Pilgrimage to St Winefride’s Well

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 Man carrying a disabled companion: corbel at the shrine

Yesterday we made a pilgrimage to St Winefride’s Well in Holywell, Flintshire. We set off early and were at the shrine as it opened. For half an hour or so we had the place to ourselves and, in the beautiful silence and peace one finds there, were able to pray for all sick and suffering people, especially those known to us and those who have asked our prayers. The worn stone, the bubbling spring, the heavy scent of flowers round about, the bright candles burning in the alcove, the crutches and ex votos of those who have found healing, these may remind the casual visitor of Lourdes, to which Holywell is often compared, but, for myself, I found the quiet charged with an intensity of prayer that can only come from centuries of being a holy place. To a Benedictine, it was somehow familiar, a homely place, in every sense of the word.

This corbel, showing a man carrying his disabled companion, expresses an important truth about praying for the sick. It is the privilege of those who are able to carry those who can no longer carry themselves; and it is the privilege of those who are carried to cherish and bless those who do the carrying. The sculptor has captured not only a moment of practical help but also a moment of great tenderness, as both carrier and carried are portrayed cheek to cheek, looking in the same direction. I think we can extend the meaning of that to cover many more situations. Christianity can never be an individualistic religion, concerned only with personal sanctification, as though we could become holy apart from everyone else. That hackneyed political phrase, ‘we are all in this together,’ takes on a new meaning when applied to the Christian vision of society. We stand united, looking in the same direction towards Christ, and we help one another along the road to salvation. Some may do the carrying, others may be carried, but we follow the same path and give glory to God by our journeying.

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Class and Conscience

Being ‘posh’ is not a sin. Being nouveau riche is not a sin. Being just plain rich is not a sin. Those of us who are not posh or rich sometimes have difficulty seeing beyond the things that irritate us about those who are. Nadine Dorries may be right about David Cameron’s shortcomings, but what she said told us more about her than about him. Inverted snobbery is still snobbery, and ugly too because it makes judgements on the basis of something utterly ridiculous, quite literally a no-thing..

In England, class is hard to define but instantly recognizable. It is linked to, but not determined by, wealth. Accent and education play a major part, but not intelligence or many of our grandest families would hardly qualify as upper class. Everyone can become middle class, but one has to be born lower or upper class. That fact alone should indicate how silly it is to value or misprize anyone on the basis of class.

But do we use class as shorthand for attitudes that really have more to do with conscience? Many rich people are extremely generous; many others are extremely mean. Whether Christian or not, we still tend to expect those who have a lot of this world’s goods to share with those who don’t. When the rich person refuses to share or is rude or belittling about those less fortunate, we feel that something is not right and are left thinking about camels and eyes of needles. A hard heart and a tight wallet is a particularly unlovely combination.

It would be sad if our present economic mess were to lead to another outbreak of class warfare. Much better, surely, to concentrate on developing a conscience about others and a more generous response to their needs. ‘All in this together?’ Yes, Mr Cameron, but at a much deeper and more demanding level than I suspect you, or most of us, have yet guessed.

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