Friday, 17 July 2015


‘Our God is a God of surprises!’  This shouldn’t surprise us, especially these days when the Catholic Charismatic Renewal has turned this saying into a mantra, made it into cliché. After all, God being almighty can do anything He chooses. If we are surprised by God, and, therefore, extremely pleased or dismayed by God, this is because our expectations of Him are far too limited.

 We shall never get used to what the Almighty expects to be obvious  to us, “My thoughts are not your thoughts and your ways are not my ways, declares the Lord. For the heavens are as high above earth as my ways are above your ways, my thoughts above your thoughts,”  (Isaiah 55.8).

I know that when I became priest all these many years ago, and when the ‘glow’ of my Ordination had scarcely worn off, I expected my life as a pastor to be fairly predictable and mundane.  When I was assigned to our Dominican Vicariate in the Caribbean I knew I would be venturing into the unknown.

 I was emotionally prepared for the ‘culture shock’ of a different climate, different food, customs, and above all of different people with their own way of celebrating life.  I would have been surprised IF I HAD NOT BEEN SURPRISED  by a world that was completely new to me!

I would like to think that after spending so many years in the West Indies -Grenada and Barbados - I have made  this my own…my home, the place where I belong. True enough, my priesthood hasn’t  been typical of that of most of my contemporaries  in joining the Dominican Order, including  my twin brother, Isidore.

I have lived in Grenada through the rise and fall of a revolution, as well as through a hurricane.  Yes, God did surprise us on these occasions! He did cause us to come to terms with a loving God who allowed such events to happen to us. In the midst of fear  and tribulation we had to trust God’s  Providence, still believe He was our Loving Father,  even while we were trying to cope with the bewilderment and anguish God had not prevented.

Surprised by misfortune?!?  Most certainly! I now speak of being surprised by joy….astonishing joy .   I make so bold as to claim for myself a joyful   surprise from God that must be rare, if not unique, in the history of the priesthood.

There was I, a priest of scarcely any experience in a land until then completely unknown to me...Barbados  I’d just finished   preparing a pleasant young man to be received into the Church. Time came when he was due to make his First Confession.

He knelt before a screen in a dark little room with a closed door. And I was seated in a similar room on the other side of the same screen. Once he had confessed his sins I had the sublime joy of my priesthood.  I granted him what he was seeking more than anything in the world - God’s   forgiveness.  I then gave him his penance and told him to go in peace.

I was moving too fast for him. He whispered he had a gift for me.  Thanking him profusely I told him I never ever expected a present when hearing confessions. Nevertheless, I suggested that he hand round the screen whatever it had for me.

He opened his door. I opened mine. Surprise! Surprise! Our God really is a God of surprises! Behold!  My whole  being  jerked with amazement.  As I peeped round the screen I saw a fist clutching the neck of a flapping, squawking goose.

What to do?  To my mind geese are inclined to be bad tempered and vicious if they don’t like you.  This one had no reason to like me.  If I’d taken this bird into my embrace I’m sure it would have sensed my discomfort and my fear. Perhaps it might have attempted to given me a peck on the cheek –as a sign of affection? Or of acute resentment?

I persuaded my benefactor, a joyful man just freed from the burden of his sins, to hang onto this bewildered bird.  'Would he come with me to release this exceptional goose in the garden.'

This Goose deserved an honorable mention in the Guinness Book of Records! Surely, the first goose  ever to have had the unique privilege of participating in the Sacrament of Reconciliation!

Peter  Clarke. O.P.

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