Starting Point
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Issue Date:  May 5, 2006

Starting Point


On a service trip to Guatemala, one of the lay missioners I was staying with took me to the workshop of a young woodcarver. The young man was deaf, and had learned carving as a skill by which to survive. He had become so good at his trade and his statues were so sought after that his work actually supported himself and 11 other family members.

I ordered a statue of a Madonna, which the young man indicated would cost me $30 and be ready in three or four months. The statue would be delivered by another missioner returning home who happened to also live in Chicago.

My conscience bothered me when I thought about paying someone only $30 to carve a large and finely detailed piece of work. I thought of all the people this young man was supporting, and, through the translator, offered him more money.

The woodcarver looked at me quizzically for a moment, and then, shrugging, told us that $30 was sufficient for the amount of work the statue would require. That statue sits on my kitchen window ledge, and every day it seems to whispers to me, “Remember now, don’t take more in this life than you need today.”

In a world in which we may easily think making as much profit as we are able is our birthright, this little Madonna from Guatemala reminds me that there is another way to live, with honesty and dignity, walking softly upon this earth and taking only what is needed.

Karen O’Brien writes from Chicago.

National Catholic Reporter, May 5, 2006

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