One of my favorite things to do is travel. I started when I was 20 when I first came to this country from the other side of the planet. Eventually I got my US passport, and I’m now on my second. I enjoy visiting exotic locations, and listening to people tell their stories. Outside of the cost, the least enjoyable part of traveling for me is packing. I’m better at it now, but I still always wait till the last minute. The earliest I ever packed ahead of a trip was two days before. Consequently, I soon discover I forgot something behind. Most of the time, it’s not anything really important. I could easily get the very same thing wherever I go anyway—socks, sunglasses, deodorant, toothbrush. There is only one thing I know I can never replace or do without, and it’s not anything I can get when I arrive wherever I am going. That would be my passport. No, I haven’t done it … not yet. But I have once turned my car around an hour into a trip after realizing I had forgotten to bring it. A couple of years ago, when I went to pick up my parents in Virginia Beach on my way to Maine, I saw that my GPS was telling me the fastest way would take me up into Canada, then back into Maine. That would be a border crossing. So just in case I needed it, I drove back to Waynesboro and added 3 hours to the trip. I didn’t need it after all, so now I just always take it with me regardless.
When I pack for a trip, I like to be ready for the weather. So I look up the forecast online for the duration of my trip. Sometimes I will hand carry a thick winter coat I don’t need until I get to where I’m going just because it would take up too much room in my suitcase, for when I go south of the equator in the summer. I will bring at least one comfortable pair of shoes for all the walking, then a dress pair just in case I end up having dinner with someone important—you never know. I also pack enough clothes so I don’t have to do laundry, until it’s easier to just do laundry. I bring things to read—usually stuff I can download on my tablet; music, podcasts, and more books on my MP3 player; and my laptop so I can get on the internet and share pictures of my trip with people back home.
One thing I am really bad at is leaving room in my suitcase for all the things I end up picking up along the trip. I have sent things home ahead of me when I didn’t have room, but usually I just send home my dirty laundry. It’s no fun receiving dirty laundry in the mail. But I prefer to do it that way, so I’m not too disappointed if my package accidentally gets lost. I can always make more dirty laundry.
Lately, I have realized that when I travel, I not only take in new information about the people I meet, the places I see, and the things I experience. I also leave behind part of myself with the people and places I visit. Some of these friendships have endured over time and across the ocean. Sometimes I get to visit the same people and places again, and enjoy catching up like old friends. As they leave an impression on me, so I leave an impression on them. So far I have no regrets meeting anyone I’ve met. My hope is that no one I’ve met ever regretted meeting me. We only get one chance to leave a first impression. So we want to make sure it’s a good first impression.
When Jesus gave instructions to his disciples he determined were essential for their journey, they were not just to be tourists and sightseers. He sent 72 of them “in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit.” Scripture scholars speculate 72 was the number of nations known at the time, so symbolically he was sending them to every corner of the known world. They were to pack light—no money bag, no sack, no sandals. They were to be purposeful and focused—no greeting anyone along the way. They were to leave a good first impression—eat what is set before them and cure the sick. And they were to bear his peace, and announce that the Kingdom of God was in their midst. But think about it. Jesus was giving instructions to all his disciples for all our journeys, even those among us who are tourists and sightseers. He sends us into the world to bring his peace and to announce the Kingdom of God to everyone we meet. It need not be our explicit focus and purpose, as though we were missionaries. But in a way, we are always missionaries wherever we go, and to whomever we meet. We are not Jesus’ disciples for just an hour each weekend, nor when we go on a pilgrimage to some religious site, nor when we participate in some religious event. We are Jesus’ disciples always and wherever. The least we can do is be prepared for when we meet new people or when we leave a first impression. So it’s best we do it like we mean it.
Whenever we went on a field trip in high school, we were always reminded that we represented the school. So we were to mind our manners lest we give total strangers a less than flattering picture of our true selves, our families, the school, or the Catholic church. I went to Catholic school all my life. But it’s still true even after high school. And with no one to remind me, I have to remind myself.
I think St. Paul said it most concisely in that passage to the Galatians we read today. “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” St. Paul was always intentional about his work of proclaiming the gospel, and of witnessing to Jesus Christ and his cross with every breath and waking moment. So it is no surprise he writes that neither the signs of the Law of Moses or the absence of them matters in the end, only that we have been created anew in the image and likeness of Jesus. “From now on, let no one make troubles for me; for I bear the marks of Jesus on my body.” I don’t think he meant physical marks specifically, although he did endure persecution and mistreatment that may have left such marks. Instead, I believe he also means the effects of his Christian faith and his discipleship, in his speech, in his interaction with others, in his way of life. As he was always and everywhere a bearer of God’s peace, and one who announced the Kingdom of God, he was always intentional about doing this work well, and never slacking on the job.
Whenever we hear Jesus in the gospel tell us that “the harvest is abundant but the laborers are few,” we shouldn’t limit his words to mean we need more missionaries and catechists, or more priests and religious sisters and brothers to proclaim the gospel, and witness to Jesus Christ and his cross. If each and every Christian were more intentional about their every word, every action and interaction, we would not lack for laborers to bring in the harvest. Each of us bears Jesus and his cross with us on the journey of life. We are not just tourists and sightseers. We proclaim peace and announce the Kingdom of God wherever we go. We just need to mean it all the time everywhere.
Rolo B Castillo © 2016