The blog of the Dominican student brothers at Blackfriars, Oxford.

Built on the four pillars of our Dominican life – preaching, prayer, study, and community – Godzdogz offers many resources for exploring the Catholic Faith today.
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Biblical Beasts: Jackal

Sunday, July 31, 2011
For millennia the jackal has played a less than wholesome part in the mythology and literature of the east, near east and Africa. Varying species and subspecies of jackal make this a hard animal to portray accurately, and indeed, this is just the case we face in biblical descriptions. There is, to date, much confusion over when exactly a jackal is being referred to in the bible, particularly given that European translations often substituted instead that much more familiar animal, the fox. It would seem there are three possibilities in Hebrew for the jackal, none exclusive; shû'ãl, 'the digger'; 'íyyîm, 'the howlers'; and tãn, 'the stretcher'. Endearing titles are they not?

So why does the jackal get such a bad press? Well, the wily and cunning nature of the fox is equally applicable to the jackal, indeed the chief difference seems to be that the jackal is a more social animal. It conceals itself by day and issues forth at night, in pairs or larger packs, to prey upon the weak or defenceless creatures it encounters, or to scavenge among the refuse or crops of mankind. The jackal will eat just about anything, but only fight that which it can easily overpower. In the ancient world it was renowned for devouring the dead and dying that lay strewn on the battlefield after dark. “They will be given over to the sword and become food for jackals” (Psalm 63:10).

Spiritually speaking, the jackal represents one whose worldly cunning and indifference to the plight of others, is salient. The jackal waits, and watches, and when the time is opportune and the risk slight, he pounces; his aim is survival – at any cost. Understandable for a beast of the field, but for mankind these are not honourable traits. The jackal therefore arises time and time again in scripture to represent the cunning and duplicity of men; the selfishness of one who prowls unseen by night and hides by day. One whose deeds are hidden, whose motivations remain secret; one who prefers the wastelands that hide ill deeds, and who refuses to live openly in the light.

Well, you can imagine if interviewed a jackal simply saying ‘we have to earn a living somehow’, and quite right. But for us, we should not indulge in cunning or trickery, or band together to prey on the defenceless. We should not strip others of what is rightfully theirs and then seek to hide ourselves away. We should aim that our deeds can be held before others and not seek the cloak of darkness and night. Indeed, remember that; “You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness” (1 Thessalonians 5:5).
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Biblical Beasts: Insect

Thursday, July 28, 2011
Three of the ten plagues of Egypt involved insects, a plague of gnats (Exodus 8:16ff), a plague of flies (Exodus 8:20ff), and a plague of locusts (Exodus 10:1ff). On the one hand insects represent something weak, fragile, and easily crushed. On the other hand they represent something mighty and strong, capable of appearing in great numbers and of bringing about great destruction. There are references in the Bible to both aspects, e.g. Isaiah 51:6; Hosea 5:12; Job 4:19 and James 5:2. Read more

Biblical Beasts: Horse

Tuesday, July 26, 2011
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Gearing up for WYD

Monday, July 25, 2011
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Biblical Beasts: Goat

Sunday, July 24, 2011
Goats do no not have the best reputation. They have come to be associated with the devil and Satanism. Much of the goat's diabolic symbolism is linked to its behaviour. Isidore of Seville describes the goat as "a lascivious animal; it likes to butt heads and is always ready to mate. Because of its lust its eyes are slanted (square pupils). The nature of goats is so hot that their blood can dissolve diamonds". The goat's reputation is also not really helped by Christ's description of the last judgement, where the goats are put to the left and banished to hellfire. Read more

Vocation Story - Andrew Brookes OP

Saturday, July 23, 2011
Born in Birmingham during the Second Vatican Council, I was brought up in a family of practising Catholics in the years of its initial implementation. From my early years I had a fascination with the person of Jesus and a strong affection for him and commitment to him. This continued into my teenage years though, looking back, I increasingly formulated it in a less than orthodox framework. Aged 16, amidst a personal crisis, I received what I can still only call an experience and also an understanding of the extent of God’s love for me and in response to which I committed my life to God as completely and unconditionally as I could. This changed my life: substantial daily prayer, regular Scripture reading, wider study of theology, and more frequent commitment to and involvement in the life and mission of the church, all quickly followed, and soon, leadership of Christian groups. Along with this I came to an orthodox grasp of Jesus and of the Christian mysteries radiating out from this central mystery of God’s Revelation. Read more

Biblical Beasts: Fox

Thursday, July 21, 2011
My Grandfather grew up on a farm but spent the vast majority of his life living in Manchester. He had very definite views on foxes. Ideally they were to be shot. He regretted the difficulty in executing such a policy in a densely populated urban area. He had some sympathy with those who wanted to hunt foxes for sport. He had no time for anyone who thought of foxes as anything other than vermin.

My grandfather would, then, have approved of the words sung by the bride in the Song of Songs: 'Catch us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vineyard, for the vineyard is in blossom' (Song of Songs 2:15). In the Old Testament, a vineyard is often the symbol of Israel. The people of God are in bloom, the Bridegroom has come. The foxes, the thieves that vandalise this vineyard, must be cleared away so that the vineyard can bear much fruit. The foxes here represent our sins, all we do to resist the Word of God.

In Luke's gospel we again have the behaviour of the fox contrasted with the Kingdom of God. 'Foxes have holes ... but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head' (Luke 9:58). The vulnerable Christ walks in the light, and during his public ministry relies on his creatures for hospitality. The fox, in contrast, comes out to steal what is not his and then hides in the darkness of a hole. Jesus offered his life as a gift, and gave the human beings the great honour of giving him a gift. He accepted and allowed his creatures, those that loved him, to care for him. The fox receives no such gift and is reduced to raiding bin bags for food. Where Jesus built community by giving and receiving, the fox antisocially steals and damages. This is why my Granddad wanted to shoot them. Read more

Biblical Beasts: Eagle

Wednesday, July 20, 2011
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Biblical Beasts: Dove

Tuesday, July 19, 2011
In the last decade it has become rather popular to release doves at funerals. Whilst I personally find this a rather vulgar novelty, it does have some grounding in the funeral practices of early Christians. There are many examples in the Roman Catacombs of sepulchres marked with a dove and the Greek inscription "ΕΙΡΗΝΗ"(peace). This is of course a prayer for the peace of the deceased's soul but throughout the centuries the dove became associated with civil peace. This association with peace is never mentioned explicitly but many references point towards this connotation. Read more

Vocation Story

Thursday, July 14, 2011
We easily take the word ‘vocation’ for granted, seeing it as something given, an ‘offer’ given from God to which we answer yes or no. Especially when we are young, we may ask ourselves: “What’s my vocation? Where does God want me to be, to serve, to live?” Being a Norwegian, raised within the Lutheran tradition of the Church of the State, the way seems long to the Dominican order in the Catholic Church. As a child, I went rarely to Church, and it wasn’t until the age of 21 that I, through years of inner prayer, finally was confronted with my faith and started to go to Mass in the Lutheran Church. God has a tendency of not leaving us in peace ... Five years later, I converted to the Catholic Church, and seven years after that, I asked to join the Dominican order, in the French province. I have spent five years in France, and have now finished the first of two years here in Oxford. Were these turns in my life written in the book of life? Was it God’s one and only plan for me to bring me to exactly this point? Have I found 'The Vocation' of my life? Read more
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