Thursday, October 18, 2012

What is needed?

As part of my own Year of Faith efforts, to boost my faith as much anyone else's, I have decided to go down to our soup run a bit more often this year.
We had about forty there there the other night, practically all men. We try not to be like Evangelical Christians and although the food is made with a great deal of prayer and devotion, we don't attach any "devotional element" to giving out food. We work on to simple premise: Christ tells us to feed the hungry, we feed. It is simple obedience to Jesus' words. Many of those who come do not know who we are or why my parishioners do it.
When I am there many of the men k/now me from the Church door, or having come to my house, so it is quite easy to talk a bit about God to individuals, but more especially because living on the streets brings them into direct contact with Divine Providence. They want to talk for many prayer is pretty constant, even if it is: God keep me from being knifed tonight or don't let me be lonely or don't let starve or freeze to death. Their own hunger witnesses to all kinds of other hungers: for God ultimately, but also for affection, kindness, for a warm dry place to spend the night and for drink and drugs and for sex too.

From time to time someone wants to be baptised. There is no way most could come along to an RCIA course or even for regular instruction, even the retention of much catechesis is rather difficult. For many it would be possible to communicate the doctrine of the Trinity pretty easily in terms of relationship because that is what they are really hungering for; ultimately to know God as loving Father. Forgiveness too they understand, being "sorry" is very much part of their lives, as is forgiving those who abuse, and dehumanise them. "Sin" is a bit difficult, extremes of poverty, like extremes of wealth give its own gloss to understanding Jesus' teaching and brings with it its own invincible ignorance.

The big problem is practice, and having regularity in lives that are often disordered by low level crime, psychiatric illness and social problems which are rooted, often, in dysfunctional childhoods. As far as desire for union with God in is concerned it is there but my difficulty is their ability to fit into the Church and its sacramental structures.

What does the Church do for the man who kneels and prays in the gutter, who wants what the sacraments can give but are always going to be out of step with the Church?
It is that old Catholic thing of what is the minimum of Christian practice, knowledge and behaviour necessary to receive be part of the Church's sacramental life. In many RCIA groups it is often just a matter of turning-up for the course, and being able to fill-in the forms, rather than anyone making a judgement about the particular candidate having a deep desire for Christ..


Amfortas said...

God bless you Father.

Anagnostis said...

Father - I always love your posts in this vein. There is no "lowest common denominator" around which all Christians can gather - that's certainly true; on the other hand, the Gospel is Christ's victory over sin and death - everything else is a footnote. It's a paradox.

The Most Holy Trinity, the workings of the Holy Spirit, the Sacraments,the Church, the Blessed Virgin - none of them are "The Gospel" - they're for "inside". The Lord did not catechise the demon-possessed or the blind or the paralytic in any of these things - He simply healed them first and foremost.

Cosmos said...

I am not saying I am right and you are wrong, but I have never understood this mentality:

"We try not to be like Evangelical Christians and although the food is made with a great deal of prayer and devotion, we don't attach any "devotional element" to giving out food. We work on to simple premise: Christ tells us to feed the hungry, we feed. It is simple obedience to Jesus' words."

It seems to me that this kind of thinking is the Church outsmarting itself. Jesus told us to feed, but he also told us to preach the Gospel, and make disciples of all nations. This seems like a great opportunity to preach to the homeless. But our thinking is kind of Kantian: if the actor gets pleasure from doing good, he has not done good. Here, if the Christian gives food in prayer, or in the name of Jesus, or with a scripture reading, he has not given food.

I can't help but wonder if we have just found one more way to cut-out the embarassing and counter-cultural work or evagelism.

Once again, I am not saying I'm right, but I feel as if we need reassess almost everything these days.

Fr Ray Blake said...

I am most probably wrong, you most probably right but that is exactly what Brighton evangelicals do, it is not productive.
People will pray anything to fill an empty belly.

parepidemos said...

The Gospel shows us that Christ unfailingly meets us where we are; in this encounter there is a healing, a beckoning and sometimes even an epiphany. The soup kitchen, the kindness of the volunteers together with your own sharing and listening are all forms of evangelisation. Presence is so important.

I remember the death of a young boy in a nearby parish. The parish priest, a good man but a rather bad alcoholic, asked the seminarian to visit the family. At the meal after the funeral, the mother said to the seminarian: "I'm sure father's homily was wonderful, but the thing I remember most was that you came to visit and he didn't. " Words can sometimes get in the way.

nickbris said...

These people have through no fault of their own have fallen through the net;the mesh of which has grown wider & wider.

One would have thought that our revolutionary "Green" council would have made the mesh smaller but like all the others they are only interested in themselves.

A properly civilised society looks after the poor & hungry.Our parishioners who feed these desperate people every day of the year in all weathers do a great job and this is real prayer in itself,getting out the Catechism or Rosary would not help the starving and may even make them feel worse

Judith said...

I did the RCIA course 8 years ago. I wouldn’t say I understood in any real way the teachings of the Church or am a ‘good’ Catholic. I wanted to receive the sacraments. If we believe in the sacraments how can we refuse them to people who are asking for them?

Anonymous said...

I think the action of feeding the hungry is far stronger than words, even if those words form a prayer or catechesis. Reach the people, help them in their need, contact them at the most human level possible. That is far stronger than merely speaking words.

St. Francis may not have uttered it, but it is still very true: "Always preach the Gospel. If necessary, use words."

Trisagion said...

I think Incaelo is right. The act of feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, clothing the naked, caring for the widow, the orphan or the stranger in our midst is the most effective proclamation of the Gospel. Forcing religious devotion or observance on those to whom we show that hospitality is entirely counter-productive.

St Peter knew where this kind of love leads, when he wrote: "If anyone asks you to give an account of the hope which you cherish, be ready at all times to answer for it, but courteously and with due reverence." (1 Pet. 3:15 - Knox translation).

gemoftheocean said...

Cosmos: It's a bit arrogant to assume the homeless are clueless about God. Homeless does not necessarily mean 'ignorant.'

Cosmos said...


I never said anything like that!

Anyway, I just don't see how the Gospel is most effectively preached by not preaching it and by performing a social service which the government and a number of other charitable and relgious organizations also provide. What makes our feeding different is that we do it for the love of God. I would prefer something as simple as grace and and artfully worded, scripturally based proclamation that we are reaching out to people because God loves those people and he commands us to love them like brothers as well. Those words sink and perhaps even clarify our motivations.

I think the St. Francis was entitled to use that phrase, as was St. Teresa of Calculta. The rest of us, who generaly have shown no desire to talk about the Gospel with our neighbors, should probably use his words more sparingly. Over-evangelization is certainly not the sin of the mass of modern Catholics.

God bless!

Adrian said...

Surely anything that even dimly reflects the love of Christ must be right - and will be used by Him in His own way. Keep up with it, Father. How can one get involved?

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