“None of you can be my disciple unless he gives up all his possessions.”


The communal sharing of food

There used to be a tradition in Ireland that at a christening the godparents would give the newly baptised infant a little silver christening cup. But when my mother was asked to be godmother to my cousin Catherine, she didn’t have the money to get it immediately.

But eventually it was bought.
And then it had to be engraved.
And then it had to be polished.
And then I think if we are honest, it got a little bit forgotten about, gathering dust on a high shelf.
Then my family moved to another part of the country.
And then Catherine’s family moved to the other end of the country.

So, in the end, what with life, the universe and everything, Catherine only finally got to receive her little silver christening cup at her seventh birthday party. It was all very suitably presented to her, nicely wrapped up with flowery paper. And, being a very well brought-up young lady, Catherine was very pleased to get it and said “Thank You” very nicely. And the birthday party went on.

Perhaps a couple of hours later, Catherine’s best friend picked up the silver cup and said how much she liked it and how much she wished someone would give something like that to her. Catherine, without another thought, said she could keep it. But Catherine’s mother was shocked and scandalised. You don’t give away your sterling silver christening cup - not ever! And certainly not after you’ve just spent seven years waiting for it and the giver is still in the room!

Immediately she intervened, snatched the cup back from Catherine’s best friend and returned it to its rightful owner. The result of course was two howling seven-year olds. But Catherine’s mother was too busy apologizing to my mother: “I’m ever so sorry. Catherine doesn’t yet understand the value of things.”

“Ah yes,” said my mother, “but she does understand the value of people”.

Ok, let me tell you another one that goes with it.

When I was working in the Rupununi in South America among the Amerindians I was asked to go and see a man called Crispin. Crispin had been given the chance of a lifetime – the chance to go to the capital city, Georgetown, and get a good job there. It was a great chance for him, for his family and even for the whole village. But Crispin didn’t want to go. And he wouldn’t tell anyone why. So I was asked to go and talk some sense into him.

Now I don’t know if you know any Amerindians, but the key thing when dealing with them is that you have to take things very slowly and gently. Village people are a peace loving lot and don’t like any sort of confrontation.

So we started off talking about the weather. And we both agreed that we had never seen the rains so late in the season.
And then we talked about his farm and he told me about his worries for next year’s cassava crop.

And eventually we got around to talking about the job. And he agreed that it was a big opportunity for him. He could see the benefits for himself, for his family, for his village. And so, after a little while – probably about two hours – which, in that part of the world, is only a little while, we got to the point. If he was clear in his mind that this was a good opportunity for himself, for his family and for his village, then why didn’t he want to go?

“Well, you see Father,” he said, “two years ago, when we had the hunger, my family had the least food of the whole village. And people shared with us. One man – I didn’t know him well – but he shared his last bowl of cassava with me. If I go to the city and there is a hunger, who will share their cassava with me?

So I tried to explain – the city is a big place – there are lots of people; they have lots of money; they can truck in food from all over the country. There won’t be a hunger there.

He thought about that. And then asked again, “But, Father, what happens if the hunger isn’t just for food?”

I tried to explain that there are many good people in the city. Even deeper hungers can be satisfied.

Crispin thought about that for quite a while.

And then I could see him make his mind up. A little light of decision came into his eyes.

“Well, Father,” he said slowly, “you may be right. But, even so, I always want to live my life in a place where a man will share his last bowl of cassava with me. And that place is here.”

And so, as it happens, Crispin never did go to Georgetown. He never did get the big job and is probably to this day still growing his field of cassava and worrying about how late the rains are this season.

And as I left him, I was thinking about Catherine’s silver cup. Because we all want to live our lives in a place where people are more important than things and where, when the Hunger comes (whatever kind of Hunger it happens to be) there will be a community which supports us and a man – or a woman - who will share with us their last bowl of cassava.

We call that place the Kingdom of God and I believe that is the place where the Lord invites all of us to live.

Paul O'Reilly SJ