As a father of four children, I have noticed the pattern of toys, clothing, and equipment flowing in and out of our house like the currents of the ocean. We tend to reach high tide around the end of the year as all the old, worn out and unloved items begin to clutter our drawers, crates and back shed. This reaches a climax as a wave of new toys and clothing floods in at Christmas and we are forced to decide what needs to go to Vinnies, the Greenshed, or the rubbish dump. And so, the cycle of consumption and dumping continues.
Much has already been written about ‘Tidying Up with Marie Kondo’ and the avant-garde Minimalist movement that seeks to spiritualise the relationship we have with our possessions. One must ask why any inanimate object should ‘spark joy’ in our lives. Evangelii Gaudium offers an alternative perspective:
Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are definitely loved.
That said, the drawers in my house are certainly far less cluttered and far more visually appealing thanks to the advice dispensed by such gurus. And yet, as neat and organised as my house is, I don’t draw love from possessions.
Our family was given the keys to a friend’s beach house this summer and I enjoyed the experience of being surrounded by all of his tourist fridge magnets, photos, and various memorabilia that has taken a lifetime to collect. Beside the constant concern that my four-year-old was bound to break something, I longed to know the stories behind each of these treasures. However, the items themselves were empty signposts, unable to tell me the story of my friend, merely serving him as reminders of travels, relationships, and adventures. This house reminded me of trying to know a person through their social-media feed, which offers a curated, shallow, and simplistic experience of the human experience.
Of course many of us are not allured by physical items to be stored in the museum of our homes, opting to spend our money and time on holidays, hunting for the perfect photo of that unique destination or experience that only travel to the other side of the world can satisfy. Modern transportation has allowed for greater opportunities to explore the planet, conduct global business and quench an insatiable curiosity for what lies beyond. It has also transformed the way pilgrimage takes place in the 21st century, with many ‘affordable’ opportunities for Catholics of all ages to select from.
World Youth Day is one such pilgrimage, attracting millions of young people to unite for a week of faith formation with the Pope. Immersion experiences, voluntourism and solidarity camps in developing nations have also become popular ways for young people with means to develop their faith, make a difference and expand their understanding of the world. I am well aware of the families who do not have the financial capacity to send their children on such amazing experiences to encounter Christ. Perhaps we should be offering alternative, localised immersions for young people?
The use of natural resources in the aviation industry is astronomical and the environmental impacts are only just beginning to be understood by science. I wonder how much longer the planet can cope with our need for convenient transport for the financially able. The ABC has recently reported that politician Mathias Cormann spent $37,000 on flights in one day to lobby for a new tax plan that was later scrapped, claiming that it was a necessary and reasonable expense. According to Omaze Pope Francis was recently given a one-of-a-kind Lamborghini which he has decided to raffle off to raise funds for those in need. The concept has received negative reviews from those who believe that the Catholic Church doesn’t need to be raising funds by tapping into the consumeristic greed of car lovers. They also point to the ethical dilemma of the wealthy driving around in a luxury car, whilst many walk a great distance every day to access drinking water. I often wonder what future generations will think of this period of human existence, busying itself with generating more food, clothing and shelter than it needs, while almost half the world — over three billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day.
The Gospels remind us that we cannot be the slave of two masters and that we should not store up treasures on this earth (Matt 6:24;19) and they demonstrate Jesus’s love for God and of people. We read the challenges that some of his disciples faced in the choice between leaving behind their comforts and possessions to follow a new master. Whatever happened to the young man of great wealth in Matthew 19:22? We are only told that he went away sad. Jesus also cured many people who were possessed and taunted by evil spirits. How many of us are ensnared, distracted or longing for possessions that we are told will bring happiness, fulfilment and satisfaction?
We can easily fall into the trap of being owned by our possessions, allowing our lives to be dictated by the upkeep, cleaning and repairing. The Christian knows that our hearts were made for connection and relationships with people and still we try to replace love with loot. The 4th century prayer of Augustine captures all that we truly need:
Lord Jesus, our Savior, let us now come to you.
Our hearts are cold; Lord, warm them with your selfless love.
Our hearts are sinful; cleanse them with your precious blood.
Our hearts are weak; strengthen them with your joyous Spirit.
Our hearts are empty; fill them with your divine presence.
Lord Jesus, our hearts are yours; possess them always and only for yourself.
Where is joy sparked in your life?
Copyright 2019 Nathan Ahearne