Fr Dominic Robinson SJ on London’s New Homeless

Volunteers setting up the Refreshment Hub in Trafalgar Square

In a hard-hitting sermon at Farm Street Church in Mayfair, central London, for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, 17th May 2020, parish priest Fr Dominic Robinson SJ, reflected on the current crisis in London seen in the light of the day’s Gospel reading. 

Have you ever felt you’ve been left bereft? Maybe the break-up of a relationship or perhaps a bereavement. The experience of being orphaned, of being left, of losing an anchor in life, of losing a job. Over the last few weeks our volunteers working to feed the homeless in Trafalgar Square have certainly met so many who are completely lost, made newly homeless as a result of the economic impact of the current crisis. They are doing fantastic and vital work which would, if they had not stepped in, have led to catastrophic consequences on a grand scale. It was and is so necessary. And we are encountering daily those left all alone, those whose lives have been blown apart. But there will be, there are, others in similar positions these days. Being exposed to domestic abuse, to unbelievable family pressures, or simply isolation and loneliness. The experience of being left behind.

These last weeks of Eastertide represent a sacred time of transition for the Church, a time for prayer, for renewal, for taking stock of where our faith lies and how we live by it. And I suggest that this is indeed a time also when as a society as a whole we are also taking stock. So many I’ve chatted with in recent weeks bear this out as the current uncertain fearful reality of daily life. We, as were the first disciples, are anxious at this particular time of our lives at a time of so many uncertainties about when we will go “back” or “forward” to “the new normal”, the uncertain economic future, as so many have been hit by this time of crisis in terms of their livelihoods. So many people our volunteers in Trafalgar Square are meeting are new homeless – there are about 100 and more and more in our city and the number is increasing daily – they have simply lost their jobs, their homes, left bereft in a world simply trying to survive and not be infected. Amid all the political battles over what is and what isn’t being done on this issue this is a human crisis and so it impinges on all of us including, especially the Christian community. And it must challenge us as a society as a whole to be accountable for those still on our streets, that is to ask why this is the case in the middle of a city as wealthy as ours, a city which rightly prides itself on welcome, hospitality, care for the most vulnerable through welfare. It would be a terrible blot on our society if we simply ignored it. What an appalling society it would be that leaves human being made in God’s image to go hungry on our streets in a time of pandemic. How as Christians and Catholics do we take our place in this society right now at this time of transition and great need? With such a lack of clarity perhaps about the place of institutional religion in daily life and our life as society, broken and in need of renewal, in need of an injection of humanity, integrity, civility.

Bereft, left behind by society, all alone. This was the experience of the disciples also in this Sunday’s Gospel. Jesus is about to leave his disciples behind. Yet he is telling them not to be afraid. He invites them to trust in the power of love, to a greater trust indeed than they have ever needed. God has shown his love for us in his victory over death. The event, the moment, the reality of the cross is in a sense behind us. It is history. The tomb, Easter morning, the resurrection appearances. Suspended in time. And now God will show us the depth of his love in how he will be with us not just at a point in time suspended for ever but now for all time. The Father will send the Holy Spirit into the Church. And the Holy Spirit will help us to know that love, will remind us who are left behind of everything the Lord taught us. Will in fact teach us how to live out his mission of love in the world. The call to a radical loving, a radical generosity, even, especially at a time of such crisis, tragedy, panic, fear, when it seems we have been forsaken and left bereft. More…