Thursday, May 16, 2013

Attraction For the Free Gift

A religious order priest was recently embarrassed by an incident in his life, and so upset at what he felt it said about him that it became the subject of his Catholic Times column on spirituality.  Admiring Pope Francis for his simplicity of life and love of St. Francis, and his own religious call to  poverty, he remembered vividly straying from this intention.

One day while he was on the way to the barbers, two young men standing outside a van by the side of the road called out that they were giving free rice noodles at a near-by building. Always attracted to what was free, he said he could not let this opportunity pass. Since he had time to spare, off he went to the building, where there were others waiting for the gift. However, it was not a quick and done deal. The men gave those waiting a black plastic bag, containing about 10 tora seeds, and spoke of how good it was for the eyes. Impatient for the rice noodles, he wondered when the free gift would be handed out. But they brought out another black bag, and began explaining  the health benefits of ginseng.
It soon became evident what the men were up to. They were marketers, he said, publicizing the benefits of red ginseng from Korea, touting its superiority over Chinese ginseng. But he was not interested; all he wanted was the free rice noodles. Many of the others, realizing what was happening, quietly left but he remained, intent on getting his gift. And then another black bag was passed around, containing a bar of soap made with rice. Finally, a well-dressed man took over and tried to sell the Korean red ginseng at a reduced price.

He did finally receive the bag of rice noodles, the priest said, but he felt deceived, though leaving the scene with the four or five black bags, headed for the barber shop and then returned to the monastery. On reflection, he realized that the free rice noodles were not free. He said that his hope to get something for nothing had led to his wasting three hours of his time. It was a surprise to him, he said, that despite his resolve to abide by Pope Francis' example, simply hearing the word 'free' was enough to change this intention.

That evening he had a late evening rice noodles snack, tora tea, washed his face with the rice soap, and went to bed. The habit of spiritual poverty made him use well what he had received. But at the same time he resolved to act differently in the future.


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