for the sake of chatting together. I've no problem in working at my laptop or reading some light literature, while following such items.

It might surprise you to know that all these thoughts were buzzing in my brain from 2.00am onwards. They would give me no peace until I'd nailed them down in print on my laptop. Having got this far I now realized the need to check on what I personally do with the various media outlets -and what they are doing to me. I must work out for myself some kind of personal spirituality about this.

For me personally, I must insist that no media coverage of the splendid Papal Masses could ever compare with the simple Mass I was just able to celebrate on Sunday afternoon. There I sat before the altar, because as yet I was not strong enough to stand for the duration of the Mass. My congregation was the two nurses who had dressed my wound. In this basic, unadorned liturgy the Eucharistic Sacrifice was actually, sacramentally, celebrated. Jesus was actually present, and consumed in this, our chapel. Here there was genuine adoration for the reality in our midst.

That cannot be said for what has been presented to me on the screen. Visual images inspire me to genuine reverence, as would any Crucifix, as being bridges between me and the divine. Helpful, indeed! But in no way an equivalent or optional substitute for the real thing.

And here I want to pay tribute to one of the great blessings of this age. The regular Radio and TV transmission of Sunday and weekday Masses has been an enormous blessing to those confined to their homes or elsewhere, because of infirmity or sickness, to those taking care of them, as well as to the many who would love to be able to attend Mass but are prevented from doing so by reason of their work.

On occasions such as the Papal visit Radio and TV give viewers a sense of the Church being Catholic -Universal. Seeing the crowds of young and the not so young displaying such spontaneous enthusiasm was a real boost to my faith and enriched my confidence in my own priestly ministry.

So this is where I stand. It would be a far richer experience for people to attend and participate in my simple Mass than for them to watch and share in the magnificent Papal Mass that is accessible on TV. Putting it another way -there's something far more nourishing in eating real bread and cheese on the table before me than in looking at the TV image of a magnificent meal. So, too, we're far more involved when we join the crowd watching a football match than when we see the same game on TV.

As we have seen -so many ways for you and me to meet God mywaygodsway. From the time of the Apostles the Church has celebrated actual participation in the liturgy, and always will do so. We can count it as a blessed bonus that we can now follow on our TV screens images of real live liturgies in localities far and wide.

P.S. In 1958 Pope Pius XII designated St.Clare as the patron saint of television, on the basis that when she was too ill to attend Mass, she had reportedly been able to see and hear it on the wall of her room.

Peter O.P.
Next week Fr. Isidore will Meet God in 'Odd One In.'

Sunday, 12 September 2010


A lobster is one of the tastiest dishes -also one of the most expensive in an English restaurant. But it's not the flavour, but the life-style of the lobster that intrigues me.

While watching a TV programme I realized that the lobster is a very strange and fascinating beastie. Instead of having an internal skeleton which grows, it is encased in a hard shell, which doesn't. So, the lobster has a problem. It's body's growth is restricted by the size of its shell. It can only get bigger by shedding its small shell and growing a larger one. After a time that also becomes too small and it has to go through the process again, and again, and again....

During the period between shedding one shell and growing the next the lobster is very vulnerable to predators. But it has to take that risk, otherwise it would always remain small and immature. In fact, it's only while the lobster is free from a hard non-stretch shell that it is able to grow. For the lobster growth and vulnerability go hand in hand -or claw in claw!

This got me thinking about myself and the Church. Certainly I don't have a hard shell, restricting my growth. But young ladies used to be trussed up in tight whale-bone corsets, to give them a slim waist-line. And my brother Peter found himself in a similar situation! When he complained about a severe stomach ache mother told him to loosen his trouser belt. Although that relieved the pain he was vulnerable to his trousers falling down! And Medieval knights were encased in metal armour. Youngsters began with small suits, which were replaced by larger ones as they grew. Between suits they were vulnerable to attack. How very lobster-like!

If we have been damaged in a relationship we may be afraid of getting involved with anyone else. Instinctively we grow a protective shell to prevent anyone getting through our defenses and harming us again. We prefer lonely security to risking becoming vulnerable to other people. But only when we come out of our protective shells and make ourselves vulnerable to rejection can we develop as people, once more capable of giving and welcoming love. It takes courage to risk being hurt, but that's far better than becoming turned in on ourselves in lonely isolation.

It also occurred to me that the Church's life-cycle is similar to that of the lobster. Periodically, the Church, like the lobster, becomes uncomfortable with the hard shell she has developed. She realizes that if she is to develop she must abandon some ofher protective, rigid defenses, which may have grown over several centuries. That happened between the Council of Trent and Vatican II. Old and familiar structures were questioned and some of them were discarded, as having served their purpose. Some feared that we were betraying our heritage. They mourned the loss of what had become so familiar and dear to them. They felt they and the Church had become very vulnerable.

But this kind of oscillation between periods of rigid structures and change has always been true of the Church's life. She is very different today from what she was like in Apostolic times. As she has grown and spread throughout the world she has had to become more organized. Prayerful reflection and the need to respond to attacks on our faith have led the Church to gaining deeper insights and greater clarity in expressing what we have always believed. Between these periods of growth there have been times of stability, with little change. These have mirrored the lobster, encased in its hard shell. These have been followed by lobster-like vulnerable development, after the hard shell has been shed. This process is a sign of vitality.

We and the Church resemble the lobster in two other important ways. First of all, none of us can return to the shell we have shed. We've outgrown it; it no longer fits. We can't return to our childhood and refuse to grow up. The babe must leave its mother's womb, and can't return there. It must then grow into childhood, become a teenager and finally an adult. There's no going back to an earlier stage in our life-cycle. So too, the Church cannot, and should not want to, return to the simplicity of Apostolic times. We've developed over the centuries. This rhythm of periods of flexible vulnerable growth followed by stability will continue throughout the life of the Church until it has grown into its full maturity in the kingdom of heaven.

But it's reassuring to remember that throughout all the changes the lobster, and the Church do not lose their identity. Nor do we, as we develop from a unique tiny embryo, through childhood into mature adults. As we leave one state behind and grow into the next we remain the same individuals. As for the Church, well, the Holy Spirit guarantees that she won't lose her unique identity, as He inspires and guides her development.

Perhaps it's worth noting that while the lobster's new shell is simply a large version of the old, discarded one , our growth and that of the Church is much more complicated and subtle. Far from just being small people -or the infant Church -growing physically bigger while looking exactly the same, the quality of our lives should be enriched as we leave one state of life behind and grow into the next.

Like the lobster, we must all shed the various protective shells, which restrict our growth, not only as human beings, but also as followers of Christ.

Incidentally, although the lobster's life-cycle requires it to have periods of vulnerability, it doesn't take dangerous, unnecessary risks. Nor should we, nor the Church.

Isidore O.P.
Next Fr. Peter will reflect on 'Meeting God through Petty Cash.'

Wednesday, 8 September 2010


My life was programmed right from my early school years. Immediately after leaving school those who believed they had a Religious Vocation entered an initial formation-programme. If ever there were a programmed life this was it. Every moment of each day was pre-determined from the summons to rise in the pre-dawn darkness to the lights-out when healthy young men would be stepping out.

At the time I accepted this without question, because this was the 'required thing.' Looking back over many years I see that my life from birth to young adulthood was very much like a bird in an to flutter around in a confined but not too cramped space. Of course there was that absolute freedom to fly away from this kind of life so that I could live my life on my own terms. Such escaping never occurred to me.

I was freed from the responsibility of deciding what I should do and when I should do it. At times I was so frustrated at my not being the one to decide how I should occupy myself. I had no doubt that this restricted existence was imposed upon me by the will of God.

Some might say I was being kept in a state of immaturity. It has taken me many years to realize that I was being taught a most crucial lesson...not by word of mouth, not by the example of others, but by my lived experience. I state this boldly:
without there being any time off from God.

The programming of my life, with all the directives and the need to request permissions, had one purpose -to create a docile person -not one who was an efficient, skilled person, learned but determined to be self-determining.

Of course this pattern of life was never meant to last forever. There came a time when the rather petty restrictions of my life were removed. The aviary door had been opened. It was then I enjoyed the freedom of the wild bird in the forest or meadows...within the confines of an aviary the size of the universe itself -the extent of the Lordship of God over my life and the whole of creation. Within these boundaries I had committed myself to carrying out the will of God according to the dictates of my vocation.

The implication of this came home to me forcibly when as a young priest I was given charge of my first alone in the presbytery. Certainly plenty of work came my way without my having to look for it. But there remained a fair amount of open space which I could decide to fill either according to my whims and fancies, or what I perceived to be the will of God for me at that time. Within this frame-work one of the most responsible choices I had to make was about how much leisure time God wished me to have and what form that should take. I didn't see God wanting me to be a workaholic...go, go, go all the time without easing up at all. Also, since it was a huge temptation for me to go for the most congenial work, I had to ensure that my feelings and inclination were not to dictate my choices.

Now that I've reached the age of retirement from the office of parish priest and have been relieved of many of the commitments that used to fill my life, I can say there has been much joy and personal fulfillment through having my life circumscribed by the will of God. On reflection I think I have come to understand a little of what St. Paul meant when he wrote of
"the glorious freedom of the children of God," (Rom 8. 23).

This answering the call within the environment of the will of God, as His beloved children, is open to all of us as baptized people. My vocation, and, in deed, your vocation, is to follow Jesus who said, "my food is to do the will of the one who sent me, and to complete His work," (Jn. 4. 43). I think of how the Lord said through the prophet Hosea (6. 6), "Faithful love is what pleases me, not sacrifice; knowledge of God, not burnt offerings."

Across the board, we, as baptized persons -Laity, Clergy and Religious -are to discover fulfilment, what today is called 'job satisfaction,' in faithful love, with daily expressions of love, that amount to re -commitments to living according to the will of our loving Heavenly Father.

Far from being oppressive, this is liberating...Jesus Himself never found it easy. He never told His disciples it would be easy. This is how I have come to understand LIVING BY MY DECISION TO BECOME A DOMINICAN ... mywaygodsway in the mid twentieth century and to remain a contented and fulfilled one right into the early years of the twenty first century.
Peter O.P.
Next week a lobster will help Isidore to meet God.
Please keep the comments coming, and don't be discouraged by the slight delay caused be the filter we've had to install.