No silver spoon, but I was born to advantage as one of twelve brothers and sisters of a farm family. Just about all of my New Riegel, Ohio classmates came from large, farming families of German origin. (When I was studying theology, two of these friends came to visit, and we realized that between our three families, there were thirty-seven siblings.) Just about everyone got up early to milk cows and slop hogs before going to school, and by the end of May, all the boys and some girls had “farmer tans,” dark skin on the face, chest, and arms below shirt sleeves. We were all in the same boat, so none of us felt disadvantaged.
Instead, being born into a large, struggling farm family turned out to be an excellent advantage for me. Apart from missing my family and the family farm, I didn’t find seminary life much of a sacrifice. My only prized possessions were my tennis racket (Thanks, Uncle Joe and Aunt Catherine!) and an electric typewriter (Thanks, Jerry and Juane Wampach!). I admired other seminarians who also lived, and still live, very simply.
After ordination, I was sent to a parish in Indianapolis with Friars Sebastian, Eliot, and Germain. Simple was good for them too. In those days, I began to feel the call to be a missionary and, after receiving a sign from God, volunteered to go to Zambia, where a friar from my hometown was serving. But Friar Larry, the Minister Provincial, said I was needed more in Honduras, in Central America. He said I could learn Spanish down there.
So, I headed into the hills of Honduras, to Tegucigalpa, where one of our friars had opened a seminary. But that friar had such a soft heart that he took in not just seminarians but any guy who wanted to study. The two of us priest friars, plus friars in first vows, novices, and postulants, and also other students in grade school, middle school, high school, and college, all lived in rooms with lots of bunk beds. There was not nearly enough food to go around. All of us were losing weight. I remember being so hungry I would suck on pineapple rinds and found them pretty tasty!
God sent me a poor family. Delia, José, and their eight kids lived in a two-room ramshackle house with a dirt floor, just a few minutes down the road from the seminary. José was laid-back and spent his days selling lottery tickets outside a local market. Delia was not at all laid-back; she was busy with her kids, washing laundry and cooking, busy with our parish, busy with neighbors, busy trying to make a little money on stuff like sawmill scraps. Somehow, they not only fed their family but shared with others – like, hungry me! I had a standing invitation every Tuesday evening, and that simple dinner of rice, beans, and scrumptious hot tortillas was one of the highlights of my week.
I had been born to advantage, and now I was taken aback by the kindness and generosity of Delia and José. They reminded me that I didn’t need all the stuff that people yearn for. They reminded me that life is more than stuff. They reminded me that God is simple, simply Good, Good that has to overflow. They reminded me that for you and me too, simple is good, and good is generous.