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Book Review

Timothy Radcliffe OP
Sing a New Song:

The Christian Vocation
ISBN 1-871552-70-2
Dominican Publications, Norwich, 1999, 10.99

(price at publication of review)

Reviewed January 2002; Copyright, The Society of Saint Francis, 2001

This is a lovely book. Written by the master of the Dominican Order of Preachers, it is relevant to anyone with an interest in Religious Life - indeed to anyone reflecting on what it means to live out the Christian vocation today.

Timothy Radcliffe writes with attractive honesty about his own doubts, struggles and questions. 'We go on being watchmen waiting for the new dawn, so that we can share our hope with those who see no sign of the sun rising. It is because I have somehow glimpsed their darkness, and maybe known it as my own, that I can share a word about the "loving kindness of the heart of our God".' Radcliffe uses his own experience, in a way that is personal but not self-indulgent, to encourage others to hold on to meaning through their own periods of darkness. In this sense his writing reflects the Dominican concern with what he calls 'the prolongation of the Incarnation': Dominicans are to preach by their presence, as much as by their words, in some of the darkest places of the world.

To judge by his letters to his Dominican brothers and sisters, St Catherine of Siena's vision of Dominic is mirrored in Radcliffe's own vision for Dominic's successors: 'Clearly he appeared as an apostle in the world, with such truth and light did he sow my word, dispelling the darkness and giving light'. Radcliffe insists that Gospel living involves fallible doubting human beings daring to embrace a full, costly Christ-like humanity - and that the particular vocation of the Religious is to challenge a world (and a community!) where this is not happening.

This book brings together addresses, articles and pastoral letters, on a wide range of topics. Radcliffe's style is accessible and friendly, but he makes it deceptively easy to follow him into deeper reflection on questions of authority, vocation, justice, responsibility and mission. Though he is writing principally for an audience of vowed Dominicans, there is much here of use to Christians who wonder how to live their faith in a confusing contemporary world. For a Franciscan especially, there is a certain 'family feel' about Radcliffe's writing on religious identity. Many of his reflections resonate with the Franciscan world view (if there is such a thing), challenge it, and offer new insights into it. And if Francis had read Radcliffe's views on the potential of study as a tool of compassion and gateway to freedom, perhaps the history of our own order would have been rather different!

The Christian, says Radcliffe, is called to sing in the dark: the dark of an alien and frightening world, the dark of doubt, of the absence or presence of God. We are called to sing a new song. This book suggests some of the words which might help bring us out into the light.

Rowan Clare CSF 

 

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