Tag Archives: Works of Mercy

7 February: Helping and Helping 5, The Lodging House Fire II.

 

ossyrianfire

If we read his Autobiography of a Supertramp, we learn that Davies did spend time in the libraries but lacked the energy to get the most out of being there because of sitting in front of the Lodging House Fire. What would he have done with a mobile phone? Played mindless games all day?

I gave myself over to the influence of the coke fire. After going out in the morning for two or three hours, I would return at midday, often earlier, and sit hopelessly before this fire for ten or eleven hours, after which I would retire to my room. What a miserable time was this: the kitchen, foul with the breath of fifty or sixty men, and the fumes of the coke fire, took all the energy out of a man, and it was a hard fight to keep awake. It has taken the play out of the kitten, and this small animal lies stretched out, overcome by its fumes, without the least fear of being trodden on. Sometimes, when I endeavoured to concentrate my mind, with an idea of writing something, it was necessary to feign a sleep, so that these kind hearted fellows might not disturb me with their civilities. On these occasions it was not unusual for me to fall into a real sleep. And, when I awoke, it sickened me to think of this wasted time; for I was spending in bed more hours than were necessary for my health, and it was a most cruel waste of time to be sleeping in the day.

This fire exerted a strange influence over us. In the morning we were loath to leave it, and we all returned to it as soon as possible. Even the books and magazines in the libraries could not seduce me longer than an hour.

There was one seat at the corner of a table, which I have heard called “the dead man’s seat.” It was within two yards of this great fire, which was never allowed to suffer from want of coke. It was impossible to retain this seat long and keep awake. Of course, a man could hardly expect to keep this seat day after day for a long winter, and to be alive in the spring of the year. This was the case with a printer who, unfortunately, had only three days’ work a week. The amount he earned was sufficient for his wants, so, in his four idle days, he would sit on this seat, eating, reading, but more often sleeping, until before the end of the winter, he was carried away a dying man. Some of these lodgers claim to be able to recognise in the public streets any strangers who are suffering from this coke fever.

car-lights

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4. There’s Helping and Helping: the Lodging House Fire I.

ossyrianfire

Here is the poet W.H. Davies himself in a homeless hostel in  early 20th Century London, after the railroad accident that disabled him. Here is a stifling charity, literally; coke here is neither drug nor soft drink but a type of solid fuel, a hot-burning by-product of extracting chemicals from coal. Today Davies would quite likely spend his days in and out of the public library. I see homeless people treated with great courtesy by librarians, who are unsung, unofficial social workers.

The Lodging-House Fire

My birthday-yesterday,
Its hours were twenty-four;
Four hours I lived lukewarm,
And killed a score.

Eight bells and then I woke,
Came to our fire below,
Then sat four hours and watched
Its sullen glow.

Then out four hours I walked,
The lukewarm four I live,
And felt no other joy
Than air can give.

My mind durst know no thought,
It knew my life too well:
‘Twas hell before, behind,
And round me hell.

Back to that fire again,
Six hours I watch it now,
And take to bed dim eyes
And fever’s brow.

Ten hours I give to sleep,
More than my need, I know;
But I escape my mind
And that fire’s glow.

For listen: it is death
To watch that fire’s glow;
For, as it bums more red
Men paler grow.

O better in foul room
That’s warm, make life away,
Than homeless out of doors,
Cold night and day.

Pile on the coke, make fire,
Rouse its death-dealing glow;
Men are borne dead away
Ere they can know.

I lie; I cannot watch
Its glare from hour to hour;
It makes one sleep, to wake
Out of my power.

I close my eyes and swear
It shall not wield its power;
No use, I wake to find
A murdered hour.

Lying between us there!
That fire drowsed me deep,
And I wrought murder’s deed-
Did it in sleep.

I count us, thirty men,
Huddled from Winter’s blow,
Helpless to move away
From that fire’s glow.

So goes my life each day-
Its hours are twenty-four-
Four hours I live lukewarm,
And kill a score.

No man lives life so wise
But unto Time he throws
Morsels to hunger for
At his life’s close.

Were all such morsels heaped-
Time greedily devours,
When man sits still – he’d mourn
So few wise hours.

But all my day is waste,
I live a lukewarm four
And make a red coke fire
Poison the score.

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February 4, 2018: There’s Helping and Helping, I

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When I was young and my beard was russet, I was trained to work effectively with people with disabilities. Openness and respect for other persons are fundamental, but so are analytical skills; skills that have to be learnt. As we read on June 19th, Maria Montessori saw a child as wanting to help himself, to co-operate with his parents in growing up, and ‘When he has satisfied the need to help himself he will let the adult help.’ I had to learn to be a parent, too.

There’s something of that determined resilience in all of us, very healthy too. Here is an occasion when the desire to help was channelled to success through disciplined reflection.

A blind man was walking with his long white stick outside the railway station as I went to buy a newspaper; he was still there, walking in the opposite direction, when I came out. He told the two of us who stopped to help that he wanted to ‘find his way into the station. No, don’t take me in. I’ll get there.’

But he accepted directions. With his back to the traffic he was facing the building but some distance from it. ‘Turn right, walk 4 yards, feel the gravel … find the paving stones with the raised bumps … straight ahead …’ Then something I’d not noticed before, the dull echo of our voices from the station building. Now he knew where he was, helped but not over-helped.

That dull echo might help me one day …

Let’s pray for the humility to ask for and accept help when we needed, and for the wisdom to know when not to overwhelm someone with our help. One blind acquaintance told about being helped across the road, ‘And now, please help me back across the road. I didn’t want to cross over at all!’

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4 December: Light to see by.

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I looked up from my mother’s garden to see these windows glowing in the winter’s sun. Those are weavers’ windows, raised up high and facing South to catch the sun, ‘that it may shine to all that are in the house’. Daylight was the more precious when there were only oil lamps to work by as the shades lengthened. Those sycamores would not then have been there to cast a shadow.

You are the light of the world. A city seated on a mountain cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but upon a candlestick, that it may shine to all that are in the house.

Matthew 5:14–15

We can forget what a precious gift light is, with our street lights blotting the stars from view. And we are in danger of forgetting how precious our sisters and brothers are when we are encouraged to want an excess of earth’s goods for ourselves.

 Deal thy bread to the hungry, and bring the needy and the harbourless into thy house: when thou shalt see one naked, cover him, and despise not thy own flesh. Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thy health shall speedily arise, and thy justice shall go before thy face, and the glory of the Lord shall gather thee up.

Isaiah 58: 8-9

WT

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November 3, Jesus Beyond Dogma II: iii – ‘We are not called to sit back and watch it happen’

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Zakopane, Poland

Living Kingdom values creates true worship of God – God is praised when we are fully alive – Irenaeus. Jesus’ perfect human life, because it is the human life of God’s Word cannot be assailed by death. As the liturgy tells us, for anyone freely sharing such values life is changed, not ended. With the assurance of his promise to all who follow him – when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw you to myself – John 12.32.

Creation has reached its peak in the Word made Flesh: God wanted all perfection to be found in him – Colossians1.19. In him we have goodness made flesh – the way made flesh – Jesus didn’t say I know the way… he said I am the way – be with me and know the way. All that will be left behind is whatever is incapable of surviving death: selfishness, jealousy, envy and every kind of exclusion – he who does not love remains in death – 1John 3.14.

This, however, is not a passive experience, we are not called to sit back and watch it happen. Surely it is total gift, freely given to anyone – literally anyone – willing to receive it; but it is also a challenge, a task: if anyone wants to accept this way, renounce self, take up your cross and join me – Mark 8.34. This is not charades – not mimicry, how he looked and what he wore are irrelevant, what matters is to be as enthusiastic as he was to help others – feed the hungry, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned.

Paul hardly ever refers to what we call the life of Christ. For him Jesus is always the risen Lord. That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead – Philippians 3.10. I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world – John 16.33.

There is an element of struggle here in words like overcome. There are elements in us which shout we do not want this man to reign over us – Luke 19.14, we have a choice to make. Because the Kingdom has come a radical change is needed: The time has come, the Kingdom is at hand – repent – Mark 1.15. God has established the Kingdom, yet I am free to say I will not serve.

AMcC

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August 24: An unexpected challenge.

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Towards the end of last school term, my 13 year-old god-daughter Rose set me the question,

What are the challenges facing religious people today?

A challenge in itself. Here is my brief answer. Now what would you add  from your personal experience?

Maurice.

Hello Rose! I’m delighted to help with your RE homework. As you well know,  I’m a 67 year-old married Catholic with four grown-up children and one grandson. I am, of course, also a godfather to you and your younger sister.

I take it that by religious you mean someone who believes in what the Creeds say and attends church: that description fits me. I’m comfortable with that.

For the last 20 plus years I have worked as a tutor to children and young people who don’t attend school, usually because their behaviour has been dangerous to others – bullying and aggression – or else because they have not been learning and have made it difficult for other people to learn – or teach, or because of a particular set of needs, such as autism.

This often brings me to homes that are chaotic, often filthy, usually loving, sometimes neglectful. Parents and other adults may abuse drugs; they may also abuse their children verbally, physically, even sexually.

So I have dilemmas that would be the same for any other professional working with these people. For example:

  • Is it part of my job to get pupils out of bed when they don’t come to lessons (their phones are usually on silent at 9.00 in the morning).
  • Do I quietly help the parents in little ways, such as giving one family the bed Harry had grown out of, or a packet of tea bags – strictly speaking not allowed.
  • What steps do I take if I think my pupil’s dad beat him up? Even if the boy says he walked into the kitchen door?

But there are other challenges that arise because I’m religious:

  • Do I keep quiet about being religious? Or more accurately, how openly do I claim to be a Catholic at work? When working with other Catholics it is a help. Others may need answers to questions like, ‘Is God going to be angry with me because I did so-and-so? Why did Nan die so young (I could only start from telling the boy what he already knew: she smoked too much.)
  • How much confidentiality is appropriate? – the Father Confessor problem! Example: a year 11 pupil gets a job in a chip shop. Strictly illegal, but not hurting anyone else, and she soon realises that she is being exploited and packs it in. A boy in year 9 was working in Scrap Metal; illegal on any number of accounts: age, no gloves, no safety boots, slave wages and more. I did not want him in trouble, nor his mother, so she and I spoke seriously to him and showed him that he could get her into far more trouble that the measly pay was worth. No more needed to be done in that case but I would have had to put friendship on the line if he hadn’t dropped the scrap dealing. Good job, as the police were soon onto his ‘employer’ who went to prison.

I hope this gives you a taste of the challenges I, as a religious person, can face at work.

Your loving Godfather,

Maurice.

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July 4, readings from Mary Webb, III: Feel the Zest.

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When participation in man’s keen life is denied, it is not strange if laughter dies. In the sirocco of pain it is not surprising if joy and faith are carried away.

So many sit by the wayside begging, unconscious that the great Giver is continually passing down the highways and hedges of nature, where each weed is wonderful. So many are blind and hopeless, yet they have only to desire vision, and they will see that through His coming the thickets are quickened into leaf and touched with glory.

samaritanwoman

Out in this world the spirit that was so desolate, lost in the strange atmosphere of physical inferiority, may once more feel the zest that he thought was gone for ever. And this zest is health: sweeping into the mind and into those recesses of being beyond the conscious self, it overflows into the body. Very often this great rush of joy, this drinking of the freshets of the divine, brings back perfect health. Even in diseases that are at present called incurable, and that are purely physical, no one will deny the immense alleviation resulting from this new life.

Zest – the grated rind of lemon or orange – is a small ingredient with a big punch. Let’s use our imaginations when our friends are ill. A letter can be put by till they are ready to read it, but it may be read many times; a picture postcard can be propped by the bedside; a visit of a few minutes may bring a rush of joy; as might sitting outside with a friend. Mary Webb had been there, and her disease was called incurable.

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June 9: Justice V: The Fruits of Justice

 serre eyraud

Because ‘the object of justice is to keep men together in society and mutual intercourse’, as St. Thomas Aquinas says, then when justice succeeds the result must surely be that society enjoys the blessing of peace. And on the personal level, holiness must be one of the fruits of this virtue. There is even an element of voluntary self-sacrifice in the virtue of justice, according to St. Thomas. He says justice ‘disregards its own profit in order to preserve the common equity’ (Q 58:11).

Perhaps one wouldn’t expect ‘justice to ‘disregard its own profit’. Doesn’t self-sacrifice go beyond justice? Wouldn’t it make more sense to place sacrifice under the virtue of charity, maybe? But, no. Not in St. Thomas’s thinking. For him, since justice deals with the rights of others, all the virtues pertaining to life with others are part of justice and enable one to exercise justice. So kindness, mercy, liberality, succouring the needy and so on are all ascribed to justice. The good person is above all the just person, says Josef Pieper, commenting on St. Thomas. ‘Justice reaches out beyond the individual subject’, he says, in order to ‘pour itself out, to work outside itself, to be shared with others, to shine forth. A thing is more eminently good the more fully and widely it radiates its goodness’ (see Josef Pieper’s book, The Four Cardinal Virtues, part 2:3). Yet, we were not wrong in seeing the close connection between the outpouring of justice and the outpouring of charity. The Catechism underlines this in the remark, ‘It is characteristic of love to think of the one whom we love’ (no. 2804). It is likewise characteristic of justice to think of the other, whom we love.

SJC.

Photo MMB, 1970, Le Melezin, Serre Eyraud.

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5 February: 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A. Let it shine!

 

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Today, God is teaching me that an effective way to deal with the causes of sin in myself is to do good.

If I turn towards others and set about serving their needs instead of punishing or controlling them:

‘Then will your light shine like the dawn and your wound be quickly healed over.’                                                                                                                    (Isaiah 58:8)

What is negative in me will be shone away without my having to focus on it, as light naturally dispels darkness:

‘your light will rise in the darkness and your shadows become like noon.’                                                                                                                                                                       (Isaiah 58:10)

As St. Bonaventure taught, ‘Goodness diffuses itself’.  In other words, it is the nature of goodness to spread itself around.  The Book of Genesis, Chapter One tells us that everything God created is good, including humans.  This means it is our nature to share with the rest of creation all that we are and have by divine gift.  Jesus’ illustrates this truth with the examples of salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16).  It is the nature of light to illuminate the space around it and the nature of salt to flavour the food to which it is added.  Light which is completely covered over and salt which is tasteless are useless, absurd and unnatural. So am I, when I am self-centred and lacking generosity.  But whenever I act with love, God’s light dispels my shadows.

And here is a link to an ideal soundtrack for this Sunday’s Gospel reading and blog post. 

FMSL

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18 November, Mercy: Love gives to every power a double power

valencia.mary

Bishop John Jukes OFM, when he preached to the children at St Thomas’s Church Canterbury, asked them did baby Jesus have fingernails? He wanted to impress on them that Jesus was truly human, dependent on his mother at a young age.

‘Instructing the ignorant’ is one of the Spiritual Works of Mercy. If Jesus was truly human, Mary and Joseph must have instructed him. He was called the carpenter’s son (Matthew 13:55) and the carpenter (Mark 6:3). It would be wrong to imagine that he just knew what to do without being taught!

He also had to learn how to love, though like any baby he came into this world with every faculty needed to be able to. Look how the artist has made Mary watch her son while he brims with confidence as he blesses the pilgrims to Valencia Cathedral. A Son of God who did not love us would be terrible indeed. Instead he loves:

But love, first learnèd in a lady’s eyes,
Lives not alone immurèd in the brain,
But, with the motion of all elements,
Courses as swift as thought in every power,
And gives to every power a double power,
Above their functions and their offices.

Love’s Labours Lost 4.3

Look again at the statue: see the little photos within the folds? Women present themselves here, before the eyes, as it were, of Mary and Jesus, to ask for help in conceiving, or for the health of their children. Perhaps a mother’s eyes, looking upon Jesus and his mother, absorb blessings to give their power a double power: absorb the love of the Madonna and child, and she can  run with doubled power to her own child.

Pray for all mothers, may they always find the strength and power their children need.

MMB.

 

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