The Poor and Needy

Historically, the feast of St Laurence (or Lawrence) which we celebrate today poses a number of questions. He is thought to have come from Toledo and was one of the seven deacons of Rome, martyred on 10 August 258, just a few days after Pope St Sixtus II and his companions. Within a very short time, celebration of his martyrdom had become much more popular than that of Pope Sixtus, and by the fourth century he was clearly among the Church’s favourite saints. We remember him today chiefly for the antiphons of Vespers of his feast, with their touch of black humour as the saint, lying on the grid-iron, tells his torturers to turn him over, as he is done on this side now, his being named alongside Sixtus in the Roman canon, and for the story that, when asked to produce the treasures of the Church, he brought forward the poor. Perhaps that is why he is so popular: he is the archetypal deacon, concerned with serving the poor, one who sees them not as objects of pity but as individuals who bestow riches on others.

Sometimes in Britain today the language we use about the poor and needy is the language of ‘otherness’. We give help, but the way in which we do so is tinged with awkwardness. The State is failing in its duty, we say, as we note that children are going to school without breakfast or those in employment are having to make use of Food Banks to ensure that their families are fed adequately. We become angry, but the rhetoric of indignation often betrays us. No one likes being done good to; no one likes being thought of as different. Do we actually recognize that while the poor need help, we who try to give it are ourselves the needy?

When Jesus tells his disciples, ‘The poor you have always with you,’ (Matt. 26.11)  I don’t think he was necessarily making a comment about the ineradicable nature of poverty and inequality, although it is frequently interpreted as such. I think it more likely he was emphasizing two modes of presence among us: uniquely in his flesh, and now among those who are open to receive him, who put up no barriers, the poor. We who are rich enough in this world’s gifts can only echo the Beatitudes and try to be poor in spirit. I suspect the really poor may have their own views on that, but it is a starting-point.

Today, when there are so many forms of poverty in the world, let us try to be alert to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and share what we have with others. If it makes us uncomfortable to reflect that they have a right to what we share, well and good. We shall have begin to think as St Laurence thought and seen where true treasure lies, where we may find Christ our Lord.

Community Retreat 2018
The community’s annual retreat begins tonight and ends on the morning of Saturday, 18 August. Please keep us in your prayers as we keep you in ours.


Making Room for the Holy Spirit

I nearly called this the confessions of a digitalnun. For some days I have been nibbling away at the community’s correspondence mountain and fretting that I haven’t been able to do what I wanted to do (finish re-jigging the monastery’s web sites). It has taught me a useful lesson. Neither the correspondence nor the web sites will ever reach a state of completion, when I can say that no more needs to be done. More than that, I’ll never be able to say that they’ve been dealt with perfectly. There will always be the letter or email I haven’t answered adequately, or clearly or kindly enough to satisfy its recipient; and web sites are out of date almost as soon as they are uploaded. It is in that imperfection, however, that I think we make room for the Holy Spirit. The moment we drop our own ideas about how it should all go, we allow a chink for him to act; and reluctant though we may be to concede the point, his ideas are invariably better than ours.

Most of us like the illusion of control. We are ‘the masters of our fate, the captains of our soul’. Possibly; but trouble comes when we try to make others share our illusions  or subscribe to our version of reality. I can best illustrate this with a simple example. Occasionally, we receive enquiries from people who are thinking about vocation but who have forgotten, or are perhaps unwilling to acknowledge, that there are three parties involved: God, themselves and the community. It is no good presenting the community with a detailed programme of what is expected of it, anymore than it would be to demand that God endorse our ideas about things, or for the community to expect the candidate to have attained perfection. (As D. Elizabeth Sumner was wont to remark, ‘Why enter a monastery if you’ve already attained the Seventh Mansion?’) We have to explore, be open, be honest, listen hard, reflect, trusting that the other party will do the same and that God will be involved in the process. It cannot be rushed. What is true of discernment of vocation is also true of much of life. We have to check the inner clamour so that we may hear what God has to say, and, if my experience is anything to go by, he usually speaks through other people or through events.

So, this morning, as I dutifully set about the correspondence backlog, I shall try to keep in mind that what I want may not be the best that is possible. Tinkering with our web sites may be fun, and I have no objection to fun, but there may be something more important for me to attempt. It may not seem important to me, but it matters to God; and that is surely what counts.