St Mary Magdalen's Church, Brighton, England
Fr Ray Blake is parish priest of St Mary Magdalen's, Brighton, in the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton on the south coast of England. He is also a blogger with a wide readership. I have been a regular reader of his blog for some years and am struck by two aspects of his writing in particular: his faithfulness to the Church's teaching and his commitment to those on the fringes of society such as immigrants in difficulties, drug addicts, alcoholics, beggars.
On 10 August this year he posted The Trouble with the Poor. It begins this way: The trouble with the poor is that they are messy.
There is a secluded area between the church and our hall, a passage, occasionally we find someone has got a few cardboard boxes together and has slept there and if it has been raining leaves a sodden blanket, cardboard there to be cleaned up, often it also smells of urine and there is often excrement there and sometimes a used needle or two.
There is a man who comes into the church, especially during the trad Mass and during the silence of the Canon will pray aloud, "Jesus, I want you to bless Fr Ray and ...., and God, can you persuade the good people here to give to the poor, I am poor", unchecked he will take his cap off and have a collection. It makes a mess of our prayers, it stops some coming to Mass here.
This post, along with many others he has written, has shown Father Ray to be a person who is very much involved with the poor.
On 5 September, The Argus, a Brighton-based paper published an 'exclusive' article about Father Ray's blogpost under the by-line of Bill Gardner, 'Lying and messy' poor sent by God to test us, says Brighton priest. The article begins, A complaining priest claims “lying” poor people have been sent by God to “test my holiness”.
Nobody reading Father Ray's article with an open mind or reading his blog regularly could describe him as 'a complaining priest'. Here in the Philippines I have been trying to deal with people looking for money all the years I have been in the country since 1971. I have been stopped on the street in Ireland and in England, sometimes in places such as railway stations. Even as a seminarian, when we wore a black suit and black tie when outside the seminary, I was a target of beggars as were other seminarians and priests.
Some asking for help are in real need. Some are con-artists. I have never really learned how to meet with grace persons who approach me for help or how to distinguish those in real need from those on the make. I prefer to direct whatever money comes my way to help those in need when I know this really responds to their needs, eg, a home run by religious sisters for girls many of whom have been abused, while respecting their dignity - and mine.
I have never had the experience of having what I wrote totally distorted, the experience Father Ray has had.
Laurence England, a parishioner and parish secretary at St Mary Magdalen's and a blogger, sent this letter to The Argus. Inter alia Mr England writes: Fr Blake also helps other poor and homeless people who come to his door. They are not all honest and some do indeed lie in order to get money. I know this is true because I am the secretary at the Church and often respond to callers and give from the poor fund established by the Church for their relief. Despite this, if you read his post, it was about how Christians should respond to the poor, not an attack on the poor themselves.
Father Ray is wondering if he should continue blogging. Perhaps you might visit his blog and post a word of encouragement. Pope Benedict has spoken of our responsibility to use the internet to preach the Gospel to what he calls 'this digital continent'. Some will listen and accept, some will listen politely and walk away, some will malign those who preach the Gospel and some will deliberately refuse to see how persons such as Father Ray are powerfully living the Gospel.