As Catholics around the world commemorate the life and values of St. Clare (1193-1253) on Aug. 11, the pastor of the Province’s church named for the saint from Assisi reflects on what he has learned “through Clare’s daughters.”
The fourth time seems to be the charm:
- On Aug. 1, I became pastor of St. Clare Parish.
- The feast of St. Clare is coming.
- A letter arrived from our General Minister, Fr. Jose Rodriguez Carballo, OFM, writing on our relations with the Poor Clares.
- As I was preparing a homily for the 60th anniversary celebration of profession for a Poor Clare nun, I received a call asking, “Would you write a reflection on St. Clare?”
After those four “signs,” how could I refuse?!
Most of what I know of Clare I have learned through Clare’s daughters, our sisters. I think that is a great compliment that after eight centuries, the Poor Clares still reflect what Clare wrote in the Second Letter to Agnes: “Always be conscious of your beginnings.” This is as true for us today as when it was written.
Clare’s beginning was to choose to leave her “comfortable life” and follow the mendicant life of Francis. Yet, when she approached Francis, he did not see her becoming a mendicant, as were the friars. Could he not envision a new way for women to minister like he and the friars or did he see a greater need for prayer? Personally, I think it was some of both. Clare brought Francis’ vision to another level of spirituality and commitment to the Gospel way of life.
Francis said that he did not seek brothers but was given us by God. He probably thought similarly about beginnings of Clare and her sisters as she discerned her calling from God. Clare and Francis both trusted completely in God. In their rules, both embraced a singular way of life: Observing the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Did Francis see in Clare the contemplative life he sought for himself in his early discernment of God’s will? Francis and Clare both knew the importance of prayer for the Church and the world, to praise God and petition for God’s guidance and grace in our world. This need hasn’t changed.
In our world today, some see the contemplative life as “doing nothing,” but we know better. Through Clare’s letters, we see she engaged the world. Her monastic life was not simple passivity. When her monastery was attacked, Clare responded in an unexpected way — with her faith in the Eucharist.
Clare teaches us to pray, to be engaged with the world, and to find Gospel or faith responses to today’s issues and problems. She challenges us to “always be conscious of your beginnings” and to live “observing the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
In his letter, Fr. Jose makes this request of our Clare sisters: “Tell us with your existence that for all of us God is always love.” I might add: Teach us by your example the importance of remembering our “beginnings.”
— Fr. Steven, who officially became pastor of St. Clare Parish in Buffalo last week, has served at a variety of HNP ministries including All Saints Church in Harlem, St. Patrick-St. Anthony Parish in Hartford, Conn., St. Anthony of Padua in Greenville, S.C., the University of Georgia’s Catholic Center in Athens and St. Augustine Parish in Thomasville, Ga.