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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Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent - Humble role models in the Kingdom of God

Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Readings: Deuteronomy 4:1, 5-9; Psalm 147:12-13, 15-16, 19-20; Matthew5:17-19.

Matthew 5:17-19 is the beginning of the “expounding of the Law” in the Sermon on the Mount. The “adherence to the Law”, meaning here the Mosaic Law, was a heated debate in the first years of Christianity. Some Christians wanted to ignore the Mosaic Law, saying that Jesus Christ changed the Law; some others wanted to stick to that law and suggested that the Gentiles were to be required to do the same. Obviously, the Jews could not just move on without taking with them all those laws that they believed were from God and meaningful to them. Saint Matthew, who wrote his gospel for a Jewish community, needed to give the view of Jesus towards the Mosaic Law. While Jesus might have appeared to be a revolutionary who came to abolish the “old law” in favour of his new commandment, he still could be seen as the one who came to explain the law and make it more significant and accessible to the people of Israel.  

However, the most astonishing statement in today’s Gospel is not the fact that Jesus did not come to abolish the law, but the fact that he still allows those who lead others astray into his kingdom, even though they might be considered as the smallest there. Our interrogation would be: if those who break the Law are allowed into the kingdom, why bother respecting the Law? Two things could be considered from there: first we all break the law thus leading others to break it, secondly and consequently, we may not be worthy of the position we might allot to ourselves in the kingdom of God.

Role models shape our lives in many ways. When they are noted for commendable acts, we are proud of them and strive to follow their good example; when we are scandalised by their deeds, we are discouraged and we feel betrayed. Those of us who are very weak might suffer long-lasting sorrow. When we have felt let down by our models, it is sometimes difficult to forgive them. However, we often forget that, in one way or another, we all are role models to many others. Whichever our position we have in the society or in the church, there are many people who consider us as role models and expect us to be their guides in many ways.

Jesus says that “whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven.” This verse provides an answer to our first question: despite our imperfections, we still share in the inheritance of the kingdom. Nevertheless, we are called to humility: as it is clear that often, consciously or unconsciously, we mislead those who refer to us as role models. And as it makes us become the smallest in the Kingdom of God, we'd better humble ourselves and avoided to condemn others who go astray; we could find ourselves in the same “category “than them in the kingdom of God.

As we journey in our Lenten Season, let us pray for the gift of humility.
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Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent - Priorities

Tuesday, March 13, 2012
It is easy to get confused in our Christian life. We are so close to the most Holy, to the most important thing in the world, that we sometimes kind of drift of and begin to believe that it is we who are the centre of the world. Each of us may start to think: I have now been Christian for a certain number of years, and so have I got a certain authority. I have become good at this. Or, as a Dominican brother, I might fall into the temptation of believing that I have a certain seniority over others. After all, haven’t I made some great sacrifices? Don’t I represent the very core of the Church? 

And as we grow bigger in our own eyes, it becomes more and more natural for us to think that we are - or should be - God’s first choice. As we get bigger in our own eyes, a certain blindness comes in, a blindness to all that is new. We become like the historian whom God brought back in time so that he could get to witness the very Creation. The historian lifted one eyebrow and said: ‘I think I have seen something similar before’. 

This perspective is neither the spirit of the Gospel nor the Spirit of God. ‘Look, I am doing something new, now it emerges; can you not see it?’ (Isaiah 43,19) asks the prophet, and mentions a new song that we should sing along with the whole of creation (Isaiah 42,10). 

 Those who really know this song are the children! Charles Peguy wrote a book called ‘The Mystery of the Holy Innocents’. In a passage, he begins to meditate on the child who has this extraordinary capacity of saying the same thing over and over again without getting tired. The child says ‘Good Morning’ and ‘Good night’ not once or twice; it can go on and on! ‘Good morning. Good night. Good morning. Good night. Good morning... ‘ And the 20th time is just as funny as the first. How can this be, asks Peguy. Well, that is because for the child, every time is like the first time. 

 This is the nature of the revelation in Christ. It is ever new, ever about to become real. We get to hear secrets that are being whispered into our ears, if we just bother to listen. The prophet says about those secrets: ‘they have just been created, not long ago, and until today you have heard nothing about them, so that you cannot say, 'Yes, I knew about this.' (Isaiah 48,7) To turn to Christ is to expect the unexpected, to let him cure our ‘stiffness’ and make us more flexible, and to lay aside our self-made layers of authority and our spiritual tiredness that make it so difficult to see the immensity of the Gospel. As we approach Christ in the Holy Communion, let us then pray with the words that we find in a chorale in Bach’s oratorio St John Passion: 

Jesus when we will not turn, 
Look on us in kindness: 
Make our hearts within us burn; 
Rouse us from our blindness.
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Sixth Sunday of Easter: Re-humanise the world

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Readings: Acts 10; Psalm 98; 1 Jn 4; Gospel John 15:9-17

Homily held for the 9.30 community at Blackfriars, Oxford.

The readings of today talk about ‘Love’. It’s one of those words that are most used, and maybe also misused in our daily life, still it is not easy to approach it. In order to try to reach its core, I would like to begin in the other end so to speak. I have in mind the Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik and the ongoing trial against him. He killed 77 people last summer, most of them adolescents. For hours, days and weeks case after case is being described in detail. Relatives, friends and all of us really, are weeping silently over the loss of innocent lives.

The national and international press tends to present the accused as a being without emotions or conscience. We do not want to identify us with this man, and we push him out of the zone of recognition. He is not like us. But by treating him in this way, the press risks expressing exactly the same attitude as the defendant does. Because Breivik himself does not talk about people, boys and girls, moms and dads. He talks about goals, strategies, sacrifices, achievements and politics. We cannot respond to him in the same way. To try to dehumanise Anders Breivik is deeply wrong and unjust. Breivik is just as much a human being as any of us here today. Why then, this alienation of this person?

I believe it is because Breivik also shows an aspect of something that is true of both humanity and our society, an aspect that neither the press nor we who follow the trial want to see. As we observe this person, we are also confronted with a society that is developing a mode of life where its individuals can be totally lost. And in their isolation they may lose contact with reality. We see, and are also part of, a society where responsibility is being moved around, we see signs of an ever less-personal system that in the end leads to a terrible, and dangerous, isolation. We are members of a society that are more and more divided into layers.

A few days ago, one of the brethren spoke with great enthusiasm of a novel called ‘The city and the city’. It is to be found in the shelves of ‘Fantasy’ and ‘Science Fiction’. It describes two cities that in a kind of double layered world actually occupy much of the same geographical space. However, the habitants of the two cities do not interact with each other, and if so should happen, even accidentally, it is considered to be a crime worse than murder.

Now I can see by the expression on some of the faces here that you are asking ‘How could such a double world possibly exist? Wouldn’t they bump into each other? And what about Tesco? On a Friday afternoon, it’s already pretty crowdy!’ Well. To get those answers, I guess you’ll have to read the book yourselves, or track down the brother who mentioned this in the first place. However, we don’t need to read Science-Fiction in order to observe such blindness in a society. Just think of how easily we pass the homeless in the streets. Or drug addicted. Or teenagers hanging out at MacDonald’s. Or elderly people in institutions or sitting alone in their homes or on benches around in town. We live in a society whose members are segregated, a society that teaches us to say: ‘This is not my responsibility’. Where we learn to cry out: ‘Someone’s got to take care of this!’

We may not even need to go leave this house of prayer to see these tendencies. There might be peoples within our own community that we do not really know. Or we might know something about them, enough to keep a certain distance. Even in our own family, and maybe especially there, we live sometimes at an infinite distance from each other, in spite of our proximity in daily life. In the end, the layers of our society, and the filter through which we observe the world and make our choices, are rooted in our own hearts. The Second Vatican Constitution ‘Gaudium et Spes’, points at this reality as it concludes: ‘Man is split within himself. As a result, all of human life, whether individual or collective, shows itself to be a dramatic struggle between good and evil, between light and darkness’ (GS 13).

Dear brothers and sisters, we are not gathered here because it is convenient, because we may benefit from it, as if we were on a market place. We are here because we find ourselves in profound need of healing. Our healing consists in restoring our ability to love. And this is, in fact, also the precious gift we have been given by God himself: ‘It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain’. This fruit is the gift of loving one another. We are called to break the conventions rooted in fear and conformity, conventions that hold us back from fulfilling our mission of love. We are called, not to dehumanise the world, but to re-humanise it.

This means that in spite of the terrible actions of the Norwegian terrorist, we have to defend him; not his actions which are beyond comprehension, but his humanity. In our daily life, we have to ask ourselves if we have become too comfortable with the divisions in our society. Do we care for those around us, even if they don’t belong to our immediate sphere of interaction? And in family life, we are called to slow down, and look into ourselves with honesty and humility. How do we relate to each other? Do we really talk together? Do we give of ourselves?

But what if we find that we do not fulfil the commandments we are given today? Let us then remember that we the body of Christ, and in Christ we receive life, strength and humility to grow in love both to God and to each other.
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Monday of the Third Week of Lent – Life after leprosy

Monday, March 12, 2012
Readings: 2 Kings 5:1-15ab.  Psalms 42:2, 3; 43:3,4.  Luke 4:24-30. Read more

Third Sunday of Lent - The Anger of Jesus

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Saturday of the Second Week of Lent - The Creative Act which is Forgiveness.

Saturday, March 10, 2012
Readings: Micah 7:14-15, 18-20; Psalm 103:1-12 (not 5-7 or 8b); Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32 Read more

Stations of the Cross 2012: Jesus Meets Veronica

Friday, March 09, 2012
Br Gustave Ineza offers a reflection on the Sixth Station of the Cross, which will be delivered in the priory church this evening and which has been specially pre-recorded for Godzdogz:

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Godzdogz Goes Green

Friday, March 09, 2012

The dominican spirit is not only about studying and analysing, but also using creativity in order to adapt the knowledge into practical contemporary situations. Sometimes this becomes most concrete, for example when the recycling container hasn't been emptied for a week. We then have to call upon radical solutions...

Featuring Oxford's Bin-Friar, fr Haavar Simon Nilsen OP
Movie director, Camera man and Copy rights: Our eminent chef Alisdair Ferguson
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Thursday of the Second Week of Lent - The long road to freedom

Thursday, March 08, 2012
Readings: Jeremiah 17:5-10;Psalm 1:1-2, 3, 4, 6;Luke 16:19-31

Life as a Dominican friar is really pretty comfortable. We get to wear great clothes and eat good food. OK, so it might be a bit of an exaggeration to say we feast sumptuously every day, but we do get to feast a few times in the year. So in the light of today's Gospel about the rich man Dives and the poor man Lazarus, should I be concerned? The answer is probably yes.

The problem with Dives is not so much that he dresses and eats well, but it's to do with his relationship with Lazarus. Lazarus is his closest neighbour, yet he is totally ignored. If charity begins at home, then Dives is a depressing example of someone who lacks charity.

Being charitable is not about acting for the good of others to the detriment of ourselves. It's more to do with recognising that our good is intimately bound up with the good of others. Charity is about forming bonds of friendship. Unfortunately this is something we can easily forget.

Last year Jean Vanier gave a very moving talk at Blackfriars about his experience of living with severely disabled people in his L'Arche community. What he said seems particularly relevant to today’s Gospel. There is a tyranny of normality in which people have to worry about climbing social ladders and impressing people, perhaps the sort of world Dives lived in. Then there are the people who society would rather forget, the people like Lazarus who suffer from years of poverty and humiliation. And there is a huge chasm which keeps these two groups apart, the chasm which is created by fear.

But what Jean Vanier says is full of hope. He speaks of the joy of discovering that we are part of an incredible human family, of seeing the beauty of people, and of how he has been deeply healed by living in L'Arche. His talk is called 'the Long Road to Freedom'. I certainly recognise I've got a long way to go on this road. I'm conscious of the fear which prevents me from sharing God's love with others. So yes, I am concerned about today's parable, but I trust that if I daily turn to Christ crucified, then He will break down the barriers that separate me from His love. Read more

Wednesday of the Second Week of Lent -The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve

Wednesday, March 07, 2012
Readings: Jeremiah 18:18-20; Psalm 31: 5-6, 14, 15-16; Matthew 20:17-28 Read more
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