|St Vincent de Paul|
I must say that just down the road from Westminster City Hall, I recall thousands of student protesters campaigning against cuts. One reason I felt little sympathy with them was because the generation of students we have now only seem to get on the streets when they are affected. In the face of the denial of the rights of the unborn, the elderly and now the homeless, there is no enthusiasm to protest. Their protest against student cuts is inherently self-centred. The great exception was Iraq, of course, in which one million are said to have marched in defence of the Iraqis who were to be bombarded by Blair's bombs with 'shock and awe'.
Student campaigners of the past, certainly in places like France, the birthplace of St Vincent de Paul, have participated in an activism that is other-centred. Even in the shallowest terms, I do believe that the Archbishop and the Justice and Peace Commission of Westminster Diocese, whether they genuinely care about the Cathedral's homeless, or not, are missing out on a wonderful opportunity to give Christ and His Church some good 'PR'. The Church, in England and Wales would be saying, "Few care for these who are despised by the World, but the Church will never abandon them!" As I said in a previous post, even atheists would be impressed by a Catholic Cathedral that stood up in defence of the homeless in their piazza. Are these, after all, not the 'treasures of the Church'? That is certainly what our Tradition tells us.
There is something inherently British about our desire to give to the homeless and needy. Every now and then, you will see men and women, pre-occupied by the affairs of the world stepping out of their offices and giving a homeless man in Westminster a cup of coffee or a sandwich, or perhaps some loose change. Even from a non-Christian perspective, it is a kindness and a little bit of kindness warms the hearts of men and women, whether they are believers, or not. It is, whatever 'structural sin' may abound in the world, what makes the world go round. There is something inherently British, too, about that desire to be free to be kind without the State's interference, to be kind modestly and quietly.
I am still reading 'Awake in Heaven' by Fr Gerald Vann and I have to say it is excellent. He strikes me as being something like an ordained Chesterton. While reading this, I couldn't help thinking of not only the proposal by Westminster City Council, but also the whole Culture of Death that is being promoted here in the United Kingdom and our response. In 1948, Fr Gerald Vann wrote...
'We live in sad and troubled days. We have seen the war and its misery and now the war is over, but not the misery. Wherever you look in the world there seem to be greed and selfishness and fear and cruelty, and the hatred to which these things give rise. And these things go very deep: it is the nature of man that is threatened with destruction. As the Russian thinker Berdyaev has put it, we are witnessing not, as so often in the past, a crisis in human history, but the crisis of human history. The world refused the divine destiny that was offered it; and now we realise all too clearly that in doing so it was also inevitably attacking humanity itself. Today, in economics, in politics, in social life, it is human nature itself that is being destroyed. We stand on the edge of the abyss. But there is one thing, and one thing only, that is stronger than hatred of God and humanity, and it is love of God and humanity.
That is why there is one thing we must never allow ourselves to do: we must never think, Of course I hate this misery and injustice and hatred and fear and I want men and women to be happy - but what can I do about it? Perhaps the ordinary men and women, the common folk, can do more about it than any famous politician. The world is in danger of death because it lacks the understanding, and the reality, of love. But it is just that that they can give. They can make their own lives, their own homes, a living expression of love; they can show forth, by what they are, to those who come in contact with them, the living might and mighty pity of the God who is love; and if they do that, then that love and pity will inevitably go out from them and heal others and to uphold other homes in the likeness of their own; and then these others in their turn will pass on that spirit of love and gentleness and peace; and so, in the end, through them and others like them, the world may be healed and comforted and renewed.'
In the faces of the Poor and the destitute, of those in misery and poverty, believers and indeed non-believers come face to face with Jesus whose eyes plead for pity and mercy and love and compassion. How, then, are those men and women who go out into Westminster Cathedral piazza and who minister to Jesus in the poor to deny what their hearts desire to do in feeding His poor, showing Him mercy and compassion in His Poor? It is, for these, a privilege, a source of Grace, to be, in a way, St Simon of Cyrene, helping Our Lord to carry His heavy Cross. It is through coming into contact with Jesus in His Poor that many of our rich heritage of Saints have been fashioned.
Whether soup runs are 'effective' or not is of no concern to God. Heaven doesn't produce Joseph Rowntree reports and neither should it be a concern to us. It is in our doing small things, with great love, things often deemed insignificant and foolish to the world, that God takes joy. The Poor awake inside believers, excite within the Faithful, a living flame of love for Jesus that would perhaps not grow, were it not for them. Think of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, think of St Francis of Assisi and St Vincent de Paul. Archbishop Vincent Nichols, I urge you to think of the virtuous model of life exemplified by your patron, and to do all that you can to challenge this bye-law which will punish men and women of the United Kingdom, who show kindness towards the suffering and love for Jesus, the men and women who bring Him comfort in the person of the Poor. I am praying for you, that you may be the Archbishop who stood up in defence of the Poor of the Church, rather than the Archbishop who did not, who did and said nothing, and who walked by, 'on the other side'.