Our pastor came to Florida as a newly ordained priest many (many, many) years ago. Each year his vacation is a trip home to Ireland to reconnect with his family and his roots. After returning to his parish in Florida, he gave a homily about his trip which is summarized below.:
On one of these trips, he was thinking about the long flight, especially the 51⁄2 hour layover in Boston. This brought to his mind all those Irish people who made that same journey decades ago as refugees from the potato famine. He talked about the overcrowded wooden sailing ships that took between one and four months to cross the ocean. The immigrants were forced from their homes, and their children were facing starvation. They had to get away, leaving almost everything behind. Most of them carried just one small cloth sack onto the ship.
He talked about what those people treasured by what was chosen to go into that sack. These were very poor people, so there wouldn’t be any jewels or silver. Maybe a child would bring a worn-out toy. Maybe there would be a photograph, or an old rosary, or a teacup with a missing handle, or a small stone, or a scrap of lace. Behind each item, in the small sack, there would be a story to explain its value.
Each of the “treasures” represented a memory of times past. The toy might remind the now-homeless child of the warm feeling of being tucked into bed at night. The photo might be all that was left of a beloved grandparent. Maybe the rosary was from a long-ago First Communion. Maybe the teacup was a gift from a best friend, left behind in Ireland. Maybe the stone was from the path to their cottage, or the scrap of lace was part of a wedding veil.
Those material things represented the underlying treasures: a parent’s care, family, faith, friendship, home, and love.
This leads each one of us to ask ourselves a question. If we had only one small sack into which we could put our most valuable treasures, what would we put in?
This question may be hard to answer because our lives are cluttered with so many possessions. But here is a suggestion. In her bestselling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying, Marie Kondo suggests an interesting process. She wants us to pick up each item we own, slowly, one by one, and ask ourselves if the thing “sparks joy.”
Think about that for a moment. She doesn’t ask if the thing cost a lot of money, or if it impresses other people, or if it was a gift from someone who might be annoyed if it disappeared from our bookcase. She just wants us to ask if it “sparks joy” within us.
Possessions themselves are never our real treasures. When we hold an item, and experience a real ‘spark of joy’, there is always a story behind it. These stories are what lead us to our true underlying treasures.
Our priest told us what he would put into his small cloth sack. The first thing was a get well card he received after open heart surgery. This one card was representative of all the cards, notes and prayers he received from our parish as he recovered from his surgery. He said that the power of prayer and the network of love and care found in our parish were priceless gifts to him. This one card would also represent the treasure of good health, which he would never take for granted again.
The second thing he would put in his cloth sack was a photo of his Mom. After he was ordained in Ireland, he was excited about his journey to Florida. His mom was supportive, and positive about helping him get ready for his long trip. One day as his departure drew near, he found his mom crying. And when he questioned her she said it was because she would never see him again. She still remembered all those people who sailed away forever on those wooden ships, never to come home again. The underlying treasures in this story were his mom’s faith and family. Even when she thought she was losing her son forever, her faith was so strong that she was willing to make this sacrifice.
Now it’s your turn. What do you treasure? If you had only one small cloth sack to put your treasures in, what would they be? Once you decide, then think about the story behind your choice. If you take the time to search underneath that story, I promise you will find what you truly treasure.
The underlying treasure of course, is life itself, the life we’re given straight from the hand of God. All of life is such a gift and when we take the time to stop and really look at it, our gratitude can overwhelm us. All of life is grace—every minute of it.
Join us on the Compass Catholic podcast for more about life’s true treasures.