A Reflection for the Feast of St Francis
A touch of cold in the Autumn night—
I walked abroad,
And saw the ruddy moon lean over a hedge
Like a red-faced farmer.
I did not stop to speak, but nodded,
And round about were the wistful stars
With white faces like town children.
Autumn – T.E. Hulme
The essence of our faith lies as much as our compassion for others as our relationship with God. Whenever we look up to God, we also see the faces of others, especially those in need. It is still a surprise to many people that Marlborough has its own Foodbank distribution point. Walking down the Marlborough High Street, it is indeed hard to imagine that in this wealthy community there are a considerable number of people who find themselves in a situation in which they need to appeal to the help of the Foodbank.
I don’t know what is the first thing that comes to mind if I mention ‘a person who needs the Foodbank’. Certainly I didn’t have much of an idea before I had met some of the people who were referred to it, and heard their stories.
So on this 4th October, as the Church worldwide celebrates the Feast of St Francis, who gave away all that he had to help others, I would like to share two of these stories. Not to make anyone feel guilty, but first of all to remind at least myself of the abundance I enjoy, but also to remind ourselves of the reality of others. And with that, of course, the responsibility we have towards those who, sometimes temporarily, need our help.
The first story is of a women whom I got to know a bit through her children who were attending the local primary school. As a family, they didn’t have much, but usually enough to make it to the end of the month. Not much money for luxuries at Christmas or otherwise, but generally, not hungry when money ran out either.
However, a couple of years ago, the family was hit by a disaster as someone close took his own life. Initially, there was enough support from friends and neighbours, but as time went on and the immediacy of the trauma got less, people – as so often – picked up their own lives and routines again. And that was precisely what she wanted to do as well. So, she went to B&Q, bought some paint and redecorated the house: ready to make a new start.
When the end of the month came, she had ran out of money to pay the energy bills, and to buy food. Yes, one can say, ‘that wasn’t very clever’. But how often do we do things that aren’t necessarily clever in hindsight? Most of the times we are lucky enough for our actions not to lead to running out of food, but isn’t that just luck?
Another story, equally true and equally local, is of a woman who lives in a one-bedroom flat, looking after her disabled partner. Also in this case, live isn’t easy, but sustainable. Until one day, her forty-year old daughter and twenty-year old granddaughter stand on the doorstep, with nothing more than a suitcase of clothes.
It turns out, they moved back from New Zealand, to where they emigrated twenty years ago. The marriage fell apart, and the husband sent them on a plane back home, with a suitcase of clothes and enough cash to make it from the airport to Wiltshire. Regulations state that no one can apply for benefits within three months of arrival, and even after that it is waiting for a suitable place to live and Universal Credit to come through. So, there they are: four people living in a one bed-room flat, with just about enough money to feed two people.
It is too easy to dismiss these stories as propaganda to make us feel guilty, and that is not the point. But maybe we could take St Francis as an example. As he willingly gave away all that he had, possibly we also can give away some of what we have, and realise that it doesn’t only make other people’s life better, but also our own. The more we give of ourselves, the more we receive in return!