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 out...to 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