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Fr Ray Blake described the reality of helping the poor. He should be applauded, not castigated

If Fr Ray stops blogging, it will be a victory for the worst kind of censorship

By on Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Fr Ray Blake appraisal of his work with the poor has upset the consciences of those who have not let the needy near them (CNS)

Fr Ray Blake appraisal of his work with the poor has upset the consciences of those who have not let the needy near them (CNS)

Recently, I was talking to a literary agent about the need for a novel that portrays the poverty of our age.

My imagination is constantly fed by encounters with the new poor in central London. During a recent summer night, I met a group of exhausted children sitting on the steps of my building. Speaking in Spanish, they told me that they had just arrived from Spain, and that their parents had asked them to wait there, while they looked for a bed for the night. So many of my peers, who hold university degrees are in a cycle of sofa-surfing and competing with ten other people for a job of pouring coffee and mopping floors.

In this revolving recession, writing a novel about people pinned down by penury would be apposite. But is a literary description of hunger and desperation enough? Not at all, but as the recent trials of Fr Ray Blake show, discussing the grubby nature of actually helping the poor is a tricky business.

Fr Ray struck a nerve when he wrote about the unpleasant consequences of inviting the poor into our lives, with a Brighton newspaper depicting him as “a complaining priest”, and a number of national newspapers followed up on the story.

But by writing about his experiences, he is showing the poor kindness. He presents the true reality of being at their service, and reading his blog is a preparation for those who wish to do more for the poor than just pity them.

Due to the controversy surrounding the blog post, Fr Ray has since written that he is considering putting a stop to his blogging. In the absence of Fr Ray, Britain would have no priest who is putting forth such uncompromising accounts of caring for the poor. We have a Pope in Rome who unceasingly insists that we share with the poor – and a situation in Britain where a frank priest has qualms about blogging on the reality of carrying out the Pope’s wishes.

Fr Ray is succeeding where the mainstream media is failing. He writes about the dilemmas of bringing the destitute into one’s home. Why is the mainstream media not doing the same? Why are we kidding ourselves that we will overcome poverty when we can’t even discuss its grim reality? Maybe because to do as Fr Ray does, and clean up trails of vomit or counsel a junkie who is desperate for cash, is not glamourous.

If Fr Ray stops blogging, it will be a victory for the worst kind of censorship. It’s a form of intellectual suppression that misinterprets a priest’s realistic experience, and punishes him for being honest. Not just because the details of cleaning excrement and blood are disgusting to our sanitised sensibilities, but because Fr Ray’s good works makes some feel guilty. And this is central – Fr Ray’s blogging upsets the consciences of people who have not let the poor near them.

Fr Ray, please rebel against your critics by blogging more zealously than ever before. If I ever get round to writing a novel about our era’s rampant poverty, I’ll dedicate it to Fr Ray and send a copy to every columnist who has ever criticised him. I’d imagine that their reviews would be scathing, but maybe the cash earned from the book could go towards the soup kitchen that Fr Ray runs.

  • GOR

    Thank you Mary, for recognizing Fr. Blake’s work. Anyone who follows his blog knows he is truly a man of God and works tirelessly for his flock. All of us hope and pray he will continue his online apostolate also.

  • crafnah

    Hear, Hear! Fr Ray, we need you!

  • Viking

    Fr Ray, you’ve got my support, and I trust you’re getting the support of your Bishop and your brother priests in your diocese. God bless.

  • Denis

    Not sure he has the support of his Bishop, but perhaps that should neither surprise nor bother anyone.

  • Benedict Carter

    It should bother every Catholic very much indeed.

  • Patrick D. Hamilton

    The blog only comes off as ‘complaining’ if one engages in proof-texting, which from the other article I read, seemed to be the case. The citations of the blog were so selective, and in essense took only the comments regarding the harsh realities and struggles to practice charity, and ignored anything which suggested that these are the things that need to be overcome to be truly virtuous and to be as the Pope has said, ‘A poor Church for the poor’.

    And I thought the American news on this side of the pond were garbage. I was down right shocked by one of the ‘accounts’ in a British paper.

  • Denis

    Dead right.
    Fr Blake simply described honestly the tough reality of dealing with people who many others would simply ignore and yes the press over this side of the pond often have the brain of an amoeba and the instincts of a rat. All the more sad then that Bishop Conry behaved as pathetically as he did.

  • polycarped

    Hear, hear.

    Whilst Fr Ray’s utter obedience to his Bishop is inspirational – he will not utter a word against him despite his cowardly actions – I’m afraid that I cannot hold my tongue. Bishop Conry should apologise to Fr Blake for failing to be a spiritual father to him. I sincerely hope that FR Ray will continue to blog.

  • South Saxon

    However, the response of +Conry should come as no surprise given his past record.

  • Ann Lardeur

    Regardless of what journalists made of the comments on the blog, the fact remains that a catholic priest wrote them. He said they were carefully chosen but that does not mean it is wise to publish. He is the first cause – the person chucking a pebble into a pond is responsible for the ripples. A period of silence for reflection is an excellent idea. The esteem of catholic priesthood has been dragged through the mud thanks to all the abuse scandals without appearing to go in for ‘ verbal poor abuse’. I am sure he did not intend to bring priesthood into disrepute, but nevertheless he has done his, and the image of priests generally, no favours. Those who avidly support him do no service to the rest of us either. They sound very much in the vein of right wing papers for ever stirring antagonism on refuges and asylum seekers.
    (I have not managed to work out alias – please use A.L. if possible)

  • Nicolas Bellord

    Dear Ann,
    I find it difficult to know what you are talking about. Father Blake has a considerable reputation for helping the poor. He was merely saying that doing so is not always very pleasant. There have been priests who have been assaulted or murdered when trying to help. He was recounting what the reality is when dealing with substance abusers. What is wrong with that? I have been a trustee of a hostel for the homeless and always had enormous respect and admiration for the staff who had to deal with the day to day problems. They had training in how to deal with violence etc and were never on their own unlike priests like Father Blake who answer the doorbell at any time of night whilst on their own. Priests and others who heroically answer the call of the poor have every right to tell the rest of us what the reality is.

  • Dave

    Very much indeed! The bishop placed in charge of evangelisation in this country, who has publicly spoken against making regular confessions, and who has publicly denied the Church’s teaching on contraception, is now publicly apologising for the offense caused by one of his priests who dared to say that Christians should help the poor even when it is difficult and uncomfortable to do so. This is not good.

  • Laurence England

    The poor with various issues are not served by pretending everything is just fine. It is, in fact, a disservice to them. To discuss his own challenges with such honesty is brave. God spare us from a world in which people cannot speak only about their experiences, whether they be with the poor or homeless or others.

  • terry

    “Priests and others who heroically answer the call of the poor have every right to tell the rest of us what the reality is.”
    And on occasion how they feel about doing it and why they continue to do so without being criticised by others who would not touch or help the poor with a barge pole.

  • Dave

    No. Fr. Ray wrote that the poor can make us feel uncomfortable but it is out duty as Christians to help them anyway. The Argus & other papers wrote that Father Ray was attacking the poor. They wrote, for example: ‘Father Ray Blake condemned “messy” street drinkers, who enter his church to plead for money,[...]‘. The one word there belonging to Father Ray is ‘messy’. He ‘condemned’ no one. It is hardly the good Father’s fault that others have lied about him.

    PS: As a foreigner with a refuge background I hope that defending Father Ray does not make me sound like one of those ‘right wing papers’ :-)

  • Romulus

    Ann, the poor are an icon of Jesus Christ. To unbelievers, this comes down to not much more than sentiments of pity and solidarity and wooly resolves to “fight poverty”. But Christianity is not about fighting poverty. It is about helping the poor — something altogether different.

    To us who are believers, there is an important resemblance between Jesus and the poor. The most important is that serving the poor is hard and comes at a real cost. That is the point Fr. Ray was making. Serving the poor — real service — is not something we can do while carrying on in our private lives as if nothing has changed. It does change us, in multiple ways that we may not particularly enjoy but are essential to our spiritual health. It is the same way with Jesus, the most inconvenient man who ever lived: if we allow him into our lives, dinner will be late. Having That Man around upsets everything, triggering permanent changes and radically rearranging our lives in ways that shatter our complacency and comfort. If we allow this Crucified Man into our lives we will shortly find ourselves on the Cross too. Jesus is a gigantic pain. Jesus is also our only hope.

  • Yorkshire Catholic

    The problem would be far less acute and painful — especially for Fr Blake, if his bishop had not done what he did, and apparently kept totally silent later. Pope Francis please note.

  • NYer

    Fr. Ray Blake is a treasure. I tried to post this comment on his site but was unable to:

    Dear Fr. Blake,
    I am writing to you from New York to encourage you to take a brief break, but PLEASE come back! It was difficult enough losing the unique voice of Benedict XVI, please don’t give up on your beautiful online ministry that has been a blessing for your materially poor neighbors as well as the poor in spirit of the virtual world!
    God bless you and keep you safe.

  • Jadissock

    I think you will find that Ms Lardeur has connections with ACTA – no surprise there then.

  • anarchicprune

    I don’t think that some parishioners up and down the country are aware that their parish priest gives food etc. to people who knock on their doors at all hours.
    The negative reaction to Fr. Ray’s honest words says a lot about society and the ivory-tower-dwelling, gossiping hacks who haven’t a clue about living hand-to-mouth.
    Is talking or blogging or writing about the harsh, filthy, tragic reality of poverty now a subject that is beyond the pale?
    Why shouldn’t he talk about it? Why the heck not? Isn’t the uncomfortable truth also what the priestly ministry is about?
    I could think of thousands of blogs, tweets and other things that are a lot further beyond the pale than anything Fr. Ray has written!
    Does such poverty only happen thousands of miles away?
    Perhaps +Conry could spend a week with Fr. Ray and, while +Conry is at it, the Missionaries of Charity (Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s order who take in, feed, wash and clothe the poorest of the poor in many countries, including those in the so-called rich countries).
    Whereas Fr. Ray has written the blog, the Missionaries of Charity could write the book on the realities of poverty.
    We need more like you, Fr. Ray!!
    PS: Then again, there is the poorest of the poor who are starved of knowing Almighty God.

  • buckingham88

    Fr Ray tells it as it is.
    Inviting the street person into one’s home is fraught with difficulty. For them the street is the best available option as they have left or been evicted from all other places.
    Personal hygiene,addiction,odd behaviour and kleptomania, are the things they struggle with.
    Inner city churches may not welcome them, unless they are ”praying, paying,Catholics’ appropriately dressed and had a shower before entering the Church.
    Fr Ray appears to be ‘where the rubber meets the road’.
    May his work increase.

  • Nicolas Bellord

    One can see her views in a comment at:

    http://www.associationofcatholicpriests.ie/2012/06/a-call-to-action/

    She also seems to write on something called A&B Blog.
    What I find curious is why someone who seems to have liberal views should write what they have done so about Father Blake. The Father Blake controversy seems to have nothing to do with the traditional v liberal debate. However I suppose Father Blake is seen as being on the traditional wing. Perhaps liberals think it proper therefore to try and undermine him just because he is traditional. I find that rather sad.

  • mikethelionheart

    Worse than sad; wicked.

  • Benedict Carter

    Nicolas, it has EVERYTHING to do with the “traditional v liberal debate”.

    Charity on one side, but “structural sin” on the other (the latter doesn’t need any personal involvement with the poor at all, just political action).

    The Sacraments which give us Grace which enables charity vs. some kind of woolly “justice and peace” on the other.

    Different religions. One has Grace and charity, which saves us; the other is mere left-wing politics.

  • http://brotherlapin.com/ morrisdonk

    If you are an official spokesperson for the dissent group “ACTA” you should not be using an alias anyway. Declare yourself openly please, so we can assess your bias in context.

  • http://jabbapapa.wordpress.com/ Julian Lord

    What I find curious is why someone who seems to have liberal views

    The eventual goal of ACTA is the abolishment of the priesthood and thereby the entire destruction of the Catholic Church — WHY on EARTH should one of its most prominent members support ANY priest, except ones who are in line with their destructive agenda ?

  • teigitur

    It is of no surprise to most of us. Sad state of affairs.