On August 11, we celebrate Saint Clare of Assisi who, though happy living in the shadow of Saint Francis, is a heroic and mighty one in her own right. If you happen to walk around the city of Assisi dressed like a friar, you will be mistaken for a tour guide. The multitudes will ask, “Where is the basilica?” and you, being the friend and devotee of Saint Clare, reply as follows, “Of Saint Francis or of Saint Clare?” You probably will be a bit disappointed when it seems strange to them that Clare should even be mentioned.
Saint Clare herself might have it so, for even in 1216, four short years after her conversion, when her community was still but a handful of noble ladies that had embraced this life of total poverty, Jacques de Vitry, a historian and eventually a Cardinal, wrote that “they are deeply troubled and pained at being honored more than they would like to be by both clerics and lay people” (Letter of Oct. 1216). In God’s Heart, Clare is a light illuminating the world, as He prophesied to her mother Ortulana before giving birth. The name of Saint Clare is rarely mentioned, but how often do we name the light which fills our day-to-day. Without the clarity of brightness we would struggle to walk the Way that is set out for us.
Our Lord has given Himself totally for love of us, we are encouraged by Saints Francis and Clare to give ourselves totally in return.
Saint Francis showed her the Way by encouraging her to give her heart, mind and body totally to God: “The Father Francis encouraged her to despise the world, showing her by his living speech how dry the hope of the world was and how deceptive its beauty. He whispered in her ears of a sweet espousal with Christ, persuading her to preserve the pearl of her virginal purity for that blessed Spouse Whom Love made man” (Legend of Clare 3:5). Though foolish in the eyes of the world, the love of God is worth more than anything in this world. Indeed, only for a higher and more perfect love may a person give up the natural right to marry. God’s Love is more, and in the words of Saint Clare, Jesus Christ Who “though more beautiful than the children of men became, for your salvation, the lowest of men, was despised, struck, scourged untold times throughout His entire body, and then died amid the suffering of the cross” (Second Letter to Agnes 15-20). Our Lord has given Himself totally for love of us, we are encouraged by Saints Francis and Clare to give ourselves totally in return.
In my first year of Priesthood, I was back in Ohio celebrating Masses of Thanksgiving at parishes that I attended growing up. That year, August 11 was a Sunday, and so the Feast of Saint Clare was “hidden” so to speak – again, Saint Clare loved hiddenness, especially in the light of the Resurrection. The baby girl that day to be baptised was named Clare. The young couple did not realize the Providence of that day, that this little one was also to be a daughter of Clare as in Baptism she was becoming a child of God.
The Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word were founded in 1987 by another daughter of Saint Clare, Mother Angelica. One of the primary aspects of our life is to serve the spiritual and spiritual needs of the Poor Clare Nuns. In chapter six of the Rule of Saint Clare, she recounted the words of Saint Francis: “Because by divine inspiration you have made yourselves daughters and handmaids of the most High, most Exalted King, the heavenly Father, and have taken the Holy Spirit as your spouse, choosing to live according to the perfection of the holy Gospel, I resolve and promise for myself and for my brothers always to have the same loving care and special solicitude for you as for them.” We live out this will of Saint Francis – and our Constitutions – by our care and solicitude for the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration, and especially the Sisters at Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in Hanceville, Alabama and the many who come to the Shrine. Above all, this is performed in worthy celebration of the Mass and feeding with the Word of God.
A religious and contemplative vocation is more perfect not because we ourselves are so wonderful or stronger than anyone else; indeed “we are frail and inclined to every bodily weakness” (cf. Third Letter to Agnes 29). Our vocation is the way of perfection because it opens up for us every possibility of growing in charity by revealing to us our great need for God, while putting aside even those good things which can become in human frailty an obstacle to grace. The Friars support the Nuns by guiding them in the Way, who is our Salvation. At the same time, we are inspired by those who like Saint Clare, reveal to us a strength of heart which overcomes any obstacle, like the barricaded door she escaped through Palm Sunday night to give her life to Christ Crucified. In a world so deeply in need of witnesses and consecrated souls, pray for holy and persevering vocations to the religious life.
Fr. Paschal Mary, MFVA