We've all heard the old expression "you can't take it with you" so many times that it has probably lost its meaning. On the most basic level, it refers to the fact that we can't carry our riches to the grave. To me, however, it means a lot more than money. When I was reflecting on this today in prayer, I couldn't help but be reminded of all the baggage I carry with me that I can't take with me beyond this life. Some of it I probably shouldn't carry with me another day, to be honest. Each one of us has some kind of baggage. When I call it baggage the first thought is never pleasant. We are all collectors in one way or another. Collectors of things, feelings, experiences and grudges. We cocoon ourselves with our possessions, both material and mental, and clutch to them for dear life. But here's the kicker, we can't take our baggage with us to Heaven. Obviously we won't be able to bring the physical stuff like our money, finery or heirlooms. That's the stuff everyone thinks about when they hear this expression. The fact is that we can't take our grudges, wrong thinking, pains or self-obsession with us. My need to have the next best thing has no place in Heaven, because God is the best thing that has ever been given to me, and in Heaven I will at last have Him to the fullest. Before I can open myself to the fullness of God's self-gift to me, I need to let go of everything that is weakly trying to fill that deep, abiding need.
This duty we have to let go of all the "it" that we can't take with us is hard work. It can take a lifetime and more.When I'm on my deathbed, I doubt I'll be able to look back and say that I have reached a level of perfect detachment from all earthly things. I'll probably still be clutching my pearls, holding a stray grudge for a perceived slight or a real injury, and wrong about more than a few things. Very few of us reach a level of complete detachment, and by and large we get the pleasure of recognising them as Saints. Now don't get me wrong, it is my goal to find myself fully prepared for Heaven (I am one to set the bar high), but I recognise my weakness and inability to accept all the graces God pours out on my broken little heart. So where does that leave me? As a Catholic, I have the supreme comfort of realising God has prepared for me a place where I can finish whatever unfinished work was due to make me ready for the joys of Heaven. Purgatory, which is by the way not just a sort of eternal waiting room, is a place where I will be able to work to the purification of my soul while basking in the hope of Heaven. My hope will always be for my long home, but I rejoice in God's gift of my one day temporary home, that is Purgatory. Purgatory and purge come from the same word. It means to make clean or pure. And for all my friends who love to purge all your extra "stuff", use the same spirit and purge any emotional baggage you have too. Since we can't take material possessions with us anyway, we should get a head start on Purgatory and start letting go of our spiritual hang-ups.
Here's the lucky thing, if your "it" is love, you get to carry every last drop of that. So if there's anything you want to pile up, fill the rooms of your heart up with beautiful memories, love of others, hours of prayer for friends and strangers, and acts of kindness to one and all. The more you fill your heart up with love, the less room there will be for the "stuff" that clutters up your life and your soul. Now that it's a new year, maybe we can take on the challenge to say goodbye to a little more brokenness and welcome in more love.