Another weekend, and another Newsletter ! Hopefully its arrival finds you and those you care about in continuing good health.
Within all of us is there is an element that craves a feel-good factor. What satisfies this may well differ from person to person but certainly one TV programme that ticked this box for many during the first Lockdown, from conversations that I’ve had, was “This week on the farm.” Clearly it drew in the audiences as towards the end of the first run, it was announced that extra shows were being recorded. More recently it has aired again. It features Cannon Hall Farm near Barnsley, a place well known to many of the children in Holy Spirit School. Each year a class group enjoys a visit. Two of the main human characters of the TV show are the Nicholson brothers, Rob and Dave, who live, breathe, and simply ooze a passion for their chosen way of life. They are a great duo, and live a vocational life in relation to the concern that they show for the four-legged and two-legged creatures that they share their home and working environment with. Week after week it became clear that some of these enjoyed being under the spotlight, whilst others clearly found the cameras to be an intrusion into their natural shenanigans. In the earlier series one species of our four-legged friends always ready to step out into camera shots were goats. Their antics and frolicking, caught on the small screen, were often incredibly funny and most entertaining.
They certainly lived up to our stereotypical labelling of them as being adventurous, strong-minded, daring, escape artists, and being more prone to doing their own thing than showing any desire to follow, be directed or even guided. Their wiry frames, swiftness and natural dexterity allow goats, both in the wild and in captivity, to adapt readily to a wide variety of terrains. They are by nature curious, interested and nosey. When it comes to food they are browsers rather than grazers. A feature which has given them the reputation of being willing to eat absolutely anything without fear or favour ! The truth is that they have a tendency to try anything, and depending on its taste will either finish the meal or walk away from it.
Watching their enjoyment of life, simple as it might be, lived out beneath the blue skies of spring and summer, and observed during a time of strict social and travel limitations for ourselves, I could easily have been a touch envious of the goats at Cannon Hall. They seemed vastly more interesting than the grazing sheep.
The Gospel at the core of our Sacred Scripture readings for this weekend cautions me, and others, of observing the rather cute, fun-seeking, goats with the green eyes of envy. The separation of the sheep from the goats is perhaps one of the best known Parables depicting end times. At its heart are the choices we make on the adventure of life’s pilgrimage. As a man of his time and place, Jesus would have been very familiar with sheep and goats, possibly even having to shoo a curious, free-spirited, straying goat from the open working environment of St. Joseph on more than one occasion. Sheep follow, can be rounded up, and are contented when enclosed in a space of their own. On the other hand a straying goat has to be caught, carried, harnessed or tethered, and if contained spends its waking hours seeking any means of escape. Described elsewhere as the Good Shepherd, Jesus offers through his own example and skillful leadership a blueprint for His sheep to follow. Within that some skills of the goat will be needed, such as the confidence to reach out, being prepared to take risks, but not those of journeying through life in isolation, leading to a blindness that fails to see the needs of others, not least those most in need. This is summarised in the question asked by those on the left of the throne of glory: “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty, a stranger or naked, sick or in prison, and did not come to your help ?”
Our behaviour is very much at the fore of those who have guided us into another phase of Lockdown. Having come so far along the road of sacrifice this year, we have been asked to continue this often lonesome pathway. Despite the bright hope that announcements of the success of vaccines have offered in recent days, we are still quite some time away from the formation of queues to receive them. Our waiting continues. Even when they are accessible we are only one relatively small island community within a global family unit.
Our own very stringent adherence to the mantra Hands – Face – Space – within our church buildings comes from a duty of care that we have for one another. Whilst we may not like having to queue to get into our spiritual homes, grumble about being asked to stand two meters apart from people we’ve known all of our lives, or mutter about the need to wear a facial covering in God’s House, we do so because we are showing love for our neighbour, and in return allowing them to show their love for us. It is also worth remembering that whilst our churches have, since July 4th, been able to open their doors to congregations, thanks to volunteer Stewards, there are very many in the nation’s workforce who continue to work from home because their employers cannot offer a similar safe environment in which to conduct a ‘normal’ working life.
The reality of the need to adhere to guidance given, and like the sheep of the Gospel, to be counselled and directed, was brought home to me recently as I listened to a radio interview with Vaughan Gething, the Health Minister of Wales. He said: “You are most likely to get Coronavirus from someone you already know, a friend, a family member, a loved one.” It was a shocking statement. And to be sure that I’d heard it correctly I listened to it again, and for a third time. It reminds us that the things we believe we will get away with, or no one will know about can actually have serious consequences. Goats would take the risk. Sheep would listen and do the right thing, putting trust in the voice of the shepherd. Grazing at a social distance !
The sheep of the Gospel question as to when they treated others well, fairly, with kindness, compassion and as equals. The reply given clearly surprises them: “in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.” For all of us there is the opportunity to reach out to the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and those in prison. Our opportunity may have a 21st century twist on it but will be no less significant and relevant or even life changing or life saving to those who benefit from it. Perhaps it will be the extra item in our shopping trolley that is put into the collection point for the local Food Bank, the home crafted face masks that make them fun to wear, the knitting of clothing to be worn by premature babies we cannot name or the on-line donation made to an aid agency like CAFOD, the cheery card sent to someone who is unwell or on the road to recovery, a few thoughtful words of remembrance conveyed to the bereaved or a phone call to those who have not left the security of their homes for the majority of the year or who spend an entire day without hearing the voice of another human being.
Whilst our reaching out to others may take the confidence and daring of the goat, as we do not wish to seem intrusive into the lives of others, I pray that it maybe what we actually carry out in deeds motivated by love that will bring each one of us the reward given to those who sit on the right hand of the King in the Parable: “… the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world.”
I continue to carry you in prayerful remembrance, together with your loved ones – living and, especially in this month of November, those handed back to God – and in affection.