Saturday, 21 December 2013



Isidore, my twin brother, and I joined the Dominicans in 1950. How clueless we were about what we were getting into! Coming straight from Grammar School we were prepared for everything and prepared for nothing. Our attitude was that we would ‘give it a go’ and see where it led us.
First surprise - for reasons known only to God and to our Novice Master - we had to dip our two feet into a basin of water and then make wet foot-prints on the polished floor. These were closely examined to see if any of the candidates to the Order were flat-footed! Could it have been that in those days God’s flat-footed children would have obviously been disqualified from becoming good preachers?!  Anyway, after more than sixty years we’re still preaching. Twin Isidore reminds me of the famous musings of the prophet Isaiah,” How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation,” Isaiah 52:7.

A feat beyond compare for both of us to be accepted into THE ORDER BECAUSE OF OUR BEAUTIFUL FEET…!”  And now I ask myself WHO NOSE what is the criterion for the other great Religious Orders in accepting new candidates? Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?
With a return to sanity the Novice Master had us candidates get our eyes tested. With honest realism the optician advised Isidore and me that our eye-sight was so poor that we’d best forget pursuing a bookish career and consider working on the land!  The powers-that–be ignored this advice; and so did we twins.  Through a mixture of foolish stubbornness and being well-focused in our determination we have persisted in preaching to this day.  For me personally there was a price to pay -  headaches, blackouts and even nose-bleeds as I glued my student eyes to the printed page.
For me everything depends on being well-focused.  Our focus was becoming and remaining Dominicans was of supreme importance to us…something we couldn’t to do without…something that demanded hard work and persistence....and still does! We had set our hearts on a life-determining, life-shaping, goal. I put it down  to an urge and a surge to become and remain Dominicans.

My Christmas thought is that the shepherds and the Magi had this urge and surge. They put aside all else and made their way to the stable outside Bethlehem. They had to discover for themselves ‘What child is this?’ that a choir of angels or a moving star had provoked them to seek pay him honour.

As for that nasty man, Herod, he had a devilishly sharp focus.  Word soon reached him that these Magi were going through Jerusalem asking the whereabouts of the ‘infant king of the Jews.’ Such a child would have been an obvious threat to the royal family of King Herod. The possibility of this coming to anything had to be snuffed out, IMMEDIATELY!  Herod’s focus of having this ‘rival’ tracked down was as sharp as the tip of a sword.  The outcome …the Massacre of the Holy Innocents!

What does ‘bringing this season into sharp focus’ say to you and to me? Surely our being very clear what is the ‘must-have’ about Christmas that has the greatest importance for us; then having the stubborn determination not  to let  anything prevent us from enjoying it.
Look  at this time of the year! So much agitated activity.  The very air seems to be crackling with intensity and bustling excitement. Mostly everywhere is decorated with ‘all things bright and beautiful.’ Pounding music all but bursts our eardrums!  Many would think it stupid to ask, ‘Why all the ‘tra-la-la?’ Their instant reply would be, ‘Who needs a pretext, an excuse, for having a good time?’

Others would chime in, ‘Jesus is the reason for the season.’  And the reply would surely be, ‘That may be your reason, but it’s not mine, nor that of most other people!’   From within this  mêlée  of swirling messages and enthusiasms  I sense an urgent need to pluck out of this confused mixture of moods and messages the golden nugget of radiant, dazzling truth…such as “In a nutshell Christmas is …; the nitty-gritty of Christmas is…; or “Stripped down to the bare bones Christmas is all about  shepherds and Magi – their  sharp focus, my sharp focus, discovering the Child in the manger...Jesus, the Son of Mary, Jesus the Son of  God.”

We Christians have seen these past few as a build-up to Christmas – the celebration of the Son of God being born into our world – the human family.

In this lies godswaymyway for me, you, and many more, to have a deeply spiritual and enjoyable Christmas. God has brought me to see the pressing need for us to get Christmas into clear, sharp focus.  Without this sharp Christmas focus, how on earth are we going to fulfill our Christian duty and privilege of   ‘telling it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born?
Peter Clarke O.P.
Peter and Isidore wish all our readers and their families  every blessing  for Christmas and the New Year

Thursday, 12 December 2013


An evening to remember!  I was left to myself, with no-one making any demands on me. So I switched on my radio as I relaxed in my comfortable armchair. What a delight to stumble upon John Rutter’s ‘Requiem!’   Until then this had been unknown to me.

In my enthusiasm I rushed out -the next day -to buy the CD of the music.   I had to hear it again! I had to share my ‘discovery’ with my brother, Peter, in Grenada, in the W. Indies. He was likewise thrilled with the CD I sent him.   I was delighted that Peter shared my enthusiasm. His enthusiasm, his enjoyment certainly increased mine.

It’s said that a problem shared is a problem halved. Surely ‘a joy shared is a joy doubled.’ That must be equally true! That was certainly true, when I introduced my brother to this beautiful music.

Some years later, when our brother Chris died, the ‘Requiem’ by John Rutter would draw Peter and me especially close.   At the very hour I was celebrating our brother Chris’ Requiem in England Peter, in Grenada, had sought out the peace-filled seclusion of a rocky peninsular reaching out into the Atlantic.   There, sitting in his car, he recited the Breviary Office of the Dead with the CD of Rutter’s ‘Requiem’ comforting him in his solitary sorrow. He was separated by thousands of miles from the rest of the family. That beautiful piece of music, which we both loved, helped to bring us especially close in our shared grief for our deceased brother.  It was a real blessing that I should have accidentally stumbled across that music and then shared it with Peter.

This incident made me think of the excitement of discovering a brilliant young footballer, or, perhaps, singer. Eagerly we want to tell our friends about him or her.  We urge them to come and see for themselves.
That’s precisely what happened in an incident recorded near the beginning of St. John’s Gospel (1. 35-42).  When John the Baptist saw Jesus, he pointed Him out to a couple of his followers. “Behold the Lamb of God,” he exclaimed.  That aroused Andrew’s curiosity.  So he and his companion followed Jesus and asked Him where He lived. When Jesus invited them to ‘come and see’ they went and spent the day with Him.   Andrew then went back and eagerly told his brother, “We have found the Messiah.”  Gripped by Andrew’s enthusiasm Peter went with his brother to see Jesus for himself.   That shared discovery completely changed their lives.

This idea echoes the title and theme of Pope Francis’ recent Apostolic Exhortation entitled, “The Joy of Evangelization.” Jesus is Good News, the very best of news.   Like Andrew, we should be so excited about Jesus and what He has done for us that we can’t help but want to share Him with our nearest and dearest and with all those we encounter in our daily lives!  Like the apostles, we should long for everyone to welcome what means so much to us – our personally discovering Jesus and becoming attached to Him. Like the women who first saw the risen Lord we should feel we must rush and share this Good News.  It’s too exciting, too important for us to keep to ourselves!

 But we all know that our wildest enthusiasms can become jaded;   familiarity can breed complacency.  Interesting, isn’t it, that Pope Francis criticizes those of the clergy who look as if they’ve just come from a funeral?  He even calls them –us- “sourpusses!”  Could it be that we’ve lost our sense of wonder and excitement at the Good News? If so, we won’t be all that eager to listen to it or share it.  Gradually our awareness of Jesus can become like dull background music or drab wall-paper to our lives!

If I’m to meet God I must ask Him to keep alive my love and enthusiasm for the Good News about Jesus Himself and the salvation He has achieved for us through His death and resurrection. What an awful thought that Jesus could be relegated to being no more than a footnote to our lives!  Only with enthusiasm that ‘fires me up’ will I be eager to spread the Gospel and enjoy doing so.

 Having been a member of the Order of Preachers for over sixty years I can vouch for the ‘Joy of Evangelizing’ –powerfully expressed in Pope Francis’ ‘Evangelii Gaudium’ –‘The Joy of Evangelizing.’ It’s a real tonic.  It refreshes our appetite to “taste and see that the Lord is good,” (Ps. 34. 8). I strongly recommend it –especially during Advent when we celebrate the Good News of the coming of Our God!   May this inspire us to enrich other people’s lives with what gives meaning to our lives –God’s greatest gift -Himself.

Isidore O.P.


Thursday, 28 November 2013


I’m a grumpy old man, especially early in the morning. I can think of a number of people who would agree with that – most surely my twin brother, Isidore.  By the time you’ve finished reading this blog you’ll probably think the same. And you wouldn’t be far wrong. I suffer from ‘crack-of-dawn’ peevishness. And no wonder!  In The Prayer of the Church we’re required to chant a hymn that goes like this,
‘We sing for you a morning hymn to end the silence of the night.
When early cock begins to crow and everything from sleeps awakes,’….!
  When early cock begins to crow and everything from sleeps awakes,’….!  For weeks now  there’s been an insolent cockerel that took up residence in the presbytery and the parish church  grounds.  I wonder  which was the worst of its many sins – leaving a tacky, slippery mess in the very areas people most frequently had to walk? Or at about 2.30 each morning  ‘blowings its top’ with a strident shrillness that jarred my nerves and inspired uncharitable thoughts?
 The words choked in my throat when I’ve been required to sing about crowing cocks  awakening deeply sleeping me?   If this was the best it could do for a mating call it must have been a hard-up hen that would have fancied him! You notice I refer to this bird THAT WAS, not the one THAT IS? For the past few blissful days this groan-leading, not cheer-leading, bird has not been around…And now we have a blessed hush and a clean yard to greet each new day.

From early childhood all of us must have learnt,

‘All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,

All things wise and wonderful,

The Lord God made them all.’

But, ever  complaining me asks, ‘What about those insects that sting and bite -that cause inflammation or infection?  What about the sly mongoose or foxes that steal our chickens? And what about the bad rainy weather that washes out a cricket match; and the bad dry weather that shrivels the plants in my garden?  God made all these as well as the storms, the floods, the droughts, the earthquakes, the famines and diseases that make life insecure for so many people. In God’s good creation I find so much more to grumble about …things that bring so much misery to so many people….things that are inconvenient to me personally.
      And yet, who am I to complain to God about anything that He has made? How dare I presume  I could have made a better job of creation than had Almighty God Himself?  So I have problems – not with God, but with my understanding God; in my coming to terms with some of the things going on in the world that He has made, the world He sees to be so good.  While I’m still in this sour mood I ponder upon the awful woes that human beings inflict on one another. No need to name them. They advertize themselves on every newscast.
Siblings to one another within the one human family, each made in the image and likeness of God, inflict misery on one another in the home, in the neighbourhood, in the war-zone. And yet every single one of us is ignited with a  spark of the divine, with the brightness of God Himself who is love, who is just, who is kind who is holy.  As for myself I must confess  I do have immense difficulty in coming to terms with some of those ‘made in God’s image and likeness!’ I would be a conceited fool if I ever thought for a moment that everyone found  it easy to get on with me. I’m still disturbed that all of us beloved children of God find it  difficult  to be beloved to one another. Worse still, sometimes this is the last thing we want!

I ask my God, my loving, wise Heavenly Father, ‘How can all this be?’   As for my own personal grouses and grievances, I’m coming round to admitting that my big mistake is to believe that everything in God’s creation is designed for my convenience and contentment, a world that in its entirety is at my service. And so I complain whenever anything or and anyone fails to come up to my expectations, causes me inconvenience or annoys me. And this is the height of individualism, of selfishness. This is a form of idolatry – making myself a god unto myself, as well as creating for myself a mean and cramped existence.  How many of us do this to ourselves?
It is so easy for us not to recognize that each and every thing in God’s creation has its individual destiny. That includes each one of us.  These particular destinies are woven into a spectacular fabric – a grand design –so vast that only the Creator can understand and appreciate it.  Each item, each person, that God has made has its own identity and integrity – from mini mouse to mighty mountain. Each in its own way and all in their togetherness and interaction proclaim God’s glory.

But wait a moment, we human beings – you and I and billions like us – are free to  proclaim the glory of God with the totality of our lives…or not to do so. Sadly the sinful shabbiness in our lives does nothing to honour God.
 I suspect that  I need to come to terms with the fact  that God has His own reasons for creating rowdy roosters.  I must humbly accept that they may have nothing to do with me. Perhaps I need to look at God's bigger picture. He has made the cock with the need to make an early start to the day, a need to proclaim he's up and about, a  force to be reckoned with! I insist I don't have that particular need to be on the rampage even before the sun has thought of showing its face. For reasons of His own God obviously thinks otherwise.   
Once I’ve come to terms with this I’ll have a glimmering of understanding of what is  going on in God’s creation.  
In a rooster! Through a rooster! For heaven’s sake!  
Godswaymyway!!!!  Weird!!!!!   
Peter Clarke O.P.




Thursday, 14 November 2013


A friend of mine gave his son an expensive metal detector for Christmas.  This, he thought, would give the child hours of excitement, hunting for hidden treasure.  It would be the envy of his friends; it would get him out of the house, into the fresh air, and from under his parents’ feet.  A truly inspired, loving choice of a present.  And how did the child react?  Well, he took his metal detector into the garden.  After an hour’s search the child had found only a useless bent nail –certainly nothing valuable.  Disillusioned, the child impatiently put his expensive toy back in its box and never used it again.
  Naturally his dad was disappointed; his son didn’t appreciate the present he’d been given.  He wasn’t even grateful for it.  Sadly his dad wondered, “Why did I bother?” I bet we’ve all felt like that.  We’ve gone to considerable trouble to help someone.  Or we’ve been generous and thoughtful in choosing a present.  And what do they do?  Criticise or ignore us for what we’ve done for them!  Exasperated, we wonder why we ever bothered with such ungrateful ‘so and sos.’ We think they don’t deserve to be shown kindness and care.  But we know that Jesus taught us to give without expecting any return –even a ‘thank you.’  We hope their ingratitude won’t stop us loving and caring for them.  I’m sure I’m just as ungrateful as anyone else. 
 My reactions to how ungrateful all of us can be towards each other led me to ask myself, “What about the ungrateful way we treat God?”  He’s given us all that we have, all that we are.  He’s gone to such lengths to make it possible for us to share His life and happiness. And how do we behave?  We can be so rebellious. We rarely say, “Thank you.”  We can take Him for granted; we can totally ignore Him.   Meditating on the last sorrowful mystery of the Rosary –the crucifixion -a blinding, earth-shattering question leapt to my mind.  Quite simply, “Why does God bother with us?   Why does God bother with me?”  
As I wrestled with this question I realized that as God set creation in motion He fully realized all the implications of what He was doing.  He knew we would rebel against Him; but He knew that His love for His creation would not allow us to destroy ourselves.  In creating us God knew He would have to take drastic measures to rescue us from our ‘self-destruct’ mode.  That would mean the Son of God becoming man, living amongst us and allowing His own creatures brutally to execute Him on the cross.   Amazingly, in creating us, God, in His wisdom, took all this into account.  Why did He say a resounding, “Yes,” not “No” to the very idea of creation?
Such thoughts provoked the question, screaming for an immediate answer, “Why did God bother, when He knew we’d cause Him so much trouble?” Why did God chose to bring so much unnecessary aggravation upon Himself?  Or as the Psalmist exclaimed, “What is man that you are mindful of him, mortal man that you care for him?” (Ps. 8. 4).  And the only answer I found to the question, “Why did, does, God bother?” was to be found in the simple word ‘love.’  , Theologians have a saying –goodness, of its very nature, reaches out and spreads itself.   In other words, God’s so generous-hearted He wants others –us people –to share His life and happiness.   Wonder of wonders, in creating us He realized what that would cost Him.   He was prepared for that.  That’s how much He loves us!
Even though we people frequently rebel against Him God refuses to abandon us.  Humanly speaking, we almost seem to push God to breaking point, to destroying His own creation.   But then the prophet Hosea has God conclude, My heart recoils within me;    my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger;    I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst,   and I will not come in wrath,” (Hosea 11. 8-9).* In spite of all our faults, God loves us too much to destroy us.  More than that, God has a reputation to maintain. He couldn’t allow the ungodly to despise and accuse Him for being incapable of saving those He claimed to love!
Instead, God is like the most loving of parents; He’s prepared to go to any lengths to save us, His children, from self-destruction. His love is utterly unshakeable; it’s not brittle or fickle.  St. John’s Gospel puts this beautifully, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.  Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”  (Jn. 3 16-17).
During Christmastide the Church rejoices in the wonder of God’s saving love -so great that the Son was prepared to live among us, die for us and rise from the tomb –simply so that we could share His divine life and happiness.  We sing, "O admirable exchange..” God became like us, so that we could become like Him; He shared our human life, so that we could share His divine life.  Then, at the Easter Vigil, we exult in God’s mysterious wisdom.  He knew that He could achieve a greater good by allowing evil than by preventing it. Ecstatically, paradoxically, the Church sings, O happy fault (original sin) that merited such and so great a Redeemer."
So what’s the best –the only answer -to the question, “Why did, does, God bother with us?”     In his Letter to the Romans St. Paul was filled with a sense of wonder at the mystery of God and His dealings with man, “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable his ways!   ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord?     Or who has been his counsellor? … To him be the glory for ever. Amen,” (Rom. 11. 33,35).
Paul, the greatest of all theologians, was forced to admit that He couldn’t understand the mystery of God.  After all our agitated searching for explanations we are reduced to humble silence.  We can best meet God in quiet stillness of mind and heart, as the Psalmist assures us, "Be still, and know that I am God," (Ps. 46. 10).  Paradoxically, the better we get to know God, the more we realize how little we understand Him.  The mystery of divine love, the mystery of any love, defies and transcends analysis and explanations. I’m more than content with that. I just thank God for the wonder of His love.  God’s love for us is the best, and only answer to the question, “Why did He, why does He, bother with us?” 
Isidore O.P.                          

Thursday, 31 October 2013


War and the rumours of war! World War 11! So it was when my twin brother,  Isidore, and I, made our First Communion. Our home was in the city of Birmingham, in the industrial heartland of England. As such, the Midlands was an obvious target for the German bombers.
Some people had air-raid shelters dug deeply into their gardens.  Our family had a strong steel box placed against the side of our home. Neither of these shelters would have been protected us from a direct hit from a bomb. All the same, they would have been some kind of shield from flying and falling bricks and tiles, and possibly trees.

It so happened that on the eve of the two of us making our First Communion the sirens wailed an air-raid warning. Dad, who had been a lad at the time of the First World War and had recently joined the Territorial Army, was well composed and knew what to do. All of us, Dad, Mother and five boys, were bundled into the family steel box,   furnished with several camp beds and a quantity of blankets, together with a few snacks. Each of us had his own gasmask. Baby Chris was placed in his gasmask incubator.

To this day this is what stands out in my memory after all these years:  we were allowed to suck boiled sweets until midnight and not a moment beyond this. In those days the rule was that anyone intending to receive Jesus in Holy Communion had to have been fasting from midnight…no eating, no drinking of anything, absolutely anything. We could not even suck boiled sweets.

For one moment this made us two little horrors into two little holy heroes. ..for one solitary moment in our childhood.  We had fasted from midnight in preparation for the most sacred occasion in our lives.

Sometime during the night the ‘all clear’ was sounded, but none of us heard it. Eventually, when Dad judged that the world was quiet and peaceful, we all returned to our home. Mother scrubbed us and dressed us in white satin trousers, shirts and bow-ties. She combed our golden curls into a semblance of orderliness.

Of the occasion in church I remember not a single thing---God forgive me!  But how could I ever forget the splendid, never-to-be-repeated, breakfast of strawberries and ice-cream? Dad and Mother gave each of us a Crucifix as a memento of this most special of all days.  Over the years these Crucifixes  have acquired a huge significance for Isidore and for me.

I remember them hanging over our beds right up to the time – ten years later - when, as young men, we left home to enter the Novitiate of the Dominican Order. Immediately we had completed our studies for the priesthood Isidore and I were sent to work in the West Indies. Ill-health forced Isidore to return to England.

By the time I was due to return home Dad had died, my three brothers had married and settled in their own homes, and mother had moved into a comfortable small house where she would  be on her own.  My First Communion Crucifix was among the few articles she was able to carry from the big family house to her new home.  
This Crucifix hung over her bed right up to the time when she died at the age of ninety three years. And then my Crucifix was buried with her clasping it upon the breasts that had nourished me, the heart that had loved me for many and many a year…she, who more than anyone had reared me to become a practicing Christian, she who more than anyone had  prepared me for my priesthood…she whose father and brother  had been ministers of the Lord in the Methodist Church.

The Crucifix of my First Communion was the Crucifix of her burial…an eloquent symbol of the Holy Communion between mother and me, one of her children.   Even now Isidore still has his First Communion Crucifix. It is nailed to the door of his room. I see it every time I return to England on vacation.

This very Crucifix is the symbol of the Holy Communion of the bonding of us twins: together on the same day we received for the first time the Body of Christ; together on the same day we were ordained to the Priesthood.

This Crucifix, hanging on his door, keeps us in mind of what we mean to each other…keeps us in mind of how much we owe our vocations to the mother who nurtured us.    The Crucifix that heads this blog is the very one received by Isidore over seventy years ago. This is godwsway of showing both of us ourway of best serving Him in a way that is fulfilling to us both.
Peter Clarke, OP

Thursday, 17 October 2013


We Clarke brothers seem to attract crazy situations!  Take our youngest brother, Chris.  As an apprentice antique dealer he had lodgings on a busy London road. It was a dark cold winter morning; it was his turn to bring in the two bottles of milk, left outside on the door step.   Reluctantly he hauled himself out of bed and ventured down the stairs. Anxious to get back into the warmth as quickly as possible, he flung open the front door, stepped outside and grabbed the milk bottles. He consoled himself with the thought of soon being rewarded with a hot mug of coffee. After sacrificing the comfort of his warm bed he would have earned it!

But that was not to be. Horror of horrors! Chris, was as bad –or as good -as his twin brother bloggers. If anything crazy could happen to one of us it usually did.  That was certainly true of Chris, when he went to bring in the milk.  As he stepped outside he pulled the door shut behind him -something he did instinctively, when going into town.   But not a good idea that morning. To his alarm the door locked behind him –leaving him out in the cold. Not even our brother Chris was in the habit of keeping the front door key in his pyjama pocket!  Aghast, there he stood, shivering in his thin nightwear, his bare feet freezing in the frost on the main road pavement. He’d locked himself out of his warm home.  How he longed to get out of the cold; more than ever he needed that hot cup of coffee!  As he froze, passers-by eyed him suspiciously. What was this idiot doing standing on a main road and wearing nothing more than thin pyjamas on a cold winter morning? More important, what was Chris to do? 
 Knock on the door, of course, and hope that one of his fellow lodgers would wake up and let him in, out of the cold.  Chris wasn’t so stupid as to be too proud to ask for help.   His desperately cold situation forced him to admit that he couldn’t cope by himself.  Only when he’d swallowed his pride and sought assistance was he able to return to the warmth of his home.
 Chris’ predicament got me thinking.  If we commit serious sin we leave the warm love of God’s home; we pull the door behind us. We lock ourselves out from Him, in the cold isolation of a godless world.  We don’t have the key to open the door and return to God.  As long as we stubbornly refuse to admit our helplessness and cling to our proud independence we won’t be able to return home.  As long as we refuse admit our dire situation we won’t see any need for God.  We won’t turn to Him for help. 
This refusal to face up to the truth about God and ourselves is what we mean by the sin against the Spirit of Truth.  Such self-deception prevents us facing the truth about ourselves –we need His help; the truth about God –He can open the door for us; He wants to welcome inside –if only we will have the humility to knock.   But once we do, He eagerly flings open the door and welcomes us into the warmth of His love and mercy.  Jesus urges us, Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you,” (Matt. 7.7).
Then it occurred to that we can be the ones who keep the door closed and leave Jesus out in the cold.  We don’t want Him to disturb our cosy, comfortable lives.  So He stands at the door and knocks; He waits patiently for us to open up to Him and make Him welcome. In the Book of Revelation we read, Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me,” (Rev. 3. 20).  
Jesus respects our freedom too much to drag us into His life or to force His way into ours.  If we want to enter His life and meet Him we must have the honesty to recognize our desire for Him, our need for His help.  We must knock and ask for His assistance.  If we want Him to enter our lives we must listen for His knock and open to Him.  
Meeting God is quite simple.  It’s all about our knocking and asking God to open up to us, His knocking and asking us to open up to Him!  Knock, knock –that’s the only way to eternal happiness with God!
Isidore O.P.


Thursday, 3 October 2013


As a Dominican I’m the proud owner of a “T” shirt with a woodcut picture of a friar, mounted on a horse.   He’s one of the characters in Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales.  The legend on the “T” shirt reads, “The friar knew the taverns well in every town."  Was the friend who gave the shirt trying to tell me something?    Fortunately the inscription didn’t complete the quotation, “And every innkeeper and barmaid too!”
 Various pilgrim groups have been kind enough to invite me to go with them, usually as their chaplain -not an arduous task.  My main responsibilities consisted in saying daily Mass with a sermon. I was also expected to be available for confessions and counselling.  Most people were too busy praying or sight-seeing to require much attention from me.
 Each pilgrimage was, in its own way, a wonderful, fascinating experience, even though we didn’t entertain each other with colourful, still less, bawdy tales.   But we did have some amusing incidents.  Travelling with a group for any length of time provides a fascinating exercise in group dynamics.   As we got to know each other we found there were some people who got on our nerves, while other became good friends.
As for getting on people’s nerves, I was guilty when we had a parish pilgrimage to Lourdes.  This was principally for  the sick, with a percentage of able-bodied people caring for them. These carers were wonderful young people who paid their own way, while devoting their time and energy to looking after the sick.  We slept in dormitories, each with a mixture of sick and able-bodied carers.  That’s where I became an irritant.   My snoring kept others awake.  There are few things more irritating than the snorer enjoying a good sleep, while keeping others awake. Fortunately there was an easy solution. I was told to wear a belt with its buckle in my back.  That would force me to lie on my side and would stop my snoring.  It worked, and harmony was restored.
Each place of pilgrimage has its own character, its own spirituality and devotion.  Lourdes is usually associated with the sick. Many people go seeking a cure for a mental or physical ailment.  But a statue there brings a wonderful insight into the deepest kind of healing. This statue depicts a blind man, kneeling. The legend runs, something like this, ‘I came seeking a cure for my blindness and re-gained my faith!’   For me, that sums up the true meaning of Lourdes.  Certainly some do seek and find cures for their ailments, while  other people's healing may be more profound. They receive the grace  to cope with sickness in a positive and fruitful way, associated with the saving power of the crucified Christ.
I can remember a power struggle on one pilgrimage.   The official leader thought he was so competent that he could dispense with the cost of a currier and guide.   As a result, we found that at one hotel he hadn’t booked enough beds for the group.  Some of us ended up sleeping on couches on the landing.  The hapless organizer managed to lose two elderly pilgrims. They had become confused and lost through combining the local wine with their medicines.  Fortunately they turned up at the police station and were returned to the fold. After this misfortune it wasn’t surprising that someone else tried to take over the organization of the pilgrimage!
A pilgrimage is usually a package holiday with a difference.  It should be a religious journey, reflecting our travelling through life, with all its joys and sorrows.  We pilgrims are the People of God journeying to the Promised Land; we are the Pilgrim Church, travelling towards the Kingdom of heaven.   When that’s  arduous -as surely it will be at times -we can identify with Christ on His pilgrimage to Calvary.  For those who rough it on their pilgrimage, the actual journey is as important as arriving at a holy place. That’s very true of  the Student Cross pilgrimage to Walsingham - the ancient English national shrine to Our Lady.  During Holy Week university members walk over 100 miles, sleeping rough and carrying a life-size cross.  That is a powerful witness to their faith in the Crucified Christ.   When the journey is smooth and comfortable, arriving at a sacred shrine is what really matters.
Though I’m not one for mass rallies, I have found that seeing other people praying encourages me to pray.  It convinces me that there are countless people from all round the world, who share my faith.  I’m not alone; I’m not an isolated lunatic!  If going on pilgrimage deepens my prayer life and strengthens my faith, that’s a real cure!
There’s something very special about a pilgrimage to the Holy Land -where the Son of God came down to earth; that’s where He achieved the salvation of the world.  Seeing the sites where Jesus lived and died, relating them to the Gospels, made these events more vivid.  The imagery of the water of life was powerfully brought home to me when we travelled across the barren Judean desert towards Jericho. By way of contrast, tropical fruit was grown there.  More than ever before I realized how the presence or absence of water made all the difference between life and death. I was  reminded of how Jesus made water a vivid symbol of our spiritual life. "Let anyone who believes in me come and drink!  As Scripture says, 'From His heart shall flow streams of living water.'  He was speaking of  the Spirit, which those who believed in Him were to receive; for there was no Spirit as yet, because Jesus had not yet been glorified,'" 
              (Jn. 7. 37-39).
 I must admit the pilgrimage to the Holy Land caused a special tension within me.  On the one hand I was a keen photographer, visiting an exotic place. At times I behaved like a typical tourist, eager to take lots of pictures, seeking mementoes, instead making the best of the present moment. I swung between praying and taking pictures –sometimes on my knees!
 Now, as I approach the end of my pilgrimage through life, I realize that God has been with me through this long journey.  I’ve met Him in many different ways, usually in the routine of life, but also in the joyful, sad and hilarious moments.  I’ve met the Lord in the variety of pilgrims travelling with me. They were very like some, but not all, of Chaucer’s pilgrims.
For me what matters most is the lasting effect of my pilgrimage, once it’s ended.  For more than eighty years I’ve been a pilgrim journeying to the most holy of shrines –the Kingdom of God.  If I don’t meet Him there my journey through life will have been a waste of time.  But if I do, all the hardships on the road will have been well worthwhile!  My life will have been a real pilgrimage.
Isidore O.P.
The next posting will be on 25th October.

Thursday, 19 September 2013


“A handbag!”   Shrieked  Lady Bracknell in the play, “The Importance of Being Ernest.”    Jack had just told her that he’d been adopted after being found in a handbag at Victoria Station.  Her startled reaction only served to confirm my amazement at what women keep in their handbags.  But then, I’m but a mere male; I can’t be expected to understand such feminine mysteries!

So I should not have been surprised when a friend told me of her recent discovery.    Avis –not her real name –had three budgerigars and a couple of cockatiels. Brilliant were the flashes of blue, green, red and yellow as her feathered friends flew around her room.  Our phone chats were punctured by their squawks –especially loud when two or three of them perched on her head or shoulder.  Clearly, Avis and her budgies were very close! They felt really at home with each other.

So much so that one day she noticed a bright yellow budgie flying into her best handbag, left open on a sideboard. What was the attraction for her budgie?   Curiosity forced Avis to investigate.   To her delight she discovered the budgies had made a nest in her handbag.  Yes, in her handbag!  What is more, she –the budgie, not Avis -was incubating two eggs.  What was Avis to do?  The simple answer was, “NOTHING!”   She could not bring herself to disturb the nesting bird.  That meant she couldn’t use her best handbag until the eggs had hatched and the baby budgies had fledged.   In spite of this inconvenience Avis was overjoyed at the prospect of having a young family of budgies in her home –even though they would have left her handbag in a real mess.

This reminded me of a beautiful passage in one of the Psalms. It runs, “Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God,”  (Psalm 84.3).  What a lovely idea –wild creatures making their homes in the House of the Lord.  Not just swallows, but ants and spiders.  We have a saying about being as poor as a church mouse.  The Lord welcomes all of them as His creatures.  As for us clergy, we call in pest control officers to remove these messy beasts!

But what’s so amazing is that the Lord, the All-Holy Lord, welcomes us sinners into His home.   Instead of clearing us out, He invites us in, especially if our lives are in a mess. His mercy transforms us from being pests into becoming God’s children. As far as He’s concerned we’re neither rejects, nor outcasts, even though the self-righteous may consider us unfit for their company.  But not so Jesus; He seeks us out and makes us welcome. And it is we who recognize our need for Him. We, and so many others, have good reason to rejoice that He wants our company.  Not only does He welcome us into His Church buildings, made of bricks and mortar. He even welcomes us  into the intimacy of His very life, And so St. John’s letter tells us, “And we have known and have believed the love which God has to us. God is love, and he that abides in love abides in God, and God in him,”  (1 John 4. 16).

Wonder of wonders, not only does God want us to be at home with Him, but He wants to be at home with us.   That’s why He sent His Son into the world to become one of us.  Now, through the Holy Spirit we become the very temple of God –His sacred abode.  Eagerly St. Paul reminds the Corinthians. “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (1 Cor. 6. 19).

In us Almighty God has certainly chosen some unlikely places to make His abode –much weirder than a budgie making its nest in my friend’s handbag.  As for us, the Psalmist sums up what should be our deepest longing, our most fervent prayer, “One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the day of my life,” (Ps. 27. 4).  He is our lasting abode; nowhere else will we find real happiness; nothing else matters!

A final question.  Do we treat strangers as unwelcome pests?  Or do we show them God’s hospitality–illustrated by Avis allowing her beloved, messy, budgie to make its home in her best handbag?

Isidore O.P.
The next posting will be on 4th October.

Thursday, 5 September 2013


The children were having a great time on the Merry-Go- Round, or Carousel.   Round and round they went, seated on motor bikes  mounted on vividly painted horses with enormous bright eyes,  seated behind the steering wheels of flashy cars, chugging along in railway trains.

Alas, all good things come to an end! Soon their ride came to a halt.    Laughing, and chattering, parents and children  made their way home.

‘What goes round comes round.’ I thought to myself, and then,   ‘But what if these children were to go round and round and round and round, on and on and on and on?  They’d eventually become bored at the sheer monotony of it.   What if this continued - in spite of their boredom,      then their anger, and eventually their fear,  as they realized they were trapped in an experience that had lost its merriment?    What had been great fun would then take on the drudgery,                       the sameness, the awful routine of a treadmill.’

Recently   the theme of my meditations, my prayer life has been,   ‘What goes round comes round.’     You see, as a somewhat retired priest I’ve ended up where I started  - young and inexperienced.    It’s like this. In 1959 I received my first posting as parish priest.      Now in 2013 I find myself assistant priest in the very same parish.        I’ve gone round from one place and come back to the same place.

During these fifty or so years of journeying back to where I started   so many interesting things have happened to me,  such a variety of activities!          Flavoured with joy and sorrow, hope and anguish, success and failure,  self-congratulation as well as self-accusation.

As a backdrop to all of this there has been the constant routine   that has structured my life and shaped my personality…a regularity, a predictability,  within which there has been so much variety,  encountering so many different people, involvement in experiences and  projects,              some weird and wonderful, most  common-place, dull, forgettable.

For me, a priest,  to have celebrated but one Mass in the whole of my life,  to have preached but one sermon,  would have been  momentous, a privilege beyond .        Without boasting I can claim that to have celebrated Mass thousands of times,   and to have preached thousands of sermons.        Don’t imagine for a moment that on every occasion I’ve felt on top of the world         – in a state of sublime ecstasy.         I’d have been  totally exhausted if I’d been through  extreme and intense joy of any kind, emotional or spiritual, for a long time. So I admit, without surprise and without shame,  that over the years there have been times, even seasons, when I felt a dreary weariness at the thought of having  to celebrate yet another public Mass and to preach yet another sermon.

    Similar to my experience as a priest must surely be that of the couple  who have  been happily married for many a year.      They couldn't possibly have survived an  endless honeymoon                   of gazing into each other’s eyes,  embracing, making love with their spouse,                                      day after day, year after year.        They’d have tasted the bitter as well as the sweet,   the worst as well as the better.        Happily, the verdict will be,       ‘What  an immense blessing, a great privilege…but it hasn’t been easy!’
Much of this also applies to lasting the commitments of friendships and to life-long careers that, for the most part are worthwhile, gratifying and fulfilling.      These will have been punctuated with  irritations and frustrations,   or simply feeling fed-up and bored.       With the passing of time what, who, is most delightful to us  can on occasion have lost most of what used to charm us.

I suspect  that these days we find it hard to be fascinated by anything or by anyone for long.  It’s not that anything too bad has to have occurred.      It’s rather that we see that the ‘shelf-life’ of commitments is meant to be short.     Replacement is the order of the day.       When we become disappointed or dissatisfied,  rather than take the trouble to rekindle the fire that has all but gone out,  we tend to look to be fired up by something, someone that is fresh, to stimulate us.

If this occasionally happens to us let us admit it! Let us not feel ashamed!        These ‘off-moments’ are a necessary part of life’s journey, yours and mine.        From these we are to learn that long-term enthusiasm must not be taken for granted.     It does not remain simply because we would like it to.       We must deliberately, explicitly, cherish what we value,   take care of it, refresh it, and even repair it,   so as to recapture our sense of wonder that leads to thanksgiving!

WHAT GOES ROUND COMES ROUND .     Sometimes, somehow, we have to get round to making ourwaygodsway.      And God’s way is that His love endures forever.
Peter O.P.
The next posting will be on 20th September