Several years ago when I was in charge of a large sprawling mission on the outskirts of Santiago, Chile, I received a visitor from India. He was a young Irish Jesuit, Father John, who had been on mission with Mother Teresa in Calcutta.
He stepped off the bus carrying a cloth bundle which I took to be his carry-on luggage. I greeted him and said: “Let’s get the rest of your luggage, and we’ll get on the local bus before it gets too crowded”. He smiled, and replied: “I have no other luggage. This is it”.
The fact that he had no other luggage made our bus ride more comfortable. We failed to get a seat, and when you are standing on a crowded bus, it is much easier to manage a soft cloth bundle than a four-cornered suitcase.
My guest was a very pleasant companion, and was quite content with the simple life-style at my house. In fact he commented how comfortable it was compared with the life he had been living for the past few years.
I took the opportunity to ask him about the simplicity of his luggage, and how he learned to travel that way. “Mother Teresa”, he said. “I learned it from her”.
He explained that when he arrived in Calcutta, he was as burdened with luggage as any other Westerner, who carries with him everything he thinks he is going to need. Mother Teresa made no comment about it, but when she saw him packing to prepare for his return journey she remarked: “I have my own policy about luggage. If I cannot lift my full baggage with my little finger, I am carrying too much”.
Father John took her comment to heart, and so the little cloth bundle became his entire luggage for his two-week journey across 10,000 miles. It made me reflect that most of us travel through life with too much baggage.
Sheila Cassidy is an English physician who worked among the poor in Chile, and was imprisoned under the military dictatorship. She once quoted to me these words of Saint Basil (330-379 A.D.) about unneeded possessions: “To the hungry belongs the bread that you store away; to the naked the cloak that you keep in your wardrobe; to the barefoot the shoes that rot in your possession; to the needy the money you bury away.”
On my way down to evening meal I saw in our hallway a box of clothing with a label, “For the Providence Rescue Mission”. Over the past two weeks, due to Christmas and my birthday, which happens to be today, I have accumulated extra shirts and clothing. As soon as I finish this blog, I am clearing out my wardrobe and bedroom of all extra clothing, and packing it into the box for the Providence Rescue Mission.
After all, as Saint Basil reminded me, it really belongs to them.