Moved by what we see?

 ‘Of all the churches in Norwich doomed to ruin, St Swithin’s has lain longest in bad condition. Indeed, so bad has it been of late that it has been difficult to persuade some who surveyed its desolation from the top of a tram-car that it is a church at all.’

So wrote a newspaper correspondent in 1905, describing the little church of St Swithin at the end of St Benedict’s Street. Four years later, the same newspaper reported how the church had been completely restored and a mission hall built against the north side, all thanks to the generosity of an anonymous benefactor. The young, enthusiastic rector told how the man had come to visit him at the church, and during the visit he was called away to baptize a dying child. While waiting, the visitor was so moved by the poverty he saw around him that he promised to restore the church and provide a social centre where the people could meet and enjoy what leisure they had in comfortable surroundings. The man had been moved by what he saw, to give away much of what he had.

Zacchaeus too was moved to give away half of what he had to the poor. He was moved to act by his encounter with the Lord. Jesus did not condemn him for his sharp practice, or shame him for his grasping of money. He had seen a man despised, and accepted him for the man he was.

They must have talked of many things, they would not have sat in silence, who knows what Jesus said to him, but even before they went into Zacchaeus’ house the effect of Jesus on him was so profound that he voluntarily promised to give away half of his wealth to the poor and repay four times the amount to anyone he had cheated.

Wherever he went Jesus had an effect on people. Some were stirred to leave everything and follow him, others pressed forward through the crowds for his healing touch, or to hear his teaching. Some found his teaching too hard to take, others found him repellant, especially for mixing with people like Zacchaeus. They were enraged by him, they hated him and wanted him dead. Jesus had an effect on people, dividing them into those who could accept his word and those who could not. He was difficult to ignore.

How do we react to goodness in other people? Perhaps we may feel inadequate by comparison, feel resentful and look for the flaws, which must be lurking there. Do we feel a little bit shamed by comparison?  Or do we feel stirred to emulate them, to try that bit harder to do good ourselves. Do we think, if they can do it, so can I?

And what effect does Jesus have on us now? Does his teaching move us, does it penetrate the soul?  Or have we heard his teaching so many times that it has lost its impact, and we are no longer able surprised and challenged by the stories and teaching in the gospels. Have they become like old coins with their edges smoothed away?

Cardinal Mercier of Belgium recommended spending just five minutes in God’s presence for the Holy Spirit to have an effect on us. He called it ‘the secret of sanctity and happiness.’

“Every day for five minutes control your imagination and close your eyes to all the noises of the world in order to enter into yourself. Then, in the sanctuary of your baptized soul (which is the temple of the Holy Spirit) speak to that Divine Spirit, saying to Him:

'O Holy Spirit, beloved of my soul, I adore You. Enlighten me, guide me, strengthen me, console me. Tell me what I should do; give me Your orders. I promise to submit myself to all that You desire of me and to accept all that You permit to happen to me. Let me only know Your Will.'
If you do this, your life will flow along happily, serenely, and full of consolation, even in times of adversity.

Just five minutes, he recommends, to ask for our eyes to be open to the needs around us, for us to be transformed into people of goodness who in turn might have a transforming effect on other people. But are we willing to open ourselves to be moved by the Spirit, for the Spirit to have an effect on us?

The little church of St Swithin, is no longer a church; for the last forty years it has been the Norwich Arts Centre. But the flint Mission hall is still there and part of the complex. You can go and visit it, and imagine what a splendid place it must have been with its gothic windows, its stage, club-rooms kitchens and bathrooms, all built for the people in the slums around the church.

All built and given because one man was moved to act by what he saw around him.