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.