Back in July, I wrote about the bumper harvest on the apricot tree. over the next four weeks I was up that tree a few times, harvesting and pruning. We made more than 100 jars of jam. That’s not really a boast, just a measure of the bounty from our tree this year.
Some of those jars have found their way to other people’s breakfast tables. We’ve had appreciation from family and neighbours, ‘best ever’, ‘lovely jam’ and so on. Those of us who have undergone the after-effects of surgery will empathise with the friend of Mrs T, recovering from her op who really enjoyed the jam with her breakfast toast. So good to receive the sense of taste again! What a gift it is, and how healing.
Where else can we spread a little apricot-flavoured happiness, I wonder?
Are there any people out there who might treasure a small gift from you, far more than perhaps you’d expect on first thoughts?
Pope Emeritus Benedict has contrasted his style with that of Pope Francis,suggesting that he should have got among the people more. Yet Benedict did something radical in this direction when he came out of the Vatican and shared a Christmas meal with homeless people at the Sant’Egidio Community. (Amazingly, protocol demanded that the Pope should not be seen eating!)
He told the gathering:
It is a moving experience for me to be with you, to be with Jesus’ friends, because Jesus especially loves people who are suffering, people in difficulty, and wants them to become his brothers and sisters. Thank you for this possibility! I am very glad and I thank all those who prepared the meal, lovingly and competently I was truly aware of the good cooking, congratulations! and I also thank those who served the food.
At lunch I heard of sorrowful events full of humanity and also stories of love rediscovered here at Sant’Egidio: the experiences of elderly, homeless or disabled people, emigrants, gypsies, individuals with financial problems or other difficulties who are all, in one way or another, sorely tried by life. I am here with you to tell you that I am close to you and love you, and that you and your affairs are not far from my thoughts but rather at the centre and in the heart of the Community of believers, hence also in my heart.
With the words of St John Chrysostom I would like to remind each one: “Consider you have become a priest of Christ, giving with your own hand not flesh but bread, and not Blood, but a cup of water” (Homily on the Gospel of Matthew, 42,3). What riches are offered to life by God’s love expressed in real service to our brothers and sisters who are in need! Like St Lawrence, a Deacon of the Church of Rome, when the Roman magistrates of the time sought to intimidate him, to make him handover the Church’s treasure, he pointed to the poor of Rome as the true treasure of the Church. We can make St Lawrence’s gesture our own and say that you poor people really are the Church’s treasure.
‘You turn by this big Catholic Church’, my son told his mother who was to pick him up from the flat he’d been living in over the summer. ‘That’s where I was baptised’, I said. ‘Limehouse’ is on my birth certificate, and you can’t get more East End than that. More East End than Walford, and on a quiet night, you can hear Bow Bells. Is there ever a quiet night?
Mother, aged 18, had joined Dad at Saint Mary and Saint Michael’s parish where he was running the Boys’ Club, and a whole new world was opening before her eyes. Across the street was the Mosque with whom they were on friendly terms; there were many synagogues within walking distance. It was by no means just Jewish people who had landed in this dockland parish from across Europe and around the world.
A Frenchwoman took her under her wing to negotiate the local markets and learn to cook exotic dishes such as Spaghetti Bolognese; yes, this was 1948-50! She experienced great solidarity from the Jewish and Italian traders who understood about beginning a new life in unfamiliar surroundings. Somehow the portions she received from Mrs Guazzelli in her café were that little more generous than the ration books might require. She learned from her friend how to buy wisely on the street market.
Another friend, my Godmother, kept in touch with me and my parents till her death. She was East End English Catholic all the way through.
My parents had to leave Stepney while I was still a toddler, happily watching the largely horse-drawn traffic on Commercial Road. I remember nothing of my time there, but living in the East End opened my parents’ eyes to other, quite different ways of life that good people were following in good faith. Some of their openness has rubbed off onto their children. May we continue to spread it.
A couple of days after the Harvest Mass, Deacon Eliam from Zambia asked me about the pumpkin leaves that had formed part of our display. These were from a pumpkin vine growing up through a bush in Mrs O’s garden; the fruit had already been harvested and these leaves had been kept for the Mass.
Eliam was surprised that I’d treated the leaves as a by-product for the compost heap, when they are a vegetable in Zambia.
My quick search on the web suggested they could be stir-fried with garlic and they taste sweet and less bitter than spinach or cabbage, maybe we’ll try it sometime, but if the remaining leaves from this year are any good at all, Amiel should have a taste of home!
We are guilty of taking many of God’s gifts for granted, even including pumpkin leaves! There is something we can do about that because now we know. How much else do we presume we know, presume we are right about? Who will tell us where we are going wrong? Mea maxima culpa.
I’m grateful to Eliam for his observation but also for the reminder, yet again, that all is gift, all is given to us.
I hope I can find some leaves worth his eating, this late in the season. And like St Peter, I should try anything once! (Acts 10).
(Eliam was able to share the leaves with other African students; maybe I’ll grow some pumpkins early next spring, just for the leaves.)
At the end of a Martha Day I can sit down and take the better part before I go to bed. Appropriately enough, it is St Martha’s feast today, so my harvesting and cooking activity fits the bill nicely. I don’t suppose, though, that St Matthew was pointing to a ticking clock to remind Martha to get her tax return in on time. But then Martha would have been well organised, her parchments all in good order…
Martha made Mary’s precious hour with the Lord possible, and practical people make so much possible for the rest of us. Don’t take them for granted: it was Martha who said, ‘If you had been here my brother would not have died’, and who professed her belief in the resurrection on the last day and in the here and now. A practical faith, a faith lived in practice, not theoretical but surely reflective.
So no regrets for a day of harvesting, cooking, and washing up; no regrets for time spent on a tax return, especially when it led to a refund. Martha clearly had time for a good deal of reflection while she worked, and at the end of today, I find that yes, so did I!