The legacy with which we are left is not only a quantifiable improvement of society's imperfections but, above all, the creation of an ethos founded on the fulfilment of hope through faith.
It is an indefinable quality which separates these men and women from us ordinary mortals and leads them to perform countless acts, recognised and unknown, which for us remain only dreams. One way towards understanding is through the Holy Scriptures and in this context Psalm 15 gives us an insight. It is inescapable, however, that the manifestation of the Holy Spirit is beyond our comprehension, although we may be certain that the lives of individual Christians bring us all closer to a knowledge of the Trinity.
I recently discovered New Lives for Old, the Story of the Cheshire Homes with a foreword by Gp Capt Leonard Cheshire VC. After nearly an hour on the train home I had read only two pages and stopped at this sentence:
'In my own opinion the great mission of those who suffer and are in want is to draw out the inherent goodwill that is in all of us, and so to make us forget ourselves and draw closer one to another in our common journey through life.'
This turns the conventional concept of mission into a reality for everyone. If we accept this statement there is nowhere for us to hide, no more excuses, however seemingly well-founded. For we all suffer and are in want, even if some of us are more entitled than others to ask, 'Where is God when it hurts?'
The creation of a major charity involves a succession of stages of growth, each of which engender their own particular strategy. Many of the changes have been due to the increasing size of the operation, but there are also changes of direction. Over the last 45 years since the Cheshire Foundation Homes for the Sick was incorporated, there has been a staggering alteration from trusting laissez-faire to comparatively intensive regulation. Reason encourages caution and compliance with the rules of the world, but faith keeps you in the lead, setting the pace.
It is principally the preoccupation with money that prevents charities from getting on with the work they should do, and, indeed, prevents men and women from being who they should be. Cheshire himself felt that his principal concern was to get on with the creation of homes, which would receive the blessing of money subsequently.
There is something else that will break upon us when we allow ourselves to be open to the influence of great lives. It is possible to love someone without having met them. To see Christ in others is sometimes extremely burdensome and we must be glad and give thanks for those who make this easier for us. That is the only reason that I rejoice I never had the honour to meet Cheshire face to face but have instead been given the opportunity to be a part of the continuance of his life's work because this is one way to learn more about his life itself.
Unreasoning faith is a gift but it has to be worked at and built upon. It is sufficient to live one day at a time and trust the future to God and it seems that the greater the faith, the more this is possible against the powerful forces of erosion that are inherent in our society. In this Cheshire was, indeed, a pathfinder for he at once trusted in divine providence although he did not accept the status quo. The qualities that he had in abundance were courage, integrity and perseverance but it was a simple faith that maintained him on the narrow path.
In the New Testament love and charity are synonymous. 'So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love' is given to us in I Corinthians xiii. 13. It is easy and perhaps even a fashionable evasion to confuse 'love' with 'like'. We are not called upon to like everything about our fellow humans though it is a Christian act to love them as made in the image of God. Here, it may well be, is an interpretation of 'charity'.
Some of us may remember seeing the exhortation 'Join the Navy and see the world', and also recall the rather superior graffiti accompaniment 'Join the RAF and see the next.' Conversion to Christianity for most of us is not a blinding flash of inspiration as on the Road to Emmaus, a preservation from danger or the loss of someone we love. A combination of events leads us to a realisation of the inevitability of God's purpose for us.
So few are given the Holy Spirit in such measure as Cheshire that we forget that it is our choice and responsibility to make the best use of the talents that we have been given through Grace (the wholly undeserved love of God). It is lives such as his that encourage a reaction to the ever present Holy Spirit in whatever walk of life we are chosen to serve. In trying to create something exceptional, we may fail, and when we do so, begin to believe that faith is making unreasonable demands on us. The only way out of such a swamp of despair is to contemplate the example of those who had greater faith, and who can make it all seem reasonable.
The manifestation of God in others is personal to the individual. We should not be afraid of identifying with those people and causes that we admire most, because we must all work out our own path to fulfilment and that is sometimes arduous and often appears impossible. It is certain, though, that to some is given the wherewithal to help us to be good, to have courage and and to be true to ourselves. Leonard Cheshire was one of these few and he really was 'something else'.Reuse content