I’ve always been kind of fond of St. Clare. First, and most obviously, because she’s the patron saint of television.
Wait, I can hear you say. How can a woman who lived her life in 12th century Italy be the patron saint of television?
Oh ha ha ha. As if space and time matter when you’re talking about the saints. Honestly now. Think about what everybody’s favorite saint — I speak of course of St. Nicholas — gets up to amid the fractured bounds of space and time in one measly little night?
But wait, I can hear you splutter indignantly. You don’t even like television.
It’s true that I mostly only turn on the TV in our house once a week (of my own volition — I do have a sports-loving husband, so let’s be real here), and that’s for Masterpiece Theatre. The rest of the time I prefer books, or the internet.
It’s not television I love, but the story of why Clare is the patron saint of television. If you weren’t brought up knowing such things, or if your college years were sadly bereft of courses in medieval history, you might not know how this came to be.
Very well then, I will tell you.
Clare was a nun, obviously. She’d heard St. Francis preaching one day in the street near her house and was inspired to join him in a life of poverty and prayer. She was 18 years old, and her wealthy, aristocratic parents were, shall we say, not pleased. They ended up hauling her bodily back home and locking her in after they found out she’d run off to join those crazy hippies in their scratchy woolen robes.
But then Clare snuck out by a side door and made good her escape. Which to me means that she should also be the patron saint of rebellious young teenage girls, but hey. Nobody ever asks me my opinion on such things.
But whatever, I can live in my own mind. So Clare has for some time been my personal little patron saint of minor and major acts of rebellion, especially those that go against the consumer-cultural grain. I personally think we can all use a few more of them in our lives. And I personally think Clare is secretly cheering on every little one.
But that’s not why she’s the patron saint of television. By now you’ve probably remembered the story. Clare was too ill to attend mass at one point during her long life in the convent, but because of her deep and fervent desire to take part in the service she was able to miraculously see it take place, as an image that was projected on the wall of her cell. Like television, get it?
Pope Pius XXII designated her the patron saint of TV back in 1958, which honestly sounds more than a little bit like pandering to the trends to me.
How much more interesting it would have been if he’d chosen to celebrate her independence of thought and courageous resolve to be able to turn her back on a privileged life of wealth and ease, to disobey her parents and everything society expected of her, to know her own mind at the age of 18 and go after it with a single-minded ferocity of will?
Oh, but I suppose we can’t be encouraging those things. Let’s encourage the watching of TV instead.
Well. Screw that. I say Clare is the patron saint of the young and the restless, the fretful and fidgety, the ones who don’t know what they want to be doing with their lives but when they look around their parents’ stable, staid homes, they know that this isn’t it.
Sure, most of us go on to create stable, staid homes of our own. But it’s only after we make a break for it, run until our feet are sore, live wild, live reckless, live on nothing but grilled cheese sandwiches in nameless parking lots, sell everything we own and buy a one-way ticket to California — that we can start to figure out just what kind of home, what kind of life it is that we actually want for ourselves.
I ran off to California when I was just about Clare’s age when she joined the convent. Sold my car, sold my furniture, and bought a one-way plane ticket off a bulletin board in a laundromat back when you could do such things; when plane tickets were transferable and the only furniture I really owned was a futon and a frame.
I only lasted about nine months before I came scampering back east, parched and desperate for snow and the icy reserve of my Yankee brethren. As a matter of fact, I never would have known what a New Englander I truly was unless I’d plopped myself someplace so utterly foreign to me and everything I’d ever known. Once I’d done it, I felt secure in my choice of home geography in a way I never would have if I’d stayed safely in Northampton that dreadful, itchy, angsty year of 1994.
Now, I’m not advocating running away from home and living on the streets. Let’s be honest; I had a college degree by this time, and good, reliable friends up and down the California coast who put me up in their safe, warm, well-stocked homes for weeks on end at a time.
But I did run. And I did follow what I knew to the best of my ability at the time to be the path I needed to follow. It ended up winding, eventually, back home, which makes my story quite different from Clare’s.
Or does it? I think we both found home, in the end.