Tag Archives: poverty

August 10: Francis Thompson IX: In Darkest England.

In Darkest England

Thompson, a century ago, saw conditions that needed addressing. Having been homeless, he knew the life from inside. Here he compares the Salvation Army with the Franciscans, lamenting that there are not more of the latter. In view of the closure of the Franciscan Study Centre and the diminishing numbers of professed religious Franciscans, we can learn from the Salvation Army, and stand shoulder to shoulder with them with the Food Banks and other ecumenical ventures. The state of ecumenism, at least, is an advance on Thompson’s day.

Tomorrow is the Feast of Saint Clare, friend of St Francis and founder of the Franciscan sisters known as Poor Clares. Happy Feast to all our sisters!

Consider what the Salvation Army is. It is not merely a sect, it is virtually a Religious Order, but a Religious Order of a peculiar kind. It consists of men and women living in the world the life of the world, pursuing their businesses, marrying, bringing up families; yet united by rule and discipline, and pushing forward active work of charity and religious influence among the forsaken poor. It possesses, moreover, the advantage of numerous recruits from the ranks of the poor, through whom it can obtain intimate knowledge of the condition and requirements of their class.

May it be that here, too, the Salvation Army has studied St Francis? Here, too, the Assisian has left us a weapon which but needs little practice to adapt it to the necessity of the day. Even so… The Franciscan Tertiaries are this army. They are men and women who live in the world the life of the world – though not a worldly life: who marry, rear their families, attend to their worldly vocations; yet they are a Religious Order, with rule and observance.

Not all of us are called to join the Franciscan Tertiaries, but there are many openings for us to ‘meet the necessities of the day’. Something to ponder on.

MMB.

See The Works of Francis Thompson, Prose: Volume III, p57-58. Burns Oates, 1920.

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August 5, Francis Thompson IV. THE HOUND OF HEAVEN: III

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I sought no more that, after which I strayed,
In face of man or maid;
But still within the little children’s eyes
Seems something, something that replies,
They at least are for me, surely for me!
I turned me to them very wistfully;
But just as their young eyes grew sudden fair
With dawning answers there,
Their angel plucked them from me by the hair.
“Come then, ye other children, Nature’s—share
With me” (said I) “your delicate fellowship;
Let me greet you lip to lip,
Let me twine with you caresses,
Wantoning
With our Lady-Mother’s vagrant tresses,
Banqueting
With her in her wind-walled palace,
Underneath her azured daïs,
Quaffing, as your taintless way is,
From a chalice
Lucent-weeping out of the dayspring.”
So it was done:
I in their delicate fellowship was one—
Drew the bolt of Nature’s secrecies.
I knew all the swift importings
On the wilful face of skies;
I knew how the clouds arise
Spumèd of the wild sea-snortings;
All that’s born or dies
Rose and drooped with—made them shapers
Of mine own moods, or wailful or divine—
With them joyed and was bereaven.
I was heavy with the even,
When she lit her glimmering tapers
Round the day’s dead sanctities.
I laughed in the morning’s eyes.
I triumphed and I saddened with all weather,
Heaven and I wept together,
And its sweet tears were salt with mortal mine;
Against the red throb of its sunset-heart
I laid my own to beat,
And share commingling heat;
But not by that, by that, was eased my human smart.
In vain my tears were wet on Heaven’s grey cheek.
For ah! we know not what each other says,
These things and I; in sound I speak—
Their sound is but their stir, they speak by silences.
Nature, poor stepdame, cannot slake my drouth;
Let her, if she would owe me,
Drop yon blue bosom-veil of sky, and show me
The breasts o’ her tenderness:
Never did any milk of hers once bless
My thirsting mouth.

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August 1: Shared Table XIII, Dishonouring the poor at table.

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If there shall come into your assembly a man having a golden ring, in fine apparel, and there shall come in also a poor man in mean attire, and you have respect to him that is clothed with the fine apparel, and shall say to him: Sit thou here well; but say to the poor man: Stand thou there, or sit under my footstool: do you not judge within yourselves, and are become judges of unjust thoughts?

Hearken, my dearest brethren: hath not God chosen the poor in this world, rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which God hath promised to them that love him? But you have dishonoured the poor man.

James 2:2-6.

I was struck between the eyes by a restaurant review which described the diners as bravely consuming roasted grasshoppers and silkworms. Where did the chef source them, I wondered. It all sounded like the decadent feasts portrayed in Asterix the Gaul comic books. Then I read an article by Joseph Pons, a student at ICES University in France.1 He writes about quinoa, the so-called super-food.

I had images of acres of the stuff, ripening in Somerset. Wrong! Quinoa comes from Bolivia and Peru and was a staple for poor people, till rising prices meant they had to sell all they could produce and buy rice from Asia to feed their families. Meanwhile, richer Asian people are buying Western agricultural produce.

Quinoa cost forty times the price of wheat in European markets in 2013.

Yes, I tend to think of a global food chain as linking us together for good, but in this case it is not for the good of all. And so far as I know I’ve never eaten quinoa, grasshoppers, or silkworms. But then one of our mottoes here at Agnellus Mirror is ‘Eat whatever they put before you’, (Luke 10:7) so who knows what will be on the menu some day?

Let’s hope it will not be served to us to the dishonour of the producer, and let’s strive to avoid such damaging fads.

text and photo: MMB

Barley in Kent.

1Joseph Pons: L’Avenir commence demain en consummant differement, in La Ruche ICES, 22/5/2017, p10.

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25 June: Shared Table VII, Lunch with Pope Benedict.

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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.

http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/speeches/2009/december/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20091227_pranzo-poveri.pdf

Pope Benedict XVI visits the Community of Sant’Egidio.

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22 May: A is for Aston

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back-to-back houses, Birmingham

 

Why the spruced-up slum? I was going to write about Aston Hall, the mansion that overlooks Villa Park in Birmingham. My boyhood home was nearby so we could go there on the green diesel trains, taking care to cross the roads safely and watch out for the ‘rough’ Aston kids, who never actually bothered with us. I thought there were priest holes at Aston Hall, but you can appreciate just how mixed up I was when I began writing this post by reading Carl Chinn’s article here.

Consider the contrast between the splendour of the Hall and its park, and the nineteenth century slums all around it. Again,  Dr Chinn gives some insight into the very different ways of life and how the local people themselves raised money to save the hall and park.

One route from Aston station was along ‘Lovers’ Walk’, a narrow alley of grimy red brick; I doubt any lovers would have lingered there. Was it a lovers’ walk before the slums surrounded it, and the name stuck, or an example of slum-dwellers’  humour? After my great grandmother died I was entrusted with taking her clothes along there to the rag merchant’s yard. What they raised was hardly worth the trouble and train fare.

Aston smelt (literally) of stale poverty, but some remarkable people grew up there. My friend Gill remembers dressing the 8 year old Ossie Osborne in old clothes and a mask, and pushing him round the streets to raise money for November 5 fireworks. Penny for the guy?

If Britain could demolish Aston and build new council houses in the 1950s when there was less wealth in the country, why is it now so impossible to house families decently?

WT.

 

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February 13: Favela!

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As well as fantasy, the BOing! Festival at the University of Kent tried to provide a contrasting awareness of the hurtful and distressing reality of severe overcrowding. This installation in the foyer of the Gulbenkian Theatre was called ‘Favela’ which is the name for large concentrations of slum dwellings in shanty town conditions around the cities of South America. The impression of thousands of families barely housed at all, piled on top of one another, given here for the teenagers and pre-teens to wonder at, was very striking. Poverty, even when represented in a cardboard imitation, is overwhelming.

The Brazilian Catholic Franciscan theologian Leonardo Boff writes about the way in which Francis of Assisi “brought great liberation to the poor,” even without the advantages of a social services structure. “That which makes poverty inhuman is not solely (though it is principally) the non-satisfaction of basic life needs. It is the denigration, exclusion from human community, the introjections into the poor of a negative image of themselves, an image produced by the dominating classes. The poor person begins to believe he is low and despicable.”

In St. Francis, “the ferment of the Gospel breaks forth in all its questioning, challenging reality. We realize how lazy we are, how strong the old man still remains within us. [Francis] is more than an ideal; he is a way of being, an experience of identification with all that is simplest, fraternization with all that is lowliest, enabling the emergence of the best that is hidden within each human being.” [From L. Boff & W. Buehlmann eds., Build Up my Church.]

CD, January 2017

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21 January: Crossing Barriers, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Canterbury.

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North Gate  Saturday 21st January, 1.30‐2pm

Cityspace, 49 Northgate, CT1 1BE

Families and community Connection

The North Gate had the reputation of being the poorest, least desirable part of the city, and the Northgate Ward is still one of the most deprived areas in Kent. Today we pray for community and family life: that our city will be a place where no‐one is lonely, where people are valued and where healthy relationships thrive.

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31 October: ‘…when you have a party, invite the poor…’

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(Sculptures in Assisi, near Domus Pacis)

 

‘…when you have a party, invite the poor…’

Lk 14:12-14

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).

FMSL

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24 October: Mammon, money, need and greed.

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God’s greatest rival: the religion of Mammon.  “You cannot serve God and money,” Jesus said (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13).  This is because money has the capacity to touch the very depths of our soul.  How can it do that?  It has no poetry!  There are no poems about money: I can’t think of a single example.  It could be that it only takes over souls that have no capacity for poetry.  “If you want to see what God thinks of money,” someone said, “look at the people he gives it to.”  In itself it is not an interesting subject.  It is need and greed that lend it interest.  It is, above all, a promise: that essential of any religion.

Its promises, however, are always just for oneself (or one’s family: one’s larger self).  Listen to the advertisers.  The underlying creed is that life has nothing to offer but what can be purchased or won, and that there is nothing either good or bad beyond that.  All others are either partners or competitors: people who can help or hinder you in your search for more of the same.

I am thinking, of course, of pure devotees.  Many, as in every religion, are not true believers, or have mixed motives.  There are wealthy people who have a real care for the half of the world that is malnourished.  But there are others, like the rich man in the parable, who don’t even notice Lazarus at their door, and who are therefore able to step over him without malice, keeping their own self-esteem intact.  And there are others again who notice Lazarus but keep their self-esteem by throwing him a few scraps.

The religion of Mammon is a destructive cult.  It not only destroys the poor by enriching its devotees at their expense, but it destroys the devotees themselves.  They are creating “a great chasm” between themselves and the rest of humanity, so that “those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.”

Which characters does the story ask us to identify ourselves with?  The rich man, Dives?  In fact he is given no name in the gospels: ‘dives’ is just the Latin word for ‘a rich man’; the rich man has no identity except his wealth.  No, we are not being asked to see ourselves as Dives.  Lazarus, then?  No, neither is it telling us to lie down at the rich man’s door like Lazarus.

The parable is telling us that we are the rich man’s five brothers.  We have Moses and the prophets  – but above all we have Jesus  –  to tell us to live by a different religion, a subversive religion that “casts down the mighty from their thrones and exalts the lowly, that fills the hungry with good things but sends the rich away empty.”  We are not told whether the five brothers changed their lives around.  Why?  Because we are the five brothers, and the story isn’t over yet.

AMcC

By Meister des Codex Aureus Epternacensis

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October 21: Emptiness without him

. . .  What resource have I

other than the emptiness without him of my whole

being, a vacuum he may not abhor?[1]

R.S. Thomas makes us aware of the winter of the soul, waiting for one flower to open within. Is this vacuum a sign that we are doing something wrong? Wrong question: doing is secondary to listening, to loving; these will point us to the right course of action.

We have no resources to offer God, other than emptiness: a quiet place with room for him.

In her personal life, the poet Christina Rossetti knew bleak and empty heartache; her most well-known hymn is more than sentimentality:

 In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan, 
earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone; 
snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow, 
in the bleak midwinter, long ago. 

Our God, heaven cannot hold him, nor earth sustain; 
heaven and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign. 
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed 
the Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ. 

Angels and archangels may have gathered there, 
cherubim and seraphim thronged the air; 
but his mother only, in her maiden bliss, 
worshipped the beloved with a kiss. 

What can I give him, poor as I am? 
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; 
if I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; 
yet what I can I give him: give my heart. 

 

[1] The Absence, SP p133

 

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