Thursday, 22 August 2013


What a black-eye!  How on earth did Brother Oculus get such a shiner?  After all, he was a very peaceable person –not the type to provoke a violent argument.  And we Dominicans tend not to settle our differences with fisticuffs.  Heated arguments are about as far as we go.  Had our brother been attacked by an intruder while we were all asleep?
Such were the questions which distracted our community’s early morning prayers.  Not surprisingly, we were all bewildered. We could hardly wait to ask Br. Oculus to satisfy our curiosity.  What, had hit him?  Did his puffed, closed eye hurt? A stupid question, since it must have been very painful. Various remedies were suggested, including the application of a piece of raw steak.  Not very practical, since we didn’t have any. I must confess I couldn’t help being fascinated by the beautiful yellow, blue and green of his bruise. As for his ruddy nose, that looked as if something had hit it very hard.
Far from giving us a dramatic account of a heroic encounter, Br. Oculus looked rather sheepish and embarrassed by our solicitous questioning. But he had no choice. So, reluctantly, he began to explain his battle wounds. And what a tale he had to tell –one which no fevered imagination could have invented! Eagerly we awaited his explanation. What on earth could have happened to such a gentle, devout brother?  Who could have treated him so brutally?
Hesitantly, nervously he explained what had happened.   In his zeal to be an exemplary poor friar he had decided to dispense with electric lights whenever possible.  To achieve this end he’d carefully paced the length of the corridor to the point where the corridor itself took a right-angle turn. And so should he have done! Folly of follies! This was a thrifty brother who wanted to save electricity, especially in a post war time of austerity. Probably unfairly, and in self-justification, we suspected him of feeling superior to his wasteful brethren! But until that night his measured approach to moving around the priory in the dark had worked without mishap.
But for some unknown reason on that fateful night Br. Oculus had quickened his pace.  As he increased his speed he lengthened his stride.  That, of course, threw out his calculations.  As our unfortunate brother charged down the corridor he crashed into the solid end-wall, his speed adding to the violence of the impact of soft flesh on a hard brick wall. Speeding motorists can also misjudge distances and end up crashing into something!  No wonder his protesting eye took on such an angry colour!
We, his fellow students, were faced with another problem. How should we react to the sorrowful plight of our battered brother?  Obviously with concern and compassion at the injured face and damaged reputation of someone who had made such a mess out of meaning so well.  Sadly, our reactions were more robust and less noble. Our initial, instinctive, sympathy for our wounded, heroic brother collapsed into fits of laughter.
I must admit that later I reflected, with shame, that there was a certain smugness in our mirth at the deflation of our austere brother.  Not that he intended to show us up by this peculiar, hidden expression of poverty, which we only discovered through his unfortunate accident.  Perhaps we resented his asceticism as a judgment upon our not showing his kind of austerity.  Maybe we were only too eager to see his mishap as vindicating our use of electric lights.   I don’t know.
Certainly, in many a community there are those who studiously go round putting out lights, while others instinctively switch them on.   Each will justify his behaviour, either on the grounds of economy or safety.  Each will give a religious spin to his arguments.  The same is true of those who open windows and those who shut them!
What does God, what should I, make of all this?  I suspect the Lord is amused at our petty antics.  Are we all taking ourselves too seriously and allowing things to get out of proportion?   Perhaps those who prefer to walk in darkness should learn to ‘take it light.’   Are we making much ado about nothing?
Perhaps we should heed the West Indian saying, ‘Cool it man,’ and be more relaxed with ourselves and each other–especially when there's a heat wave.   I’m sure it would help all of us to meet God if we could learn to see how petty and ridiculous we can be. Especially in community life we need to be able to laugh at ourselves and with each other –even when that results in a black eye. Thank God there’s a certain craziness in Dominican life –otherwise we would all go mad!
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Thursday, 8 August 2013


“It’s good to be here!”   That how we feel when we’re enjoying a holiday.  We’re glad to get away from our daily routine. We welcome the break.  The company’s good; so too the scenery, the accommodation and the food.  We enjoy relaxing on a beach, sight-seeing or shinning up a mountain.  At least for a while, we are at ease with ourselves and content with the world. For a time we can put aside our daily cares and relax.
That’s how Peter, James and John felt on the Mount of the Transfiguration.   True, this was no holiday break. It was something much, much better.  There, on the Mount, Jesus revealed something of His divine glory. As they relaxed with Him they experienced something of the heavenly joy to which God has called us –the sublime happiness of resting in the Lord.
No wonder Peter exclaimed, “Lord, it is good to be here!”  No wonder he wanted to prolong the wonderful experience of the Transfiguration.  We are so like him when we want a holiday never to end, or never to be separated from someone dear to us.  That’s how I feel when my twin brother has to return to the W. Indies, after an all-too brief holiday together.
During these musings on the feast of the Transfiguration my mind leapt off at a tangent.   It often does!  What, I wondered, about the times and situations, which are far from idyllic?   Given the choice, we would much prefer to be elsewhere, doing something else.    Instinctively we think, “It’s not good to be here; I wish I were somewhere else, doing something different.”  We’ve all felt like that!
I’ve found that if I allow that kind of resentment to persist I will always be miserable.   Far better to come to terms with what can’t be changed and try to make the best of it.   That can even be true when things go wrong, say, if we become ill, or our bosses move us from a job we enjoy to doing to something else, in another place we may not like.  That hurts, and it would be dishonest to deny the pain.  But that happens to all of us.  It’s certainly part of our Dominican vocation to be moved from house to house or country to country, job to job.
When things go wrong, have you had some well-intentioned person try to comfort you with the words, “It must be God’s will.”   I have, when I’ve been very ill -and it’s made me furious!   I can’t believe that a loving God could be vindictive and delight in my pain. But I can and do believe that He wants me to turn what in itself is so negative and destructive into something positive and creative.   That was certainly true of Christ’s crucifixion, through which He saved us from the power of sin and death.
Only in this sense can I agree that my suffering and pain must be God’s will.   He wants to help me to turn that into an opportunity for growing closer to Him. Almost certainly, only the wisdom of hindsight will enable me to say that it was good for me to be in that chaotic, painful situation.  In the meantime, part of my suffering lies in having to live in a fog of confusion and misunderstanding.  That in itself can be good for me –if it forces me to place my trust in God’s loving care for me, when I can’t understand what’s happening to me.

Hopefully I will have the docility to say, “Thy will be done” –and mean it.  Hopefully, with God’s help, even the most uncomfortable situation can become an opportunity for me to grow closer to God. I must trust that that is where He wants me to serve Him, and that He judges that is best for my eternal salvation. If so, it’s good for me to be there, in that situation –even, or perhaps especially, when I’d rather be somewhere else, doing something different. 

St. Paul reassures us, “We know that all things work together for good* for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose,” (Rom 8. 28).  God can give us the serenity to identify with the imprisoned Paul, who could write, “I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me”  (Philippians 4. 11-13).   Such trust in God can give us the confidence to say, “Lord, it is good to be here” –in whatever situation we find ourselves!

Isidore O.P.     

The next posting will be on 23rd August.