Thursday, June 18, 2009

large gifts to unlikely recipients

This story of St Aidan came my way from Frans Zoer of the Amsterdam Catholic Worker community.

“He [King Oswin] had given to Bishop Aidan a very faire and proper gelding ... to passe over waters and ditches, or when any other necessitie constrained. It fortuned shortly after, a certaine poore weake man met the Bishop, riding on his gelding, and craved an almes of him. The Bishop as he was a passing pitefull man and a very father to needy persons, [alighted] and gave the poore man the gelding, gorgeously trapped as he was. The King hearing after hereof, talked of it with the Bishop, as they were entering the palace to dinner, and saied, What meaned you, my Lord, to give awaie to the beggar that faire gelding which we gave you for your own use? Have we no other horses of lesse price ... to bestowe upon the poore, but that you must give awaie that princely horse? To whom the Bishop answered, Why talketh your Grace thus? Is that broode of the mare dearer in your sight than that son of God, the poore man? Which being said they entered for to dine. The Bishop took his place appointed, but the King would stand a while by the fire ... where musing with himself upon the wordes which the Bishop had spoken, suddenly put off his sword and came in great haste to the Bishop, falling downe at his feete, and beseeching him not to be displeased with him for the wordes he had spoken, saying he would never ... measure any more hereafter what or how much he should bestow of his goods upon the sonnes of God, the poore.” (From a chapter on St. Aidan and his royal friends, St. Oswald & St. Oswin, in “A Procession of Saints” by James Brodrick, SJ (London 1949), twelve stories on English and Irish saints, p. 109- 110.)

St Aidan and St Oswin lived in the seventh century. Their lives are known from Bede’s writings. Brodrick is quoting Bede from the translation made by Thomas Stapleton in 1565.

Frans recognized in this ancient story a similar one related in Love is the Measure, my biography of Dorothy Day:

“From time to time Dorothy was able to set a stunning example of giving away what was given to the Catholic Worker. Another story told by Tom Cornell recalls a well-dressed woman who visited the Worker house one day and gave Dorothy a diamond ring. Dorothy thanked the visitor, slipped the ring in her pocket, and later in the day gave it to an old woman who lived alone and often ate her meals at St. Joseph’s. One of the staff protested to Dorothy that the ring could better have been sold at the Diamond Exchange and the money used to pay the woman’s rent for a year. Dorothy replied that the woman had her dignity and could do as she liked with the ring. She could sell it for rent money or take a trip to the Bahamas. Or she could enjoy having a diamond ring on her hand just like the woman who had brought it to the Worker. ‘Do you suppose,’ Dorothy asked, ‘that God created diamonds only for the rich?’”


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