Monday, 31 July 2017


At the beginning of the 2nd World War Dad joined the Army and Mum withdrew us five young lads from the bombs falling on Birmingham to the safety of the small village of Ilmington - about eight miles from Stratford on Avon.   We lived in a small old cottage, which hadn’t been updated since the days of Shakespeare   - so no, no gas, no electricity.  We small boys had to fetch water from a stand pipe on the main road. In the winter we had to use a kettle of boiling water to thaw it out.   As for illuminating the cottage -that was done with oil lamps.   

 Life was primitive, what with an outside chemical toilet and a long galvanized bath in which we all shared the same water.  By the time the last of us lads had been bathed the water had become rather murky.   I can easily understand how the baby could be thrown out with the bath water!

For mother this life was far from easy and full of anxiety.   There was the very real danger of our losing the war, and like the rest of Europe, living under a repressive invader.   Dad was probably stranded in France.   Would he be rescued; would we ever see him again? We lads were too young to appreciate these dangers.  We were, indeed, blessed that Dad survived all this.

We lads enjoyed the country life of the Cotswolds. Having to ‘rough it’ made it more interesting. This was very different from city life in Birmingham. How we loved to explore the woods and fields, to hurtle down a snow-covered hillside on a large sledge, big enough to hold all of us!  It was exciting searching for the eggs which the hens laid hidden around the farm yard.
We youngsters were recruited to do  our bit to contribute to the war effort.   We competed in growing vegetables in our kitchen garden; we collected blackberries and rose hips, which we sold to a market gardener for a half penny a pound.  Most thrilling  -we village children were piled into the back of a lorry and driven off to a market garden, with fields and glass houses growing tomatoes.
Our task was to pinch out, or ‘eye,’ the unproductive suckers, growing between the plant and the tomato stem.  A most unpleasant  job -our hands would get covered with thick green, smelly sap.  We also had the job of tying the tomato plant to a stake. We were paid 6d an hour to earn what seemed a fortune for us youngsters.  Peter and I hoarded this in our piggy banks. Ten years later our savings paid for the cases which we used when we joined the Dominican Order in 1950.  Sixty seven years later, I still have this relic of my childhood labours, now old and battered, like its owner.
I wouldn’t be telling you all this if it weren’t for our ‘blood-curdling’ drama that has been stamped on our memories all these years.  Eying and tying tomatoes had to take us into the heated, humid large greenhouses.   A pleasant enough place to work  until  Peter, crawling among the tomato plants,  suddenly let out a terrified scream.   He’d disturbed a sleeping adder, or viper, and nearly grabbed this snake, armed with a nasty poisonous bite.    Transfixed, they eye-balled each other.   Immediately our grown-up supervisor dispatched the viper!  Peter was then able to continue his work, shaken but not stirred!
What are we to make of this?  Clearly God was protecting Peter and saving him for life-long Dominican service in the W. Indies.   I also think we should take this incident as a warning.  The old serpent -the devil -is lurking to catch us off our guard and to destroy us with the venom of sin.   We must be on our look out for danger.   Fortunately, God will protect us if we heed His warnings and avoid the dangers.   And if we do get bitten, God can remove the poison of sin through the balm of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Isidore O.P.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017


In the midst of nowhere! Nothing to see, to touch, to cling to! In the depth of a fog. Something beautiful, so peaceful; and yet it’s eerie, scary – not knowing where to go because you’re  world’s  nothing but fog. This is no place to stay in forever. I know all about  the urgent  need to escape  such insecurity.

 For me it’s been lonely misery driving – a car along the mountain road in Grenada. No moon-light, only torrential rain, and dense clouds settling on the high-way;  visibility  next to nothing; headlights to be dipped -full beam would have been blindingly reflected into the eyes of the driver. Happy the local drivers who knew by heart every bend and bump of the road. They could be relaxed and confident. Poor me, so tense and timid!. 

What a relief to leave the heights and emerge from the fog and be able look a distance ahead. At last I’ve emerged - relieved, safe and sound. I’ve duly thanked God for giving me a competent Guardian Angel, as well as St. Christopher, to calm my nerves  and bring me safely through this ordeal.   No-one could be blamed, no-one need feel ashamed of their natural anxiety at not being in control, not being certain of what to do next, what would happen next.

Very, very different have been those times, several of them,  when  a dense fog has clouded my brain -causing me bewilderment, confusion, embarrassment…paralyzing  fear.  These have been times of total helplessness. I compare them to the sensation of falling over a cliff with no possibility of being saved! Only in my most disturbing dreams could I imagine what this would   be like.

 You, my readers, would be surprised where and when this has happened to me…in church when I’ve been preaching to a large congregation. .
Without any warning, when my sermon has seemed to be progressing smoothly, my mind has gone totally blank. I don’t know what I’ve just said. I don’t know what I’m about to say. I’ve felt as though I’ve been gutted of my preaching identity.

On one such occasion I asked the altar server what I had just been doing. His reply, “I think you were preaching,” was not very helpful. Nor was his, “don’t know” to my question, “What about?”

I’ve no reason to doubt that what has happened won’t happen again. I don’t support the view that if I and others pray enough God won’t let this be repeated. As I see it, God wants me to be shaken in my self-confidence; He wants me  to find myself suddenly totally insecure, bewildered as someone lost in a dense fog.  God wants me to realize there’s nothing to prevent me from at any time losing my bearings.

 No wonder that before preaching I tell God it’s His sermon. No wonder I fervently beg Him to see me through. No wonder when possible I ask friends entering the church to pray for the preacher.

 I conclude by returning to my moment of great distress. All I could do was confide with the congregation that my mind was rather foggy and that my sermon had ‘escaped from me.’ 

I desperately needed to reassure and stabilize myself and the congregation. What better than recite the Creed together?
Here was something we could all do calmly and confidently.

This being done I then felt on safe ground in requesting that the collection be taken.
 I leave you to speculate on why God has seen it  good for me that He should deflate me now and again.

But as I bow before His greater wisdom, I can and do pray, “Please God, not again!”
 I’d like to think I’ve learned my lesson!

Peter Clarke, O.P.

Saturday, 15 July 2017


We priests sure do get some weird requests for prayers!   Keep a straight face? Difficult but necessary!   People come to us desperate! No laughing for them! Difficult for us to stifle our amusement!  They need help; help we must give!  
Recently I told you about the poor chap who came  asking for my prayers. He had a good Grenadian accent -before being thrown into the local river.  Surprise! Surprise! He surfaced with a posh accent.  His mates ridiculed him; he felt an outsider.  He came seeking my prayers that he be cured of his posh accent!
Then there was the old man who came to my brother, Peter, desperate in his need for prayers.   He’d been sitting under a tree, ‘chilling out’ with a cool beer in the noon day heat, doing harm to neither man nor beast. 
But to his horror his peace was shattered when he heard a loud screech.  There in the branches above him  was  a bird of prey, known in Grenada as a ‘chicken hawk.’ In reality -small; to him, at that moment–enormous, threatening! A predator with a mean, hungry, malicious look in its eye.   Terrified, he feared the chicken hawk would swoop down, seize him, carry him off and devour him.  So, he hastened to Peter and asked him to pray for his deliverance and protection.           
So, what are we to make of these amusing and bizarre requests for prayers. I think the best approach is for us to try to put ourselves into the shoes of our Heavenly Father, the most perfect of parents.  Always He listens loving and patiently. Though our fears may be very real for us, the threat may be fanciful. But God never ridicules and humiliates anyone who comes with a genuine anxiety. Reassurance and peace of mind would answer the prayers of the man scared by the chicken hawk.   God frequently tells us, His children, ‘do not be afraid.’ That would be a parent’s approach in soothing a child, scared by a nightmare.
But sometimes people ask us to pray for something which is wrong -a safe abortion, or the eviction of neighbours of a different racial background.   Then our approach must be to pray together that they will come to see, accept and follow God’s will. Not only must we assure them of God’s support, but of ours, even when we disagree.  If, together, we can pray, “Thy will be done,” we are already getting there. 
Isidore O.P.

Thursday, 6 July 2017


Today I’m going to reflect on the Gospel for 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Matthew 11. 25-30.    This begins with Jesus exclaiming, “I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children.”
What has God hidden from the wise and revealed to little ones? Here Jesus wasn’t just speaking about young boys and girls, but all the poor, the under-privileged, the marginalised and the destitute. And what has God done for them?  
Quite simply, some Jewish religious leaders claimed that to enter Good’s Kingdom people needed a very detailed knowledge not only of the 613 Laws given to Moses, but also the multitude of additional minute precisions made to them.  What is more, they were expected to observe every one of them.  Only religious legal experts could possibly do that.   The majority of people would be dismissed as ignorant sinners and excluded.  
But Jesus tells us that the so-called experts have got it wrong.   He has come to remove the crushing, impossible, burden of so many petty rules and regulations.   To each of us he says, ‘Come to me all you who labour and over-burdened, and I will give you rest.”   Jesus offers those, who would be dismissed as ignorant and unimportant, freedom from trying to carry such an impossible burden; now they -we -can rest in the Lord, in a happiness which had seemed impossibly.
But Jesus goes on to say, ‘My yoke is easy, my burden light.’   That removes any complacency we may feel.   We can’t yet sit back and relax.   Following Christ is demanding and at times difficult.   But the demands are not meticulous observance of petty man-made regulations, but something far more serious.   That is the command to love God above all else, and our neighbour as ourselves.   The command to love covers everything that really matters.  It touches every corner of our lives.   Laws are only good in so far as they protect and foster real love.
And what about the yoke Christ mentions in this Gospel?    Well, as you probably know, a yoke is a piece of wood, shaped to rest comfortably on the shoulders. Loads are attached to each end and are easy to carry because their weight is spread.  The point is that we must carry our crosses and follow Christ on the difficult journey of love, if we are to find the eternal rest which He promises.  But Jesus here tells us that with His help we can carry the weight of our crosses.  He can transform carrying our burdens into labours of love.  We couldn’t begin to do that without Him.  But, with His assistance we can do what would be humanly impossible.
There’s a tradition that, as the son of Joseph the carpenter, Jesus would have known how to make a well fitting, comfortable yoke, custom-designed to fit each one of us.  In other words, He gives us the special help we need to carry our own particular crosses.
There’s a beautiful story which shows that this can transform drudgery into a labour of love. Someone, seeing a lad carrying his young brother on his back, sympathetically remarked, “That’s a heavy load you’re carrying.”   To which the lad replied, “That’s not a load; that’s my little brother!”   That came from the heart and was, indeed, a labour of love!

So, while the so-called wise thought they could reach heaven through their detailed knowledge of rules and their own efforts in observing them,  Christ has a completely difference approach.   The law of love is the only way to heaven.  The wonderful thing is that with God’s help that is possible for all of us.  That’s what’s been revealed to us little ones!
Isidore O.P.

Saturday, 1 July 2017


We priests sure do get some weird requests for prayers!   Keep a straight face? Difficult but necessary!   They are desperate! No laughing for them -though it may be for us! They need help; help we must give!
So there was, I, a recently ordained priest - still ‘wet behind the ears;’ I’d just left England and had arrived in Grenada in the W. Indies. For me this was a new culture, totally different from the one I’d left.  I expected it to be full of surprises.
But nothing prepared me for the unusual prayer request from the man from River Road, a suburb of the capital, St. George’s.    Having nothing better to do, his mates had thrown him into the nearby river.   Not much harm in that.   In the hot tropical sun he would soon dry out and may even have welcomed the cool water.   So, why take the trouble to seek my prayers?
His was an unheard-of problem. When he was pitched into the river he had a good Grenadian accent…and was proud of it! With this he mixed well with his mates, his rum-shop drinking partners!   Was he vexed, was he amused,  when he climbed out of the river? Neither! He was startled, horrified! As soon he had hurled a few colourful abuses at his mates he realized had a posh, ‘plum-in mouth’ English accent -the kind which wealthy parents pay a fortune for their youngsters to acquire.
Pity the man from River Road! This sign of exalted social status made him feel an alien among his friends, an object of ridicule. The river had washed away his identity!     Desperately he begged, ‘Wash me mout,’ Fadda.’
Quite honestly, I did not know what to make of the poor man’s predicament.   Realising I was completely out of my depth, I placed the poor man in the Lord’s hands as we prayed together.  What is certain is that the man wanted Jesus to remove the posh accent barrier which isolated him. Strange to say, reaching out to the despised and rejected, removing the barriers and making them welcome, sums up Christ’s work of salvation, and the mission of the Church.  If the rest is history, I have no idea whether or not my prayer was  answered. We’ll leave it there.’
I’ve another crazy tale to share with you, about a chicken hawk, but I’ll save that for another time!
Isidore O.P.