Weekly Newsletter(click to download PDF)
The Rector writes ...
When the cardinals came to greet the newly elected Pope Francis one of them is reported to have whispered in his ear; “do not forget the poor”. He was, of course, echoing the sentiments expressed by Francis's greatest predecessor, Saint Peter, who expressed the same concern in confirming Saint Paul’s mission to the Gentile world (Galatians 2:10). Jesus himself had said: “see that you never despite any of these little ones” (Matthew 18:10), and Christian ethical teaching emphasises a preferential option for the poor. Although the definition of poverty may be relative (what is considered as disadvantage here in London may be judged differently in Aleppo) there is a clear responsibility laid on each one of us to do what we can to use our own resources to help those less fortunate. If we accept Saint Irenaeus’ dictum that “the glory of God is man fully alive” then we must be committed to do all in our power to improve the conditions of our neighbour. Anything that is life-denying in a brother or sister (and alongside material deprivation that must include lack of access to healthcare, education, employment, etc.) must be our concern. “In so far as you neglected to do this to one of the least of these you neglected to do it to me” (Matthew 26:45)
Saint John Chrysostom is one of the early writers most exercised by the demands of justice: “not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life”. It is right and good that the rich liturgical life at Spanish Place is underpinned by works of mercy. Many of the congregation are actively involved in feeding the hungry and homeless (the Order of Malta on Mondays and Thursdays and the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul on Tuesdays and Fridays) and visiting the sick and housebound (the Legion of Mary). “You will be able to tell them by their fruits”: says Jesus (Matthew 7:16). If there is not a growing care and concern for those around us, particularly those in the greatest need, then there has to be disjunction in our own relationship to God. We cannot ask for the charity of the Saviour for ourselves if we are not prepared to act as a conduit of that charity towards others – and that charity must be more than just a vague sentiment of sympathy and express itself in practical outcomes. “Jesus went about doing good” (Acts 10:38) – so must we.
If we are trying to follow the example set by the compassionate heart of Christ in our service of others then we cannot stop at seeking the alleviation of material need. The Redeemer was concerned with the wholeness of the human person and he knew that body, mind and spirit need to coexist in a healthy unity. We must never compromise in our commitment to true justice – it is plain wrong that some in our world today should be starving and that others have their life expectancy seriously shortened by disease that can easily be treated – but Jesus was absolutely clear about true happiness lying with those who are "poor in spirit”. By this is meant – and it is demonstrated most completely in Jesus’ own “self-emptying” (Philippians 2:7) – a growing confidence in the providence of the heavenly Father. Poverty, in this sense, is dependence not on our own abilities and resources, but on the grace and goodness of God. In recognising ourselves as recipients and stewards we gain a true measure of our lives.
In following the example of Jesus (and to live like him must be the aim and purpose of life for a Christian) we must strive for generous and compassionate hearts. But just as the Son of God was concerned for the total well-being of those he encountered so should we be. There is a poverty in many of those around us that is to do with the soul more than the body. In seeking to better the material conditions of some, we should not evade our responsibility to speak to the hearts of individuals, sometimes those closest to us. In describing himself as the "Bread of Life", Jesus says: “do not work for food that cannot last, but work for food that endures to eternal life (John 6: 26). How do these words challenge us in our own situation?