A joyfully Franciscan view of Catholic life, inspired by St. Clare (Santa Chiara) of Assisi!

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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!

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Red-Carpet-Worthy Habits: The Poor Clares

With the Academy Award’s tonight, it’s going to be a night full of fashion! In the coming couple of weeks, the magazines and newspapers will be full of pictures of celebrities in gorgeous gowns, jewels as big as ice-skating rinks, and the latest hairstyles and shoes. Let’s not forget that St. Clare was also a fashionable lady in her day, and she certainly did not check her fashion sense at the door of the cloister! Indeed, all of the nuns I’ve ever seen- Poor Clares, Visitation Nuns, Dominicans, etc.- have looked very chic in their habits. To quote the book In This House of Brede, “the wimple…(which is the white cloth that covers nuns’ heads and necks) was the most becoming wear ever invented for women.” Is it any wonder that the founders of the major Orders of nuns (St. Clare, St. Scholastica, St. Colette, St. Jane Marie de Chantal) came from Italy and France, which are the two “fashion capitals” of the world?

Hence, over the next two weeks I’m going to be doing a series that focuses on the habits of various orders of nuns! Sisters, strike a pose!

First on the "red carpet" we have the Poor Clares. The Poor Clare Colettine habit has changed very little since St. Clare first donned it 800 years ago. The only major change is that the wimple (the cloth that goes around the neck) used to cover part of the chin. Also, in a conversation with Mother Clare from the Barhamsville Monastery, some Poor Clares still wear a mantle (a kind of cape) which serves the dual purpose of providing warmth and concealing the feminine figure. The Poor Clares in warmer climates don’t wear mantles, since the guimpe (the part of the habit that looks like a baby’s bib) serves the purpose of hiding the feminine form. I was once told by someone else that the reason why Poor Clares wear black veils is because St. Clare first went to live with the Benedictine Nuns before she officially started her own order of Poor Ladies. She decided to keep the black veil as a reminder of the close relationship between her own order and the Benedictine Nuns. St. Scholastica would be proud!

Here is an excerpt from the Poor Clare constitutions on their habits:

“These are the Poor Clare nuns. The habit is grey-brown in color. The simple white headdress is unstarched, the black veil plain. The white Franciscan cord has four symbolic knots, representing the religious vows , and from it is suspended the Franciscan Crown of Our Lady’s Seven Joy’s. The nun’s walk barefoot. And their lives bear merry testimony to the Scriptures: “as having nothing and yet possessing all things” (2 Cor 6:10)

Even though their habit is slightly different, here is a lovely reflection on the Poor Clare habit worn by the Poor Clare Nuns of Perpetual Adoration, more commonly known as the EWTN Nuns:

The habit is an exterior sign of our commitment and total consecration to Jesus Christ. Each part of the holy habit, even its colors, has deep spiritual meaning.

Underneath the white veil, the nun wears a white head covering. This is a symbol that her mind is not on "the world" but on the Kingdom that is to come. No part of her mind, intellect, memory, or will is to be part of the world, part of darkness, or part of anything that is contrary to Jesus Christ. The white collar is a symbol that the nun is surrounded with "community", the religious life lived in common. She wishes to live in goodness, in love, and in poverty of mind and heart. She puts at the very top of her body, which is consecrated to God, something white as a constant reminder that she is a temple of the Holy Spirit. That temple must be ever clean and pure. All the white parts of her habit are a symbol of her desire to exemplify the awesome purity of God Himself in the Most Holy Eucharist.

The earthly color of the brown Franciscan habit reminds the nun of the Scripture passage used on Ash Wednesday: "Remember thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return". It also is a remembrance for her that - without Him - she is absolutely nothing.

The white Franciscan cord, with three knots in it, symbolizes the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience that this new novice hopes to make at her first holy profession. Over the habit is placed a brown mantle, which is worn at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It is a symbol of the nun's love for Our Lady and also of the Blessed Virgin Mary's maternal protection.

Friday, February 23, 2007

"Merry" Mother Mary Francis

It was almost a year ago at this time that Jesus called one of his spouses, Mother Mary Francis, a Poor Clare Colettine, to be with Him. Unfortunately, I didn't find out about her passing until about five months after it had occurred! Thus, I wanted to take this opportunity to make you all aware of this beautiful woman who, although I have never met her, has been very influential in my life.

You'll see in my sidebar that I link to a book called "A Right to Be Merry." This book is the definitive book about the Poor Clare Colettines and has helped countless young women, including the Abbess at the Barhamsville Monastery, to discern their vocation to the Poor Clare life. One friend once said to me, "how can anyone read that book and not want to be a Poor Clare?!" Just as the title suggests, Mother Mary Francis (who wrote the book when she was Sister Mary Francis) describes the joys, tears, sacrifices, and laughter that comes with being a Poor Clare. She perfectly explains the concept of enclosure and the contemplative life in simple but very poetical language.

If the Poor Clare Colettines have had any "celebrities," Mother Mary Francis is as close to one as you can get. She was instrumental in founding the Roswell, NM monastery and re-founding the monastery outside of Chicago. She's also written the beautiful play "Candle in Umbria," a play about St. Juan Diego, reflections on the Beatitudes and Poor Clare life, poetry, and countless other books. Pouring through each one of her written works is a great sense of love for her sisters and the outside world, charity, patience, as well as a tremendous sense of humour which is prevalent in all of the Poor Clares that I've met. Here is a link to Ignatius Press' page about her many works.

Below is a biography on her written by the Institute of Religious Life:

Mother Mary Francis, P.C.C., Passes to Eternal Reward

In 2002, Mother Mary Francis, P.C.C., was given the IRL's Pro Fidelitate et Virtute Award, in recognition of her contributions to the consecrated life by her books, poetry and the inspiring example of her life of contemplative prayer. During her forty-plus years as abbess of the Roswell monastery, six Poor Clare foundations were made from it. This faithful bride of Christ was called to her eternal reward on February 11, just three days before what would have been Mother's 84th birthday.

Born on St. Valentine's Day in 1921 in St. Louis, Missouri, Alberta Aschmann knew at the age of 16 that she had to be a nun. After high school she joined the School Sisters of Notre Dame and attended St. Louis University. But her time there ended quickly when God's call sounded in her heart again. In 1942 she left everything and entered the Poor Clares. On June 26, 1943, she received the holy habit and her new religious name, Sister Mary Francis of Our Lady.
Her abbess, Mother Immaculata, permitted her to develop her gift of writing poetry and a first volume, Whom I Have Loved , was published while Sister Francis was still in the novitiate. This brought her visits from well-known poets and from Eleanor Belloc Jebb, who was sent by her father, Hilaire Belloc, to meet this rising literary star.

In 1948, a year after her final profession, Sister Francis was included among the Poor Clares sent to Roswell, New Mexico, to begin a new foundation. A few years later, the abbess commissioned her to enter a book contest. When Sister Francis asked what to write about, Mother Immaculata replied, “I don't care, just win the prize. The roof needs to be fixed.” Sister Francis wrote about what she knew best, the Poor Clare life, and the result was A Right to Be Merry . Circumstances intervened to prevent entry in the contest, but the book was published and become the Catholic best seller of 1956. And the roof was fixed.

In 1964, the community chose her as its new abbess and the next year she was elected head of federation of Colettine Poor Clare monasteries in the United States. Mother served in this capacity for sixteen years. Through her writings and now through her spiritual daughters, Mother Mary Francis worked tirelessly to encourage religious on every continent to stand firm in preserving the ideals of religious life. May God now richly reward her for these efforts.
Read more about the
Roswell, NM Poor Clares, and these daughter communities: Alexandria, VA; Chicago, IL; Belleville, IL; and Los Altos Hills, CA,

In closing, I'll just mention that sometimes when I'm feeling blue, I'll google her picture and looking at her sweet and pleasant smile always makes me "merry"!

Monday, February 12, 2007

A Collection of 'Classic Chiara' Posts

Dear ‘Chiara’ friends…….I went to vote for another friend’s blog for the Catholic Blog Awards and noticed that “Canticle of Chiara” had been nominated for the category of “Most Spiritual Blog.” I’m very flattered and honored, especially because so many other wonderful blogs were nominated for the same category. Many thanks to whoever nominated me.
I’m also very happy that the Poor Clares’ blog, “Clare- Light on the Mountain” was also nominated for two different categories!

In case you’d like to vote for “Canticle of Chiara,” here is the link to the ballot. I’ve also prepared a list below of what I consider to be some of my best and “most spiritual” blogposts:

“The Bridegroom: A Fairy Tale About a ‘Bride of Christ’” (This is my personal favorite post. I’ve also had the pleasure of meeting in person several friends of “Canticle of Chiara,” and they’ve said that this was their favorite post, too!)

Saturday, February 10, 2007

ST. SCHOLASTICA: An Early Saint of Modern Relevance

HAPPY FEAST OF SAINT SCHOLASTICA! I remember last year on the Feast of St. Scholastica, I went around to everyone that I knew and wished them a happy Scholastica Day. To put it in colloquial terms, they were a bit ‘weirded out.’ Of course, most of my friends know that I’m a ‘Saint nerd,’ and I get very excited on the Feast Days of some of the “bigger” Saints, like St. Clare Day and St. Francis Day…..but I the reason they were taken aback is simply because they were surprised that I was excited over a less popular, strangely-named Saint like Scholastica. Similar to St. Clare, Scholastica is one of those Saints with whom I have been devoted to ever since I was a kid, even though I could never articulate any reasons as to why I love her so much. However, as I’ve mentioned in many of my past posts, loving a particular Saint doesn’t mean that you have to go down a laundry list of reasons for being a devoted to them. Devotion to a Saint may or may not be something that you can articulate. In the case of Scholastica, it wouldn’t be possible for me to give many reasons for being devoted to her because there isn’t that much information about her.

We do know that Scholastica was the twin sister of St. Benedict, and that she grew up in a wealthy noble family. Just like her brother Benedict, she felt God calling her to the contemplative life and founded the first women’s monastic community in Western Europe. Even though she never left behind any writings, she must have been a woman of great insight and love in order to realize the great good that women can do who give their entire lives to be in union with Christ in a life of prayer and penance.

Scholastica is a Saint who is particularly relevant to laypeople today as well. For men and women out in the workforce, “work-life balance” is a term that may be a bit overused but a concept that is definitely a reality. For Christians, our desires to maintain a steady prayer life can often seem like its throwing an extra ball into the “juggling act” of our already busy schedules. Today we might call it “work life balance,” or “time management,” but Scholastica and her brother Benedict called it “Ora et Labora” (prayer and work). The idea was to arrange a work/prayer schedule throughout the day so that the members of their communities could work in a productive and prayerful manner without feeling that they were being overworked and so that they could pray regularly and not become “burnt out” on prayer, as can sometimes happen when you don’t schedule time to do non-prayer activities. Since women in particular are naturally persevering and participatory, I think that Scholastica understood how the “Ora et Labora” system would be good for her sisters by helping them to maintain a healthy balance in their spiritual lives.

We only have one anecdote from the life of St. Scholastica, about an incident from when she met with her brother Benedict shortly before her death. You can read about it here from one of my past blogposts. One of the virtues that Scholastica displays in this little story is not only her childlike faith in God but also the way she made time for her family and made visiting with him a top priority. Despite the violent storm going on outside, she simply wanted to spend time with her beloved brother. Perhaps Scholastica’s intercession can help us find the strength to love and devote time to our families despite the emotional and situational storms that might be raging in our lives.

That's about all that we know about St. Scholastica. In spite of the little information we have of her, she is nonetheless a beautiful Saint whose intercession has been very powerful in my own spiritual life. I’d like to close with a quote from St. Therese’s Story of a Soul which, although not specifically written about St. Scholastica, could certainly be applied in her case:

O Mother, how different are the ways through which the Lord leads souls! In the lifes of the Saints, we find many of them who didn’t want to leave any of themselves behind after their death, not the smallest souvenir, not the least bit of writing. On the contrary, there are others….who have enriched the Church with their lofty revelations, having no fears of revealing the secrets of the King in order that they may make Him more loved and known by souls. Which of these two types of Saints is more pleasing to God? It seems to me, Mother, they are equally pleasing to Him, since all of them followed the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and since the Lord has said, “Tell the just man ALL is well.”


Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Servant of God Frank Parater: An Unlikely Hero

Today is the Feast Day of the Servant of God, Francis J. Parater. I wrote a very extensive reflection on Frank Parater’s Feast Day last year, in which you will also be able to read a short biography of the life of this beautiful saint-in-the-making. Last year I expressed to you all basically everything I have to tell about my devotion to and love of Frank as well as the profound influence he has played in my spiritual life. However, what makes this year’s feast day especially poignant for me is that I am currently the same age as Frank was when, on February 7th, 1920, he went to meet his Savior. The example of his virtuous life and heroic death prove that being young and saintly are not at all contradictory.

‘Heroic’ is a word that is commonly used to describe Frank’s death. Given the specific criteria that our modern culture has assigned to the term, the heroic nature of Frank’s death is not immediately apparent. Heroic deaths are usually considered to involve an voluntary and extraordinary act of courage in the face of an unusually dangerous war, disaster, or other perilous situation. More often than not, a ‘hero’ dies while attempting to save another person from harm.

How does Frank meet any of these criteria of dying a ‘heroic’ death? He involuntarily came down with a case of rheumatism in the middle of January while he was studying at the North American College Seminary in Rome. Over the next two weeks, Frank’s condition deteriorated and he had to be committed to the local hospital. On Saturday, February 7th, 1920, after receiving Last Rites, Frank died in his hospital bed. Those are at least the basic facts.

Considering all the truly ‘heroic’ ways that young people have died, why does a person whose death was no different from anyone else who simply dies a peaceful death in a hospital deserve to be classified as a ‘hero’? Just because Frank might not be classified as a ‘hero,’ doesn’t mean that he shouldn’t be regarded as a Saint! However, Frank did die heroically and courageously.

A heroic death involves a voluntary and extraordinary act of courage in the face of a perilous situation:

Even though he didn’t die or fight on the battlefield, Frank could be directly compared to the “lost generation” of young men who fought during WWI. These were largely talented and privileged young men whose lives and plans were completely interrupted by the destruction of war. For many of these men whose ideals were shattered by war, life just didn’t make sense.

Similarly, Frank had ‘everything going for him’: he was notably the most popular man in his seminary in Rome, excelled in his courses, was very spiritually deep, and had the potential to do immense good for the Church. Frank was supremely happy with his life in Rome whole he was pursuing his lifelong vocation to be a priest. It simply didn’t make sense as to why God would allow such wonderful plans to be drawn to a halt by a seemingly meaningless death. At only 22 years of age, Frank must have felt great confusion and sadness at this seemingly nonsensical twist of fate. He could have grumbled about the illness and been overcome by despair. However, Frank courageously and voluntarily chose to embrace this suffering as part of God’s overall plan. Indeed, Frank realized that even though most forms of suffering don’t make the least bit of sense, we can still actively choose to unite our sufferings with the passion of Our Lord. One of the wonderful things about Christianity is that through a redemptive act of love, our God encountered the same mental and physical sufferings that humans undergo; even though death initially appeared to triumph over Him, God ultimately claimed the victory. Through God’s grace, we too are allowed to participate in Christ’s redemptive act of hope triumphing over despair by means of offering up our sufferings with Him.

A ‘heroic death’ involves someone dying while attempting to save another person from harm:

Frank didn’t die while trying to save a baby from a burning house, or he didn’t expire trying to escape from a mine field while carrying a soldier on his back. However, he did write the following ‘Last Will and Testament’ two months prior to his death and while in perfect health:

I have nothing to leave or give but my life and this I have consecrated to the Sacred Heart to be used as He wills. I have offered my all for the conversion of non-Catholics in Virginia. This is what I live for and in case of death what I die for:…Since my childhood I have wanted to die for God and my neighbor. Shall I have this grace? I do not know, but if I go on living, I shall live for this same purpose; every action of my life here is offered for the spread and success of the Catholic Church in Virginia…I shall be of more service to my diocese in Heaven than I can ever be on earth.

The intense pain that Frank suffered the following January was not in vain. Frank intuitively realized that by making the above ‘Act of Oblation,’ he was sharing in the redemptive work of Christ by lovingly offering up his future sufferings in order to help others, namely the conversion of non-Catholics in Virginia. As you may have read in last year’s blog post, Frank’s intercession in Heaven has certainly been quite powerful in having me return to the Catholic Church!

At age 22, a lot of things don’t make sense….just like many people of Frank’s ‘lost generation’, ideals have been built up and are often torn down by acts of violence and destruction. It is often easy for us young people to adopt an attitude of despair once we begin to notice all of the suffering that takes place in the world. However, Frank is a ‘hero’ for young people because he shows us how to suffer with hope, faith, and love. Frank shows us that to be a hero, we need not rush into battle but rather prayerfully unite our sufferings with the sufferings of Christ. Frank teaches us that being a ‘hero’ to another person doesn’t always mean that we need to physically save their life….it doesn’t even necessitate that we have to know him or her. However, it does mean that we must have a willingness to make a spiritual sacrifice for that person (e.g., a specific friend who is sick), a group of people (e.g.., those discerning the religious life), or a particular cause (e.g., an end to abortion).

In closing, I hope that the Servant of God Frank Parater’s intercession may work for you in your life. I will leave you with a brief quote from one of his letters:

Pray hard for your boy. The path God has destined me to walk glistens before me like the shimmering path of moonbeams on the water. But how many pitfalls, briars, and thorns have been hidden along that way. Beg God to give me the grace of one thing - 'to do His will perfectly.' That alone is enough. However hard the cross may be, however rough the way, I know it is God's will and I shall have grace to persevere until the end. 'Thy Will be done,' beg the Cor Jesu to give me the grace to make it my motto, the standard of my life. And then whether I die within the year or live to a ripe old age, I shall die happily and willingly, praising the Lord.
(Letter to Mother, February 11, 1919)

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Capuchin Sisters of Nazareth

So if you’re a woman who thinks that God might be calling you to the religious life, want to follow in the footsteps of St. Clare, but don’t quite feel called to the cloistered contemplative life….wow, have I found an awesome community of sisters for you to check out!

The Capuchin Sisters of Nazareth in Pennsylvania classify themselves as “apostolic contemplatives”- meaning that they place a huge emphasis on contemplative prayer and adoration, yet also engage in youth ministry, home visits, parish mission work, etc.

They seem to have two different web sites. Here is the first one. Here is the second.

The Capuchin Sisters of Nazareth seem to take their Franciscan charism very seriously. Also, their strong devotion to Mary is wonderful. It also looks like they have many of the traditions of the Poor Clares, including the wearing of the crown of thorns, wearing the Franciscan Crown Rosaries at their waists, and their habits are extremely similar.

From looking at their vocation page, it looks as though these ladies are extremely popular and do a great job at reaching out to prospective vocations via “come and see” retreats. I encourage anyone of you who might be interested to go and learn more about them!

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Lenten Retreat with Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity

It's been a few days since I've blogged, and it was a bid providential/coincidental that two of my friends who I don't think know each other e-mailed me on the same day in order to notify me of an upcoming retreat held by the wonderful Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity. Before I tell you about the retreat, I'd like to direct you to the the Franciscan Sisters' of Christian Charity very creative and informative website. It's rather fitting that I make this post on Superbowl weekend, since the FSCC "Called to Be" initiative is one of the most creative vocation 'advertising campaigns' of its kind.

On March 2-5, the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity will be holding a Lenten/Spring Retreat for single young women in Manitowoc, WI. Click on the link below for the full pdf. flyer:


Even if you can't make it to the retreat, be sure to check out the "Franciscanized World" section of the "Called to Be" website. Cool stuff.

It's going to be a big week for "Canticle of Chiara"....it's the 'feast day' of Frank Parater on February 7th, and also the Feast of St. Scholastica on the 10th!

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