The society is heavy with unconfessed sins; its mind is sore and silent with painful subjects; it has a constipation of conscience. There are many things it has done and allowed to be done which it does not really dare to think about; it calls them by other names and tries to talk itself into faith in a false past, as men make up the things they would have said in a quarrel. Of these sins one lies buried deepest but most noisome, and though it is stifled, stinks: the true story of the relations of the rich man and the poor in England. The half-starved English proletarian is not only nearly a skeleton but he is a skeleton in a cupboard.
From Eugenics and Other Evils by G. K. Chesterton
GKC was writing a century ago; he would surely have hoped, if not expected, that working – or willing to work – people would not have needed to use food banks to feed their families. One thing that concerns me about the Black Lives Matter campaign is its potential to divide people, poor people especially. When West Indians’ ancestors were slaves, some of mine were nominally free, but ground down by poverty, their land enclosed and stolen by the rich. Far better than being liable to be sold but definitely not to be spoken about in our constipated national condition. Things only changed through pressure and legislation such as the Factories Acts.
There was an unexpected item on my shopping list, so I was taking my time, scanning the supermarket shelves. Before I found Mrs T’s ingredient, I overheard a conversation between members of staff: now this stand was empty, should they deck it out with their ‘back to school’ range, or would that be better on extra selves by the main door? – No, the floor there is uneven, the shelves will wobble and who knows what will happen.
On one level, an unremarkable and admirable conversation between three conscientious colleagues, on another a depressing indication of their employer’s world view. This was the morning of the last day of school for young Abel, and the store wants to sell his parents the back to school stuff before anyone else gets the chance to do so. Are we put on this earth to be customers/consumers/marketing targets? Is there more to post Covid 19 life than shopping? Miss Turnstone reminded me to pop something in the food bank; not everyone could even begin to think about new school gear when food is too expensive.
This story continues the account of what happened after the Golden Calf episode. Moses is speaking to the people of Israel; and we have here a Biblical foundation for devotion to the Sacred Heart.Deuteronomy 10:14-19
Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the LORD set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.”
Many things follow from this text. But let’s take just a couple: firstly that God does not love us because of what we do, or what we give him to ‘bribe’ him into doing what suits us, but because he set his heart on our ancestors in faith – and so on us to this day.
Secondly, we are to love the sojourner – the migrant. We all have migrant ancestors, even if we can trace them no further than just across the Welsh border. Worker or refugee, the migrant is a brother or sister. If we see the world as God sees it, we will find ways, such as the local food bank, to support the migrants in our communities, whom God loves as surely as he loves us.
I finally caught up with Sister Rose the other day: do you recall her sleep-out to help homeless people in Sussex? (see January 18th and subsequent posts). Well, I managed to walk out of St Thomas’s Church with her and have a short chat. Between herself and Sisters Clare and Anne, they raised nearly £3,000. I guess they could have paid that for a West End Hotel, but the money has gone to a much better cause.
Well done, sisters, and thank you and well done to all who supported them. If you did not manage to help the sisters back then, spare a thought for your local food bank, as parents have to find an extra meal per day to make up for the dinners their children would have eaten if they had been in school.
walking together – a chapel lies just over the hill
Sometimes we meet up with a friend on the way to Church for Mass. She tends to be bursting to tell us about her past week and her hopes for the week to come. On the way home she helps carry the food bank donations to be taken to the depot later in the week.
Listening to her talk about work, family and friends, and sharing our news; not the sort of preparation for Mass that would have been approved by those who taught me in primary school. As Christopher Chapman said on May 13, ‘The Christianity many of us grew up with was not big on laughs.’ But fellowship is part of the story; not just being in a big room together, performing the same actions, mouthing the same words, for an hour once a week.
In fact, here and now, fellowship is the story for all the other hours in the week. I may be sitting here alone, miss-typing this post; you may be in your armchair, on the train to work, scrolling through your messages. But together, even at a distance of time and space.
When we get to Church we are together with writers from two or three thousand years ago, as we can be in front of our screens with Bible Gateway and other sites. But that is to bring us together with the Eternal, in eternity. Listening to our friend talk about work, family and friends, and sharing our news as we walk; that is the sort of preparation for Mass that makes sense to me. Did not the Lord walk with Cleophas and his companion, talking of their news, hopes and fears, before they finally knew him in the breaking of bread?
More than a million 3 day emergency food parcels were given out by British food banks in 2015-2016. Read more about it here: what food banks do . This does not include parcels given directly by the Saint Vincent de Paul Society and other organisations.
I know people who have greatly benefited from this service. One mother often seems to have more teabags than she needs, but this means that she is able to share her surplus with others. That feels good!
Another interesting story was in The Observer on 4th December last. A Dublin organisation was able to establish deliveries of fresh food that a supermarket would have dumped to a women’s refuge. This abundance brought the women out of themselves and they began to share: to share food, to share a kitchen (I find that a real challenge!), to share recipes, to be good to each other.
Please pop a few cans into the collection baskets at your supermarket or church and help your local food bank keep going. Summertime, and the living will not be so easy when the children do not get their free school meals!