A Spoonful of Sugar

Today is St Nicholas’s day, when, with a good conscience, we can rot our teeth with toffee and gingerbread, punch our opponents on the nose, and, provided we have all the necessary safeguarding measures in place, enjoy the company of children, exchange gifts, pray for seafarers and do good by stealth. If you haven’t a clue what I mean, or don’t ‘do’ irony, these posts may help:

St Nicholas and Santa Claus
Death in the North Sea

We tend to be serious about Advent, but not always in the right way, as some of the responses to yesterday’s post made clear to me. Yes, it is a time for concentrating on the coming of the Messiah, but it is also a time for recognizing that we are already living in the Messianic age. The plainness most of us adopt throughout this short season of preparation for Christmas isn’t meant to be gloomy or misanthropic, ‘penitential’ in the popular sense of the word. On the contrary, our penance should be life-enhancing. There should, ideally, be something of the rubicund Father Christmas/Santa Claus about it — a generosity of spirit and intention, even if we can’t manage material generosity. Not all of us can do that, nor should anyone be made to feel guilty about it; but we must beware of complacency. ‘I can’t’ is sometimes a pretext for ‘I won’t’.

In earlier posts about St Nicholas, I have stressed the importance of prayer. It is one thing we, as nuns, are committed to giving to the Church and to the world, and never has it been more necessary. Recently, I looked at the statistics for the number of abortions performed in England and Wales, the number of children living in poverty in the UK as a whole, the numbers officially ‘in care’ and those estimated to be surviving on hand-outs from food banks, despite the fact that their parents may be doing two or three jobs to try to keep themselves above the breadline. It was a shocking contrast to all the ads for consumer goods that marked Black Friday and continue to besiege us that we may have the ‘perfect’ Christmas. This morning the prayer of the community is for conversion of heart for us all: for St Nicholas to be honoured by more generous giving to children in need, not just at Christmas but throughout the year. If a rich country like the U.K. can tolerate such shameful inequality, such cruel indifference to children, what hope is there for the rest of the world? Our giving may be no more than a spoonful of sugar, but even one spoonful has the potential to make a huge difference. Try it.


11 thoughts on “A Spoonful of Sugar”

  1. Sister Catherine, I wrote this in a moment of deep despair. And, I’m afraid, cynicism. We’ve given to the Food Bank and Salvation Army and Cafod, gone on marches, signed petitions, posted on Twitter and yet we will have a lovely Christmas and the grandchildren will have too many presents and there will be a surplus of ‘stuff’ including the wine and the nuts. But it’s never enough, and we’re caught in the way our lives have evolved. Thank you for your wise words, but – where do we go from here? I’m not called to the life that you and your sisters have been, but you show us the way by example. What is our next step?

    It was Christmas Day at the Food Bank
    And the doors are now shut fast.
    The weary staff are at home
    Resting their feet at last.
    The volunteers too are relaxing
    In the knowledge of work well done
    It’s time now to raise their glasses
    Forgetting the tasks still undone.

    And all of those who donated
    A tin of baked beans or of rice,
    Have a glow of virtue rewarded,
    As they dine – without thought of the price

    On the mountains of goodies they’ve hoarded
    From Waitrose and Aldi and Lidl
    The turkey, the nuts and the brandy,
    Complaining that they’re the ‘squeezed middle’.

    And as for the fat cats of government
    They neither know nor care
    It’s blame and neglect and abandonment
    For the poor and the sick – so unfair.
    Do they know of the mother who struggles
    With the damp and the mould on her walls
    As her hungry and shivering children
    Wonder why Santa don’t call.

    Do they know of the men with bronchitis
    From years in the quarries and pits
    Who are told that they’re quite well and fit
    And they live on a tenner and handouts
    ‘Cos the wealthy – they won’t take a hit.

    Do they see the old soldier who’s shaking,
    His nightmares are driving him mad
    With visions of horrors and evil
    And weapons and bombs and Jihad.
    Do they they see the sad eyes of his daughter
    Who weeps for the state of her Dad,
    Her money’s been stopped too
    She’s given him all that she had.

    And so dear friends as we gather
    To toast each other with wine
    Spare a thought for the poor and the needy
    And those who are on the breadline.

    Send a message to all those in power
    That justice isn’t old fashioned
    And that hunger should not exist
    With a shout that does not desist

    • Thank you. I think you know me well enough by now to know that my answer will be, ‘You are almost certainly doing enough; be at peace about your own contribution!’ I can’t say more than that, obviously, but I truly believe that you and most readers of this blog take to heart the encouragements I try to give and are indeed truly generous. I think the big challenge we all face is trying to persuade others to give more. Indifference and complacency bedevil our society. I have sometimes looked on at Christmas Midnight Mass as a crowd of once-a-year worshipers come in, smelling rather beautifully of Chanel and dressed in designer brands (logos prominently displayed), then lined up their one pound coins for the offertory as though they were doing an extraordinarily generous act. I don’t know what opportunities you will be given for spreading the word, so to say, but I am confident that you will make the most of them. You know, I trust, that we shall be praying for you.

  2. Mary Poppins is my all time favourite film to watch on Christmas Day. Yes, a spoon full of sugar does help the medicine go down! Thank-you sooo much sister, I love you. Advent Blessings.

  3. I worry a bit about the sense of pride we might have at looking at those putting a pound in the first collection and probably even less in the second collection, as we pass the bag or plate onward having given by direct debit, brought Christmas goodies for the food bank in addition to our financial donations to local charities helping the homeless, CAFOD and others. Sometimes I think that I really should do more, much more, but my income is only slightly above average because I have managed to save.

    I was at Stanbrook Abbey yesterday and we were discussing the abortion issue, particularly late abortions which some people are urging. I worked at King’s College Hospital Medical School in the medical school office in 1971 when a young male doctor came in very upset that he had terminated more pregnancies than he’d brought children into the world. It made a great impression on me then, and since then many innocents have been slaughtered, probably far more than in the Holocaust. Advent and Christmas are a wonderful time for children – the hope, the anticipation and hopefully a good family time at Christmas. Let us be generous and pray too.

    • I don’t think I, or anyone else, felt superior to the people I was referring to. We knew them well as we lived in the same village, attended some of the same social gatherings, heard them talk, etc, etc. As I said to an earlier commenter, we need to spread the word among others if we are doing all we personally can.

  4. I read the first five lines and wanted to punch the air with joy. Now slightly sobered down by the rest of your text, and brought down to earth by the poem in the comment. Thank you. But my heart is still singing with Hope…

  5. Your posts of yesterday, and today, show me two sides of the same coin.
    They provide both comfort, and food for thought.
    Thank you Sister Catherine.

  6. Dear dame Catherine, I used this as my reflection during our morning communion for our patron, St Nicholas. Very thought provoking for all present.

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