Feast of Saint Clare - Entering Poor Clares
FEAST OF SAINT CLARE (SAINT ANDREW CHURCH, FW – AUGUST 11, 2015)
It is wonderful to be with you today to celebrate the feast of Saint Clare, a great woman of faith and beloved saint of the Church. It was on this day, August 11th, in the year 1253, that Saint Clare died. She was able to die in peace and joy because the day before, while on her deathbed, they brought to her the seal of approval from Pope Innocent IV of her rule, called the “Form of Life.” She was able to leave this world in peace because the ideals she had lived and held close to her heart had been accepted and ratified by the Church.
How blessed we are in our diocese to have a community of sisters who are living Saint Clare’s Form of Life, our cloistered Poor Sisters of Saint Clare. Happy Feast Day, Sisters! You strive to live the ideals of the Gospel that Saint Clare lived and held so close to her heart. These ideals are none other than the words of the Gospel.
Like Clare, your lives are rooted in the words of the Gospel that you hear, cherish, and strive to live every day. Like Clare, the model of your spiritual life is Mary, who kept the words and deeds of her Son in her heart and allowed the Word of God to form her thoughts and way of daily life. Like your brothers, our Franciscan Brothers Minor, you have made a fourth vow of consecration to our Mother Mary.
As you know, Clare came from a wealthy, aristocratic family. She renounced this noble status and wealth to live in humility and poverty. She desired to adopt the lifestyle of Saint Francis whom she so greatly admired. And she did in a quite daring way. Her parents had arranged for her to marry some important figure, but she left home in secret at the age of 18 on Palm Sunday evening. She would indeed marry, but her spouse would be different than the one planned by her family. Her spouse would be Jesus. She became the virgin bride of Christ, humble and poor, and she consecrated herself totally to Him. Life so many women who followed her through the ages, including our Poor Sisters of Saint Clare, she was fascinated not by money, material riches, or earthly delights, but by Christ, His beauty, the beauty of His Divine Person, and the beauty of His Gospel.
In the four famous letters Saint Clare wrote to Saint Agnes of Prague, the daughter of the king of Bohemia, we see this fascination, her profound love for Jesus and for holy poverty. Allow me to quote some words from Clare’s first letter to Agnes so you can get a taste of Clare’s spirituality. So you know the context, Saint Clare was offering counsel to Agnes, a holy young woman who had many opportunities to marry, but had chosen to enter the Poor Ladies ‘ new monastery in Prague. (not called Poor Clares yet). In a moving way, Saint Clare encourages Agnes in her choice of Christ as her Spouse. Clare writes: “Though you more than others, could have enjoyed the magnificence, honor, and dignity of the world and could have been married to the illustrious emperor with splendor befitting you and his excellency, you have rejected all these things and have chosen with your whole heart and soul a life of holy poverty and bodily want. Thus you took a spouse of a more noble stock, who will keep your virginity ever unspotted and unsullied, the Lord Jesus Christ, whom in loving, you are chaste; in touching, you become more pure; in embracing, you are a virgin; whose strength is more robust, generosity more lofty, whose appearance is more handsome, love more courteous, and every ki9ndness more refined, whose embrace already holds you; who has adorned your breast with precious stones, placed priceless pearls on your ears, surrounded you completely with blossoms of springtime and sparkling gems and placed on your head a golden crown as a sign of your holiness.” This was the love Saint Clare experienced and embraced in her espousal to Christ.
In that same letter, Saint Clare quotes from the Gospel of Matthew that we heard at this Mass, about giving up everything to follow Jesus. Clare reminds Agnes of the reward. She writes: “What a great and praiseworthy exchange; to receive the hundred-fold in place of one, and to possess a blessed eternal life.” Saint Clare firmly believed in the great promise of Jesus in today’s Gospel – the promise of blessings a hundred times more and a blessed eternal life to those who leave everything behind for the sake of Jesus and for the sake of the Gospel. Clare also knew that following Jesus meant following in the footsteps of her beloved spouse, especially through holy poverty. She embraced the privations of the cloistered life joyfully because she was sharing in the sacrifices of her beloved spouse: the poor, humble, chaste, and obedient Jesus. In her second letter to Agnes, she wrote: “As a poor virgin, embrace the poor Christ. Look upon Him who became contemptible for you, and follow Him, making yourself contemptible in this world for Him. Most noble Queen, gaze, consider, and contemplate, desiring to imitate your spouse.” This is the life of our Poor Sisters: gazing, considering, desiring to imitate Jesus their spouse.
We heard in our first reading today from Saint Paul’s letter to the Philippians. This is another letter quoted by Clare in her letters to Agnes. In her third letter, Saint Clare expressed her joy about Agnes’ happiness and progress as a Poor Lady. Clare wrote: “You have advanced in the path you have undertaken to win a heavenly prize.” Those were the words we heard from Saint Paul who wrote, as we heard, about the effort to grow in holiness. Paul uses athletic imagery sometimes in his letters, comparing our Christian life to an athletic race. It’s like supernatural athletics, our spiritual life. We should strain to win, to reach perfection, realizing that we haven’t yet reached the finish line. Paul recognized humbly that he had not yet reached perfect maturity in Christ. The same for us. We’re still on the journey, on the race course. Paul writes about “straining forward to what lies ahead”, and says “I will continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.” Saint Clare did the same. She pursued her upward calling from God, her supernatural vocation. This is our task every one of us, bishop, priest, brother, nun, husband, wife, single person, teenager, and child: to follow our supernatural vocation, to run the race, with our eyes fixed on eternal life with Christ, our goal. Saint Augustine says: “Always grow, always walk on, always advance; do not stop on the way, do not turn back, do not go off course. One who does not advance is going backwards; …it is better to hobble along the road than run on any other route.”
Today, two young women, Erin and Brianna, will enter the cloister as new postulants of the Poor Sisters of Saint Clare. They will experience the contemplative life according to the Rule of Saint Clare and discern, with the help of the Holy Spirit, if the Lord is calling them top embrace this life. We pray for them today. We pray for their parents and families. Brianna and Erin, I know you will remain spiritually close to your families. Your sacrifice in love is also their sacrifice. I thank your parents and families for their faith, generosity, and love. May Saint Clare intercede for you as you discern in the cloister the vocation to the contemplative life!
May Saint Clare and Saint Francis intercede for all of us! May their prayers help all of us to live according to the perfection of the holy Gospel, to strain forward to what lies ahead, to continue, like Saint Paul, our pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling in Christ Jesus!
--Bishop Kevin Rhoades