I don't think I'm cut out to be a good Christian. It does not seem to work out for me.
Our church has a number of groups which we are encouraged to join in order to help other people less fortunate than ourselves in society.
I decided to visit the old people at the nearby Retirement Home and to cheer them up by reading to them. I thought they would enjoy something classical rather than the modern stuff like chick lit, or sexy books or violent ones. So I took with me a copy of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables. Unfortunately, I had only been reading for just over an hour when one of the residents tried to jump out of the third floor window where we were. The wardens had to stop him forcibly. Another went to the kitchenette next door and tried to commit suicide by putting her head in a pot of boiling spaghetti. She said she ignored the conventional head in the oven routine because it was electric. She ruined the spaghetti though.
A few days later I joined another group which visits hospitals and spends time with various patients. I took with me a different more cheerful book. Dante's Paradiso. I didn't consider Dante's Inferno appropriate because it does not contain much humour; and Dante's Purgatorio would no doubt confuse all non-Catholics as much as it confuses the Catholics.
Unfortunately none of the patients I met understood Italian.
The following week I joined the Bereavement Group which meets every so often in group sessions in the church hall. That did not go very well either. When we stopped for a tea break the leader of the group asked me to leave because she did not think that telling jokes is an appropriate way to cheer people up at this difficult time in their lives.
A few days later I joined another group from our church. They go out at night to various parks and streets to feed the poor and the down-and-outs.
We parked the van by the roadside and it broke my heart to see literally dozens of people sitting on the wet grass waiting our arrival.
“There’s another van parked a hundred yards away,” I said.
“Yes … it’s another church. We’re glad they come too because we couldn’t cope on our own!”
I was given a big box full of pre-wrapped sandwiches which the ladies in church had prepared and I walked by the park edge handing them out as the vagrants got up and went to the van for a hot drink.
By the time I had emptied my box of sandwiches I had reached the other van from the other church.
“Hello … you are new here,” said a middle-aged lady from near her van, “I haven’t seen you before!”
“Yes … this is my first time here …” I smiled back.
“Would you like a sandwich?” she asked, “and a cup of soup? We have chicken and tomatoes, which do you prefer?”
“Oh no …” I smiled, “I don’t need anything to eat … thanks!”
“Do sit down …” she interrupted, “the chicken soup is hot and tasty … I made it myself!”
Before I could answer she was joined by another lady who said, “He’s probably shy, Mary! It’s very difficult for some of them to accept our help.”
I was about to explain when Mary interrupted again, “You look very cold my dear … this jacket you’re wearing has seen better days … we have a spare coat in the van … about your size I should say … let me get it …”
“No … no … you don’t understand,” I protested with a smile hiding the insult at my authentic 12 years old tweed jacket, “I am not one of the poor people. I came here to help with my friends from another church!”
“Now you’ve embarrassed him …” said the other lady to Mary, “either that, or the poor man is hallucinating … it happens when they’ve been drinking … does he smell of drink?”
This farce had got on too far and it was time I put these two lovely well-meaning ladies straight.
“Look ladies …” I said calmly yet authoritatively, “believe it or not, I am not here to ask for food or drink or clothing. I came with my friends from another church to help feed these poor people. I came in the van parked … parked … over … there!!!
“Where has the van gone? Where are my friends from my church? Did you see them leave?”
“Never mind …” said Mary in her sweet voice, “sit down here and try this soup and sandwich … I’ll go get you the coat!”
As she left I told the other woman, “I don’t know what’s going on. My friends are from St Bartholomew church. Do you know it?
“They have gone and left me stranded here … can you help me please and give me a lift in your van to the church? I left my car there!”
“Oh no …” she replied, “we’re not allowed to take passengers in our van. It’s only for us to come here and serve food …”
She walked away hurriedly and stopped Mary who was coming towards us with a coat. They both moved towards the van and drove off at speed.
Anyway ... unperturbed, I decided not to give up on this being a good Christian thing.
A few days later I joined the team giving out sandwiches to the poor once again. This time they drove to a nearby town I did not know so well and stopped at a street corner near a railway bridge.
I took my box of sandwiches and walked down a side street looking for vagrants who might be hungry. I approached a young woman in her thirties and as I offered her a sandwich suddenly a police car appeared from nowhere and two policemen arrested me for propositioning her.
They said it was a serious offence to frequent "ladies of the night" and that anything I said would be taken down as evidence to be used against me in court.
They put me in the back of their car with the lady in question and my box of sandwiches. I hasten to add that neither her, nor them, accepted my offer of sandwiches.
I waited in a cell at the station until our priest, Father Semolina, arrived to speak on my behalf.
When we were alone in the cell he asked me if I wished to confess to the sin of lust and wanting to "buy some good time" with a box of sandwiches. He added that this would also constitute the sin of the theft of the sandwiches which did not belong to me in the first place.
I tried to explain but I doubt very much he believed me. He said he will vouch for me with the police but it is only to keep the good name of the Catholic Church out of the newspapers.
Eventually, they released me and dropped all charges. But they kept the box of sandwiches.
As I said at the beginning, I am not cut out to be a good Christian. It is far too difficult.
This story is dedicated to someone I know who does a lot of good work feeding the poor at night in London.