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Reflection: St. Clare and the Wisdom of Lady Poverty

As the Church prepares to celebrate the feast of St. Clare of Assisi on Aug. 11, a friar writes about the freedom St. Clare and St. Francis found in their commitment to emptying themselves of their worldly possessions and relying solely on Christ.

“I need very little, and of this very little, I need very little” – St. Francis

The Good News of Jesus Christ is all about freedom. St. Clare and St. Francis grasped this truth and lived it profoundly. Lady Poverty taught them that they were truly poor only insofar as they were free from the desire to possess anything other than the richness of Christ.

Something in our DNA makes us want to possess everything we consider to be good and beautiful. It is a lifelong struggle for us to resist the desire to have more and more of this world’s goods. In fact, the fear of not possessing sufficient goods for our happiness frequently results in violence of some kind. This fear is the cause of nations going to war, lest they end up lacking the wherewithal to prosper. Jesus came to free us from this fear by teaching us where are true treasure lies. St. Clare and St. Francis found this pearl of great value in Lady Poverty.

A Story of a Hunter
Once upon a time, there was a member of a hunting party somewhere in Africa. One morning, the hunter woke up before the other members and went off on his own. He succeeded in bagging two wild turkeys; he secured them to his waist belt and began to head back to camp. As he did so, he became aware that someone was following him. He became a little anxious until he saw that it was a young boy about 12 years of age.

The hunter noticed that the boy was not staring at him, but at the two turkeys. The hunter then realized that the boy was hungry and had not been successful in obtaining food for himself or his family. The hunter very graciously released the turkeys from his side and let them fall to the ground. Then, he walked 15 or 20 feet ahead.

The boy ran up to the turkeys but stopped a few feet from them. The hunter gestured to the boy to take the turkeys, but the boy would not. Again, the hunter gestured and spoke to the boy – take the turkeys! This time, the boy stood still but lifted his arms and turned the palms of his hands up. The hunter then realized that the boy would not take the turkeys, but would accept them if the hunter would place them in his arms, which the hunter did.

This simple story conveys the profound truth that all of life is a gift to be accepted graciously with reverence and treated with care, including Mother Earth; that all life’s gifts are to be enjoyed with moderation by a simple, non-consumeristic life style; and that since all life is a gift, we should share the gifts generously and freely. Conversely, life is not to be taken, seized, or grabbed, for such is violence and sin.

When I was teaching moral theology at Christ the King Seminary, I was not familiar with this story, but it would have helped me in explaining the nature of sin and violence. In the Garden of Eden, God did not give Adam and Eve an arbitrary command to test their obedience – “Enjoy the richness of this garden, but stay away from this one tree. If you do not stay away from it, out you go!” No, God said “The whole garden is my gift to you to enjoy and share, but do not take, seize, grab, possess anything for yourself alone – for when you do, you will know good from evil.”

In the mystery of the Incarnation, Jesus revealed to St. Clare and St. Francis what Adam and Eve failed to do. Though his nature was divine, Jesus did not grasp or hold onto his divinity, but emptied himself to become one of us. Throughout his life, Jesus lived simply and poorly – he had nowhere to rest his head. On the cross, the Lord of Life did not hold onto, grasp, or seize life, but surrendered it into the hands of his Father. In the Eucharist, Jesus does not even hold onto the appearance of being human, but comes to us in the form of bread and wine.

St. Clare and St. Francis emptied themselves of their worldly possessions to embrace the freedom that comes from knowing that their riches resided in Christ. May our celebration of the feast of St. Clare move us toward that freedom.

A Story About a Wise Woman
A wise woman who was traveling in the mountains found a precious stone in a stream. The next day, she met another traveler who was hungry, and the wise woman opened her bag to share her food. The hungry traveler saw the precious stone and asked the woman to give it to him. She did so without hesitation. The traveler left, rejoicing in his good fortune. He knew the stone was worth enough to give him security for a lifetime.

But, a few days later, he came back to return the stone to the wise woman. “I’ve been thinking,” he said, “I know how valuable the stone is, but I give it back in the hope that you can give me something even more precious. Give me what you have within you that enabled you to give me this stone.”

Fr. Daniel is a member of the Province’s Ministry of the Word and is stationed at St. Anthony Friary in Butler, N.J.

Editor’s note: Friars interested in writing a reflection for HNP Today on a timely topic – a holiday, current event, holy day or other seasonal themes – are invited to contact the HNP Communications Office at communications@hnp.org.

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