Although not observed this year, August 11 is generally recognized as a feast day of St. Clare of Assisi (1194-1253). Born into a noble and wealthy Italian family, at 17 years of age, upon hearing a young man (Francis of Assisi) preach, she became determined to follow the Gospel in a more radical way. Contrary to her daily life in the castle, the expectations of those around her, as well as the growing materialism of the medieval society, Clare adopts a new way of life as she renounces her status and choses a life of poverty, austerity and piety. Her life becomes a sign of contradiction to the world around her as she goes on to establish the Order of the Poor Ladies (renamed later as the Order of Poor Clares in her honour).
By the lived witness of her life Clare offered a glimpse into the highest form of freedom that exists. As someone who was born into nobility, she had everything she could have ever wanted, by the world’s standards anyway. But it seems that that was not enough. Her heart craved more. And that which her heart craved material possessions were not able to satisfy.
Did the beginning of the Franciscan movement in the 13th century serve as an antidote to the growing materialism of the medieval society?
What does St. Clare have to teach us today? Surely today there are many devoted Catholics to this saint. Perhaps deep down we all may crave an antidote to the materialism and excesses of today’s society. Who influences us today?
Think of the Japanese organizing guru, Marie Kondo, whose books on purging, organizing and living a more minimalist lifestyle are selling in the millions of copies around the world today. Kondo is not on a spiritual mission per se. But there are interesting tidbits of reverence that accompany her work. For one, prior to discerning her mission in life, she studied at a Christian university, followed by five years spent at a Shinto shrine where she would adopt Shinto spiritual practices which she now uses in her KonMari method and work.
If you have seen the successful Netflix series Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, released in 2019, you may recall that prior to beginning any work in a client’s home, Kondo “introduces herself to the home” – she does this by sitting down on the floor, closing her eyes, bowing her head, and spending a minute or two in silent meditation. The homeowners can join her in this practice, as they wish. Later, as Kondo goes room by room helping her clients to purge and organize their belongings, she tells them to keep the items that “spark joy” (are meaningful and serve a purpose in their lives) and let go of the items that do not, acknowledging in gratitude the value that they have and the joy they may have once brought.
Kondo’s impact has had tremendous psychological and practical effects. Clients have subsequently reported less stress, improved relationships in the household, and daily living that is much more manageable and satisfying. Furthermore, as the show premiered, various charities saw significant increases in the number of donations they have received as people began to tidy up and purge their homes.
Am I equating St. Clare of Assisi with Marie Kondo? Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that Marie Kondo might be for our time what St. Clare was for the 13th century. No, in the sense that these two women live(d) very different life styles, miles of years apart. The common thread that unites them is how they chose to address the inherent problem of the materialism of their respective times and remind us of our proper relationship to the possessions that we own which sometimes may suffocate too much of our energy, time and mental health.
What sparks joy in your life?
–Natalia Kononenko, Editor, Living with Christ