Soup Runs: For or Against?

"I'll give you my cloak when you've sorted your life out, mate."
A Reluctant Sinner has written a blog post that has surprised me somewhat, entitled 'Soup Runs: What would Jesus Do?'

It is not often I express criticism of other blogs written by Catholics who are loyal to the Magisterium. The following is not meant to be personal, just an attempt to address the question the blogger has raised. In the post, while commending the work of The Passage and The Cardinal Hume Centre, the blogger takes issue with other groups, which may contain Catholics, who give food and soup to the homeless in the Piazza, saying,

'Jesus never used others just to make himself look good - he really wanted them to be better people, to get well, to move on, to convert, to give up sin, to change! Sometimes, I fear, those who think they're helping rough-sleepers by handing out a sandwich and a cup-of-tea at midnight on Westminster Cathedral's piazza are actually doing the opposite - they are merely colluding to keep the poor, the sick and the vulnerable dependent upon their "charity".'

What an awfully tempting thought. Too tempting for the Council. I'm not saying that the blogger concerned is like this in any way, just that the train of thought he proposes really is an excellent escape route for those who simply don't want to give to and who actually resent the poor, for those who lament the sins of the poor, but are blinded to their own. Essentially, the theology that goes along with the argument is Protestant. It was this theology that saw the poor being turfed out of Catholic monasteries during the Reformation.

Independence is a wonderful thing when you've got it, but for how long do we really have it? We are dependent when we are young, we are dependent when we are old and for many what takes place in-between is marked by dependence. Further, it is not a sin to be dependent. I trust, for example, that we Catholics shouldn't be encouraged to seek independence at the hour of our death.

Let us remember that it was independence that Lucifer and his fallen angels wanted. They got it and boy do they now regret it! In fact, what Catholic theology teaches us is that we are all dependent, primarily upon God but also to a degree our neighbour as well. There exists a measure of interdependence for us all. First of all, we did not create ourselves. God made us and He made us for Himself. We are totally dependent on Him for our being and, indeed, for our Salvation. For what we have we are grateful to God. We depend on Him for a Happy Death. We depend on Him and we depend upon His Priests for the Sacraments, for Baptism, Confession and of course, the Mass. Priests, too, depend upon the Faithful for wages. If you take the aforementioned logic through, any Priest could turn around when we wish to go to Confession and say, "I don't think I should, because this is all feels a bit co-dependent to me. You keep coming back for God's lavish generosity and mercy every month/week/year and I think its all getting a bit much." Likewise, the Faithful could withhold Easter and Christmas gifts because the Priest is deemed ineffective and let's face it, in England and Wales, that would be quite a few poor Priests.

The Christian response to the 'problem' of homelessness is what Christ commanded. Merciful love, generosity and compassion to His poor. The Christian, in striving to reflect the Beatific life, strives to mirror the Beatitudes and reflect something of what God is like. In the words of Bl. Teresa of Calcutta, he or she begs God to make 'every action something beautiful for God', praying for virtues of humility, charity, continence, ardent love for the poor and for Christ Crucified. Why? Well, firstly He identified Himself with what we do or do not do for the poor in whom He is mystically hidden. Secondly, Christ is so generous to us that far from desiring to hold back our love, time, money and food from the poor, we give lavishly, recklessly even, because Our Lord is so generous to us! The Lord is nothing if not generous, sending His Only Begotten Son to die for us upon the Cross and He is nothing if not patient in waiting for our repentance. The Christian's response to the poor is both generous and patient, long-suffering even, knowing that the Lord spares him so graciously what he truly deserves. We can keep showing the poor Jesus Christ. The poor show us Jesus Christ. We meet Him in them.

Do Soup Runs keep the poor dependent upon the rich? Quite possibly. But then, you can't depend on your local Council and it has to be said that the rich are dependent upon the poor as well. "What for?" I hear you cry! Why, for their salvation of course! For it is not the poor who must walk through the 'eye of a needle' to enter into Heaven, but the rich! For the poor, the door is wide, but for the rich, it is narrow indeed! When we are on our death beds, perhaps being nursed and find ourselves totally dependent on the care of others, we shall not be turning away help, be it spiritual or temporal, saying, "I'm sorry, but you should leave me be. Don't come and feed me, give me water or bring me Communion because I want to get in charge of my life. I think I should sort it out now that I am 89 and bed bound."

No. The idea that we are all independent is illusory. Let us remember our end and remember the pattern of life of Our Blessed Lord who actually depended upon the generosity of others during His Ministry when foxes had holes, bird had nests but the Son of Man had nowhere to lay His head. Let us remember also that He allowed Himself to be dependent on His neighbours, His creation, who crucified Him.

Of course the Lord wants the poor to turn to Him and leave sinful lifestyles, but, by God, I am a sinner and the Lord is nothing but patient and generous with me and my sins. Until the rich leave their sinful lifestyles and devote themselves steadfastly to serving the poor in humility why should the poor leave theirs? Almsgiving, something that we're actually meant to do in Lent by the way, isn't meant to give us a warm glow inside, though 'in giving we receive'. It is meant to serve as penance for our sins, to help us to turn away from ourselves and to turn to Our Lord Jesus Christ, upon Whom we are nothing but totally and utterly dependent. It is worth reminding ourselves, also, that Lent is a time that teaches us that we are indeed sinners, addicts who need God's mercy and grace and that the line that divides us from street drinkers, heroin addicts and beggars is not so thick as we had thought and that in God's eyes, the line does not exist because before God nobody is pure in His sight. We are all dependent upon Him.


epsilon said…
We shouldn't stop at soup runs. Whether you believe in the eco agenda or not, there's nothing wrong with promoting frugality with food and all resources to help poor and rich and all the inbetweens to spend time on urban microholdings, so what's saved can be passed on as micro-loans to the poor on the missions? Nothing more theraputic than seeing seedlings growing especially if you feel imcompetent. Why does all this seem to be the preserve of the new-age/eco/liberals. Why shouldn't we use empty shops to nurture natural growing alongside orthodox Catholic spiritual nurturing. Where did I hear about some young people setting up a cafe with food thrown out by the supermarkets being made into healthy hot meals for a couple of quid. Why not do something like this so it's for anyone not just the 'them and us' of soup runs. Have showers / clothing available so everyone can come to the table clean. Why not run a kitchen/diner along the lines of a monastery refectory, where someone reads, say Pope Benedict's writings, alongside the Daily Office while people eat in silence? Where people learn to grow mushrooms to the sound of Rosary beads?

I was thinking along these lines the other day when I saw all the empty shopfronts on the London Road in Southampton within walking distance of the central Catholic church, and then found this on Facebook because my son was at a polytunnel party!:
epsilon said…
Video projects / visits between sister sites here and on the missions abroad. An all-day link between people off the street and The Church. Making Rosary / chaplet beads. An Audio Bible space / craft making space. Space to learn Gregorian Chant / the new Liturgy.
Run by a collective of committed Catholic: students / OAPs / homeschooling parents / unemployed / high flyers / others.
for starters:)

Any bishops interested in giving it their blessing?
epsilon said…
And of course proper Catechism classes!
epsilon said…
or even incompetent!

A place of
do-ing without dead-lines,
be-ing without status,
pray-ing the work,
stay-ing through the seasons,
link-ing with the liturgical year,
seek-ing dialogue with the secularists,
a bedding ground for spiritual growth in the everyday...

As you can see, I'm getting carried away:)
Tim said…
I'm afraid RS's post made me wonder for a moment why I'm a Catholic but then yours reminded me so thank you for that. Off-topic: did you take Tina out for that drink?
Anon. said…
Such a good post, sensitive and full of empathy.
@ Tim.
I think Laurence has missed his chance. I've had a drink with Tina. It was perfectly orthodox and lots of fun.
Piazza People said…
Thanks Laurence.
There are people of different denominations assisting and that's probably what Our Lord sees and experiences Himself in the poor and homeless "in which He is mystically hidden" as you write. Nice one.

Which Tina offered the drink, B or O?
Both are active for the poor.

The Bones blog can reach the sublime but don't be encouraged to degrade it with unnecessary and unwarranted criticism goaded by commenters.
The Holy Spirit and time will sort out doctrinal issues in a developing Church.
Kindest Regards.
georgem said…
I've now read A Reluctant Sinner's post and I am rather taken aback by your response. It seems to me that he is musing about the pros and cons of soup runs as an end in themselves. I don't think he is suggesting that the homeless pull up their bootstraps or that the dispossessed should be left to starve.

Isn't he asking whether there is an alternative way of carrying out a corporal work of mercy - one which would lift people out of the slough of despair? epsilon seems to me to be quite close to this thinking in suggesting centres specifically for the street disadvantaged. I would go further: pay doctors and other professionals a premium to staff permanent centres, even on a rota of one day/evening a week, with no 'use 'em or lose 'em (benefits) rules for those who choose to stay away.

The homeless are worth more than an emotional response. I've been on soup runs and I've seen the shame of grown men who accept the hand-outs with eyes cast to the ground. A Reluctant Sinner has first-hand experience of the depths and I believe we should respect that.

I remember particularly your tale of the man who carried a suit in his kit bag in case he got a job interview. But where was he to get advice on how to get through such an interview?

Soup runs may keep the homeless going on a basic level. But do they give hope? The homeless eat and then face the long hours of the night alone. There is no-one to watch with them and we sleep. So much more is needed in practical terms.

It's a scandal that next-to-nothing is forthcoming from the State and local authorities to whom we pay taxes and watch on a national level the billions spent on dubious war. If only those concerned with the homeless, charities as well as smaller groups, would join forces there could be a formidable campaign.

I think we have to beware being validated by another's need and aware of the dangers of feeling holier-than-thou in this penitential season of Lent. .
My reaction was perhaps strong, but I don't think the Council's argument should be given any credence whatsoever. I felt in his post that he was doing that. I also felt he looks down on them, something Christ condemend in the Pharisees.

The answer to the question(s) will surely come from the homeless themselves. They're not stupid. They know more about their situation than do expert agencies, you or I. Why do we think WE have all the answers for THEM?

That said, I've never heard anyone complain when I've given him a sandwich. My personal feeling is that any involvement of the rich in the lives of the poor is good, even just a cup of tea and a chat.

Bl. Teresa of Calcutta's answer to the situation in Calcutta was love to the dying, to lepers cut off from Indian society. Drug addicts and the homeless are ours in modern 21st century Britain.
anon2 said…
who or what is tina?
Tim said…
@ anon2. Tina (B) is a CINO theologian and Tabletista but otherwise good egg - kind, pretty and clever (for a girl) and Laurence LURVES her. Calls her 'Tina love' in his (many) posts about her - ah!