An American priest tells the following story.
His grandfather, afraid of flying, drove 3,000 miles to attend his ordination - and of course another 3,000 to get back. A few years later he was discovered with cancer. It was now the young man’s turn to drive 3,000 miles. His grandfather was still well enough to be about, and they went to a music store together. “What’s your favourite music?” asked the grandfather. “I could listen to John Denver all day,” replied the priest. So the old man bought him a CD (they were new at the time). But a CD isn't much use without a CD player, so he bought him one. The young man played it all the way home, and used it for years, often having to have it repaired. When the old man died, it became even more valuable. By now there were much better machines on the market, but none could compare with this old one. It was more than a CD player; it was like the presence of his grandfather. “It had meaning for me,” he said, “because it was a gift. For me, it was a connection to my grandfather; it evoked memories of him, of those fun days we spent together, memories of his wicked grin that always melted into a warm and loving smile. Because that CD player was a gift from him, it held a meaning for me that nobody would be able to detect by just looking at it.”
    Then one day it was stolen. It even happened to have that John Denver CD in it at the time. What hurt him most was the thought that the person who stole it probably hated it and threw it away after a day or two! “I'll soon as [the thief] got the CD home, and opened it up, and found the John Denver CD in there, I'll bet he snorted and said, "What is this junk?" and threw the CD in the trash. He had no idea whatsoever what he had just done. There is no way he could know what that CD or the CD player meant to me. He couldn't see the meaning, because for him it wasn't a gift.”
    He continued to tease out this meaning. “Suppose you had asked that teenage thief what it was that he stole. He'd say he stole a CD player, nothing more. Suppose further that you were to ask him what that CD means. What would he reply? He'd say, "Whaddya mean, what does it mean? It doesn't mean anything. It's just a CD player, it's just a mechanical device made of metal and plastic, it doesn't have any deep meaning." Suppose further that you were to say to him, "No, you're wrong, that CD player appears to be just a machine, but it actually has a deep meaning due to where it came from." What would he say? He'd say, "How should I know where it came from? I don't know where it came from, and I don't care. What is the meaning of this CD? There isn't any. It's mine now, and I can do whatever I want with it, and that's the only meaning it has."
    Then the wider application. What is the meaning of life? Some people say that life has no meaning; they say that life is just a biological process, the chance result of some primordial ooze getting hit by lightning; they say that we're nothing more than very clever animals. Like that thief, they don't see the meaning because they don't know that it's a gift. The meaning of life is that it's a gift. That CD player meant a lot because it was a gift from his grandfather. Life has meaning because it is a gift from God.

Donagh O'Shea

These are brief articles, one per month,
on a wide variety of topics concerning the living of the Christian life.