The End is Not So Soon

One of the (many) good things about living in a monastery is that one is spared all those end-of-the-year reflections, when people attempt to name the most significant events/people/products of the year just gone and predict the same for the year just coming. It is so wearing, and if one were to wait ten years, the lists would probably look very different. Those of a classical bent have much sport with Janus and ianua, of course, (I’ve done it myself), and I daresay tomorrow I shall be among the many saying something about Mary, the Mother of God, whose feastday it is. But today, what of today? Do we end the year with hope or despair, gratitude or an almighty grumble?

Poverty, disease, hunger, violence — they are still with us, as they were at the beginning of the year. Does that mean that the bright promise of 2012 is unfilled, that nothing has really changed? It is easy to forget that if we wish to change the world, we must begin with ourselves. If we see poverty as a scandal, we must examine our own use of material goods; and not those alone, for there is a spiritual and intellectual poverty that is just as crushing. If we believe that no one should go hungry, we do not need to go very far to find someone who hasn’t enough to eat, even here in England.  As for violence, unless we address our own inner violence, we shall never free the world of the desire to wound and kill. The problem for most of us is knowing where to start, even with ourselves.

I think we can all learn from Lawrence DePrimo, the New York policeman who met a poor man with no shoes on. Instead of just passing by, he stopped and measured the man’s feet, then went into a store and bought him a pair of boots. A bystander captured this act of humanity and kindness on camera and soon the policeman’s action was all over the internet. Officer DePrimo was baffled by the fuss, but the important point is that he noticed the need of another and did something about it. Noticing was the first step, and that’s the same for all of us. Too often we just don’t see, so we do nothing. There can be no end unless we first make a beginning, and opening our eyes is the only way to start — whatever day of the year it is.


A Domestic Matter

Today I am hoping to get some painting done in the monastery and I have been amused, and occasionally puzzled, by the reactions of online friends. There have been imaginative suggestions about how Bro Duncan might aid the process;  witty suggestions for colours with a liturgical twist; and the inevitable, ‘I suppose you’re painting it all magnolia’ (no, not a drop of magnolia in sight) and ‘those are pricey paints you’re using’ (not really: good paint covers better, faster and lasts longer). What has genuinely puzzled me are the people who think that nuns never have to bother with decorating, or somehow manage it all by magic (I wish we could).

Which brings me to my thought for the day. Our prayerline and, indeed, our email inbox, are always full of requests for prayer. We regularly receive requests from people wishing to discuss their faith or lack of it, or some other perceived difficulty in their lives. In other words, a lot of people engage with us in times of distress and anxiety. Many we never hear from again; others say thank you for what they have received. Not one of them has ever sneered at us for ‘not living in the real world’ (a charge frequently heard from those who disagree with the opinions we express) or questioned our ability to understand the lives they lead. Clearly, when we are needed, we are ordinary people. But mention something as everyday as decorating, and some people are evidently baffled. It doesn’t fit their idea of what we should be.

What I say here of nuns obviously applies to everyone, and that is my real point. Do we box other people in with our view of them? Do we effectively demand that they conform to our ideas about what they should be and do? The parents who want their child to be a doctor or a lawyer, when the child actually wants to be a dancer or a musician; the husbands and wives who want their partners to be what they cannot; the expectations we have of others which can never be met. Sometimes we use this kind of thinking to excuse ourselves from responsibility: ‘he wasn’t what he should be, so why should I . . .’ It is easy to think about these things in the abstract, but we need to start with the reality nearer home. Today is CAFOD’s family fast day, when we are asked to fast in order that others may eat. I daresay many of us think of the hungry in terms of stereotypes: the starving in Africa or Asia, for example. Perhaps today we could take a fresh look at the people we pass in the street. There are many in Britain today who go hungry and whom we need to help, as well as those in other parts of the world. Hunger is a domestic matter, not something we can pretend only happens elsewhere.

How will you help today?