On Aug 11, the Franciscan family will celebrate the solemnity of our holy Mother Clare. It is with great joy that I share this with other subscribers on CAF and invite you to attend the Eucharist that day and to pray for the Franciscan family.
Clare is one of those mysterious people whom most Catholics know only superficially. She is often represented holding a monstrance. With the dawning of EWTN, the Poor Clares have become better known by the average Catholic. But not many people really know about the extraordinary life of this woman who is the spiritual mother to the largest religious family in the Church, the Franciscans.
Clare was not only a disciple of Francis. She was much more than that. She was a disciple of Christ crucified and poor. She was a theologian in her own right. She was a founder of a new religious order. She was also a preacher and teacher. She was a penitent and a monastic. Not only was she the first woman to join the Franciscan movement, but she was also the first woman to receive the privilege of poverty from the Holy See.
If we were to define Clare’s theology it would have to be defined using the term Eucharistic. Not only did Clare dedicate her life to perpetual adoration of the most blessed Lord in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, but she wrote great writings about the Eucharist. She would often remind her sisters and even the friars that the Eucharist is a cosmic reality that unites heaven and earth. When one enters into the presence of the Eucharist one steps out of ones own time and space to enter into God’s time and space. In reaching down to man and becoming flesh and blood, Christ also elevated man to his stature and presents him to God the Father, sinful, sorrowful and redeemed through Christ’s body and blood.
When Francis asked Clare if she was following him, she responded that she was walking in deeper footsteps, which pleased Francis. For Francis did not want to be followed. He wanted men and women to follow Christ and walk alongside him on the journey and this is what Clare did. Like Francis, she understood the mystery and the glory of poverty. She understood that without poverty, man is trapped in this world. One cannot enter into the Kingdom of God unless one becomes like Christ on the cross whose only robe is man’s sinfulness.
And so our holy Mother Clare takes upon herself, not only her own sins, but the sins of the world through a life of penance in reparation for herself and the world. Her enclosure is not the same as other enclosed communities who enter the enclosure to separate themselves from the world in order to pray, which is good in and of itself. No . . . Clare saw the enclosure in a different light. In the enclosure she found true joy. The enclosure was not a hardship for Clare, but a peace of heaven on earth.
Unlike the Benedictine tradition where the enclosure provides an opportunity for silence and solitude, Clare’s enclosure provides a sacred space to adore God in communion with her sisters. The difference between Clare’s enclosure and that of St. Benedict is in the emphasis that Clare places on the common life. Now, Benedict’s model certainly inspired the external structures of the enclosure. And Benedict’s model is meritorious. Let’s not take anything away from Benedict’s enclosure. It is holy and good in and of itself.
But Clare’s enclosure is different. It is truly Franciscan, not Benedictine. In Clare’s enclosure one finds that there is a stress on the importance of family life. The nuns are to be truly sisters to each other. They are not sisters because they are members of one community. They are sisters because they have been given to each other by the Holy Spirit. The message that Clare preaches to the world is the importance of the family enclosure. Too many families do not spend enough time together in the enclosure of their home. They’re too busy running in every direction. Clare reminds us that the family is the first monastery where the new Christian is formed and sustained. Clare’s enclosure is also one of extreme poverty. The nuns own nothing individually nor as an order. Even the house in which they live is on loan to them, either by a private owner or the local diocese. It was Clare’s vision that the family should not focus on their property, but on their Father in heaven. Today, this message remains just as relevant as it was in the 13th century. Families are more focused on their homes than on the people who live in them and on God the Father who provided it for them. Finally, in Clare’s enclosure joy is the rule that governs the family. Clare reminds her sisters and those who came to her monastery for spiritual guidance that life in the presence of God should be one of joy. There is not reason to be sad, if God is our all.
Br. JR, OSF