Thursday, 23 May 2013


“I loved your slide show –it reminded me of my holiday in Rome.”   That enthusiastic comment had me baffled, since I’d just given an illustrated talk on my pilgrimage to the Holy Land! As far as I know there wouldn’t have been camels and Bedouin tents in Rome, let alone the sacred shrines of Israel. And I’d shown no pictures of St. Peter’s or the Coliseum. Clearly the person who praised my slideshow can’t have been paying attention or, most likely, had fallen sleep.
The fear of making a fool of ourselves can make us hesitant to comment when questions are invited after a lecture.  As for the speaker he may fear a prolonged silence –a sign that he hadn’t aroused anyone’s curiosity.  No one was interested in his talk.  It takes courage to ask a question –unless you’re one of those people who wants everyone to realize that he knows more about the topic than the speaker!

 I can remember someone like that. He wasn’t simply seeking clarification or information. No!  He made it very obvious that he thought the speaker didn’t really understand his subject.   In exasperation the lecturer retorted, “Who’s giving this lecture, me or you?”  On the other hand there’s the speaker who’s unsure of his ground.  He discourages being exposed as a charlatan with the bluff, “only a fool would contradict me.” No one was prepared to take that risk.

Then there are the malicious questioners. They set innocent-looking traps to catch someone out and discredit him.  Jesus was an expert at spotting and side-stepping them.  He even nudged His interrogators to fall into the pits they had dug for Him.  Then there was the lecturer who said, “I don’t understand the question, but I think I know the answer.”

But usually speakers welcome questions.  They’re a sign that someone’s been paying attention and even shows an interest in what he’s heard.    That’s far more encouraging than a sea of blank, bored faces.  Even a stupid question can be used as a springboard for the speaker to develop an idea. Once someone has had the courage to break the ice others will usually plunge in and join in the questioning.

Seeking answers distinguishes us from the brute beasts. From the moment of birth we are on a journey of discovery, of seeking answers.  We are all born philosophers, wanting to understand. That was very true of Tom, a lively young lad, about five years old. Whenever the house-keeper came to work in one of our presbyteries she brought her grandson with her.  He was into all the cupboards, opening all the draws, looking into everything.  Persistently, repeatedly he would ask, “What’s this? Why? How does it work?

Tom’s curiosity was boundless. His sense of wonder had no limits.  Life was an exciting journey of discovery.  He wanted to find out –to identify things, discover how they worked, know why he should or should not do certain things. The answer to one question would lead to another.  He gave us poor priests and his grandma no peace, no quiet!   It was a great temptation for us to tell him to stop asking so many questions.

But that would have been a great mistake.   The lad’s curiosity arose from wonder at the world in which he lived.  It was good that he wanted to learn more about it.  Such inquisitiveness has provided the springboard for important discoveries and has led to great thinkers striving to penetrate the mysteries of life and death, our origins and final destiny.  If he did but know it, Tom’s questioning made him a budding philosopher, who would certainly have asked what does that meant!

Jesus certainly welcomed people who were honestly searching for the truth and were not afraid to ask questions. They were not ashamed to admit that they did not understand.  In fact, like any good teacher, He welcomed questions.  They showed that He had seized His listener’s interest and aroused his curiosity.  He would use the honest search for truth and understanding as a springboard for Him to develop His teaching.

That’s the approach Jesus took when Thomas and Philip interrupted Him during His Final Discourse, just before His Passion.  That happened when Jesus told the apostles that He was going ahead to prepare a place for them and that they must follow Him.  Thomas, being very practical protested that they didn’t know where He was going, so how could they know how to get there.  That gave Jesus the opening to explain something vital about Himself -that He was the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Then there was Philip.  He said, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’  That request provided Jesus with the chance to explain something of the mystery of the intimate life of the Blessed Trinity, as He replied. ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”?  10Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? (Jn. 14.  9-10).

Near the beginning of John’s Gospel Andrew asked Jesus a simple question, “Where do you live?” and Jesus replied, “Come and see.”    That exchange set Andrew and all of us on journey of discovery, which would take us into the very life of the Blessed Trinity, expressed in Christ’s Farewell Discourse, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” (Jn. 15. 10).
Asking questions, seeking answers comes so naturally to all of us.   More than this, our curiosity helps us to deepen our faith.  That’s why St. Anselm wrote about “faith seeking understanding,” and added, “I believe so that I can understand.”

So let’s not be afraid to ask questions.  God has given us inquiring minds and expects us to use them.  As we do so, we should always remember that never will we fully understand and exhaust the mystery of God. But it’s far better to return frequently to the fountain of Truth which can more than satisfy our needs than to drain it in one go, and still remain thirsty.

Isidore O.P.

The next posting will be on 14th June

Thursday, 9 May 2013


You need to pick a lot of wild blackberries to make up a pound in weight! Also you get  badly scratched.   But that didn’t bother us young lads.  We enjoyed roaming the fields.  And what’s more a market gardener paid us 1/2d a pound –for us a lot of money in those days! We also collected and sold him rosehips, which would be turned into syrup, issued to us kids to give us a boost of vitamin C.  We called this, ‘government juice.’
In addition to earning a bit of pocket money, we lads were also doing our bit for the war effort.  Apart from growing our own vegetables, our greatest enterprise was to pile into the back of a lorry.   We, with a number of other kids, would be driven a few miles to a market garden. As we jumped down to the ground we were directed to a number of fields or greenhouses.  These grew tomatoes.   Our task was to ‘eye and tie’ the plants.  The eying involved pinching out the suckers between the stem and leaves.  These were unproductive growth, which sapped the strength from the plant and produced no tomatoes.  By the end of the day our hands were covered with sap from these suckers -a thick, dark green, pungent grime –hard to remove.
Rain did stop our work. We were simply moved to the tomatoes in the large greenhouses.   There it was hot and humid –the ideal home for an unwanted guest.  While Peter was tying a plant to a stake he suddenly screamed and leapt back.  Why the commotion? What was wrong? Certainly we were regularly stung by nettles, but that’s nothing to shout or scream about. That went with the job. Soon we discovered what had alarmed Peter.  He had disturbed a beautiful resting snake, with a golden ‘V’ on the back of its head –a viper!  That’s the only poisonous snake in the UK.  Angrily it hissed, as it warned my brother to back off. Peter needed no second telling!  Fortunately an adult came and rescued him.

For us those were idyllic days when we enjoyed rural life and were too young to appreciate the horrors of war. And we were earning money! This we invested in our post office savings accounts. Since we were taught to be frugal these gradually mounted up until some dozen years later Peter and I headed for the Dominican noviciate.  Before leaving we cashed in our savings and bought a case each, to hold the clothes we would need.

These were no ordinary cases.  True, they were only made of cardboard. But, with expanding hinges and lock, they could be enlarged to almost double their original capacity.  They were known as, ‘Revelation Cases.’  And it was, indeed, a revelation how much they could hold.  Apart from a couple of tea chests for our books, our two cases were sufficient for all Peter and I needed to take, when we sailed off for our mission in the W. Indies.  That was in 1958.

Now, in 2013, I still have my old case.  Though a bit battered it’s still serviceable –like its ancient owner.

As I reflect on my old case it’s quite a revelation! I’m delighted that it resulted from picking blackberries, and tending tomato plants, more than sixty years earlier.  My case has become very much a part of my history, and I’m part of its history.

This helps me to realize that none of us can see how the small things we do can form part of a much bigger picture in God’s plan for us.  They are like the individual pieces of an enormous jigsaw puzzle.  Only when that’s completed will we see the whole picture.  Only then will we appreciate how each piece fits in with all the others.   And what a revelation that will be!  I’m looking forward to that.
Isidore O.P.  
The next posting will be 24th May.