There are many rooms in my father's house


Image by Peter Oswald used from

I remember very clearly the day when I realised that I was just not cut out to be the medical director of a Christian hospital. It was the entire day that I spent trying to allocate fairly four prime car-parking spaces between six senior doctors. It was a huge issue involving wounded pride, insulted egos and bitter recriminations that never – even after the expenditure of vastly disproportionate time and all the charm I was capable of - reached any satisfactory conclusion. And the one thing in all of that day that completely baffled me – and still does to this day - was that of those six Christian doctors, competing for those four car parking spaces, only two of them actually possessed a car!

Sadly, it is when it comes to the sharing of scarce resources and the absolute terror we all have of not getting our fair share, that we can often show ourselves at our least Christian.

Well, a long time ago, when I was young and foolish, I decided that I wanted to be a Jesuit. And so with a number of other similarly foolish young men, I went on a retreat for seven days to pray and reflect about whether or not the Lord was actually calling me to be a Jesuit. And - we went - about 15 of us – in fact, come to think of it, there were exactly 15 of us - to a house near the sea where we were to stay for the retreat. And the trouble started just as soon as we got there. We found that for the 15 of us, there were just eight narrow single beds.

So the first eight people to arrive had got all the beds. Then the other seven complained that this was unfair and they thought we should draw lots so that everyone would have a chance. So some of us agreed to this. But then some people decided that they had serious back problems and they definitely had to have a bed. But then just about everybody suddenly seemed to have a back problem. And at this stage, you could just see tempers beginning to fray. So we thought: “OK, just hold right there for a moment, before this all gets seriously out of hand, let’s just go and ask the Novice-Master in charge of the retreat what we should do.”

So we went. And he listened to us very carefully until everyone had spoken who had something to say. And then he said: “But there’s plenty of room for everyone - I made sure of that. Have you checked the other side of the house?

There was a long puzzled silence.

And so he led us through a door and showed us that there were two sides to the house - eight beds in one side and eight beds in the other, making a total of sixteen in all: fifteen for us and one for the novice master. And at that moment, we all took a good long at ourselves and felt very, very small. Here we were coming to follow Jesus poor, humble and giving away everything of himself including his life. And we had failed the first basic test. None of us who were there remember anything else that happened in the whole week, but we all remember that!

Most times when people fight – whether as individuals, groups or nations - they do so because they believe that their only chance to get what they need is to grab it quick to prevent the other lot from getting it first. Sometimes - in fact I think quite often - we are so quick to want to fight to get what we think is our fair share that we forget even to count up how much there is to share. As a holy man once said - our world provides enough for everyone’s need, but not for every one’s greed.

There are many rooms in our father’s house. So the next time - before we fight – over money, or politics, or religion, or immigration, or car-parking spaces, or whatever - let’s just check both sides of the house, because you never know, there just might be room for everybody. As Jesus tells us, Our Father’s house is always just that little bit bigger than we imagine.

Paul O'Reilly SJ