Leon ie Caldecott
my 14-year-old daughter has always had an dimity with birds, revelling in the stay of St Francis preaching to the birds, and it is her dearest wish to have a similarly close contact with the feathered creatures of the sky. Last summer, her wish appeared to have been granted when a fledgling sparrow hurled itself against the kitchen window and fell to the ground. Deciding from the colouring of the sparrow that it was a female, my daughter named her Padme and, over the next few days, did everything she could for the little bird. At first we had _reason to hope that she might survive, as she fed eagerly on the small amounts of bread soaked in milk offered to her. Sadly, however, Padme was too damaged by her initial fall; she could fly a little, but she was incapable of standing upright when she landed. On the third night after her arrival in our house, Padme died.
I thought of this incident when I heard last Sunday's Gospel. "Can you not buy two sparrows for a penny? And yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father knowing." The tears that were shed when the little bird gave up the ghost seemed to me to touch on what she represented, as much as the creature herself. The tiny, feathered body, the delicate legs and beak, the darting black eye, the perfectly formed wings fluttering about the kitchen, trying to take flight in the garden, all of it was a testament to the genius of her creator. How much more, then, the wonder and beauty of the human creature who cared for the little sparrow on God's behalf?
Oddly enough, David Seaman's face as England was dispatched out of the World Cup reinforces the point. Seeing the nasty fall he took just before half-time, I was astonished to see him, after a bit of medical attention, which I assume included painkillers, continue in goal. As the Brazilians shot their freakish second goal, it seemed to me obvious that Seaman had lost the edge of his concentration and stamina.
Yet to my surprise, all the hand-wringing coverage of the match seemed to virtually ignore the fact of the accident. I'm not by any means an expert on this game, but I do know a bit about how crippling a back injury can be, even for a powerfully built man like Seaman (who is also in his late thirties). It made me think again about the issue of vulner ability and error. With the best will in the world, disabling events occur, and it is doubly crippling if when this happens, we have to shoulder opprobrium or disdain along with the actual disappointment of defeat Yet it is not God's way to write us off under such circumstances. "Why every hair on your head has been counted. So there is no need to be afraid; you are worth more than hundreds of sparrows."
To have worked hard on something, to have gone to a great deal of trouble to bring about a good result, is a difficult background against which to fail. The devil uses this hiatus of striving, now dashed to the ground, to enter in with that fatal poison, despair.
Would that we could all behave like David Beckham, and rush to the defence of the wounded, exposed victim of circumstance, instead of standing on the side-lines making knowing comments. Would that we all had the nobility to say, finally, it's just a game (it's just the vale lacrymarum), let's remember the fine things you did, let's celebrate the successes we had, and leave the negative stuff to the spiritual power that feeds off negativity.
The England captain may have had his own moments of failure during the crucial match against Brazil, but he scored triumphantly in another forum. For if we can't show that we care about one another in our most vulnerable moments, we have lost the capacity to be Christian.
We may even have lost the capacity to be human.