Every year, as Advent approaches, I long for emptiness. I crave space. I am inspired to purge my home before the influx of Christmas gifts, and I want to quiet my mind so the real meaning of Christmas can take hold.
I recently read a story in the book Saint John Paul The Great: His Five Loves by Jason Evert. In 1976, John Paul II (then Cardinal Wojtyla), visited the United States and was driving with a Polish friend, John Szostak. John asked Cardinal Wojtyla if he would be willing to stop by his apartment to meet his family and bless his home. Cardinal Wojtyla readily agreed, and they continued to drive to their unannounced visit. Jason Evert goes on to say, “When Szostak opened the door of his apartment, the family was absent and the domicile was in a state of disaster. Cardinal Wojtyla nearly tripped over a Batmobile toy, but laughed and assured the father, ‘This disarray is a sign of a happy household.’ Although the Cardinal wasn’t shocked by the mess, he was astonished at the number of toys American children owned, and couldn’t believe two children could have so many things, saying, ‘For a whole nursery, yes …’”
What would this great saint think of my home if he suddenly showed up at our door? Would he be shocked by the number of toys that clutter our home? Would many of our belongings seem like unnecessary surplus to him? Would he see a home that points its inhabitants toward Christ — or just a space too filled up with stuff to allow room for Him?
As I read the stories of the saints, I am struck by the consistency of their detachment from the world — of their ability to live in the world but not be of it. Their hearts truly belong to God alone.
Venerable Fulton Sheen is quoted as saying, “hold material things with a detached spirit. That way, if you lose them, it doesn’t matter.” Sheen would also give money to anyone on the street who asked for it, not worrying about whether or not the person truly needed it. “I can’t take a chance,” he would say. St. John Paul II regularly gave away his nicest clothes to the poor. He slept on a bare bed and refused to wear new clothing. Mother Teresa reminds me that even our most prized religious articles are still just a symbol of the real thing. She has been known to readily give away the rosary she carried so someone else could have the gift of prayer. And we are all familiar with the legendary detachment of St. Francis of Assisi, who literally left all of his material possessions to serve God.
Sometimes, I feel like the rich young man from the Gospel who “went away sad, for he had many possessions.” (Mt. 19:22) I love God. I want to be completely His. I want to detach myself from this world. So why does it feel so hard sometimes to pare down my closet? To empty my garage or storage shed? To get rid of old toys? Not only is it a challenge to rid myself of things that are old or broken, but it is even more difficult to let go of many things I might still like, but don’t truly need. Just the other night, I instinctively refused to let one of my children borrow my “nice” rosary for bedtime prayers — Mother Teresa, pray for me!
As we draw nearer to Advent, I am trying to discern how to embrace a more minimalist attitude and a greater detachment from “stuff.” What do I truly need? What is taking my gaze off Christ? And will this help me get to heaven? Sterling Jaquith’s website is helping me to answer these questions and more as I use her Catholic Minimalism Challenge to minimize our home. As I work through this project, my hope is that we will be left with a home that helps us define ourselves as a family who is ever hopeful as we wait to be filled by Christ.
“Whatever we are gives form to the emptiness in us which can only be filled by God and which God is even now waiting to fill.” –Caryll Houselander, The Reed of God
Copyright 2017 Charisse Tierney