The poor attract 'do-badders' as often as 'do-gooders'. They rarely attract people who are genuinely interested in them - in their stories, their experience and their gifts, sorrows and joys. Evangelical Christians want their souls, others want them for their bodies, but few people want them. This really is an issue not just in Westminster piazza, but in Brighton and in every city around the World.
Yet the very poor have much to teach us. On London Road, in Brighton, where many stand and sit drinking, there is no shortage of courage, love, compassion, friendship and to a degree, a sense of family - community. It is the only place they find these essential dimensions of human life. Amid the misery of alcoholism and addiction, there is also love, a common understanding, a common bond, friendship.
So, the question is why? It is a question in which the Police don't seem to interested. Neither the Council. Why are on average 10 - 20 men and women in Brighton standing by a taxi rank all day long, in Brighton. drinking Skol Super and talking? Is there really nothing better to do? Have these people given up on life? Or is this their only coping mechanism? Similarly, why are the poor camped outside Westminster creating a 'problem' for the Council?
These are the rejected of society. To us, it appears madness, but is it? Here is the only family they have. Their own families, mothers and fathers perhaps rejected them. Their own families and relationships ended in heartbreak, destruction and despair. Many have similar stories, some very different but what knits their lives together is the breakdown of their own families and the heartbreak that comes from that. Some experienced abuse in childhood that has shattered their adult lives. In a way, you could say that, in the light of the abuse scandal in the Church, the supposedly high percentage of heroin addicts who have suffered abuse in childhood gives more poignancy to their presence outside of a Catholic Cathedral in London.
What annoys me most about A Reluctant Sinner's approach to the subject of the poor in the piazza is that it amounts to denial of the God-given dignity of the men and women in Westminster, who sleep rough, who drink, who abuse their bodies with alcohol and drugs. He makes a suggestion that Christ is not present in them, suggesting that Christ referred only to members of His Body, the Church, when talking of the 'least of these my brethren'. I don't believe that Our Lord was only thinking of His Church. I much prefer Bl. Teresa of Calcutta's approach. She treated each sick and dying person who came into her care as Christ and almost certainly saw Christ in them, appealing to her for her pity and compassion. Just as the Lord Jesus's love for us is unconditional, so it is that we see in His poor an appeal for a reflection, even if it is but a small fraction, of that unconditional love.
The mystery of Christ's presence in the poor is a great mystery. We can't pin it down, that mystery, just like we can't pin down the Mystery of the Mass. We should not put restrictions on it. The Catechism of the Church tells us that Christ is present in some mysterious way in every human being, not just the baptised Faithful.
1702 The divine image is present in every man. It shines forth in the communion of persons, in the likeness of the union of the divine persons among themselves.'
Of course, men are not angels and neither are the poor...
1701 "Christ, . . . in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of his love, makes man fully manifest to himself and brings to light his exalted vocation." It is in Christ, "the image of the invisible God," that man has been created "in the image and likeness" of the Creator. It is in Christ, Redeemer and Savior, that the divine image, disfigured in man by the first sin, has been restored to its original beauty and ennobled by the grace of God.'
So it is that the poor outside the Cathedral and the poor on London Road in Brighton, are disfigured by sin. But are they the greatest sinners? We are all disfigured in some way by sin. Begging itself connotes a degree of humiliation, humility. St Francis of Assisi saw a model in the beggar that he himself would come to imitate to glorify God. Could it not be that there are greater sinners in Westminster City Council or even in Westminster Cathedral, whose sins are hidden by status, prestige and human respect? None of this matters to the poor in Brighton or Westminster. They are who they are. In them there is little conceit, little human pride, no guile. They may live sinful lifestyles openly, they drink too much and take drugs, but they are the 'salt of the earth'. They have nothing, no possessions to speak of, but Jesus loves them and there will be some among them who know that very well.
We know that many men and women turned their faces from Him in horror, in fright, while others derided Him, mocked Him along the way, as if, far from the Son of God glorifying His Father, this were the Devil being dragged to his death. He certainly will have appeared as the Son of Man stripped of all human dignity, of all human respect, His Face having the intense ghoulish red iconography that we associate with the Devil. He is 'the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the World', but at the time of course, He is the scapegoat for 'the people'. None of the poor would claim to be innocent, but I am quite sure that quite a few of them can very much identify themselves with Jesus's treatment, with the denial of their human dignity. Many live close to Death. Many of their friends have died. They are treated like dust, like dirt, even. They need little reminding that to dust, they will return.