The Great Lesson

A father once sat in his garden with his three children, and in the course of their conversation asked them this question:

“Suppose by a mere wish you could have anything your heart desired.  What would you choose?

“Oh, I should wish to be beautiful,” said his daughter, “for everybody enjoys beauty and everybody would like me.”

“How foolish you are,” said her brother, John.  “Do you remember how beautiful was your friend, Catherine, before her features were disfigured by smallpox?  No indeed;  beauty is too transient a thing.  My wish would be to become rich.  Money rules the world, and with it I could purchase anything my heart wanted.”

The older brother, Henry, then gave his opinion.

“I think you are foolish as our sister.  Riches are as easily lost as beauty.  As for me, my wish would be for wisdom.  No one can deprive you of that.”

The father, who had been listening silently, now stooped and with a stick described a number of zeroes in the sand, then added:

“All the things you have mentioned – beauty, riches and learning – are as nothing to a truly wise man.  They are like so many zeros.  But put a number before the zeros, and you turn them into a great treasure.  The only thing that really matters is virtue, for virtue alone makes a man beautiful, rich and learned.”

(Source: A Thought a Day, Assembled by a Father of the Society of St. Paul, copyright 1950).