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!

Monday, August 11, 2008

THE SOLEMNITY OF THE FEAST OF SAINT CLARE!

HAPPY FEAST OF THE SOLEMNITY OF THE SERAPHIC MOTHER, HOLY MOTHER CLARE! PAX ET BONUM! This is pretty much the biggest day of the year for my blog, and deservedly so, since St. Clare of Assisi was such a wonderful Saint.

Instead of posting to a link to an external website like I often do, I’d like to make this year’s St. Clare post come from the heart….forgive me in advance if I seem a bit rambling.

July of 2007 stands out as one of the most painful months for me. A character from one of my favorite books, Brideshead Revisited, describes to a friend the meaning of a vocation: “It means you can be a nun. If you haven't a vocation it's no good however much you want to be; and if you have a vocation, you can't get away from it, however much you hate it.” After a weekend-long retreat last year with my beloved Poor Clare Colettines, I became pretty sure that I fell into the former category; I loved the Poor Clares so much and especially loved St. Clare….but I simply didn’t have the strength to give up other loved ones in my life. God was calling me to simply remain in the world. I tearfully explained my turmoil to the wonderful Mother Abbess, who was very understanding. We agreed that it would be best if I not visit until I was at a point where the Poor Clares wouldn’t be a distraction for me….sort of like a person who is engaged refusing to visit an ex boyfriend/girlfriend.

The ensuing few months were rather difficult, especially since the Feast of St. Clare fell three weeks afterwards and I wouldn’t be able to celebrate with my Poor Clares at the monastery. At first, I felt rather estranged from St. Clare- I thought to myself, what right do I have to be devoted to St. Clare when I can’t even measure up to her ideals? In spite of all this, I have ironically strengthened my devotion to St. Clare since that difficult weekend in July.

I realize now more than ever that St. Clare chose a life of enclosure and poverty not for the spiritual advancement of herself and her fellow Poor Ladies, but rather to devote herself to us in the world. Her piety is not exclusively for cloistered religious, but rather a faith that can be practiced by everyone no matter their state in life.

By embracing poverty, Holy Mother Clare placed herself in solidarity with those who struggle to make ends meet and have economic anxieties. This is especially pertinent during these tough economic times…St. Clare and her daughters can pray for us in a special way, because they understand the harsh realities of poverty. To put it in more positive terms, St. Clare’s love of poverty has shown me that there are other ways to build Christ’s kingdom beyond our society’s traditional definitions of “success.” It is when we fail to attain “success” by our own merits that we realize that we can do nothing without God.

St. Clare lived in rather tumultuous times. The church had its various struggles, her region of Italy was plagued by warfare, and Saracens unsuccessfully tried to raid her humble monastery of San Damiano two times. On a more personal level, St. Clare’s choice to follow St. Francis invoked the anger of her family, she was plagued by illness, and the subsistence of her monastery relied solely on the generosity of others. Clare surely would have had a reason to be constantly “stressed out!” However, the Rule of St. Clare emphasized the importance of being silent in order to listen to the calm voice of God. Furthermore, St. Clare wholeheartedly trusted in God’s promise that “I will care for you always” (read this post for the full story) even when the Saracens tried to plunder her monastery and Assisi.

I’ll honestly admit that I lack Clare’s staunch faith and composure. Indeed, I’ve given myself over to worrying more than a few times over the past year. Several months ago, there was a day when I was frantically worrying about everything in my life that seemed to be amiss- serious family health issues, uncertainty about my future, worries regarding widespread problems facing our country, etc. I was so “on edge” that I simply couldn’t focus. So, I decided to say a prayer to my beloved St. Clare. Moments later, I was reminded of the following excerpt from Clare’s writings:

'Place your mind before the mirror of eternity!
Place your soul in the brilliance of glory!
Place your heart in the figure of the divine substance
And transform your whole being into the image of the Godhead Itself
through contemplation!
So that you too may feel what His friends feel
as they taste the hidden sweetness
which God Himself has reserved from the
beginning for those who love Him'.

You might have to read it over a few times, as it seems a bit abstract at first glance. I find it rather difficult to interpret the meaning of it by using words….but whenever I read this passage, I know in my heart what it is that Clare is trying to tell us. I especially love the first line: “Place your mind before the mirror of eternity.” I interpret it as Clare telling us that our mind should really only be concerned with eternal matters, namely matters dealing with our faith. Furthermore, she exhorts us to offer up our anxieties to God and surrender to His peace through prayer and contemplation. Whenever I worry, I remember those words and I become a bit more peaceful.

Through Clare’s intercession, I have been reminded that we should not let disappointments or shortcomings hold us back from pursuing God. Clare shows us that as Christians, we are simply called to love and trust in God whether we are in the religious life or building the Kingdom in the world.

Thank you all so much for your readership and support. May God reward you on this most special day!

I love you so much, Santa Chiara! Happy Feast Day! Please pray for us!

6 Comments:

Blogger Brother Charles said...

Happy Feast Day!

Your reflections are honest and beautiful,as always. In the end, everyone's Christian's vocation is hidden in God to some extent. This has been true since the first disciple, Our Lady herself.

May the Lord bless you in yours through the intercession of our Holy Mother Clare!

10:14 AM  
Anonymous Sister Julie Ann said...

Thank you for spreading the good news of St. Clare of Assisi. Happy Feast from the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity! May the Lord be with you always and, wherever you are, may you be with Him always.

Your comments are a great companion piece with a brilliant stain glass window of St. Clare at the National Shrine of the Cathedral of St. Paul http://www.fscc-calledtobe.org/living/index.php/2008/08/11/clare-the-ever-bright-one/

2:53 PM  
Blogger MikeF said...

Thank you so much for this beautiful post. Br. Charles says it all, really, but I did want to say how much sense your post makes in terms of my own vocation as a Tertiary. Our dearest brother, and father in Christ, St. Francis, knew what he was about when he created the Third Order, and it is through his, and St. Clare's, prayers that we are enabled to live as Franciscans, "building the Kingdom in the world."

Do you know this lovely collect?

"Lord God,
who gave a clear shining light
amid the darkness of this world
in the holiness of blessèd Clare,
through whom you renew your Church
with a continual increase:
grant us, we pray,
to follow in her footsteps
so that at the last, we may rejoice with her
in the clear light of your eternal glory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord…"

4:29 PM  
Anonymous Sue-Clare said...

Chiara,

I often bemoaned my lack of strength in my faith, but when in dire circumstances, I found that the strength and faith really was here the whole time. Recent bankruptcy, home foreclosure, one child fell into teenage drug addiction, the other child became pregnant. Friends asked how I coped without falling apart. I told them it's kind of like having a child diagnosed with cancer, or those poor dear souls who might lose an entire family in a car accident or natural disaster. You just deal with it, and better when you look and can find the presence of the Lord. He's been VERY good to me and instead of loss, I've been given the most wonderful, beautiful grandson, my son is being praised as a wonderful person by medical workers who are finding him, and we found the most lovely townhome in a warm gracious new community. I never cried for the loss. I cry now in happiness at what we've found.

My prayer which opens me to Him, the Silence of Mary:

Holy Mary, Mother of God, you who treasured all things and pondered them carefully in your heart, teach us that deep interior silence which enfolded you throughout your lifetime.

Mary, in your wisdom, teach us that silence which enables us to listen to the small, still voice of our God, which compels us to worship Him alone in spirit and in truth, which empowers us to acknowledge our nothingness and exult confidently in Jesus Christ, which frees us to lose ourselves in unceasing adoration of the God who is infinite love.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us now and always, that we may enter into that silence of yours which unites us with Jesus Christ, your Son, in the mystery of His silence before the Father of Mercies. Amen.

God bless you!
Sue-Clare

4:47 PM  
Anonymous Sister Mary Ann Spanjers, OSF said...

Chiara,
Would you be so kind as to link our upcoming discernment retreats onto your great site? Thank you so much for all you do to spread Jesus' Gospel!

"CHOOSE GOD"
Vocation Retreats for Young Adult Catholic Women

LIVING RADICALLY FOR GOD WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE”
We, the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity invite young adult single women ages 18 - 35 to join us for retreats on:

Oct. 17-19, 2008
Dec. 5-7, 2008
Feb. 20-22, 2009
May 29-31, 2009

Begins Friday 7.00 pm.
Concludes Sunday 12.30 pm.

Registration is required for this event. To register simply complete the form on the link below.

The cost is $25.00 for the weekend.

Retreats will be held at
Holy Family Convent (map)
2409 S. Alverno Rd.
Manitowoc, WI 54220
smaryannsp@fscc-calledtobe.org

http://www.fscc-calledtobe.org/living/index.php/2008/06/05/vocation-retreats-for-young-adult-catholic-women/

3:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chiara, I wanted to give you an opinion on the idea of a vocation which you can place along side other views you've encountered. It's just one view among many out there. I think the lives of the saints are marked by two experiences God grants them...many times simply because they ask for these experiences with Faith. The first, is He gives them a sense of his Glory--hence the St. Clare quote you included in your posting. The impact of this grace is a loosening of the world's grip on a soul. Secondly, God shows them the impact of a religious life on the Body of Christ. What I mean by that is, He gives them a sense of the role that their life plays in relation to the salvation of others....which necessarily involves an understanding of the goals of the Devil and Hell. Having both of these graces, speeds one's arrival at carrying out one's vocation due to the sense of urgency it inspires. :-) If you have the first experience but not the other, you end up happy sure, but confused. If you have the second experience, but not the first, you may lose your mind...temporarily at least....but it causes you to beg day and night for the first experience. :-) Both of these experiences are special graces and I think they account for much in the history of the saints.

When I think of the lives of the religious monks and nuns around the world, it's not so much a question of what it is their life is enabling but rather what it is preventing. I am generally a very optimistic person about everything due entirely to my faith.So if the prior sentence, sounded negative...I apologize but feel it's true unfortunately.

If I could go back to when I was 22yrs old and try to go through the experience of discerning my vocation again, I would pray for 3 things: 1) to experience God's glory intensely ( i might settle for being guided to a study of the lives of particular saints who lived through that and described it I guess) 2) to understand how a religious vocation impacts the sinful lives of others and 3) to experience suffering that I knew was tied to the salvation of others. That's how I would do it.

...again, just a thought.

3:35 PM  

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