Uncle Jack

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It was a typically autumn evening, wet and windy. I was keen on visiting dear Uncle Jack. I knew him for well over a decade when I first came to Wales. He was full of wit and wisdom and loved walking over hills and valleys, a real outdoor man, one would say. When the distance was too long, he had recourse to his three wheeler red car. He lived alone and was independent. I recall on one occasion when I went to minister at his little village church in Gellilydan, after the service was over and the church had emptied out, he quietly stole into the sacristy and slipped an offering into my hands. “Please keep it for yourself!” he quickly added and, even as I thanked him for his largesse, he left. He had little but he gave much because he had a large heart. It was indeed a big offering because a gift is measured not by the gift of the lover but rather by the love of the giver. He needed the money more than I did. To refuse his gift would have been tantamount to rejecting his love. I accepted it with a humble and grateful heart knowing that it came from his goodness and generosity. I find this universally characteristic of the poor: they give when they themselves are in need; they give from a heart that is rich; they give without counting or calculating. Indeed, theirs is the beatitude of knowing that there is greater happiness in giving than in receiving.

But times had changed. Now at eighty-four dear Uncle Jack was in a home for the elderly alone in a cubicle. He shared how difficult it was for him to adjust to his new surroundings. He who loved the open countryside now found himself constricted in a little room. He who walked miles on end now hobbled along with the help of a stick. He missed his own little cottage in the village. That was his home. That is where he felt at home. The Home for the Elderly where he now was, surely looked after him and was more comfortable. However, there is more a person needs, particularly as he advances in years, than mere physical care. This was not his home. Indeed, there can never be a substitute for home. In his own little cottage where he was on his own, he never felt lonely. Here where he lived with others he felt isolated. He who for years was so independent fending for himself now felt dependent like a little child as everything was being done for him by way of care at the home. Indeed, for the past four months that he was here it had been very mortifying!

Then came the moment of grace for me! He stretched himself across his bed and reached for the floor near the wall. He wanted to show me something very precious. He picked up his large personal crucifix which he had tucked away to hide it from public view. He showed it to me and said: “Father, he did it voluntarily! He did it voluntarily!” There was a lump in my throat. While in formation I had listened to lectures on soteriology, how Jesus died to save us. They went to my head. But what Uncle Jack now said went to my heart because they came from his heart. Cor ad cor loquitur. Heart speaks to heart. Even though he could have hung that crucifix along the wall, there was more than one hook on which it could have been easily suspended, he preferred to keep it hidden not so much because he did not want to be badgered with questions but more because, I like to think, he wanted it to be his secret love affair with Jesus. As I took leave, I asked him to bless me. He did. We took the lift and descended to the dining room. I returned home feeling singularly blessed for I knew that Uncle Jack after dinner would be back to his cubicle, once again happy to be alone with Jesus, even if under his bed, having Him all to himself!

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