The U-Haul backed into place, emitting the requisite ear-splitting beeps, and two men hopped out, swung open the rear doors, and began unloading household items. A family moving into a new home? No, a student moving into a dorm room on the college campus where I am serving this year.
At Mass that day, Father preached about the rich young man who asked Jesus how to gain salvation and, invited to sell his possessions and follow Jesus, left sad, because he had many possessions — maybe a U-Haul full?
We all carry baggage, not only physical but emotional and spiritual. Sometimes, college students pack more than they will need, but sometimes we also haul around unnecessary spiritual baggage. I am reminded of a character from the film The Mission, soldier and slave trader Rodrigo Mendoza. After murdering his brother in a fit of jealous rage, Mendoza sinks into almost suicidal depression. Fr. Gabriel, a Jesuit missionary to the Guarani people of central South America, visits Mendoza in jail and challenges him to do penance for his sins and move on with his life.
Mendoza chooses his penance: to carry his heavy armor and the sword with which he slew his brother up the treacherous path to the Jesuits’ mountaintop mission. We watch, in agony ourselves, as Mendoza drags his ungainly burden through the overgrown jungle and up the rocky, slippery cliff faces. More than once, the load snags on a rock or proves too heavy, and Mendoza almost tumbles to his death. The other Jesuits approach Fr. Gabriel: “How long must he carry that stupid thing? He’s done this penance long enough.” Fr. Gabriel, respectful of Mendoza’s deep suffering, replies quietly, “But he doesn’t think so.”
But when the group reaches the summit, Mendoza plastered in mud and crawling on hands and knees, the Guarani, at first cautious, begin to laugh and point at him. Finally, one of them cuts the ropes tying him to his cargo, and it plummets to the riverbed below. Mendoza, who has barely smiled or spoken in months, begins to heave with his own sobs and laughter.
Suffering is surely not to be laughed at. But sometimes we create needless suffering for ourselves, and this is indeed ridiculous. Just as Mendoza deemed his guilt unforgivable, we haul behind us huge loads of what we might call remorse and what would more accurately be termed injured pride.
Sin is bad, yes. We should repent our sins. But our sins do not win us the right to discouragement and paralysis. We should simply recall, “Yes, I am a sinner, I struggle in this area. Let me ask God’s forgiveness and begin anew.” We speak a sharp word, yield to lust, fail to defend a friend’s reputation. Well, laugh a little at your own weakness, ask forgiveness of the other and of God, go to confession at the next available opportunity, and soldier on. Soldier on gaily, certain that God’s mercy is greater than any sin. Leave the burden behind.
Sr. Maria Veritas Marks is a member of the Ann Arbor-based Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.