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