Monday, 30 May 2011


Ever since we were energetic teenagers my brother , Peter, and I have relished the idea of breaking free of the city and getting into the countryside. First we would have to choose an interesting place to visit. Then began the fun of planning our cycle route. For us travelling was as important as arriving. So out would come the map that would provide us with the crucial information we needed to make our journey. How we enjoyed wrestling with the decisions necessary in planning these outings!

There was the memorable occasion when we decided to cycle from Oxford to the south coast of England-about 100 miles. We'd almost reached the end of our journey when the weather turned foul, with driving rain and gusty winds. It was getting dark, and we valiant knights of the road, mounted on our bikes, were soaking wet, tired and miserable! And then, out of the mist and rain there loomed the warning sign, 'DANGER! ROAD CLOSED. DIVERSION.'

What were we to do? Sheer bravado, and eager determination left us in no doubt. We must reach the end of our journey as soon as possible. Grab the prospect of changing into dry clothes, and relaxing with a hot drink. We were eager to arrive as soon as possible. Go for the shortest route on our map. Wise in our fool-hardy conceit, we were not going to be deterred by a danger sign. Those, we thought, were for the faint-heart.

All too soon our arrogant folly caught up with us. Giant waves crashed over the coast-road we'd decided to take. What should we do now? Rashly we decided to press on, rather than turn back. After all, we were already soaking wet. A further drenching would make no difference. We didn't want to double back and prolong our miserable journey. Gradually the salty waves, crashing over our heads, caused our bikes to seize up. Every ball-baring became encrusted with salt. Peddling became harder and harder. At long last, utterly exhausted, we eventually reached our destination.

In a strange way this saga of many years ago is now telling me something about the purpose of God's Law -also its limitations. Far from being a strait-jacket that restricts movement, this Law is Divine Wisdom -a road map by which God shows His beloved people how to journey through life, responding to His love for them. Here He has chartered those quagmires which would destroy His people's love for Him. The Psalmist puts his love for God's Law beautifully,

"Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path,"

(Ps. 119. 105).

No wonder Jesus said He'd not come to destroy the Law, but to fulfil it. After all, it was God's Law, and Jesus never ceased to be God; it was given to the Jews, and He never ceased to be a Jew. No wonder He did not want to tear up the 'map of life' He Himself had given His people!

Instead, He came to provide a clearer map that would reveal what had never been suspected, and much that had been overlooked or misunderstood...a map of life with more inviting possibilities and more protective warnings. God's Law guides us through this life and leads us safely to eternal life and happiness. So the prophet Jeremiah advises us,

Thus says the Lord, 'Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.' But they said, 'We will not walk in it,'"

(Jer. 6. 16).

You'd think Jeremiah had Peter and me in mind when he wrote those words -our headstrong perversity in ignoring a well intentioned warning road-sign. Much more crass to spurn God's road-map for life, as though we knew better!

But maps, directions and even laws do have their limitations. They can tell us how to get from one place to another, and what dangers we should avoid. But that information alone will never give us the energy to start moving and keep get on our bikes or to follow God's map of life and to persevere on our journey towards Him until our dying breath. We need God to do more than tell us where we should or should not go. We need Him to give us the will-power and energy to make the journey.

But then Jesus exclaims, "I am the way, and the truth and the life," (Jn. 14. 6). Not only does He show us the way to the Father, but He also gives us the energy to journey towards Him. Baptism sets us on our way and gives us a divine vitality, a dynamism to travel towards God.

So, I first meet God in studying and loving the map of life He has given us. Then I draw upon His energizing grace to journey towards Him. Out of love He has mapped out for me the way to eternal happiness with Him. I can trust Him not to lead me astray!

Isidore O.P.

In a fortnight Peter will meet God through 'Impossible Dreams.'

Monday, 16 May 2011


Far be it from me to admit that I was never a naughty child. God knows that I was, and so did my parents, who are now happily resting in the bosom of Abraham. God also knows that I was an adventurous and mischievous rascal. And so was my twin brother, Isidore. I leave it to him to tell his own tale.

And now we come to that day when we toddlers were going to visit one of those mega stores that promised so much excitement. From the moment of passing through the palatial entrance it was evident that there would be much to excite my curiosity and delight -so much to see, wonders to be discovered, corridors between counters and display stands to be explored. Mother, a caring soul, was lightly holding my twin brother and me by the hand. With a primitive instinct that escapees don't break out in a dramatic fashion, I slipped away from mother without her noticing. Gradually I drifted away from her as I peered this way and that, examining everything.

And then I espied the wonderland of toys -of teddy bears and rocking horses, building bricks and tricycles. With a mindless compulsion I was drawn on and on and on, from one toy to another -totally captivated.

But then I realized I was surrounded by strangers in an unfamiliar environment. I felt lonely, desolate. I panicked. I screamed for Mummy. I was afraid! But a kindly soul took me by the hand and calmed me down with soothing words. Holding me by the hand she took me into a small box-like room with no windows. A sliding door closed with a resounding clanking, clattering din.

Never before in my short life had I been so cut off from the world and everyone I knew and loved. And then there was the strange feeling in my gut that I was being taken up and up and up, and having nothing before my eyes to tell me it was so. Eventually this 'tin box' came to an abrupt halt.

The door gently slid open and we stepped out of the lift (elevator). In no time I heard a voice speaking into a mike my name and a description of me -a sweet little boy, with golden curls and wearing an orange shirt, bright red shorts and answering to the name of 'Peter.' "Would my mother kindly collect me from the 'LOST PROPERTY ROOM' -on the top floor of t this enormous building?!

In my infant ignorance I had wondered if she would be able to find me. No need to describe the reunion when mother reclaimed her 'lost property.' What a magic moment for both of us -she relieved that I had come to no harm; I ecstatic that mother had cherished me so much that she had sought me out until she could reclaim me and embrace me. She might so easily have blamed me.

And now, many years later, I realize that at this very tender age I had experienced the anguish of the lost sheep in the parable, and then the relief, the joy of being sought and being found by the shepherd -and not by a hungry wolf. In the parable the lost/found sheep was given a VIP welcome, a ride on the shepherd's shoulders.

Long after the event, I now reflect on the folly, the pain I had brought upon myself and upon my mother, all through my going after forbidden freedoms. And then I think of the beauty of discovering I was still cherished, wanted and welcomed by forgiving love after I had thought it smart to cut loose and 'do my own thing!'

A footnote. Excitedly I told my twin brother, Isidore, how this long forgotten episode had unexpectedly come to my mind and how I had promptly decided I could get a blog out of it. Immediately he chipped in that he had been the 'lost property' and had already used this episode in a sermon....Ah well! Mywaygodsway.

Peter O.P

In a fortnight Isidore will reflect on how maps help him to meet God

Tuesday, 3 May 2011


Poor Martha and Thomas! They've both had a bad press. Martha is stuck with the label of being over-active and fussy, of getting her priorities wrong. She's compared unfavourably with her contemplative sister, Mary. And Thomas will forever be known as the 'Doubter.' Though there's a certain truth in both these labels, they only describe one facet of each of their characters. These labels give an unbalanced and unjust impression. Far from helping us to understand each other labels can close our minds to the many facets of our characters. People are far too complicated and mysterious to be identified by a single label and then pigeon-holed. We need to strip off the labels, if we are to gain a balanced understanding.

That's very true with the label stuck on Martha. As she welcomed Jesus into her home, she prepared some refreshments, while her sister, Mary, kept Him company. That would happen when a guest visits any family or Dominican community. In different ways both sisters showed their love for Jesus. And He had no complaint about that arrangement.

It's usually forgotten that Martha wanted to join Jesus and her sister as soon as possible. That's why she complained to Jesus and asked Him to tell Mary to give her a hand with preparing the refreshments. But Jesus had a different approach -Martha should go to less trouble with the refreshments. That would free her to join them. After all, He'd come to enjoy the sisters' company, rather than to receive lavish refreshments. That's why Jesus didn't tell Mary to leave Him alone and help her sister.

Certainly there's a gentle rebuke here for Martha, who needed to get the balance right between doing things for those we love and making time to relax in their company. But that doesn't justify us sticking an indelible label on Martha for being hyper-active, in contrast with her contemplative sister.

That becomes very clear in another incident in which the two sisters feature -the raising of Lazarus. While Mary stayed at home weeping over the death of her brother, practical Martha went out to meet Jesus. With a robust faith she reproached Him for not staying to cure Lazarus. She then expressed her conviction that even after he'd been dead for several days Jesus could still restore him to life. Jesus was then able to draw out her faith in the resurrection so that she could accept Him as actually being, 'the resurrection and the life.'

Here we now see Martha as the contemplative, whose lively faith is deepened by questioning Jesus. And, like a good missionary, Martha leads her sister to Jesus. That is the prelude to His raising Lazarus from the dead. What a different Martha from the one who had been disparagingly labelled as 'hyper-active!'

Now for 'Doubting' Thomas. He was not the only one unwilling to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead. No one did! But Thomas expressed their scepticism more forcefully than anyone else. Before he was prepared to believe he wanted not only to see the risen Lord, but even to poke the wounds of His crucifixion.

But Thomas' doubts were but the beginning of a journey from the deepest scepticism to the greatest act of faith in all the Gospels. Once Thomas realized that Jesus had, indeed, risen from the dead, he exclaimed, 'My Lord and my God!' In all fairness he should be called, 'Believing,' not 'Doubting' Thomas! But, sadly, we do tend to think the worst of people, and dismiss them with a negative label.

The unjust way Martha and Thomas have been treated should warn us against sticking labels on anyone -especially when the labels mark them out as failures in our eyes. No single label can do justice to anyone. We're all too complicated and mysterious for that.

If that's true for us people, it's especially true when we think and talk about God. He's far too mysterious to be labelled and pigeon-holed. Idolatry lies in attempting to restrict God to the limits of our human understanding. Only when we are prepared to accept that He is a mystery, who defies labelling and pigeon-holing, can we begin to understand Him. That's what stripping the labels from Martha and Thomas -and from each other -has taught me.

Isidore O.P.

In a fortnight Fr. Peter will reflect on Lost Property