The Poor Clares: Let us lead lives of sacrifice for the love of God
The year 2011 marks a year of great celebration for the Franciscan order. It is the 800th anniversary of the radical decision of a young noblewoman, on Palm Sunday 1211, to do the unthinkable :leave behind wealth and worldly prospects to follow a wandering "holy beggar" with a burning vision of the renewal of the Church through lives patterned, most literally, on the Gospel. The message of St. Francis of Assisi and his little band of friars had captured the heart of the Lady Clare di Faverone.
If Clare wanted to be a nun, there were plenty of well-established and revered monasteries where she could have lived out her days in prayer. Instead, she escaped from her home in the dead of night and went to meet St. Francis and his brothers in the woods for a clandestine ceremony to make her break with the world and embrace the Gospel life. Having defied all the accepted views of religious life for women of her time, one would think that Clare was of a mind to live the life of the friars as well. These first Franciscans truly lived as did Jesus and His Apostles, "without even a place to lay their heads," traveling through the hills of Umbria proclaiming the Gospel and begging for their daily bread.
Clare's sense of identity and her purpose was – from the beginning – firm and sure, and vastly different. She perceived her role in the Franciscan family to be complementary to that of St. Francis, not the same. The cloistered contemplative life she immediately adopted was intended to water the seeds planted by the friars' ministry throughout the world by the nuns' hidden lives of prayer and sacrifice. Though the Poor Clares would not go out personally to spread the Gospel, they were to be on the "front lines," keeping vigil before Our Lord to beg for the spiritual fuel needed to sustain the friars in their lives of selfless sacrifice among the people of God.
Clare understood the support and encouragement needed by Francis and his brothers to keep the fire of their lives of service to God and His Church burning brightly. St. Francis himself struggled with conflicting desires for a hidden life of contemplation and that of missionary activity among the people. During the uncertain days following his death, it was to Clare and the Poor Ladies that the friars instinctively turned for guidance. Divided and confused over interpretations of the Rule and Francis' ideals, Clare was an unwavering pillar because of her deep union with Our Lord and her solid grasp of the essential elements of Francis' Rule and charism. A parallel can be found to the days after the Ascension, when the infant Church surely turned to Our Blessed Mother who knew Her Son and His teaching as no one else did.
Clare never wavered in her certainty of the mission God had entrusted to her. It was, and is, most simply stated as the call to spiritual motherhood.
As daughters of our Holy Mother Clare, the Poor Clares continue her charism in the world today – supporting our friars and all priests, indeed the whole Church, through spiritual motherhood. But it is a vocation not limited to nuns!
Our priests, "other Christs" in the world today, are desperately in need of the support that can only come from lives of deep commitment to prayer and sacrifice on their behalf. The unseen and unsung heroes are those who unite their ordinary lives, whether in the midst of the world or hidden in the cloister, to the life and mission of Jesus Christ, who is still at work today through and in each of His priests. Without having to accomplish any spectacular tasks, spiritual mothers can imitate Moses, who in Exodus is portrayed with his arms lifted high, interceding before God for the armies of Israel at battle. The Church is at battle today with the forces of darkness, as she will be until the end of time, and her soldiers must rely on and be nourished by the fruits of prayer and sacrifice of all the faithful. Even the most insignificant life (according to the eyes of the world) can have the force of nuclear power when united in this way to the mystery of redemption. Our priests are essential for the life of the Church and the sacramental life of the faithful, and spiritual motherhood is essential for the life of priests.
Clare knew this and felt strongly enough to stake her whole life on its importance. For her, it was no waste to spend her days within the same four walls of an enclosed monastery. For her, it was a privilege to offer a hidden, yet potent, sacrifice on behalf of the holy men whose fervor and zeal for the Gospel had so inflamed her own heart with love for God.
In this anniversary year of St. Clare's vocation, may we come to a deeper awareness of the tremendous need for spiritual motherhood in our world today. Let us rediscover this vocation which so transformed the life and captured the heart of the great St. Clare.
For information on the indulgences that may be obtained during this Centenary Year, check out www.stjosephmonastery.com.
Sister Marie Thérèse of the Divine Child Jesus is professed with the Poor Clare Nuns of Perpetual Adoration St. Joseph Monastery in Charlotte. This is part of a monthly commentary by the Poor Clares to focus on topics of faith and to address questions about religious life. Learn more about the community and subscribe to their newsletter by going online to www.stjosephmonastery.com.
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FROM THE PASTORS
Read and listen to homilies posted regularly by pastors at parishes within the Diocese of Charlotte:
- Fr. Frank Cancro at Queen of the Apostles
- Fr. Patrick Earl at St. Peter in Charlotte
- Fr. John Eckert at St. John the Baptist in Tryon
- Fr. Timothy Reid at St. Ann in Charlotte
- Fr. Benjamin Roberts at Our Lady of Lourdes in Monroe
- Fr. Patrick Winslow at St. Thomas Aquinas in Charlotte
- Watch full Masses live and on demand, listen to homilies and reflections from Sacred Heart Church in Salisbury
- Listen to homilies from St. William Catholic Church in Murphy