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The Catholic Moment: ‘All God’s children got shoes’

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Thursday, October 7, 2010

By Jeanne Hunt

Well, it’s that time of the year when many of us first-world, rich people clean our closets and give last year’s stuff away. I was in the midst of this ritual when I had an epiphany: I looked at those eight pairs of fancy, high-heeled dress shoes that always hurt a woman’s feet after the first hour and, in a moment of reckless disregard, threw them into the donations bag.

My thoughts drifted to the spiritual in which slaves dreamed of going to heaven and having shoes: “I got shoes, you got shoes. All God’s children got shoes.” I decided that some underdressed, poor woman could have sore feet instead of me. While this attitude is certainly not in the Gospel spirit of “if you have two cloaks, give one away,” I felt justified in that some beautiful young woman would be thrilled to have them, and she would be willing to suffer for the sake of beauty.

The deeper issue here is that Jesus asks us to travel light. Real disciples must not have too much stuff. Our possessions weigh us down and keep us from following the Gospel. Jesus says that the required gear for His followers is only sandals and a walking stick. It’s high time that we examine our collection of clothes, furniture, books, tools, gadgets and so on and decide what we really need and want and what is just collecting dust.

We can eliminate our excess and experience a freedom from caring for all our stuff, freedom from the worry of keeping it and freedom from the concern of protecting it. What Jesus is suggesting is that our minds and spirits need to be free in order to receive His kingdom, which is not of this world.

Recently, I was exploring this topic at a conference of several hundred participants. I asked folks to stand up if they owned more than 30 pairs of shoes. About 15 women popped up. Then I asked people to stand who had more than 60 tools. Ten men and three women shot up. Then I asked the group to consider what they had too much of. It was a hypothetical question. However, one zealous woman, caught up in the moment, jumped up and shouted, “I own eight coffee makers!” In her public confession, she admitted that she lived alone and bought them because each one was a real deal.

While I appreciated her candor, I realized that all of us have a similar weakness. Some of us can never have enough books, quilting fabric or digital gadgets. It’s time to look at our personal pile of stuff and decide to give away or throw away as much as possible. When Jesus warns us to travel light, He is letting us in on a sacred secret: Real union with God requires owning nothing and letting nothing own us but the heart of God.

So, how can we begin? I have two rules: Give away or throw away three things every day, and when we acquire anything, give one of like kind away. If we buy a new book, find one to give away. Go through your closets, attic and drawers looking for stuff you haven’t used or thought about in years and give it to someone who could use it.

Over time the shelves get cleaned out, the closets no longer harbor those out-of-style sportcoats and there is a cathartic peace that invades the house. We begin to believe that God will supply our needs and trust Him to keep us. If the truth be told, I can only wear one pair of shoes at a time, and I prefer that they be very comfortable. Let someone else dance in those high-heeled shoes all the way to heaven.

Hunt is the catechetical and evangelization advisor for St. Anthony Messenger Press /Franciscan Communications.

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