In a previous piece I talked about the importance of the virtue of patience as we prepare for travel in the holiday season. Those poor families queuing for the Eurotunnel on the first weekend after the schools broke up needed patience, as did nearly everyone who had the misfortune of flying from Heathrow. I am not sure if they have put up the sign “Abandon all hope ye who enter here”above the entrance to Heathrow Terminal Four, but they should.
Among all this, an image which stayed with me from the news coverage was the mountain of unclaimed baggage clogging up the terminal at Heathrow. Hundreds if not thousands of wheelie bags, holdalls and rucksacks full of shorts, t-shirts and undergarments, some of them with those strap things around them and even a few wrapped in cling film (why do people do that?). So much stuff.
Greed – one of the seven deadly sins, the one we perhaps have the most fun indulging in. Yes, I need those shoes. No, I cannot get through life without that dress. Now I am not saying we should all take to the sackcloth, I like I nice outfit as much as the next person, but sometimes we do need to examine ourselves, our wardrobes and indeed our wheelie bags and ask ourselves, is this all necessary?
This mountain of bags, rammed full of stuff, represent is your time, your money and your energy. The time it takes to purchase the items, to pack the items and indeed unpack them is considerable. When our family returned from our holiday in the UK, we had our own mountain of clothes to clean, unpack and put away. Were they all worn? Of course not. At one point I felt so overwhelmed I had to sit down. Why had I done this to myself again? For the trip to Ireland the family have been told they are taking only the clothes on their backs.
I ask myself, is all this “stuff” pushing us further away from God? Not only does it end up filling considerable space in Heathrow airport, but I find much of the organising, packing and unpacking consumes an unjustified amount of space in my head, space that could be better filled by prayer or reading CS Lewis, or pretty much anything other than thinking about flip-flops.
In Dante’s Inferno in the Fourth Circle of Hell, Dante and Virgil witness the souls of people who are punished for the sin of greed. These poor souls are divided into two groups, those who hoarded possessions and those who lavishly spent. The two groups are jousting each other. The damned use great weights as a weapon, pushing it with their chests.
“Here, too, I saw a nation of lost souls,
far more than were above: they strained their chests
against enormous weights, and with mad howls
rolled them at one another. Then in haste
they rolled them back, one party shouting out:
“Why do you hoard?” and the other: “Why do you waste?”
Are these great weights perhaps the enormous wheelie bags we take on holiday? Are we to spend our travels lugging these great weights, or worse, having lost them, leaving the poor baggage handlers to do so?
In the Inferno, both groups are so absorbed in their activity that Virgil tells Dante that it would be pointless to try to speak to them; they have lost their individuality and been rendered “unrecognizable”. Let us not lose our individuality to the sea of relentless consumerism and pointless stuff. Instead, this summer holiday, leave one bag behind – and use the time you would have spent packing it saying the rosary.
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