Chiara Offreduccio (St. Clare) was born in 1194. It is said that when her mother had Chiara in her womb, an angel appeared to her and said, "your child will be a light that will illuminate the world!" Hence, her mother named the child Chiara, which means "light.
As G.K. Chesterton put it, St. Clare was a romantic figure just like Juliet was. However, instead of running away from her family in order to be with an earthly man, Clare gave up everything and ran away from her family for the love of her Savior!
HAPPY FEAST OF THE SOLEMNITY OF THE SERAPHIC FATHER, SAINT FRANCIS OF ASSISI! (I'm not sure whether Solemnities for Saints can be observed on a Sunday, but I will go ahead with this anyway)
As many of my readers might have gathered, I tend to be a bit verbose. So, in honor of the Saint who embraced simplicity as a way of approaching God, I will keep this quite simple.
Although the below "Prayer of Saint Francis" was not actually written by him...(and also I'm not a fan of the tune to which it is set)...the words are very much in the spirit of Francis.
When I am feeling overwhelmed and worried, I often recite this prayer and it takes me out of myself. Somewhere I've read that worries come from someone taking her focus off of God and instead placing it on herself. This prayer always helps me realize that all my actions are in the hands of God, and I am able to relax because I am simply His instrument.
May each and every one of you allow yourselves to be the Lord's instrument on this day and every day!
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy. O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; for it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
THE SOLEMNITY OF THE FEAST OF HOLY MOTHER CLARE, 2009
PAX ET BONUM! I WISH YOU ALL A MOST WONDERFUL SOLEMNITY OF THE FEAST OF SAINT CLARE…”SANTA CHIARA”!
This is a particularly appropriate year to be celebrating the Feast of Holy Mother Clare, who turned poverty in a way to become closer to Christ. Whether or not our situations can be described as “poverty,” nearly everyone has been touched in some way by this recession….the loss of a job, savings account, a livelihood. In turn, these losses cause blows to our pride. As dramatically pious as Clare’s cutting off her beautiful hair appeared, it was an act that left her and others uncomfortable. Everything that she had that made her the sweetheart of Assisi was stripped from her….her noble title, wealth, home, family, clothing, jewels, and beauty. Her actions thereafter, in the eyes of the world, were not remarkable….she lived a quiet life of prayer and penance. Despite her poverty and rejection, Clare allowed God’s light to shine through her…and as prophesied before her birth, she became a “light to illumine the whole world.” Like Christ, Clare’s life echoes the words of my favorite scripture passage:
Isaiah 53: 1-12: Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed.
I will be the first to admit that I have seldom written blog posts this past year, and the ones that I have written have not been profound….I apologize to those who found the donkey story a bit schmaltzy, but it was a story that had been swimming in my head for years and I finally wanted to write it down. Although the feast days of my favorite Saints used to be huge deals for me in years past….with my two weeks of countdowns, parties, etc…..I’ve let many of the feast days this year peacefully come and go with personal reflection but not a whole lot of to-do.
Nonetheless, I think it might be God’s will that I have taken a short break from His Saints and focused on Him instead. I have run spiritually off-track… and while all my Saints are interceding for me, it is ultimately only Christ who can fix me. My faith had been in a rut long before the economy exploded. Even when the market was stable, the girl who had an “impressive” resume and award-winning credentials from a top-20 school and who was named “most likely to succeed” could not find a job or even a so-called purpose. On the spiritual level, I was a case of a failed vocation and couldn’t even get my Sunday School students to participate. The more assiduous my efforts were to land a job, my hours of cover letters, action verbs, cold calling, “networking,” and other career buzzwords were to no avail. At 24 and without a job, I convinced myself that I was not ‘bearing any fruit.’
In the midst of this “quarter-life crisis,” a spiritual mentor pointed out that my accomplishments, popularity, success, possessions…or lack thereof….did not affect God’s love for me. In fact, the way I based my self-worth on other people’s approval displeased God. Only when I realized that through Christ, I am totally accepted by God- whose opinion is the only one that truly matters- would I be comfortable in my own skin. Why was I trying so hard to prove something to myself and others when I was already totally loved and accepted by Christ?
So, I started to prayerfully reflect on this idea, and if you think about it, Christ’s light shone through the lives of all the Saints- including St. Clare- precisely because they understood that their popularity or achievements in no way affected Christ’s redemptive love. Clare’s life illustrates that even when we are stripped of the things that make us attractive- wealth, social stature, beauty- it has no impact on how God sees us. Clare’s faith was so powerful that even when her family threatened her to return to her old way of life under pain of death, God’s will was the only thing that mattered to her. Even then, God’s will might not have been entirely clear to her….but she let Him lead her by the hand, blindfolded. Slowly and after much prayer, I stopped correlating my career progression with God’s approval and didn’t stress over the fact that I was still jobless and living at home. Sure, my 20s hadn’t turned out to be like my teenage “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” fantasy, but I figured that God would lead me into something else according to His will. Without getting into details, my newly-found freedom through God’s love ultimately led me into a job. At first, I felt Christ working through my every day in spite of my weaknesses. However, many days I forget that God will be there to take care of me and instead I let perfectionism take control . When I base my self-worth on my achievements, it leaves me worn out and anxious…because it becomes all about me, rather than directed towards God.
Hopefully this holy day can be a turning point for me to once again embrace the testament of Holy Mother Clare- poverty, failure, insignificance, rejection, and shame cannot dissuade God from using us as instruments of His Kingdom! Clare’s life is one more beautiful example of how the Saints ultimately point the way towards Christ. I pray that all of you have a peaceful and prayerful day, and ask you to pray for me too! As Holy Father Francis would say, “Peace and All Good”… “Pax et Bonum!”
This little story has been in the works for several years, swimming around in my head.It was only until tonight that I forced my stubborn self to finally write it down! Having ridden mules, donkeys, etc. and becoming frustrated with their frequent stopping, starting, biting, and hee-hawing, I’ve always been bemused by God’s apparent love for donkeys.A donkey carried Mary to Bethlehem and carried Christ into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, as well as many other Biblical accounts of donkeys.Even though they are stubborn and rather unpleasant animals, they nevertheless hold a special place in God’s heart!In a difficult economic time, perhaps this will show that we draw our worth not from what we do ourselves but what God does in us.
A long time ago, a merchant lived in a small village on the outskirts of a very large city.As a businessman, the merchant measured everything he owned according to its monetary value.He meticulously examined the value and expense of each piece of his inventory to every animal in his barn.Among his most valued possessions was a strong female donkey; for years, the merchant rode upon her back to faraway destinations and she carried his many purchases back to the village.Because of the donkey’s strength and endurance, he became one of the most well-traveled and prestigious merchants in the land.
Much to the merchant’s delight, the donkey gave birth to a colt.The colt was larger than most newborn donkeys and within days he could stand on his four legs and trot around the stable.The merchant was so pleased with his donkey’s dividend that he generously fed the growing colt.Although he spent more money than he would ordinarily allocate for animal feed, the merchant presumed that once fully grown, the colt would more than make up for the expenses.Even though food and other niceties were lavished upon the colt, the merchant was not gentle with his animals and so the colt feared his master.Even if a hen did not produce eggs within a given week, the merchant would pluck and roast her!Many times the colt watched his mother being whipped by the merchant if she was slow from weariness after a long journey.As a result, the colt’s once-strong mother gradually weakened after so many whippings! This went largely unnoticed by the merchant, since he placed so much hope in his soon-to-be grown colt.
The time finally came when the colt grew large enough to be ridden upon and carry cargo.The merchant wished to debut his strong colt at a famous bazaar, so he loaded the colt with packs of his finest inventory and a beautiful embroidered saddle with a tasseled harness.When the merchant mounted the saddle and gave the animal a small kick, but the colt did not move.The colt still did not budge after a second and harder kick.After kicking with all his might and yelling “let’s go!” the merchant only felt the colt’s muscles tighten even more.The merchant realized that donkeys are naturally stubborn, but how could an animal be as stubborn as this?
After several more attempts to move the colt, the merchant dismounted, went inside the barn, and returned with his whip.
“Let’s see if this will unfreeze you,” growled the merchant as he lashed the whip across the colt’s back in a quick solid stroke.
The colt felt the sting of the whip and reared onto his hind legs.To relieve the pain, the colt bucked back and forth.Still feeling the pangs, the colt forgot about the cargo on his back and rolled onto the ground.The packs burst open, and the merchant’s vases were crushed and the white fabrics became stained with mud.The colt had ruined over a half of the merchant’s inventory! Meanwhile, the villagers gathered around the scene and laughed at merchant, who grew more livid by the second.
“So much for your exotic voyages,” shouted one neighbor.“This useless animal won’t even take you across the street!”
“Useless?” shouted the merchant.“I will show you all what this colt is worth! Such a magnificent animal simply needs to be broken! You’ll see, I’ll make up for this spoiled merchandise twice fold!”
The next morning, the merchant sent for a stableman who was known to have broken the wildest of animals.Even with a sharper and longer whip, the stableman could not push or prod the colt to move a single inch.Soon, the word had spread that the famed stableman, who had never before failed, could not prevail against the merchant’s colt.
A few hours later, a renowned animal doctor arrived at the merchant’s door.She was known to have sedated wild dogs and drawn milk from dry cows.The animal doctor prepared an elixir especially for this difficult case and she guaranteed that she could move the stubborn colt.She forced the elixir into the colt’s mouth, but the taste was so bitter that the animal bit the doctor’s hand and bucked back and forth.Rubbing her wounded hand and ego, the doctor stormed out of the town while cursing the merchant.
“You wretched animal,” shouted the merchant.“I have spent a quarter of my savings on you, and yet cannot carry anyone or anything.Even worse, you have ruined my reputation as well as my most expensive goods!Since you are a completely worthless and nobody would dare buy you, I will simply kill you!”
By then the sun went down and the merchant remembered that it was the beginning of the Sabbath.Since the law forbade him to perform any labor on the Sabbath, the merchant resolved the kill the colt in two days.Dejectedly, the merchant took a rope and tied the colt to a plank outside his hut.For the next day, the colt anxiously awaited his death and wished that he could have had a chance to say goodbye to his mother.But he was a worthless animal, the colt thought to himself, so how could he possibly face his mother?
That following night, the colt could not get a wink of sleep.He stared into the darkness and watched for the traces of the early morning sun as he listened to his master snoring inside the hut.The villagers awakened and the street slowly came to life.They were more talkative than usual this morning, as there was chatter about a great king making a splendid entrance into the nearby city.
Amidst the throng of talkative townsfolk, two strangers wandered into the village.One of the men whispered into the other’s ear while pointing at the colt.His stubborn reputation had spread far and wide, thought the colt to himself!The two strangers moved towards the hut and the other man began to untie the colt’s rope.
As the stranger was working at the rope’s knot, a crowd of villagers gathered around and laughed at the two men.
“Why are you doing this?” asked a few townspeople.
“Haven’t you heard that this stubborn colt is completely worthless?” asked another woman.
The colt had no idea why the men were untying the rope.Perhaps the merchant had sent for these men to come and kill him!
After the strangers finally loosed the rope, they turned to the crowd and answered, “The Lord has need of him.”
The shorter of the two men gently pulled on the rope and the colt rose to his feet and followed.The chortling crowd grew quiet in amazement.It was ironic that the merchant was still asleep inside the hut while the impossible was happening!
After leading the colt for about a mile, the two men confidently moved through a colorful crowd of strangers and presented the colt to a wiry young man.The colt looked at the man and he felt relaxed.There was something authoritative yet gentle about this man, so unlike the merchant, the stableman, and the animal doctor. The colt also recognized weariness in this man, similar to his worn and whipped mother. This was a man who needed to be carried by a strong and gentle animal.
A couple of other men in the party approached the leader and asked, “are you sure this is what you wanted, master? There are thousands gathered at the entrance of the city- shouldn’t you want a horse instead?”
The young man stroked the colt’s mane as he said, “Behold, your king is coming to you humbly, and mounted on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
The young man’s companions simply nodded and they laid white garments across the colt’s back.Out of habit, the colt’s muscles stiffened and his hair rose.Then, the colt felt the man’s slight body mount his back and gently pat his neck.And the colt moved.
The colt took long and confident strides towards the city gate.He noticed a crowd of thousands waving palm branches and shouting praises.Perhaps they were gathered to greet the king about whom the villagers had spoken.But why was the crowd clearing the way for this worthless colt and his humble rider? And why were the people bowing and shouting “Hosanna” to the young man?
Later that afternoon, the merchant rubbed the sleep from his eyes and stepped outside his hut.He turned to the colt, which he had tied up the day before.
“I had almost forgotten all the trouble you caused me, you worthless animal! How am I to get rid of you?” asked the merchant.
Before he could answer his own question, a crowd of villagers descended upon the merchant’s hut.Nearly a hundred people were shouting at him and waving money in his direction.“How much for the King’s colt?” they asked.
A few years later, the merchant had sold all of his goods and stopped his travelling.After all, he always had to welcome visitors who wanted to see for themselves the famous donkey that had carried the King to His glory!
I hope that everyone is having a peaceful Lent thus far! I also wish you all a most happy Feast of St. Colette!
After several years of trying, I still have not managed to get through Walled in Light, Mother Mary Francis’ book on the life of St. Colette. However, I found this very well-written and honest account of her life on the website of the Poor Clares of Ty Mam Duw, Wales. Please take time to read some of Colette’s prayers, letters, etc. on the same website. Colette may not be as popular as some Saints, but her life is just as inspiring…after all, it should be obvious right now that along with Sts. Clare, Francis, and Anthony, I also have big devotions to lesser-known Saints!
As much as I love love love Mother Mary Francis, I found what I read thus far out of Walled in Light to be a bit too hagiographic: aka, it tends to exaggerate her other-worldliness. I particularly like the Ty Mam Duw article because it explores some of her weaknesses. The young Colette would be described in today’s terms as a “job hopper”: she tried several different vocations before discovering that none of them were quite what God had intended.
What’s more, she never really ‘figured it all out’ or ‘settled down’- she simply put all her faith, love, and energy into her particular situation and placed the rest in God’s hands. I also think that Colette is an inspiration to those who think that they have ‘failed’ by not being able to go through with traditional religious life. I fall into that category and sometimes get down on myself for not having the strength to become a cloistered Poor Clare Colettine nun. However, St. Colette technically was not a “nun” since she traveled from place to place nor was she an official “Poor Clare” as she did not belong to one particular monastery: most accounts of her life indicate that she was a Franciscan sister of the Third Order, rather than the Second Order to which most Poor Clare nuns belong. In spite of her untraditional calling, Colette is considered to be one of the most important reformers of the Franciscan Order and the co-patroness of the Poor Clares.
Colette’s life shows us that God can make saints out of us during tough times and in unusual ways….even if we never really get around to ‘figuring it all out.’
Happy Feast of St. Scholastica, everyone! Along with Francis, Clare, and Anthony of Padua, Scholastica is one of my most talked-about Saints….almost to the point where many people get ‘weirded out’ by my enthusiasm. Many young men have been scared away when I’ve mentioned that if I ever have kids, I would like to name my daughter after St. Scholastica…I’m still trying to come up with a nickname that will roll off the tongue a bit more easily.
Since mourning doves are common in Virginia, my friends and family have heard me retell the legend of St. Scholastica’s death (her soul went up to heaven in the form of a dove) way too many times. When I came across an icon of St. Scholastica in a religious bookstore, I expressed my enthusiasm way too loudly…all the customers gave me that ‘is she crazy?’ glare. I finally gave up looking on Scholastica holy cards, so last year I resorted to making my own, much to the amusement of the local “Kinkos” staff.
Sure, most people have never heard of St. Scholastica before and images of her are not as ubiquitous as St. Therese, St. Francis, and St. Anthony…but even the aforementioned social embarrassments haven’t squelched my devotion to this Saint. Similarly, I think that everyone has some sort of quirky devotion…even though it might not be to a Saint. I know a lady who travels the country and lovingly collects matchbooks to display on her walls. One of my high school friends avidly played Frisbee. Another friend was convinced that Karl Malden was attractive and couldn’t be convinced otherwise. Even Sebastian Flyte of “Brideshead Revisited” had his Aloysius. And don’t even try telling my brother that Europop and Scandinavian progressive metal is uncool.
I’ll admit that Frisbee conjures up images of the 1970s and I think that Europop is over the top campy, but no amount of rhetoric, embarrassment, or obscurity can tear these people away from their beloved hobbies, interests, and quirks. The Catholic geek in me can’t be stopped either. But all this shows how God loves us, just as we love our off-the-wall quirks. Despite how dorky, obscure, “crazy,” and sometimes sinful we humans can be, God loves us in spite of it all. Nothing can stop God from loving us despite our weaknesses…and not even death could tear away His love for us. It is because of this that the Saints point us toward God…whether they are as well-known as St. Francis and St. Bernadette, or more obscure like St. Blandina or my St. Scholastica.
So have yourself a happy St. Scholastica Day and please don’t get “weirded out” if you hear me talking about this awesome Saint!
Remembering Frank Parater, Servant of God...my first post of 2009!
Pax et Bonum, everyone, and Happy New Year! While the first weeks of the year have indeed been difficult for so many of us, I hope that you all have found joy in the many little blessings that God gives us. In that regard, I know that readership of my blog has decreased due to my writers’ block and other circumstances, but I’m grateful for those of you who still check back from time to time! I figured that today, the “Feast” of Frank Parater, Servant of God, would be an ideal day to end my writers’ block and start posting again. For those of you who are unfamiliar with my obsession with Frank Parater, here are some of my past posts which delve into my devotion to this saint-in-the making:
Echoing the theme from St. Therese’s Story of a Soul, Frank wrote the following in a letter written months before his death: “I shall not leave my dear ones. I will always be near them and be able to help them more than I can here below. I shall be of more service to my diocese in heaven than I could ever be on earth.” In particular, Frank wanted to pray for the denizens of our home state of Virginia.
Over the past year, I’m sure that Frank has been praying overtime from his office in heaven! Within the past couple of months, tens of thousands of people in Virginia- and the rest of the country- have lost their jobs and savings, including many of my friends. For those of us who were already without jobs, employment was nearly impossible to find.
In my own case, months of futile job searching, hundreds of resume revisions, and fruitless cover letters left me embittered, anxious, and blind to the many gifts God has given me. However, I began to rethink this way of valuing myself when I randomly came across this quote from St. John of the Cross: “All goods were given to me when I no longer sought them through self-love.” It’s been quite a struggle overcoming the “employment=success=happiness” mindset and I often backslide, but I am strengthened by the way Frank Parater courageously channeled his gifts towards God and others. Thus, I’ve discovered over the past six months that happiness does not come in the form of a salary- it comes from prayer, reaching out to friends, helping family members, and asking the Holy Spirit to channel our gifts and talents according to His will. Besides, I feel much more in touch with my Franciscan roots now that I’m shopping in thrift and dollar stores rather than hitting the mall each week like I used to do several years ago.
When Frank left his Virginia childhood of scouting and camping trips behind to attend an unfamiliar overseas seminary, he was understandably anxious. Similarly, we are all a bit frightened to see our youthful ambitions slip away as our country moves into uncharted territory. However, the lives of past saints like Frank Parater illustrate that God always gives His children the grace to courageously shine Christ’s light in the most dark and difficult circumstances. In spite of ourselves, our prayers have been answered.
Here in the South, it’s not every day that you find a Catholic bookstore. It’s even rarer to find a GOOD Catholic bookstore. Even at GOOD Catholic bookstores in large cities, I rarely find holy cards/medals of more obscure Saints like St. Scholastica.
Ave Maria Sacred Art based in Richmond, VA is a rare exception; it’s probably the best Catholic bookstore I’ve been to, and being a Notre Dame alum, I have certainly seen my share of Catholic bookstores. In fact, this was the only place that carried my beloved St. Scholastica medal….I was so excited by this, that I kind of weirded out the sales clerk.