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!

Thursday, May 31, 2007

"Call Stories": Poor Clare Rollerblading Towards God

St. Therese always said that she wanted to go to heaven in an elevator....I guess that the Poor Clare Colettine in this news clip wants to rollerblade towards Our Lord! Either way, it looks like she's living a life full of contemplation and sacrifice. I found the article while trying to look for something else, but instead I found this news clip! This post will be part of a continuing series of "call stories" on my blog that will feature....well, you guessed it!....accounts of how nuns and sisters were called to that way of life! I like this particular "call story" insofar as it illustrates how it took a little bit of prodding in order for Sister Christina to become comfortable to the idea of the contemplative life. Furthermore, now that she's professed, it's not all that easy for her....there are alot of generational issues with some of her sisters that she must deal with. I hope you enjoy this story as much as I did!

CLEVELAND -- Sister Christina usually has her eyes on heaven.

This day, however, she gazes downward, at the sidewalk. Arms pumping, veil flying, the 33-year-old cloistered nun skates into a turn on a path behind monastery walls, hoping that her wheels don't drop into the inch-wide valley between the concrete slabs.

When that happens, she takes a tumble, hitting the ground and rolling to avoid injury. “I know how to fall,” she says with a rueful smile.

What compelled the Gen-Xer -- a college graduate who enjoyed hanging out with friends; surfing the Internet for information on Gary Sinise, her favorite actor; and eating at Olive Garden -- to lock herself away from the world eight years ago?

Sister Christina didn't know then, but she knows now.

In many ways, the Poor Clare Colettine nun is representative of young women who choose to become nuns and are a product of their generation and society.
In one major way, she is not. Unlike many Catholic nuns, she was not raised Catholic. Growing up in suburban Syracuse, N.Y., she attended an Evangelical Covenant church with her parents and younger brother.

“I was really searching for something else,” she says in the monastery's parlor, a large room filled with light and plants.

She sits perched on a straight-back chair behind a 2-foot wooden partition topped with a mustard-color metal grate that reaches to the ceiling. “I didn't quite know what that was. I just felt like, ‘This isn't working for me anymore.’”
A high school classmate gave her a rosary, which is used in a prayer of meditation that draws on the intercession of Mary. She hid it in a dresser drawer.

“I was afraid to use it,” she says. “It seemed like I was praying to Mary. But I was attracted to it, and the more I prayed it, the closer, I think, I got to the church.”

Soon after, she visited a Catholic church. “I cried through the whole Mass,” she says. “Something was there that I had been searching for. And now I realize it was Jesus. ... It was his presence.”

At 17, she converted, without her parents' knowledge. “My mother, when she found out, hit the roof and three planes overhead,” she says with a laugh. “She said, ‘Why didn't you give me a chance to talk you out of it?’

“My parents eventually accepted it. They were just a little upset about how I went about it.”

Seven years later, the couple would receive a second jolt when their daughter told them she had decided to join the Poor Clares, a cloistered community of nuns in Cleveland.

Ask Sister Christina why she chose the Poor Clares, and she answers quickly: “Their spirituality.”

It is, she says, a love of Jesus that manifests itself in a deep concern for the world. “You love the world so much because he does,” she says, and that is why the nuns split away from society. “You see all the grates and the separation. It's not because we don't like the world. It's because we really love it and want to remain so and pray for it.”

Once she was living in the three-story, red-brick monastery, she saw the concern almost immediately in the sisters' compassionate reaction to a disaster outside their gates.

The cloistered sisters knew of the catastrophe because of the community's three extern sisters, who clip items of concern from the newspaper and leave them on a table in the library. The women also answer the phone, shop, drive the cloistered sisters to the doctor, maintain the public chapel and do whatever is needed to keep the monastery operating. They live steps from the cloistered sisters but have a key to the enclosed area and participate in the nuns' community life as much as they can.

Unlike the 20 sisters in the cloister, the extern sisters may watch television and listen to the radio. Usually, however, the public alerts them to news, such as a caller who told the community about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The public also calls in -- day and night -- with prayer requests, which the extern sisters post on a bulletin board outside the kitchen for all the sisters to see.

Prayer is the Poor Clares' main ministry. Every moment of every day, a sister is petitioning God. The women practice perpetual adoration, spending hourlong shifts in front of the Blessed Sacrament, the exposed host that is believed to be the body of Christ, in the chapel. Seven times a day, beginning at midnight, they also chant the Liturgy of the Hours, an ancient ritual of special prayers sanctifying the parts of each day.

The women even pray while they work, in silence, as a cook, seamstress, treasurer or, in Sister Christina's case, the “procurator” who arranges for food and supplies for the nuns' community.

“People think we are a direct channel to God,” says Mother Mary Jude, the monastery's mother abbess who has joined Sister Christina in the parlor. “But they are, too.”

Sister Christina agrees but adds, “Lay people have to work, they have other obligations. We have the time to pray and we take it to heart. It's serious. It's what we do.”

In 2004, Sister Christina pronounced her vows: poverty, chastity, enclosure and obedience. No money. No men. No movement. No problem.

Following orders, that was the challenge.

“When I first arrived, the novice mistress (supervisor) would ask me, ‘Would you like to do this?’ I'd say, ‘No thanks, I don't think I want to do that,’” Sister Christina says, eyes widening. “I soon learned I was expected to do it.”

Mother Jude smiles at the story. “It took me a long time to understand her,” says the mother abbess, who entered the monastery in 1966 at the age of 22.

It wasn't just Sister Christina; many young women who enter the monastery have difficulty with obedience, says Mother Jude, and it causes friction between the older and younger women.

The older Poor Clares -- the average age is in the 50s -- are used to the strict schedule that revolves around prayer and work, the close quarters, the silence.

Gen-Xers, however, come from a fast-paced life. They often have less of a family structure than the older nuns did and so might not have been taught skills -- such as ironing or proper table manners -- that the older nuns were.

“It's not that we're being obstinate,” Sister Christina says. “We just don't know it.”

The community includes four women in their 30s and 40s who are in the formation stages of becoming a nun. A 19-year-old from Colorado is expected to enter the monastery in January.

While some orders around the country report an increase in the number of young women entering monasteries, Cleveland does not.

“In the '50s, they were coming in droves,” says Sister Marietta Starrie, director of the Office for Religious in the Cleveland Catholic Diocese. “They aren't doing that now.

“In general, we have seen no real surge in our diocese.”

Sister Christina falls occasionally, both on her Blade Runners -- a possession she is allowed for recreation purposes -- and in her spiritual life.

“Faith is that constant call to become more like Christ. To be constantly giving yourself like Christ, to empty yourself, that's hard to do.”

“Plenty of times,” she says, she has wanted to walk out of the monastery and board a bus to New York.

“Once I calmed down and thought clearly, I realized it wasn't as bad as I thought,” she says.

“When I'm at peace, I don't want to leave. I want to be here. That is a sign to me, a sign that God is in that decision and that this is the place where I'm supposed to be.”

(Janet Fillmore writes for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland.)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

"The Painted Veil" and the Vocation of Love

There are a handful of movies out there about nuns, and many movies about marriage….but seldom does a film explore both of those vocations at the same time! The wonderful film adaptation of Maugham’s novel The Painted Veil beautifully and maturely delves into the difficulties and joys of marriage and, to a lesser extent, the religious life.

In brief, The Painted Veil is the story of how a community of hospital sisters in rural 1920s China brings joy into the lives of a bitter English doctor and his selfish wife. If you never thought you’d get to see Diana Rigg in a religious habit after she made the mediocre film adaptation of In This House of Brede, think again! She plays the Mother Abbess!

I won’t delve into the plot all that much, as I really advise you to rent the movie. However, I would like to comment that one of the best things about the film is its realistic depiction of both vocations. As you will see when you watch the movie, there really isn’t any romance in the couple’s marriage, but there is love. This love ultimately forces them to patiently deal with each other’s annoying idiosyncrasies, as unromantic and dull as it may be. Nonetheless, it is this “true love”- free of any hackneyed meaning of the phrase- that causes their marriage and indeed all lasting marriages to endure.

Similarly, there is a part in the movie where the Mother Abbess explains the nature of her spiritual marriage to Jesus. Indeed, when she was a young girl and first felt called to the religious life, she felt passionately romantic towards God. Such romantic feelings provided her with initial endurance to pursue her vocation as a sister. However, as the Mother Abbess got older, she entered a time of spiritual dryness in which she felt as if God didn’t seem to respond to her prayers. The Mother Abbess made a comment along the lines of, “we’ve become like a pair of old spouses, who spend their lives sitting next to each other on a couch, never uttering a word to each other…but we’ve become so comfortable sitting on that couch, that neither of us wants to get up.”

From what I’ve been told by many nuns, this is not far from the truth. Indeed, I remember some of the Poor Clares telling us at retreat last year that there are certainly times that they feel like quitting their way of life and walking out of the cloister. However, no matter how frustrated they get, they know that they can never abandon their way of life because they love Jesus too much to do otherwise.

If I’ve made a mistake in some of my blogposts over the past couple of years, perhaps it has been over-romanticizing the religious life- making it seem as though being a nun or a sister is a perpetual romance with Jesus. As both married people and nuns can attest to, marriage to an earthly bridegroom or the Bridegroom isn’t a perpetual romance, but it is a perpetual love story.

The Painted Veil is one of the most beautiful, thought-provoking films I’ve ever seen! Watching it caused me to thank Jesus for calling people in all states of life….single, married, and the religious life…to follow the vocation of love!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Comments on "20/20's" Cloistered Nuns News Segment

I wouldn’t be fulfilling my “Canticle of Chiara” duties unless I commented on Friday evening’s 20/20 segment on cloistered nuns! For those who didn’t see the show, a written story can be found here along with a shorter video synopsis of the segment.

The bottom line is that I was slightly disappointed. I think that I was so incredibly excited that my Poor Clares were going to be on TV that my initial expectations were a bit too high. Needless to say, there were parts of the segment that were really well done, especially for a secular news program. However, I think that 20/20 angled the story as to not focus enough on the joy associated with cloistered life….instead, it seemed to take a sensationalist “Oh my goodness, look at how severe this way of life is!” approach! When the late Mother Mary Francis of Roswell, NM tried to respond to Diane Sawyer’s question as to how cloistered nuns are helping those in the world, Sawyer seemed to respond with skepticism. To make matters worse, 20/20 didn’t seem to be interested in exploring the power of prayer by the cloistered nuns….it rather focused on the negative aspects of cloistered life. Indeed, negativity was abundant throughout the segment; in one conversation, Sawyer accused the nuns of running to the cloister because they had somehow failed in the outside world. Obviously Sawyer neglected to research the life of the Poor Clares’ Foundress! Kudos to the nun who responded to Sawyer by saying, “in most cases, it is success that leads us to the cloister.”

I did like the various interviews with the four or five wonderful girls who went on the vocation retreat with the nuns. Their candid answers to Sawyer’s queries evoked the many emotions that come with discerning the religious life. If any of those retretants happen to be reading this blog right now, I’d like to welcome you to the “Canticle of Chiara” community!

Even though the segment had its flaws, ABC at least made a good effort at trying to explore the factors behind the growing number of cloistered vocations; thank you very much for airing the segment and for choosing to interview the wonderful Poor Clare Colettines!

I would now like to share with my readers some of the most insightful comments that were left in response to the article associated with this news segment. Also, further comments here regarding the show/article are welcomed and encouraged!

"If you believe in the power of prayer, then contemplatives heal the world by praying for it just as those who minister materially. And through their writings and artwork and by providing a place of retreat for lay people, they do teach and heal. I have also noticed that people object much more to women living the monastic life than they do to men who do the same thing. Living in the world is easy; giving your life wholly to God is not, and not everyone has a vocation for it.
Posted by:
StMaugham May-11"

"It is women like these that keep this world a little safer. their prayers are needed and make huge differences in lives. God Bless them!
Posted by:
salaswell May-11"
"Think how much better this world would be if we all took time to pray for one another. Even if you don't believe in God or the power of prayer, at the very least, it forces us to think of someone else and takes outside of our own selfish wants and desires for a bit. For anyone who believes this vocation is a selfish one, I challenge you to sit very still and in silence, think of someone you know who is in need, consider what might help them, consider how you might enable that help, do nothing for 15 minutes but concentrate on what this OTHER person needs. I dare say you will be changed by the experience. Rather than speaking off the cuff, give their life a teeny, tiny try... in other words, walk in their world for only 15 minutes. Then see if you don't have a different sort of feeling about what they do with their lives.
Posted by:
Delouwa May-11"

"...I can tell you that many do indeed do much to help the poor and otherwise. I am very proud of those women, I've met some of them and they are very grounded, in fact my Aunt is one of them from that location, I've been there. They are very cool and have wonderful spirits. We should be so lucky as to have so much faith and purity in our lives. These are not fanatics self mutilating, and doing other cult things, these are women who have devoted their lives to serving.
Posted by:KMart1977 12:11 AM"

"OM! I thoroughly enjoyed this story because of its deep spiritual content. Spirituality is all too often taken up as a fad or fashion when one feels a fancy for it and then dropped as quickly. If we take God to be real then we must act on it, giving our all in order to serve/attain Him or Her. Those who are critical of cloistered nuns, wanting them to be like Mother Teresa, should understand that there are many, many different kinds of callings, all equally holy. Of course the prayers and sacrifices of these nuns help the world! That teaching has been in the East since time immemorial. This two hour special was the best 20/20 ever did.
Posted by:
Upasani_Dass 2:17 AM"

"But I loved how the sisters stood up to Diane Sawyer though, the sisters rocked! She tried to say they only became nuns after bad experiences and then she tried to throw in a bible story to gain rapport, too little too late. She kept trying to portray them as unhappy to serve God and they gave her nothing, it was awesome. And then she was going on and on about how chastity is unheard of because it's 2007, sad, God is timeless and so is virtue. There are millions of people being virtuous and I wish the media would stop pretending like chaste people don't exist.
Posted by:
reddiamondfilms 3:04 AM"
"Diane Sawyer may have presumably forgotten some Sunday school lessons. Hopefully, the following scriptural excerpts will jog her memory: Matthew 4:1-2 "Then Jesus was led into the desert by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights..." Luke 9:18 "One day when Jesus was praying in seclusion and his disciples were with him..." Matthew 6:6 "Whenever you pray, go to your room, close your door, and pray to your Father in private."
Posted by:
IndyProdigalSon 8:17 AM"

"I admire their dedication to prayer and to worshipping and serving God full heartedly - it may not be a lifestyle we all understand - but one has to admire their all out commitment to God & prayer - at cost of self comfort - self pleasure - which in this day and age of selfishlessness/greed/material overabundance and disgregard for God - prayer - faith and others - is inspiring to dedicate oneself - even if in just a small and modest way - more seriously to prayer - a relationship with God - and serving others (through prayer, service, kindness) whether they know or appreciate it or not.
Posted by:
LBpry4lly 10:39 AM"

These women are doing an extremely noble thing. Christians are all supposed to answer to the call of God with a particular vocation that we have been given. The Church is the body of believers and just like a human body, each member has a particular function to keep the whole body running efficiently. Each person has a certain calling and these women were called to a life of prayer and sacrifice. In the Bible Jesus speaks about prayer and fasting playing a HUGE part in regards to the sanctity of the world and the fulfillment of God's kingdom. He said if one has enough faith, prays and fasts then one has the power to move mountains. Just think of the amount of mercy God has granted to this world because of people such as these nuns. God bless them ! Only in heaven will we then get to see how much their prayers and sacrifices have benefited the world !
Posted by:
mortonil 8:25 PM

"As a family member of a Poor Clare nun, I can tell you first hand she wasn't running away from anything, and the life she lives is a very selfless life. The goodness we get from their prayers and sacrifice is amazing. These ladies come from all types of families, they have likes and dislikes, they are human after all. The big difference is they make the choice to respond to the call to live solely for God and prayer. The Foundress of the Roswell Foundation was a beautiful woman of life and love, she lived, died and is buried there and we are blessed to have known her. Seeing things through the words and thoughts of a Poor Clare makes you appreciate what you take for granted, nothing goes unnoticed because they are so focused and at peace with the beauty of everything that comes through God. FYI, they also appreciate prayers said for them. Thanks ABC for doing this story. hardevibri
Posted by:
PCNun 1:36 PM"

"I was one of the retreatants interviewed during this segment, and was very struck by Diane Sawyer's question about turning to the monastery because of something the world has broken. I loved the response - it's not just failure that leads people to God, but also success ! I can tell you from experience that the Church is prudent, and that part of the mission of a vocations director or novice mistress is to discern the heart of the discerning postulant. I believe there are very *few* religious who have gone all the way to solemn profession as a flight from the world - that kind of vocation is pretty easy to see through, and does not endure. This world breaks a lot of things, and this world puts a lot of things whole. In some ways, we might say the same about God. Many of us spend our lives raging against God for answers about the "broken" things inside us, without taking the time to listen in stillness to His answers. One thing the retreat weekend taught me, from listening to other nuns' spiritual journeys, as well as spending a lot of time in silence with the Lord, is that God's call is greater than any brokenness, and His love and wisdom supply what our feeble human strength lacks. e.e. cummings wrote, "it's always ourselves that we find in the sea." I would say, it's always ourselves that we find in the monastery. The best and the worst of ourselves. There is no running away from God. Even if a woman enters the monastery full of rage, or doubt or depression or dreaminess, if God wants her there, all of that other stuff becomes a lot easier to bear, and far less important. Thank you, 20/20, for showing this face of Catholicism, a face of love and dedication beyond most human comprehension, to a wounded world, that can really only reflect brokenness because it itself is broken.
Posted by:
romaryka 2:50 AM"

Friday, May 11, 2007


St. Clare, Patroness of Television, you SURE HAVE been praying for us!

It's 9:15 on Friday night, and if you have to be sitting in front of a TV, turn onto ABC NOW, because my POOR CLARE COLETTINES (Yes, the COLETTINES!!!!) are going to be on 20/20!!!!!! Special thanks to Emily of the Holy Whapping for sending me this link to the story that will soon be aired on the show.

After the show airs, I'll try and find a link to the video!


Tuesday, May 08, 2007

A "Must Read" by Mother Mary Francis!

Before I branch out and do some profiles on non-Poor Clare monasteries, I wanted to do the Poor Clare Colettines some justice and provide you with the text from their vocation booklets. Even if you don’t have any intention on becoming a Poor Clare or entering the religious life, I highly recommend that you read it. The following overview of their cloistered vocation and how their lives are an act of love for us in the world explains in part why I love the Poor Clares so much and why I dedicate so many posts on this blog to them! You’ll also enjoy the following excerpt because it was written by the late Mother Mary Francis, one of the most exceptional Poor Clare Colettine authors!

The Cloistered Poor Clare Nuns
by Mother Francis, PCC, Abbess
Monastery of Our Lady of Guadalupe
Roswell, NM

Perhaps no life has been more subjected to misinterpretation than the cloistered contemplative life. A cloister is variously thought to be: a haven for those unfit to live in the world; a refuge for the frustrated; a sinecure for those unwilling to take on the burdens of the active apostolate.

A Poor Clare monastery is decidedly none of these. The nuns are called Poor Clares because they are poor, living by the work of their hands and their minds and on the alms of the faithful, and because they are followers and daughters of one of the most charming women who ever lived. Her name was Clare. Clare of Assisi.

The whole testament of history proves that no enduring work of a great man is begun or fulfilled without the cooperation o a great woman. And no woman ever appreciated the ideals of a great man more profoundly and comprehensively than St. Clare understood the ideals of St. Francis of Assisi.

In a medieval society that was suffocating in the close quarters of materialism and gagging on surfeit, Francis came preaching the beauty of evangelical poverty. Clare listened.

Into the chaos of unending wars and petty rivalries, the "little poor man of Assisi," as he came to be called, brought this gentle benediction: "May the Lord give you peace."Clare understood.

Where ambitions seethed and men were ruthless in their quest for power, Francis begged as a favor to be considered the least of men. Clare caught his inspiration.

Like the Divine Child held in the arms of old Simeon and prophesied to be a sign of contradiction Francis of Assisi came with a form of life that cut through the morass of war and hatred and worldliness. He walked at right angles to all that characterized his age. He was a sign of contradiction.

Clare was seventeen when she heard Francis preach of the love of God and evangelical poverty with such burning sincerity that the richest young man in Assisi promptly gave away his fortune to the poor and ran after him, that a scholar and canon came to learn a better wisdom from Francis, and that glittering knights threw down their swords to take up the weapons of God as Francis taught them.

It was the beginning of the Franciscan Movement of the thirteenth century and the inauguration of the Franciscan Order, which is the largest in the Church today and which God himself promised Francis would endure to the end of time.

But what of Clare? She was beautiful. She was rich. She could not preach with Francis in the streets. She could not beg her bread from door to door as his followers did. She could not be a sign of contradiction to the world in the same manner that he was. So Clare went to him and told him of God;s summons in her soul, asking him what to do. Francis told her. And that was the beginning of his Second Franciscan Order, the cloistered Poor Ladies who were later to be known familiarly as the Poor Clares.

Why did Assisi's loveliest debutante of 1212 want to lock herself up in a cloister? Why did laughing, singing, sought-after Clare want to live in silence and prayer? Why did a girl whose home was a castle desire to be poor, to live by the work of her hands and the alms of the faithful?

What the world calls "everything," Clare assuredly had. It was not enough. Her heart was too great to be filled with less than the whole. She simply plunged herself into the Heart of God. There she could fulfill her destiny. There she would be another sign of contradiction to those who look for happiness everywhere except in God.

Clare was scarcely a social misfit. She was definitely not neurotic, nor was her pretty sister, Agnes, who became her first follower. It required an extraordinary fortitude for two thirteenth-century girls to stand firm against their raging relatives, their indignant friends, their baffled suitors. It takes the same courage today, not to "talk down," but to live down the objections of those who demand that talented young girls do something more "useful," than loving God and being His immediately, directly and utterly.

Certainly Clare was not a frustrated young woman. She could have had everything the world calls good, but it was not good enough for her. She preferred what God calls everlasting good and realized her own full capacities as so great a woman could never otherwise have done.

Lazy? A cloister sinecure? Clare had grown up surrounded by servants, but she wrote in her Rule that her nuns were to consider work as "a grace." And they were expected to use the grace persistently.

The closer a soul draws to God, the more entirely she is dedicated to Him, the more she radiates God. The poet has declared that Our Lady "had this one work to do / let all God's grace shine through."

So has the contemplative Poor Clare. Her mission is to be God's, to let Him shine through her on all the darkness of misery which shrouds the world. And as in St. Clare's age, so in our own, people understand this without any need to reason about it - the common people, the suffering, the sinners.

They flock to Clare's poor little monastery in the thirteenth century to ask her prayers for their sick, their prodigals, and their friends. In our century, the monastery doorbell is rung by the lonely, the discouraged, the despairing. The monastery mailbox holds wistful appeals for compassion and understanding pathetic confessions of mistakes.These people take it for granted that the Poor Clares, cloistered from the world, are closer to its heartaches and miseries than any others simply because they live hidden in the embrace of God.To understand the contemplative vocation properly is to know that its apostolate is universal and timeless.

The Poor Clare has stepped apart from the world and has thus got a better perspective on it. She has left the world not because she hates it, but because she wants to love more purely and more realistically.Not only the wars of nations and the scourge of evil leaders of men are her concern, but the small bickerings that threaten the peace of the family down the street.She does not beg the light and grace of the Holy Spirit only for the workings of the United Nations, but for that one little boy in Schenectady whose mother is worried that he may flunk in arithmetic.

St. Francis of Assisi was a great contemplative but God asked him to sacrifice his live of silence and retirement to preach the Gospel, to let his contemplation overflow into his active apostolate. St. Clare of Assisi had a burning missionary heart, but God asked her to channel all its energies into the love and reparation of the cloister.

Her mission field was the whole world, though she would never see the world. Together their lives were a unit, and each the perfect complement of the other. It needs a great heart to fashion a contemplative, a capacity for love so wide and deep that only God can fill it, a missionary zeal so ardent that no fewer than all the souls in the world can satisfy it.

Christian motherhood and consecrated virginity form a marvelous entity. Each is a fulfillment, and each a symbol. The Sacrament of Matrimony symbolizes the union of Christ with Holy Church. Consecrated virginity symbolizes the union of Christ with the souls of the blessed. Each is a positive thing, and virginity is no more a mere negation of motherhood than human maternity is a mere negation of virginity.

A Poor Clare understands that her solemn vow of chastity is not just a pledge to abstain from the pleasures of carnal love, nor a promise to refrain from normal affective fulfillment, but a positive flaming, soaring commitment of her womanhood to a Divine Lover.

Because her consecrated virginity lifts her to a plane above carnal love, her affective responses are only the more tender for being the more purified. Womanhood is fulfilled quite as perfectly in a life of virginal chastity as in human marriage. And that is why the Church's ancient and elaborate ceremonial for the consecration of virgins has for its climax the placing of a wedding ring on the finger of the newly professed nun. "Receive this ring that marks you as a bride of God." She is wedded to Christ.

And the union is fecund with souls.The cloistered Poor Clare is destined for the spiritual maternity of countless souls. The more perfect her life of love and reparation, the more fruitful is her motherhood of souls. Consecrated virginity generates tenderness and compassion beyond what carnal love can attain, simply because it is not limited. Virginal love partakes of the boundlessness of Christ's love for souls. A Poor Clare's Divine Lover has a heart of infinite Love. It is to be expected that her own capacity for love will go on increasing as she grows in union with Him.

There is nothing stifling to the human personality in consecrated virginity. The Poor Clare's vow of chastity is not only an oblation, but also a sublimation. Her love is released on a plane above the relations of conjugal love in spiritual maternity. Her ambition is to mother all the souls in the world.

Postulants are received between the ages of eighteen and thirty, with exceptions sometimes made where there is good reason. Experience has long proved that any normal woman of average strength and good health, free from disease or serious physical defect, can observe the Rule of St. Clare without detriment to her health. Indeed, the regularity of the life in including simple foods and outdoor work is conducive to good health.

A high school education is required. A college education or experience in some specialized work can be an asset. No financial dowry is required, as this was never the mind of St. Francis or St. Clare; but a young woman is expected to bring the clothing and small accessories she will need as a postulant, if she is able to do so.

No one is ever refused admittance for lack of means, but postulants are to bring a willing heart, a teachable mind, and a pliable character. These are the desirable dispositions. Progressively to fathom the contemplative vocation requires the full effort of mind, heart and will. The ability to be taught is of itself a talent - meant to be multiplied.

What stirs in the heart of a young woman called to the cloister? Or, how does she know she is called? The answers are as numerous and varied as those who are called. Maybe she read about the Poor Clares. Perhaps she visited at the parlor grille of a monastery, or saw a Profession ceremony.

It may have been that she knelt in the public chapel and heard the chants of the Liturgy of the Hours, the Divine Office, flowing on and on in a river of prayer. Or, it may be that she knows next to nothing about the Poor Clares. And yet that small insistence in the soul remains. I? Impossible! Or -- is it?

A vocation is a free gift of God. It is offered, not forced. God invites, but He does not compel; and eternity will reveal how many vocations have been lost or disregarded. The rich young man in the Gospel was assuredly called, but he did not respond. He had a vocation, but he chose not to follow it. The Gospel says that ". . .he went away sad." (Mt. 19:22). Doubtless he remained sad for the rest of his life.

How does one protect her vocation? Obviously, only with the strength of Christ who is offered daily on the altar at Holy Mass, only with the Bread of the strong which is Holy Communion. God does not choose a young woman because she is good, but because He is so good. The one who thinks herself qualified to be a great success in the cloister is probably the one who will fail, whereas the one who is confused and humbled at the idea that God should look towards such poor material as herself for the fashioning of a contemplative nun is likely to persevere.

"The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." (Jn. 3:8). God is the master of His works and His plans. Often we cannot know what He is doing or why He is doing it. But He knows. It is enough to be convinced of that, and to listen for His voice. Listening is a great and delicate art, and scarcely to be learned in the midst of clangor.

The Holy Spirit speaks in a whisper. It is all too easy to drown out His voice, but in the quiet watches of the soul, His invitation is heard.

"Giving the bud, I give the flower." St. Clare love to call herself the "little plant" of St. Francis. Each postulant is a new little plant of Francis and Clare. She is part of the perennial springtime of the Franciscan order, and in her religious life the Franciscan ideal will have one more flowering."And not only about us did our most blessed Father prophesy those things, but also about the others who were to come afterwards in the holy vocation in which the Lord has called us," declared St. Clare. From heaven, her watchful love beams down upon her youngest daughters, her new postulants.

When St. Clare left her castle home in the blackness of night that Palm Sunday of 1212, she was setting out to become the first of St. Francis' "Poor Ladies," nuns dedicated to a life of prayer and penance, nuns most intimately united with the Divine Lover in the silence of the cloister. She dressed for the occasion. For such a bridegroom, she wore her finest gown, the rarest of her many jewels. And then, because they were only symbols of reality, she cast them all away. Francis cut her lovely hair, preserved to this day in the precious reliquary in Assisi. The tangled silken ropes of that long hair give their mute testimony to holocaust: her crowning glory laid down at the feet of her Prince.

Postulancy in the Order of St. Clare today is a year of preparation for that kind of total giving which will be climaxed in solemn Profession some six years later.

The noviceship of one or two years which follows upon postulancy is a time of refining and deeper evaluation, of profounder preparation and expectation. Now the life of prayer and penance is embraced in fuller detail. And because a life of prayer and penance is a life which generates joy and peace which the world cannot bestow or understand or take away, the day that a postulant assumes a more specifically religious garb similar to that of the professed nuns and becomes a novice, is a day of special rejoicing in the monastery. The Order of St. Clare has one more young penitent eager to give herself to God and to spend herself for souls.

Why was Christ crucified? For the love of mankind. For the same reason, the Poor Clare dedicates herself to a life of prayer and penance. By a strange irony, pleasures quickly turn to ashes, and leave only sorrow and frustration in the heart, but sacrifice spreads a perfume of joy in the soul and over the world.

During the time of noviceship, the young Poor Clare is preparing for the great day of her vows. She learns the enduring paradoxes of religious life: how one must lose one's life to find it, be humbled in order to be exalted, become as a little child to reach spiritual adulthood. The springtime season looks always to the summering of the fuller commitment which is the making of temporary vows.

"Christ has set a seal upon my face that I should admit no other lover but Him," sings the young professed Poor Clare. First Profession of vows is made for a period of three years; but in the heart of Christ's bride, it is already made forever. No one makes provisional offering of herself to God. No one promises to be His - for awhile. Holy Church wisely legislates that temporary vows precede the total commitment of the religious by solemn vows, but she does not legislate for the heart. The young professed is free to whisper to Christ in the inner court of her being, "Forever!" On the day of her solemn vows, she will make this a public declaration to be accepted and sealed by the Church.In exchanging the white veil of the novice for the black veil of the professed nun, the young Poor Clare assumes her full responsibilities as a member of her Order: prayer, penance, the spiritual motherhood of souls.

The vows bring a marvelous enrichment. One is truly bound to Christ now with a fourfold and very dear covenant. To the ordinary three vows of religion, the cloistered Poor Clare adds a fourth, that of enclosure. She promises to live in obedience, in poverty, in virginal chastity, and in enclosure.

Some monasteries have extern sisters to whom is entrusted the outside business of the community and who are permitted to leave the monastery when it is necessary. These do not make the vow of enclosure although they are the special guardians o the cloister by the dedicated and self-sacrificing service they render, and they share fully in the family life of the community. In other monasteries, the external business of the door and telephone is attended by cloistered nuns appointed for this task, as is provided by the Church.

Separated from the world, the Poor Clare is in a better position to love it selflessly and to compassionate its miseries. She has a spiritual perspective on suffering and on souls. And, as the bride of Christ, she has direct access to His listening ear. Being entirely His, she knows He is entirely hers.She prays with the complete confidence of one loved, cherished, chosen. She has enriched her own womanhood by the act of oblation, and is secure in the possession of a Lover more beautiful than all the sons of men.

And Christ is a Lover who will never fail her, never desert her, never grow tired of her. Unlike a woman entering into human wedlock, the novice making the marriage vows of religion can perfectly forecast the future as far as her Bridegroom is concerned. He will be forever faithful, loving, devoted to her. With His grace, she will be so to Him. And out of this union of God and creature will issue blessings for all the world.

For many persons, the day ends when they retire at midnight. For Poor Clares, the day begins when they rise at midnight.The first of the canonical hours of the Divine Office is chanted at midnight while the world around is sleeping or perhaps sinning. Sin loves the cover of night. Prayer goes out into the backstreets of the night to seek out sinners and reclaim them. The night Office is a torch held in the hands of the Poor Clare as her love goes looking down the lanes of the world for the lost, the straying, the despairing, the suffering, the dying.What is this Divine Office, of which the midnight prayer is the first hour? Even among the laity, the breviary is today regaining its place of honor, the place it held in medieval times when kings and queens retired to their private chapels to read it, or generals of armies paced up and down as they recited it before battle.But it is to her priests and contemplative nuns that Holy Church entrusts the Liturgy of the Hours of the Divine Office to be recited officially in her name. Thus Pope Pius XII, in his Apostolic Constitution Sponsa Christi, said: "The Church deputes nuns alone among the women consecratated to God for the public prayer which is offered to God in her name. . .and these she binds under grave obligation by law according to their Constitutions to perform this prayer by reciting daily the canonical hours."

Dom Columba Marmion has written powerfully of the grandeur of this Divine Office, explaining how all things are of value only in such measure as they procure God's glory. And while some works, such as literary work, teaching, sweeping, cooking, nursing, working in the garden, have no direct relationship with God's glory, although they give Him glory indirectly when transformed by the love and the intention of the one who performs them, there are other works which procure God's glory directly. "Such," says Dom Columba, "are Holy Mass and the Divine Office. From God's point of view, these works surpass all other works." It is to them that Poor Clares are primarily dedicated.

The work which re-creates a nun for more prayer is also the complement of prayer which ennobles and gives significance to her work. Whether she bakes bread or writes books, sweeps the cloister or paints in oils, patches habits or plays the organ, the Poor Clare strives to remain united to God. All or any of these works have meaning only insofar as they are the functions of her obedience, the sacrifice of her hands or mind, the overflow of her prayer. "The prayer of an obedient person," said St. Colette of Corbie, "is worth more than one hundred thousand prayers of a disobedient one."It is thus that a basketful of weeds pulled up from the cloister garden may shine as gold and curl as incense in the sight of the Lord.The Poor Clare works because she is poor, and the poor must always work hard. She works because she is obedient, and all her works are given to her in obedience. She works because she is vowed to chastity, and work is the safeguard of chastity.She works because she is enclosed to pray for the world and to do penance for the world. Ad she knows that work was the first of the penances imposed by God on fallen man. "By the sweat of your face shall you get bread to eat." (Gen. 3:19).The Poor Clare is glad to do so; and what her own works will not supply, she knows that the alms of the faithful who understand her life will supply. "Let them confidently send for alms," wrote St. Clare in her Rule. "Not should they feel hesitant, since the Lord made himself poor in this world for us."It is a hidden life, this life of the cloister. It is a replica of the life of the God-Man who for thirty years worked in a carpenter shop and prayed on the mountaintop. And that is why the contemplative life is at once the most limpidly simple of all lives, and the most mysterious. The idea of work being "a grace" was a novel one in St. Clare's thirteenth century. It is more novel in our century. A thousand labor-saving devices, bewildering arrays of switches, push buttons, and foot pedals seem to be constituted to abolish work. Shorter hours, higher wages, compensations.

The Poor Clares would like longer hours for accomplishing all the works of a monastic labor schedule. Wages? St. Francis was mockingly asked to sell a drop of his sweat. The Saint smilingly refused the prospective buyer, saying that his sweat was already sold to God for a very great price.Compensations? An eternal reward for the small work done in obedience could not be considered meager. And work is itself a reward. Work is good. Work is a grace. To season both prayer and work, there is the daily hour of recreation.
Mother Mary Francis, PCC

Sunday, May 06, 2007

St. Clare's Reflections on Mary

Every girl knows that one of the best ways to a man's heart is through his mother! St. Clare knew that very well when she "married" our Lord, and so she had a very strong devotion to Our Lady! In May, the month that is special to Our Lady, I'd like to share with you this reflection by St. Clare on Mary. This reflection was written by the Poor Clare Nuns of Galway Ireland:

"Cling to His Most Sweet Mother". For St. Clare, Our Lady is always mentioned in relation to Jesus. He is always the focus of her attention, but, being a woman deeply in love, she understands the depths of the love that exists between them. Herself being the 'mother' of at least 50 sisters in her monastery, she knows what is involved in this role. A mother always has time for all her children and has all their interests at heart. She is the unifying one in the family, the place of security when we are afraid, the one we can always turn to, no matter how much we think others may not love us, or indeed, that we may not love ourselves! Jesus gave her to us as our mother in a special way on the Cross and so, St. Clare knows that not only can we approach her in complete confidence and know that we will not be turned away, but we can even (and should) "cling" to her. This image of "clinging" conjures up the way a child who has been lost, might cling to its mother when they are reunited. This is his place of security.

In her 3rd letter, St. Clare says, "Cling to His most sweet Mother who carried a Son Whom the heavens could not contain; and yet she carried Him in the enclosure of her holy womb and held Him on her virginal lap." She marvels that He who is the Lord of the universe not only deigned to humble Himself to become man, but He submitted Himself to voluntarily living in Our Lady's womb - in total dependence upon her. In telling us to "cling" to His mother, she is suggesting that we allow ourselves to be nurtured by her, as Jesus was. To pray with this method, is to develop a relationship with Our Lady and to really turn to her as a mother. If we "cling" to her, as Clare suggests, she won't let us down.

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