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Need, not greed - Frances Novillo

Need, not greed

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Frances Novillo
Posted at 00:46am on 3rd March 2014

Need is painful, and easier to hide than to admit to others.  It becomes shameful, wrongly equated with failure and sin.  However, the liturgy is formed to accommodate need, even depend on it, in order to celebrate a Saviour who emptied himself to know first-hand the neediness of the human condition (Philippians 2:7).  The liturgy is public and communal, conducted not by one supremely capable individual but by many people taking on diverse roles, each knowing their capability and limitations.

 

All, therefore, whether they are ordained ministers or lay Christian faithful, in fulfilling their office or their duty, should carry out solely but completely that which pertains to them (GIRM 91 cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium 28)

 

It’s no bad thing to recognise need, in ourselves that others may be as Christ to us, and in others that we may behave more compassionately than the devoted religious people who walked past the wounded man before the Good Samaritan tended to him (Luke 10:31-33).  But knowing that not everyone will choose to help leads to fear, and pride arises as a defensive measure.  A simple example is the church whose dwindling choir persists in attempting music written for larger forces, refusing to welcome new members who can’t attend every Mass and rehearsal because that’s the way it’s always been.  In fact, a handful of singers can capably lead music at Mass which suits their capabilities, knowing their need to accept help from the congregation, occasional extra singers, decent training, an encouraging presider. 

 

An openness to receive and offer help is an unexpected side-effect of the present recession, which brought an abrupt end to the culture of greed and plunged us into a culture of need, with its predictable outcomes of rising unemployment, crime, mental ill-health and suicide.  Being unemployed is a deprivation of money and status, certainly, but for some it has proved an opportunity to discover new talents, and give time to personal relationships.  The catastrophic implications of disaster are overwhelming, but equally overwhelming is the extent of compassionate response.  At the time of writing, people struggling under the privations of the recession have nonetheless donated £68 million to the DEC Philippines Typhoon Appeal.  After decades of ecological campaigns against the consumption of fossil fuels, finally creation is reaping the benefit as many people use less fuel to minimise their energy bills.  Despite more of us choosing whether to heat or eat, there has been a generous response to food banks; Tesco installing Fair Share bins in their stores where shoppers leave items for people in need; and the Big Issue requesting the ‘free’ items from BOGOF deals shoppers don’t really need be given to local vendors or the Big Issue Foundation. 

 

Greed encourages self-reliance; need requires us to reach out to others.  The greatest saints acknowledged this.  St Paul confesses his struggles in 2 Corinthians 12, followed immediately by a realisation that his needs were not assuaged by the answer to prayer he expected, but an opportunity for deeper relationship with Christ, who assures him:

 

‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’  I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (vv 9-10)

 

I don’t think St Paul intends this as a platitude, nor a recommendation that anyone seek out suffering, nor that it is intrinsically holy.  St Paul says this to a community where he fears there are problems and poor relationships (vv 20 -21), presumably to reassure them that something good can arise.  St Paul interprets his experience of suffering in the light of the resurrection.  The tomb is a place of loneliness, barrenness, despair, and remains so even when it is discovered empty by the disciples, who cannot possibly imagine the best, but fear the worst.  Surprisingly this turns out to be an emptiness occupied by angels, messengers of incredible hope.  

 

Recognising personal and communal need in life and liturgy, in ourselves and in each other, is uncomfortable and yet may prove beneficial and ultimately lead to transfiguration and resurrection.  Sometimes in school Masses, as the gifts are brought forward at the Offertory, a child states: We bring our lives with the bread and wine.  Each Eucharistic Prayer asks God to see these gifts, including ourselves, as acceptable, but nonetheless, to transform them to become more like him. 

 

In the Preface III of Ordinary Time we are reminded that Christ ‘even fashioned for us a remedy out of mortality itself, that the cause of our downfall might become the means of our salvation’.  Theologian James Alison explains:

 

It seems to me that what Jesus is doing in ‘going to his Father’, ‘going to Death’, ‘occupying the space of shame and of wrath’, being both Shepherd and abattoir door, is making the place of shame, of wrath and of sacrifice into a pasture.  And that means a place where we can be nourished, and find wholeness, health and story to live by … what creativity, gifts and life will emerge from such a peaceful place (Broken Hearts & New Creations, pp.52-53)

 

Last November, Fr Cyril Axelrod received the OBE for services to people with disabilities.  He said to the Queen, ‘My disability is a gift from God’ and she responded, ‘And you have used it well.’  Later at a service of thanksgiving, Fr Cyril (who was born Jewish), recited the Shema.  He recalled visiting a synagogue where the rabbi wept as they prayed together, before explaining that while many Jews cover their ears and eyes when reciting the Shema, in order to shut out distractions, Fr Cyril lives perpetually in this blessed state, wholly attentive to God.  I am not over-sentimentalising!  These are the words of the man himself, who has found in his need a gift and a blessing. 

 

Reproduced from Issue 350, Volume 39, Number 3/4 of Music and Liturgy, February 2014, by kind permission of the Society of Saint Gregory https://www.ssg.org.uk/

 


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