Monday, 22 November 2010


I must have my own space! I must have my own time! On Sunday morning with several Masses to celebrate and sermons to preach, the last thing I need is to be rushed, without having the leisure to loosen my limbs and tune into God -after the heavy drowsiness of a good night's sleep.

And so it happened that on one Sunday morning both my usually reliable 'body clock' and my alarm clock failed to awaken me. Neither did the Holy Spirit or any of my Guardian Angels. Far be it from me to suggest that they were sleeping at their posts.

The time came when two worthy parishioners were pounding on my door and calling my name. Much was their relief to find that I was still half alive in a distant drowsy fashion. They told me I was already late and that there was no need to stampede myself into action.

In the twilight world of semi-consciousness I groped my way to the car. As I made my drowsy way down the aisle of the church I heard a small boy whisper, "Mummy, Father's still asleep!" True! True! True! With my head aching at the effort of trying to become devotional, and, harder still, to sound coherent, I would not be surprised if many in the congregation thought I was talking in my sleep as well as sleep walking.

One of today's worn out cliches is people talking about their having got their act together, at long last and after so much effort...not without moments of elation and heart-break. To reach the peak and remain at the top is an enviable achievement.

But then I pause. What if God saw it fitting for my personal formation that I should never feel totally secure, never utterly self-confident? What if throughout my life it were needful for me to be continually aware of my creaturely fragility? Then, surely if ever anything that I attempted were to"come off" just as I intended, instinctively I would say, "Thank you God, for bringing me through."

For me it simply is not true that practice makes perfect. Having been Fr. Reliable for so many years is no guarantee that I will wake up at a given time on any given Sunday. I've heard it said of some priests that they have preached so many sermons they could do it in their sleep.

Come to think of it, I remember a time when I was surging through my sermon when it seemed as though there were a power-cut in my brain. For a while my brain went blank. When I returned to the real world I wondered where I was and what I was doing. What could I do but ask an altar server what was going on? Politely he told me he thought I was preaching. Obviously I had failed to make much of an impact on him.

What to do but to tell the congregation God had shut me down for a moment, and this I took to be an indication that He wanted me to shut up. Since no one protested I suggested we recite the Creed together. This certainly restored my wavering self-confidence.

My personal experience tells me that at the very time when I'm doing something important for God, He allows me to have a "power failure" and a "black out" in my preaching. He even allows my inner being to be in a state of flux. He's teaching me never to think in terms of my performance or my personal achievement. Mine is to be the instability of a jelly and the insecurity of walking on shifting sands.

I and the People of God are to be made to realize and accept what God has to offer: Preachers and Ministers who are no better and no worse than, "earthenware pots holding a priceless treasure, so that the immensity of the power is God's and not our own,"
2 Cor. 4. 7).

It's somewhat unnerving not to know what God is liable to let happen to me once I set about doing something for Him! For the elite this may mean martyrdom. For the likes of me it may come down to a fuzzy head or loose bowels! Such is my spirituality of encountering and serving the Divine, mywaygodsway. This I must learn to live with, and, I fancy, so must you!

Peter O.P.
We have been asked to give you longer to look at each posting. So, in future these will be made fortnightly, rather than weekly. You can easily find about 100 back numbers, which are never deleted. In a fortnight Isidore will meet God in an identity crisis.

Monday, 15 November 2010


Each month we young Dominican students used to be turned out of our Oxford priory with a bit of pocket money and the sandwiches we had made. In the summer we would pool our funds to hire a punt for the day. And we would buy some cider, which we kept cool by towing it in the water. If the weather were fine we would have a swim -an idyllic way of spending a day!

But not so on one occasion. Although I was quite proficient at punting I certainly wouldn't claim to have been an expert. But for all of us it was a matter of pride not to lose the punt pole or fall into the water. And pride, literally, was my downfall!

There was I, with a certain elegance, propelling the punt forward as I prodded the river bed with the long pole. Woe is me! The pole got caught in the branches of an over-hanging willow tree. To my dismay the punt and I parted company. As it raced away from me I instinctively grabbed a branch, hoping to avoid falling into the river. A big mistake! I was no heavy weight, but solid enough for my shoulder to be jerked right out of its socket. Good thing I was wearing my swimming trunks when I fell into the water!

Seeing my painful distress, a burly young man in another punt claimed he'd dealt with similar accidents on the rugby field. So he kindly offered to pull my dislocated shoulder back into its socket. But, being unsure of his expertise I graciously declined his generous offer and chose to be taken to the local hospital. There, much tugging and twisting failed to get my shoulder back into its socket. So I was given a shot of morphine to relax the muscles and relieve the pain.

That did the trick and I was taken to the recovery room. There I sat groggily on the bed. On that gloriously hot summer day I was wearing only my swimming trunks -that's important for what happened next. A young nurse drew back the curtains, and to my surprise and alarm asked, "Are you the young man with the hairy legs? I've come to shave them!" Never before have I had less desire to have smooth limbs! What, I wonder, would have happened if I'd been unconscious and unable to tell her she'd got the wrong patient. I could have lost a leg!

My floundering helplessly in the river has reminded me of Christ pulling the fool-hardy Peter out of the sea. His pride had led him to start trusting himself as he tried to do what was humanly impossible -to walk across the water. Inevitably he began to sink beneath the storm-tossed waves. Only then did he cry, "Save me, Lord, I'm sinking!" Peter could only be saved when he grasped the hand Jesus extended towards him.

But what did my dislocating punting experience tell me about my relationship with God? And now my imagination leaps off in several directions.

First of all, after I'd dislocated my shoulder I no longer had the strength to get to safety in the punt or onto dry land. I needed to use my good arm to grasp the hand reaching out to rescue me. I could not manage by myself. I needed someone else to save me from the water. And so did Peter, when he was in danger of drowning. He was helpless; he was terrified -until Jesus reached out to him. Only then was he safe.

For me, that simple gesture of their grasping each other's hands sums up the whole of salvation history. In our helplessness God reaches out to save us. As we grasp His hand we are saved. Like Peter, I must place my trust in Christ, and not try to go it alone. With Peter I desperately, yet confidently cry, "Save me, Lord, I'm sinking!" That is the only way, I, or anyone else, can meet God.

Then, in hospital, I see the medical staff continuing the work of Christ, the Good Physician, who came to repair our relationship with God, dislocated by sin. As for the nurse, who threatened to shave my hairy legs -at first she was sinister, threatening, scary. But then I quickly realized how zany, how hilarious was her question. Decades later I still chuckle about it. I'm sure God sent that charming ministering angel to distract me with something crazy when I was feeling sorry for myself. What a delightful way of experiencing God's compassion, expressed with a divine sense of humour! But I do thank God for delivering me from that close shave, which was meant to be the prelude to something more drastic -what? And I do hope the nurse found our brief encounter as amusing as I did -and still do.
Isidore O.P
Next week Fr. Peter will meet God while sleep walking

Monday, 8 November 2010


We're now in November and already I've heard mention of Christmas on commercial radio. In the next few weeks the airwaves will be saturated with Christmas melodies -some sacred and some very profane. Before long shop windows will be decorated with streamers and balloons and with trees garlanded with flashy baubles and twinkling lights. There we shall see the figures of bearded old men in red pyjamas and floppy hats, and of bewildered reindeer with ruddy, cold noses. This will be a season when people are intent on getting me to buy loved ones presents that they scarcely need and perhaps don't really want.

All the Christian Churches are concerned that the season has become hijacked by commercialism. Before I take this up I would say, "Spare a thought for the business houses that have had a lean year, and, for their survival, look to this season for some trade!"

The stores have seized hold of the traditional optimism and high spirits long associated with this season and have turned it to their advantage. Excitement and the anticipation of embraces, laughter, joy and peace build up to a climax towards the end of December. Then there will be family get-togethers, parties, and an out-pouring of good-will that expresses itself in the exchange of greetings and gifts.

It's not absurd to ask, "What's all the fuss about?" We should not be surprised if we meet people who have never thought about it and can't give a coherent answer. Could it be said that the celebration of a highly significant event has been reduced to a 'feel-good' festival and nothing more?

The Churches must reclaim their own festival.
My belief is that this must be stated loudly and clearly at the very beginning of the Liturgical Season of Advent. Everything that is read, preached and sung should be directed to emphasizing this, so that we become and remain focused people...with the focus being on the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Son of Mary.

The very idea of it arouses in me emotions of eager anticipation. And what about you? None of us should ever lose sight of why we are so excited.
THIS IS IT: God so love the world that He sent His only Son...
His loving the human family with such intensity is breath-taking. What amazing compassion that He should send His Son -NOT to condemn the world, BUT TO SAVE IT.

Such fantastic optimism that God was convinced that He could save our world, with all its sinfulness, through His Son, born of a woman in a stable outside Bethlehem! But is this world worth saving? Yes! Yes! Yes! This is God's unwavering such strong contrast with the common tendency to find so much to condemn and so many people to condemn. By sending His Son God defies the assertion, the counsel of despair, that ours is a hopeless world, a God-forsaken place to live in.

Rather, the Father knows well enough the power of His love to save through His Son, Jesus. He is confident that He can inspire people to respond to His love, and thus allow themselves to be saved.

As I strive to reach God my way, during this approach to the Christmas season, I find that what God had to offer seems so paltry, so puny -an infant born to a poor family. The salvation of the world was cradled in insecurity -Jesus being born into an unfriendly world, utterly dependent on His being wrapped in the swaddling clothes of good-will sufficient to ensure His survival.

As a Christian who enjoys all the strident, clamorous merriment of the build-up towards Christmas, with the expectation of a somewhat carefree, extravagant season of jollity, I must hold fast to my primary focus -the birth of the Saviour, Jesus. This means that my hope for better, happier, more loving, more prosperous times must not be mere half-hearted wishful thinking.

As a Christian I must imbibe something of God's fantastic optimism -the world is not beyond redemption. It can be saved. This is not merely a genuine possibility. It is both an accomplished and an on-going and through the One born of Mary, centuries ago, and now, in this generation and in every generation born in the hearts, the very lives, of those eager to receive Him.

At this season I reach God by sharing in His optimism, by not allowing myself to become discouraged by the presence of evil in my own life and in the lives of others. If I am capable of being saved by my responding to the love God shows me through His Son, Jesus, there is absolutely no reason on earth why others should not respond in the same way.

This great Good News deserves to have Banner Headlines at the beginning of Advent, throughout Advent and throughout our lives. This Christmas meeting God in the Word become flesh and dwelling amongst us is most surely the greatest of all encounters...myway is supremely godsway.
Peter O.P.

Next week Isidore will reflect on meeting God in a "Hairy Scary" experience

Tuesday, 2 November 2010


Dad was always one for the occasional flutter with the horses. What better time than that year, never to be forgotten, when he had every reason to flutter -when he became the father of us twins -Isidore and me.

Happy chance or a sign from heaven that there was a horse running in the Epsom Derby named "April the Fifth"...the very date of our birth! With twins to cope with he sure needed a win, a consolation prize -and win he got.

And while I'm on the subject of chancy enterprises I must tell you about a friend of mine who used to fill in her Football Pools while enthroned in a private room. One blessed day her random crosses on the grid yielded her a 'big win!' I have to tell you she was a person of exceptional piety.

My appetite is for something more spiced with a challenge -those games that are a battle of wits in which you need to weigh up your opponent -his strengths and weakness. To all this add a tincture of good fortune...that he'll have a momentary lapse in concentration and make a foolish mistake. Then exploit the slightest advantage to the full.

With such frisson of excitement I target all my craftiness against Isidore when we square up for a game of chess! I try to thwart him by setting traps, calling his bluff and by making seemingly careless moves that turn out to be match-winning sacrifices. "Fooled you this time, Isidore! Check-mate!" Wily fellow that he is, he is quite capable of out-maneuvering and surpassing me in cunning and foresight.

How can I not mention the time my student master challenged me to a game of chess? Here was a logician of world renown with a razor-sharp, quick-silver mind. For pedestrian mortals like me the only effective winning strategy was to take time in brooding over my next move, so as to get him frustrated with impatience. And then I would shift a piece in a way that seemed utterly illogical...foolhardy. His logic couldn't cope with my nonsense!

Eagerly, with an incisive killer instinct, he swooped down to make dull-headed me pay for my stupidity. Unhappy the impetuous mouse that espies the cheese but is blind to the trap to which it is pegged!

Now to more serious business...the nitty-gritty of life. At best I can only make an informed guess as to what the future holds for me; and then make sensible provision that will enable me to cope. I'm far from being in control. I'm just not able to bring about what I most desire and prevent what I most fear.

In this life of uncertainty the only thing is 'contingency planning.' For me, a one-time smart Boy-Scout, this would require I go to camp with band-aids and antiseptic ointments in case I cut myself. It would never cross my mind to carry a surgical collar on the off-chance that I might strain my neck!

Second guessing Isidore at chess and shielding myself against the normal hazards of camping have never been a big deal. However, no way would I presume to second-guess God. I shall never be able to spring any surprises on God, nor call His bluff. Never, never, will I or anyone else, be able to out-wit Yahweh-God and gleefully exclaim, "Check-mate!"

Not even the death of the fledgling sparrow, falling from its nest, escapes his notice, nor does the solitary hair that strives to break the surface of my bald pate. Never will I be able to force His hand, nor limit His options as to how He should act.

And yet I scream with all my humanity that I am a free person. God, my creator, has made me so. I have the freedom to choose what is good behaviour and to reject what is evil. Or I can decide to do exactly the opposite.

I'm in a quandary. How can I balance what I believe about myself as being a free agent with what I believe about God, Who is the sovereign Lord of me and of all creation?

I align myself with the bewildered, subdued, reflective Job:
"Job replied to Yahweh, 'My words have been frivolous: what can I reply? I had better lay my hand over my mouth. I have spoken once, I shall not speak again; I have spoken twice, I have nothing more to say," (Job 40. 3).

This is no 'cop-out.' It's mywaygodsway for me to relate to God. When He and I face each other across the chess-board of life...I am transparent to God and He is inscrutable to me! I like it that way. I don't think I ever want to check-mate God! The consequences don't bear thinking about.

Peter O.P.
Next week Peter will make a seasonal reflection on 'Fantastic Optimism.'