The boundless rewards of giving

Second Reading

LOVE CONQUERS ‘The Cauld Blast’, by Joshua Hargrave Mann (1876), often used as a cover illustration for George Eliot’s famous book, ‘Silas Marner’. 


Second Reading
Fr Kevin Hegarty

In a recent Sunday Gospel read in Catholic churches, Jesus asserts one cannot be a slave of God and money. As I reflected on what I might say in church that Sunday, I recalled a novel I had studied for the Leaving Certificate many years ago.
‘Silas Marner’ was written by George Eliot, one of the major English novelists of the 19th century. Its central theme of redemption through love is telescoped in the experience of its main character.
Set in the early years of the 19th century it tells the story of a weaver. Silas practises his craft in a north English town and is also a member of a strict Calvinist congregation. His life falls apart when he is falsely accused and convicted of stealing the religious sect’s funds. His girlfriend, whom he had hoped to marry, abandons him.
Silas is forced to leave the town in disgrace and finds refuge in Raveloe, a quiet Warwickshire village. Here he establishes a reputation as a competent weaver, respected for his work. As a result of his traumatic experience he is acutely suspicious of people and lives as a recluse.
His only satisfaction is in the accumulation of money. In the evening he often spreads out his collection of gold coins, admiring their glow in the light of the fire.
Then disaster strikes again. He is robbed of his valuable hoard and is inconsolable.
A troubled young woman dies in a blizzard. Her two-year-old daughter wanders into Silas’s house. He welcomes her nourishes her and protects her. He grows to treasure her. He names her Eppie, after his deceased mother.
Silas has been deprived of his gold but believes it has been returned to him symbolically in the golden-haired child. She transforms his lonely life and frees him to trust in humanity again: ‘As her life unfolded, his soul long stupefied in a cold narrow prison, was unfolding too and trembling gradually into full consciousness’.
Eppie had come ‘to link him once more with the whole world’.
George Eliot told her publisher that in ‘Silas Marner’ she wanted to illustrate ‘in a strong light the remedial influences of pure, natural human relations’.
On the title page of the novel she quoted some lines of William Wordsworth:

A child, more than all other gifts
That earth can offer to declining man,
Brings hope with it, and forward-looking thoughts

In his caring for Eppie, Silas finds the meaning and fulfilment that had eluded him for so long. It is in giving that we receive gifts more precious then can be measured in money or property.
That is also the view of Yvon Chouinard, a passionate environmental activist, who has been in the news recently. Fifty years ago he founded the Patagonia company in the US. It which manufacturers quality ethical leisure wear, especially jackets, hats and ski pants; its gilet is a fashion staple for Silicon Valley workers.
The company is now worth $3 billion and makes profits of $100 million a year. In August, he, his wife and two adult children gave their company away. They transferred their shares into a newly established entity, The Patagonia Purpose Trust, a non-profit organisation. Its purpose is to use its resources to combat climate change and protect undeveloped land around the globe.
In an interview Chouinard stated: “We are going to give away the maximum amount of money to people who are actively working on saving the planet.”
May the rewards of his giving – counted in ecological gains – be multiple.