Studying to become a priest in today’s society is a frustrating business. Whilst one is reading theology with the eyes of faith -one is being assessed on theological understanding by the secular eyes of accredited academia -and paying a great deal for the privilege.
One is allowed to participate in carefully arranged, CRB checked, council-approved acts of kindness and mercy, as part of pastoral formation -but try and begin a new thing, or get on and help people, without paying for official oversight from secular organisations -and you’re doomed almost before you begin.
One is challenged every day by the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit, to live according to God’s will -but then forced to adhere to a timetable of consumption and social conformity in order to progress in the course.
The command to be obedient to ‘those put in authority over us’ can often feel like a command to do nothing until given express permission; but everywhere the world is in need.
There is, of course, nothing helpful about blundering in all zealous and passionate, without knowing what is needed -Jesus did not go up to strangers and ‘fix them’ without their permission, or usually their specific request. And people today often do not want unsolicited help… but rather an acknowledgement of their humanity and their individual needs and then, if appropriate, assistance -on a level.
But right now, even solicited help is beginning to fail: organisations which people could turn to in times of need, are being cut back, losing funding and staff, and struggling to continue fishing for provisions in an ever smaller poole of resources. The rich stop giving and the poor, who tend, surveys show -to be more generous, have less to give.
There IS enough. There is enough if everyone’s personal expectations are reduced just a little and their eyes turn not to their own hoard, to their own home, wardrobe, plate, TV… but first to their neighbour. It is not even about denial of the Self, but more about affirmation and support of the Other.
You do NOT need that new dress/ bag/ coat to go out clubbing, you need friends to socialise with who don’t care as long as you’re fairly clean and don’t smell… you do not need the special low-carb high price imported chocolate snack for the fad diet… you just need to eat a bit less and share what you have with your friends and neighbours. You don’t need the latest shiny labour-saving electronic device… you just need to be a little less lazy and derive a bit of satisfaction from getting a necessary job done with your own hands. You are precious whether you HAVE or HAVE-NOT… nothing you own is going to increase your value or importance in God’s eyes… but loving a little more, and wanting a little less materially… they most certainly WILL make you blessed.