Sometimes you see something that captures your imagination and dominates your thinking for a while. That happened to me recently.
The St. Vincent de Paul Society in Australia is running a program for those who are hungry. It is a Christmas Appeal. They created a simple poster that portrays a child with a rather forlorn look sitting in front of a bowl. To the side, one reads: “Mum didn’t eat last night so I could.” The implied appeal clutched at my heart. I felt its unalloyed truth. Many other legitimate requests for help are evident at this time, but I have not been able to get this one out of my mind. For me, the poster prompted me to several reflections.
First, the idea that a parent would deny him/herself for the sake of a child goes without doubt. I can envision my own mother’s willingness to deny herself in order to provide a necessary nourishment for one of my brothers or sisters or myself. To consider that a poor parent would offer this “no greater love” sacrifice seems not only possible but also likely. It touches my soul. (“Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb?” [Isa4 9:15].)
Second, I imagined the look on the face of the child as embracing some mix of love and guilt. Even a child can know that he/she receives special treatment. Mom and Dad do not share in a meal with them. I perceive that, on some level, the child knows that Mom and Dad must be hungry because he/she is hungry. An awareness that he/she receives at the cost of a loved one cannot be ignored. One spots the loss of weight, energy, and stamina.
Third, the food suggested as offered to the child is modest. I conceive the amount as small and the quality as average. The child, however, is in no situation to refuse or complain. The need to eat something overcomes any grumbling or pettiness. I envision the child eating speedily and attentively as the parent watches and wonders about the source of the next meal.
I can tell myself other stories about this family situation. You can see how it has taken hold of some of my thinking in these days.
All these thought summon me to a greater generosity. To describe the blessedness of my situation and the lack of need in my life requires no effort and can be embarrassing when measured against the real insufficiency in the lives of so many of my brothers and sisters. When the wants of a child enters the picture, the contrast becomes unbearable. How this situation often gets resolved in a family leaves little doubt.
The virtue of generosity resides deeply within our Vincentian charism. I pray that I/we may hear its clear call in these days.