Tie weather forecasters were wrong: the bank holiday was a lovely, bright day, though not what you would call warm. Normally bank holidays don't make much difference to my routine, but this Monday, for the first time in a long time, I had a day without any calls to the hospital. I was able to do a bit of gardening and ironing, and even watch a little of Ben-Hur.
On Saturday I went to bless a house. To the Filipino couple who have bought it, it must seem like something of a dream. Though a very modest place on a rather run-down council estate, it is costing them somewhere in the region of 160 times what a house would cost in the Philippines. The house blessing in an integral part of what turns out to be a housewarming party.
When I arrive at 4 pm friends and neighbours are there waiting and the party commences with my blessing the house. Then there is a sumptuous feast laid on, provided by family and friends. I know that they are in some ways a community in exile, which always strengthens bonds, but it is impossible not to be moved by the way that family, faith and community all come together in this celebration. What is being celebrated is not just a housewarming, not just a foot on the property ladder; this is a celebration of home, of putting down roots in friendship and faith.
Seeing it all is to suddenly become aware of how fragmented English family life has become by comparison. It is rare to be asked to bless any homes other than those of immigrants. I can't help thinking that the Filipino people model in themselves a vision of community that seems so attractive and admirable amid the deprived appearance of the estate. So many of them work all the hours God sends; they find joy in raising families and still never miss Mass on Sunday, often coming straight from a long shift on the ward. They are a real inspiration. I cannot stay long at the party as I have Confessions and the evening Mass to occupy me. As I am locking the church after these, the couple come by with a huge "doggy bag" of food from their feast and an offering for the church. How amazingly thoughtful of them.
The candidates for the local election have been canvassing. It is interesting to see their startled reaction to a clerical collar when I open the door. Even the man from the Christian People's Alliance looked somewhat taken-aback. I find the state of local politics even more depressing than national politics, perhaps because one is naïve enough to imagine that at local level the concrete interests of real people might actually make a significantly impact on the process. The twin obsessions locally seem to be with recycling and creating systems to cripple the flow of traffic. Meanwhile planning policy seems perverse and partial towards corporate interest; faith schools are under attack; and the care of the elderly barely seems to figure at all in any manifesto, with the exception of that of the Christian People's Alliance.
Some years ago the Government cleverly off-loaded the residential care of the elderly away from the NHS on to local authorities, thereby delaying the meltdown that is inevitable with such an ageing population. Thus the state can shift the tax burden further on to local authorities, which are also increasingly charging for services to the elderly in their own homes.
I am so fed-up with the endless verbiage about creating safer, cleaner communities, working to build a better borough etc. When will they learn that councils and political initiatives do not create communities? People do people like my Filipino couple. living decent, hardworking, moral lives and literally making society by the way they embrace the gift of children and care for them. Local government does little to support them, beyond contributing towards the education of their children and collecting their rubbish.
Yet there they are, in the midst of that feral estate, embodying the kind of values that would transform it and having to pay nearly £1,500 council tax for their tiny little house out of nurses' salaries. What monstrous folly for the council to talk about creating community on the basis that what binds us together is our conviction that cars are evil and so too is throwing away tin cans and bottles.
I celebrated two years in my parish last week. It has gone incredibly quickly. There is much to thank God for here, and much still to be done. I think of the psalmist's conviction that unless the Lord builds the house, in vain do the builders labour. An awareness that this is so might be what emerges as the strain running through these muddled reflections on another week, another year.