Fr Kevin Hegarty
Jesus Christ was a supreme storyteller. He knew it was an effective way of promoting his message as most of us love stories. That is why novels, serials and films are popular. Stories can enrich and inspire us. They can provoke us into thought. They can pose moral questions. Stories can challenge and even frighten us. Stories evoke what it means to be human. The stories of Jesus are called parables, they illustrate moral and spiritual lessons.
Take, for example, the parable of the rich man, proclaimed on a recent Sunday in churches. Having had a good harvest, he decides to build bigger barns to store his crops. He intends to ‘take things easy, eat, drink, have a good time’. He died, however, before he could indulge himself. The parable tells us that wealth does not guarantee longevity. Death ends ownership. In the earthy and pithy phrase, there is no tow-bar and trailer on a hearse. Nor is fulfilment to be found solely in material things.
Every time I read that parable, I recall a story entitled ‘The Contented Fisherman’, told by the Jesuit spiritual writer, Anthony de Mello:
The rich industrialist from the north was horrified to find the southern fisherman lying lazily beside his boat, smoking a pipe.
“Why aren’t you out fishing?” said the industrialist.
“Because I have caught enough fish for the day,” said the fisherman.
“Why don’t you catch some more?”
“What would I do with it?”
“You could earn more money,” was the reply. “With that you could have a motor fixed to your boat and go into deeper waters and catch more fish. Then you would make enough money to buy nylon nets. These would bring you more fish and more money. Soon you would have enough money to own two boats … maybe even a fleet of boats. Then you would be a rich man like me. Then you could really enjoy life.”
“What do you think I’m doing right now?”
It is also true that to share one’s wealth with those in need, not only helps them, but can also be cathartic for the giver. Letting go of what we do not need enhances our psychological wellbeing.
That has been the experience of Chuck Feeney, the Irish-American businessman. He made a fortune from operating duty-free shops at airports. In November 1984 he made a decision to give away his wealth to charitable causes. He was inspired by the Scottish philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, who said that the ‘millionaire is but a trustee for the poor’.
Since then, he has donated $8 billion through his organisation, Atlantic Philanthropies, to educational and charitable projects in Ireland, Australia, Vietnam and Cuba. He was especially generous to initiatives in Ireland that copper-fastened the peace process.
Feeney’s example encouraged the Indian billionaire, Amit Chandra, to devote much of his wealth to creating schools, hospitals and universities in his native country. In a letter to Feeney he thanked him for inspiring him to embark on this ‘joyous journey’. Feeney, himself says that giving away his wealth has been ‘lots of fun’.