Thursday, 20 September 2012


I’ve spent almost the whole of my priestly life working in the Caribbean islands of Grenada and Barbados. That’s over fifty years. I know what it’s like to labour in the heat of the day. My heart goes out to that little girl who asked of her mother why they always had to have a tired priest for their Sunday Mass. Hers would have been my third celebration of the morning – each one being in a different place; each one being a gorgeous act of worship lasting well over an hour.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. Mine has been a very contented priesthood, sprinkled with the sweet and the sour, the smooth and the rough. Taking a rest after my Sunday lunch has made it possible for me, from a temperate climate, to cope with the tropical heat and humidity, as well as with the heavy work-load.

Life was never meant to be as easy as we would like it to be! Time was when I was pastor of a parish with the church and presbytery right in the heart of the town.   There was this darling toddler who would bottle up his noisy energy throughout the week and then release it on Sunday afternoons as he paraded up and down the street that passed just under my room. He’d got hold of a large dried-milk tin and, in a state of sublime ecstasy, was pounding the very life out it with a stick.

Perhaps he’d been captivated by the melodious sounds stroked out of the steel pans of the  West Indies. Could be this little fellow aspired to belonging to the police band when he grew up. One thing I do know for sure is that drums belong to the culture of the West Indies. Many a secondary school has its drum corps which leads the ‘March Past’ of the competing Houses at the annual sports.   Even the infant schools have to find some drummers to ‘ beat the beat’ as they proudly  ‘march the march’ at their own sports.

My head throbbed with weary pain as this drummer- boy adorned the Day of the Lord with tin-can glory! Grudgingly I groped towards the window to see what was going on.  There, before my sleepy eyes, was a child radiant with joy as admiring folk clapped their hands to his beat. If I’d intervened I would probably have lost next Sunday’s congregation (as well as the collection).

All this happened many years ago but it surfaced in my memory as I listened to the readings of the Mass of the day. Sorry but it’s true …irreverently, uninvited, this Blog sprang into being as I heard of St. Paul carrying on about booming  gongs and tinkling cymbals. Perhaps his siesta had been disturbed by a lusty drum-beater or tin-can- basher. Any way he was one who in irritation considered that those who speak without love had much in common with the gongs and cymbals that emit a hollow, empty noise! ( see I Cor. 13) I’m sure he would have added tin-cans to his list of offenders.

Now I must watch myself. I find myself rushing in a direction that is totally unacceptable to me.  I would never have wanted to chide the little boy for being so noisily naughty. (Or should it be ‘naughtily noisy?’) There was never a grain of malice in his little heart.  That Sunday afternoon he was a source of laughter and happiness to his admiring audience.

His spectators were in step with his exuberance. I, the sleepy priest, was probably the only one in town who was out of step with his beat!

Now, what about this for a happy liturgical coincidence? In the Gospel of that same day Jesus spoke of  those grumbling discontents who were like, children shouting to one another while they sit in the market place: We played the pipes for you, and you wouldn't dance; we sang dirges, and you wouldn't cry,’(Lk.7).

I feel that this memory, brought to the surface during the Mass itself, was godsway of telling me I will never be happy, and I will never deserve to be happy, if I insist on people accommodating themselves to my convenience. Once I allow other people  (such as this little boy) to have ‘their moments’ I shall find inner peace- even though it may be amidst some tribulation –such as the loss of a much desired, greatly needed, siesta!

Friday, 7 September 2012


A few years ago I had to start using a hearing aid.  I was told that it would take a few months for my brain to filter out the background noise.  That certainly proved to be very true!   At first the birds were deafening.  But after a time I hardly noticed them, unless I deliberately wanted to tune into them.
This reminded me of my first going to the W. Indies.  There, in the evening, lots of tiny tree frogs, smaller than a finger nail, would whistle so loudly that I could hardly think.  I don’t know whether it was my imagination, but they seemed to make much more noise after a down-pour of rain.  But, as with my hearing aid, after a time my brain-filter worked so well that I didn’t notice the little frogs singing their hearts out.

But after I’d returned to England Peter sent me a recording of an evening Mass in Barbados.  Since the recorder lacked a sound-filter the chorus of frogs drowned out the beautiful singing of the choir.  At least I’m told it was beautiful, but I must take that on trust, since the frogs didn’t allow me to hear it!
This got me thinking about the way the background or surrounding noise in our lives can easily drown out the voice of the Lord.  It’s not only that today we seem uncomfortable with silence, but life is so hectic.  We don’t have time to stop, to listen, to notice. As the poet, W.H. Davies wrote, “What is this life so full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.”  In our hectic, noisy rush we can miss so much that is good and beautiful.  Because it is priceless it is dismissed as worthless –a waste of time.
This can be very true of God. In the Book of Revelation the risen Lord says, “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me,” (Rev.3.20).  Jesus wants to enter and share our lives, but He won’t force Himself up us.  So he knocks and waits for us to open up to Him and let Him in. That word, “listen” is vital.  He respects us too much to force Himself upon us, when He’s not wanted. So He knocks and waits. But if there’s too much background noise in our lives we won’t even hear His knock and He will remain outside.

But perhaps, horror of horrors, that’s what we really want!  We fear that what He has to say will be uncomfortable and demanding.  So we turn up the volume, smother the sound of His knock and try to get on with our lives without Him.   And yet to stifle the Word of God would be the worst thing we could ever do to ourselves.  That would mean that we had deliberately broken off communication between us and God!   Amos makes the dire prediction,  The time is surely coming, says the Lord God, when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord,” (Amos 8.11).  Starvation of the Word of God means spiritual death!  For as St. Peter said, Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn. 6. 68).  Life would be meaningless without Jesus nourishing us with His loving word.

The whistling frogs have taught me that if I am to meet God I must not allow the clamour around me to deafen me to the voice of God, sometimes speaking with a soft, gentle voice.  When I really want to concentrate I may need to switch off my hearing aid and close my windows so that I can shut out all distracting bird songs, or in the W. Indies, whistling frogs. Switching to the image of a radio, I need to tune into the “God Station” if I’m to hear His voice loud and clear, and tune out of other stations that are enjoyable but distracting.  Then, hopefully, I will heed the Psalmist, “O that today you would listen to His voice!  Do not harden your hearts,” (Ps. 95. 7-8).   And, hopefully, with the young Samuel I will always reply, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” (1 Sam. 3. 9).
Isidore Clarke O.P. 
P.S. Peter has just told me that recently one of these tiny whistling frogs hopped into his glass of rum.  Had it evolved with a taste for the golden nectar?  If Peter had swallowed it, he would have had a frog in his throat and would have whistled whenever he spoke. That would have made for unusual sermons!

The next posting will on 21st September when Isidore will reflect on Meeting God in his 'Babel Moment.'