Less Stuff, More People – Arnel Aquino, SJ

Luke 10:1-9, 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Fr Hernando Maceda was one of the most cheerful Jesuits I’ve ever known. He was a small guy, not much taller than I, but he had the biggest smile that I felt went from his face down to his good heart and back! Fr Maceda was from a wealthy family. For many years, he was also assistant to the Provincial; so he enjoyed both pedigree and rank. His small frame belied his huge heart for the poor. Fr Ernie loved the poor. He said mass for them, placed them in jobs, visited them in the hospital, and raised funds for them. He was one of those precious few who, despite pedigree and rank, felt happiest when he was with the poorest.

Around the time when Fr Ernie died, we heard that the funeral home called Xavier House, where he lived, to ask for a fresh set of clothes for Fr Ernie as they prepared his body for the wake. So a Jesuit in the community went into Fr Maceda’s room. What he saw both shocked him and touched his heart. The room was astonishingly bare. He walked over to open Fr Maceda’s cabinet; it was just as bare as the room. Fr Ernie had a few very old, yellowing shirts, a few pairs of very old black pants, some very faded barongs, and finally, the old knight’s armor: one threadbare sotana that had definitely seen better days. Here was a man of today’s Gospel, a man who carried no money bag, no sack, no sandals. But Fr Ernie ate and drank with the best of them and the worst of them. He comforted the sick and wished people peace. I guess that’s why his room was bare. You don’t need very much stuff if your heart is full…especially of people.

We have an aversion to bareness, don’t we, especially us, Pinoys? Many of us have what we call horror vacui, the fear of emptiness, of bare spaces. That dining room wall just has to have a Last Supper frame on it, doesn’t it? That area beside the stairs? Huge Ming vase that could fit me standing up! And a piano, of course, which now serves as a table for picture frames. Horror vacui—when there is space, we itch, we secretly frenzy to fill it in.

Many of us acquire a lot of stuff, too, don’t we? Sure, we use them as they serve their purpose, very good. But then we hang onto them, sometimes needlessly. Incidentally, don’t you think the word “stuff” is ingenious? It’s both a noun and a verb. Furthermore, “stuff” the noun & “stuff” the verb are plural in meaning even when singular in form. So the word itself speaks volumes of how oblivious we could be to how much stuff we have (plural) because we see each thing as “just one more thing” (singular). As we fill our spaces with more than what we need, we are terrified of losing stuff even when we were actually able to live without them before.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus missions 72 friends to go and preach the Kingdom. But he tells them: “Hey, travel light. Keep it simple.” This has a very practical purpose when you’re going on mission. If wild animals run after you or people chase you off their village—the less you carry, the faster you run! But more importantly (and this is still true in the experience of pilgrims today), even when you have very little on you, you will meet the kindest, most generous people who will take care of you even if they themselves don’t have much in life, on the one hand. On the other hand, you’ll also meet people who have so much but are suspicious and afraid that you might take advantage of their friendship or steal from them.

Here is what I hear Jesus is telling us through something that he said 3,000 years ago: “I’m sending all of you to preach the Kingdom of God. This kingdom has a lot of room, a lot of space…for people…of all kinds, of all temperaments. Some are light, some are heavy. But carry too much stuff on the mission and you’ll notice you’ll focus on what you own, and how to protect them. You’ll keep wondering if you should give them away or not because you’re afraid you might not be able live without your stuff. Make room,” Jesus seems to say, “make room with less stuff and for more people.” Kung saksakan man ng gamit ang bahay mo, sana siksikan din ng tao ang buhay mo.

Have you ever experienced having a “full heart”? Try and remember the last time when your heart was full of friendship and laughter, full of passion to love deeply, full of sympathy for the grieving, full of care for those who need you. Do you remember that during those times when our hearts were so full, we could live with so much less? As long as we had friends, and peace in the family, forgiveness, as long as we could pray deeply and had our wits about us, and fully functional arms that could reach out, and open hands to hold—we didn’t care very much if our rooms were bare or our pockets nearly empty…because our hearts were full—not with stuff; with people.

The English word “light” can be translated in two different ways in Tagalog: liwanag and magaan. When you think about it, are liwanag and magaan really different from each other? Not when we’re talking about our hearts. When our hearts aren’t needlessly cluttered, they have liwanag, they are magaan. “Keep it simple. Travel light. Less room for stuff, more room for people.”

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