Well, what is the load?
POST BY PO'Reilly
Thursday, October 8, 2015 - 17:42
"How hard it is for those who have riches to enter into the Kingdom of God!"
Once upon a time, when I was young, fit and good looking – well OK, about twenty years ago - I cycled from Land’s End to John O’Groats - from the South to the North of Great Britain – more than a thousand miles. And one day, I met an American tourist who was doing the same. But he was having a lot of problems with his bike and he was making very slow progress. And he asked me for my help. After about nine hundred painful miles, I knew pretty much everything that could go wrong with a bike.
Well, his bike was beautiful - very expensive and brand new - made with the very latest lightweight alloy steel with 18 gears! (I had to count them three times to be sure.) And it had double disc brakes and lights that come on automatically when it got dark. And when you rode it, it was as smooth as a Mercedes. (Well, I’ve never actually driven a Mercedes, but I’m sure this is what it must feel like.) So I brought it back to him to tell him that there was nothing wrong with his bicycle - but if he wanted to swap it for mine, I could see my way clear to arranging that.
“Yes”, he said, “it’s fine now, but when you put the load on you can hardly get to move at all.”
So I asked: “Well, what is the load?”
He showed me - it weighed one hundred and forty two pounds! That’s ten stone! That’s an extra person!
So I said, “No wonder you are not making progress, you are carrying far too much weight.”
And he said: “Well, I know it’s a lot, but I really need it all.”
And so I had to say to him: “My friend, how much do you really want to get to where you’re going?”
He thought for a moment and said “I really want to get there.”
So I asked him: “Then what are you going to have to do with all this weight you are carrying?”
At this, a look of intense pain came across his face. There was a loooong silence. And eventually he said: “I’m going to have to lose some of it, aren’t I?”
So together we divided all his stuff into two piles - one pile of the stuff that was helping him get to where he was going - and another of the stuff that was holding him back. It wasn’t always easy to decide what to put in each pile. Sometimes we had to give an item the benefit of the doubt. But even so, I think you can guess which was the bigger pile. And then we had a big sale! I would like to be able to tell you that he then gave the money to the poor (that is, ME!) but that didn’t quite happen - these Americans aren’t stupid!
Next day I agreed to cycle with him for the first hour. There were a lot of hills to start with and he went up them like he was in a Mercedes and I trailed behind. After an hour, he was past me and gone. I never saw him again.
But he left me with a question that I try to ask myself about once a year. To list all of my possessions and ask: “Which of these are really helping me to get to where I am going and which are just holding me back?” Because all of us have places we want to get to in life. All of us have our John O’Groats. And it is very hard for a rich man to get into the kingdom of heaven. And that is nothing to do with God not loving rich people - it’s just the law of gravity.
Ignatius says that realisation is the Principle and Foundation of his way of life. I saw it recently translated like this:
“Human beings are created to praise, reverence and serve God, Our Lord, and by this means to become the people God created us to be. All other created things on the face of the earth exist to help us to achieve this End for which we are created. Accordingly, we should make use of them only insofar as they assist us to become the people God created us to be. And we should rid ourselves of them whenever they prevent us from achieving our End.
Therefore we should hold ourselves indifferent to all created things, having or not having them only according to the Will of the Lord.”
That is not an easy ideal. Believe me - in this matter, I speak as one who knows. But it is the ideal of all Christian stewardship that everything we have in this world, we have as gift from God and on trust from our children.
Let us profess our Faith in God, who gives us the only True and ultimate wealth there is.
Paul O'Reilly SJ