John had a degree in chemistry and a job that used his skills and experience. His employers were sympathetic to the needs of their employees, and tried hard to accommodate John’s mental ill-health but they parted company when he became unable to do his work and was in a mental hospital under a section.
Around this time John visited and told us he blamed his plight on past drug misuse that had permanently affected the way his brain worked.
His face comes to mind when I am approached by beggars or homeless people: would giving them money be giving bread or a stone? (Matthew 7:9) Another question: would I give my son money in the near-certain knowledge that it would be spent on mind-altering drugs? (Thank God he has more sense.) But at least I can trust ‘Catching Lives’ to use my donations to provide nourishment, support and shelter.
For example: Catching Lives run Canterbury Community Shelter:
It is open throughout December, January and February, in partnership with 7 churches in Canterbury and provides overnight accommodation for rough sleepers to shelter from the cold weather, and to work with staff and volunteers to find more permanent housing.
A strong team of volunteers carries out a variety of roles:
- Kitchen volunteers to help cook and serve supper for the shelter guests.
- Evening volunteers to welcome the guests in, play board games, chat, etc.
- Overnight volunteers to support the paid staff at the church halls.
- Volunteers to take bedding to and from the church halls in mornings and evenings.
No-one can claim this is the answer to a complex web of problems, but it is bread, not stones.
(Sculptures in Assisi, near Domus Pacis)
‘…when you have a party, invite the poor…’
I work as a volunteer in a community centre that provides food for homeless people. Working in the Centre has exposed me to meeting different people with different needs. Some just need someone to notice they exist, some just want to be left alone, while others would like to chat. One particular client created a deep impression on me. He was man of middle age. Looking at his face and disposition, I wondered what made him always happy and smiling. It was obvious he could not boast even of basic necessities of life – food, clothing and shelter. One day, I summoned courage to ask him why he was on the streets. This was his response: “you know sister, as an ex-convict it is difficult to find a job” but he told me he was determined to stay ‘clean’. His response made me admire his courage and wish I could do more to help him. There is this tendency of mine to write myself and others off because of one mistake or other, but everyone given the chance is capable of changing from bad to good decisions. I thank that man and others at the centre for helping me “learn to love without condition. Talk without bad intention, and most of all care for people without any expectation” (The Essence of Life).
‘You spare all things because all things are yours, Lord, lover of life…’
About two years ago, Sr. Helina and I were working in the kitchen at Catching Lives Community Shelter when another volunteer decided to tidy the window sill. She picked up from it a little reddish plant which was sitting in a yoghurt pot of dirt, sporting one sorry-looking leaf. This, she quite sensibly proposed to tidy into the dustbin. ‘”No!”’ cried Helina and I in unison and we immediately offered to take it home and look after it. Our rescue plant surprised us. When it flowered, we discovered it was a begonia. This year, it outgrew our chapel and had to be moved to a roomier spot. Over the summer, it put out a cascade of exotic blooms and the beginnings of new leaves all along its stems.
Jesus challenges us to treat each other with mercy as we treated the plant, never giving up on anyone but allowing people the time and the conditions they need to grow and change. That is why He told a parable about a gardener who asked the landowner to spare a fruitless tree from being cut down. The gardener wanted it to have another year of nurturing to help it bear fruit. He could guarantee no results for the following year …but as there are no limits on God’s mercy, I can picture him going back to the landowner every year with the same request until the fruit finally appears. (Luke 13:6-9)
‘…you are merciful to all, because you can do all things and overlook people’s sins so that they can repent.’