A Donkey… for Real!

He was whisked away from the stable and taken to the town square. It seemed that his dream was coming true, sooner than he imagined!

“Whew! Good thing the war is over! I suffered a lot, more than the horses of the cavalry unit. I had to lug litres of water on my back every day… Make no mistake, I am the hero around here. Were it not for me, everyone would have died of thirst!” These were the reflections of the pack mule Perky, so named for his pointy ears and jaunty step.

The general’s lean, long-necked, and powerful warhorse, who bore a golden ensign for being the bravest and fastest mount in combat, looked down his snout scornfully:

“If you are really the hero you claim to be, where are your medals, your awards or at least your glorious battle scars?”

“But can’t you see my scar?” responded the donkey, twitching his long ears. “I have a deep and permanent mark down my spine from the harness that was strapped to me every day, with two very heavy gallons of water hanging one on each side. What is more, my hoofs are worn out from hauling supplies from dawn to dusk without a moment’s rest. Obviously, this deserves a bigger and better reward than yours, for you only carried a man on your back – a featherweight compared to the burden I had to bear.”

Turning to his distinguished equine companions, the general’s horse tossed his head disdainfully and remarked:

“My friends, do you see how unjustly this poor animal has been treated? The deeds he has just described make him worthy of first prize for being such a genuine… donkey. Let’s raise a cloud of dust to him!”

All the horses crowded around Perky, vigorously stamping their hooves, kicking up a thick cloud of dust. They whinnied and neighed, and finally went their way, leaving him alone in the stable. Despite the scorn, the little donkey lived up to the reputation of his species…

“None of them see my value. But what does that matter? I know that human beings appreciate me. Every once in a while, I hear one call another ‘a donkey’ by way of a compliment. It is the highest honour that a rational creature can receive! I also know that they consider it insulting to be called ‘a horse’… Sooner or later, I will receive my just deserts, and in this way get to prove my superiority over this herd of ‘horses’.”

Lulled by these thoughts, or rather, by these illusions, Perky nodded off for the night.

The next day, bright and early, he was unexpectedly whisked away from the stable and brought to the village square. His dream of becoming the talk of the town seemed about to come true, sooner than he had ever imagined. With a flourish, a man tossed a fancy cape cover over him studded with colourful stones. Another strapped leather leggings on him, trimmed with pure white ermine. Then they settled a magnificent gold case on his back, containing something precious which he could only guess at. In his galloping imagination, he envisioned it containing his much sought-after prize.

Before long, all classes of people and all types of animals started pouring into the town square. A long red carpet was unfurled from where Perky stood right up to the cathedral entrance, not many meters away. His long ears had never stood so upright as on that occasion.

“Without a doubt”, he thought to himself, “the authorities of the army have recognized my heroism and will now reward my proven fidelity by placing a crown on my head inside that cathedral! I will be king, not only of all donkeys but of all animals in the land. Now that haughty horse will see who deserves the admiration!”

At noon sharp, a trumpet blast announced that the ceremony was underway. A long column of soldiers went before the donkey, slowly marching toward the cathedral. As the donkey paraded, the public wiped tears from their eyes, they threw roses, and they clapped their hands.

Quivering with pride, Perky looked from one side to the other. He swished his tail and kept snout and ears held high. His vanity reached new heights when he saw his old adversaries, the horses, turned towards him and bowing their heads as he passed by.

This was amazing! No four-footed creature in all of history had received such glory and honour! As majestically as he could, he clambered up the steps leading to the main portal of the cathedral, his heart beating faster and faster. Finally, the great doors swung open. For him? No, not for him…

A venerable old man in glittering attire and holding in his right hand a beautiful staff which was curved at the top, removed the precious box from Perky’s back and proceeded into the sanctuary followed by all the people present. From within came the blare of trumpets, glorious hymns, and thundering organ strains. But the donkey was led away by a lackey and tethered to a post. The man hastily removed all the ornaments and left him standing in the hot sun.

But… what about the crown? Who had the roses, the bowed heads and the cheering been for, if not for the magnificent, incomparable hero, Perky?

“My brethren,” proclaimed a deep ceremonial voice from inside the cathedral, “we are gathered here this day to solemnly install these precious and holy relics of our Patron Saint, as a sign of gratitude for the protection and the victory which, through her intercession, Our Lord Jesus Christ has granted to us in this terrible war…”

No, that homage had not been directed at Perky, but at the Patroness of the city, and, through her, to the King of kings and the Lord of lords. How could anyone dare compare themselves with One of infinite greatness?

When he arrived at the cathedral entrance, Perky was led away, stripped of his finery and left standing alone, tied to a post. For the first time, he lowered his ears and raised his heart, full of love, to his Creator

The donkey suddenly realized how wrong he had been. He now clearly saw what pride had hidden from him: he was a simple beast of burden, who had been a real “donkey”, to imagine himself the most valiant of all. And even if he had been the mightiest among mules, this would not have come from his own merits, but from his Creator, who, on that day, along with allowing him to bear such a valuable treasure on his back, had granted him the gift of acknowledging his own humble condition.

The Bishop continued:

“Well do we know that it is not the skill of any soldier or the swiftness of any steed that assures victory. Triumph depends on God alone, who grants it only to those who recognize their weakness and their need. Let us never be so unwise as to think that this success came from us, for all that we are and all that we have has been given us by God.”

Thus, for the first time in his life, the donkey lowered his ears and raised his heart, full of love and adoration, to the Creator. ◊



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