Sunday, October 22, 2006

We have a certain reputation


One of the good things about the life of a parish priest is that one’s faith is constantly built up by quite heroic examples of conversion.
I did a funeral on Friday, and got a lift back in the hearse, one of the undertakers said he was surprised that there were not the “usual smattering of mad people at the back of the Church”. I was a little abashed and asked him what he meant. He said Mary Magdalen was renowned for it amongst the men of his profession in the city. I was angry, I joked it off and when I had time to reflect, I thought that compared with the refined Protestantism of many of the churches of the city of Brighton and Hove there could be some evidence for it, even compared with most of the Catholic Churches in the vicinity.
Most of our people live rather solitary lives, there aren’t that many families. Accommodation is for the most part in tall Victorian houses that have been converted to single bedroom flats.
Solitude does lead to a certain “singularity” of behaviour.
I got a little annoyed with one of our parishioners this morning, who I am rather fond of, let’s call him John.
John has had an extra-ordinary life, he hears voices. John’s fingers are stained brown with nicotine. He can stand in the street for hours just staring, in an almost catatonic state, there are long pause in conversation where he says nothing. He is about forty, almost half of his life John has spent sleeping on the streets, “I loved it Father, I loved the freedom”. I think he had also spent a bit of time in hospital. When he began to get life together he desperately wanted to become a Catholic, eventually he tried for three years to get through an RCIA course in a neighbouring parish, he just couldn’t get himself there each week and when he did, because he is addicted to nicotine, he kept having to go out for a cigarette. About 18 months ago he moved into a hostel in the parish. He comes to Mass on Saturday and Sunday evenings because he just can’t get up earlier, even then he nips out every so often for a quick fag and then comes back in. He has just moved into his own flat, at last, which he wants me to bless.
I am sure John comes to Mass for the love of God, but that doesn’t stop him from begging for £2.50 for some tobacco every time he comes to Mass. So it is normally a fiver week. This morning I rather cruelly told him in front of a group of people that the normal practice was for people to come to Mass and give money rather than the other way round. John waited and told me that he wished he didn’t have to beg, that he was ashamed, he had been doing it for the last eighteen years. I suggested he give up smoking if he couldn’t afford it. “I can’t”, he said. I had to admit neither could I.
So we are back to the fiver a week, but John to save his dignity, told me that he would try and put a fiver through the letterbox, when he gets his “benefit” every week, then I could give it back to him at the weekend. His begging is irritating but at least it means that I can show him some kindness, which is, I suppose what the fiver is actually a token of. Maybe I am fortunate that he honours me by humiliating himself to ask alms from me, because he is quite heroic in his struggle to get life together.

2 comments:

Henry said...

I think it is an excellent thing that we have a reputation for accepting people who might be a bit mad. Part of Jesus's ministry was to drive out demons so if we are attracting people with demons it is a demonstration of our authenticity.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Mary Magdalen had seven demons cast out of her, therefore any Church under her patronage must welcome those who would be like her.
We are very blessed by her intercession.