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Fr Ray Hemingray has shared his thought for today, Sunday 10th January 2021.


Those of us of a certain age will remember the actor David Niven. He once said this on the subject of unselfishness: “Going to war was the only unselfish thing I have ever done for humanity.” We often think of those who volunteered for service in the two great wars as heroes, because they put the safety and well-being of the people and the things they loved and cherished before their own personal safety.

During the past week, perhaps more than any other week during the pandemic, our televisions have been showing us scenes of selfless medical staff struggling to cope with a relentless stream of hospital admissions of those suffering from Covid-19, pushing hospital resources and manpower to the limit. I am sure we would all want to applaud the medical staff who put the care of their patients before their own health and safety. Most are working longer hours than normal, and many are suffering physically and mentally as a result. This is the epitome of unselfishness. They are all heroes.

One of the good things that has come out of the pandemic is that it has spurred many people on to be more concerned about their ‘neighbours’, in the widest sense of that word. Many people have been giving help to people they would not normally meet or speak to (or even people they will never know), particularly helping the elderly and the infirm. More heroes!

Just picking up the phone to talk to someone who is alone and having no visitors during this difficult time can help relieve the isolation, loneliness or fear which many people experience. Giving a little of our time can go a long way to making a difference to the lives of others who are struggling.

Giving time to others is a ‘win-win’ situation. Both the giver and the receiver feel better for it. The French priest and philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once said: ‘The most satisfying thing in life is to have been able to give a large part of oneself to others.’

Being unselfish means that the needs of other people are more important than one’s own. In the early days of the Salvation Army, their founder, William Booth, found himself unable to attend a national convention, because of ill-health. So he sent to the convention a telegram, which contained only one word: ‘Others’.

‘Unselfishness’ is a strange word. It combines two negatives – ‘un’ and ‘selfishness’ – and proves that two negatives can make a positive! Perhaps a simpler alternative word would be ‘love’. Unselfishness and love towards our neighbour are both about giving, without expecting to receive something in return. If we do receive thanks in return, it is a bonus.

A mother was once telling her little daughter that there was a Golden Rule, which said that we are here to help others. The little girl thought for a moment and replied: ‘Well what are the others here for?’ We should be grateful of the opportunity to help others. There is always the risk that one day you or I might be one of the ‘others’ needing help! I am sure we will then be very grateful for any help we might receive.

Unselfishness was summed up in that well-known prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola:

Teach us, Good Lord,
To serve Thee as Thou deservest;
To give and not to count the cost;
To fight and not to heed the wounds;
To labour and not to ask for any reward,
save that of knowing that we do Thy will.

Fr. Ray