|Memorial of St. Clare
Both today’s first reading and the life and witness of St. Clare
of Assisi, whose feast the Church celebrates today, challenge me to reflect
on the call to accompany the poor.
Moses reminds the Israelites how beloved and chosen they are, how privileged
and blessed. He urges them to “circumcise their hearts,” to “be no
longer stiff-necked” and to “befriend the alien.”
How central is this “befriending the alien” to Christian discipleship?
Some colleagues and I are struggling with this in our work in ministry with
young people. Does conversion, circumcising our hearts, lead us to
mission that necessarily has social and justice implications?
If I personally believe that to stand with Jesus is to take up the cause
of the poor, then how is my own life reflecting this?
Perhaps Clare asked herself this after listening to Francis preach Lenten
sermons in 1212. I imagine Clare as a youth from one of the wealthy
families of Assisi, in her layers of beautifully woven cloth, stiff with
the weight of her role and expectations, insulating her from the poor of
her town and her time. The Good News of “the great God, mighty and
awesome,” who executes justice for the orphan and widow and befriends the
alien, penetrates her heart. The layers of protection fall away.
Through Francis’ preaching, her eyes and heart are opened to see that “Christ
is the way.” On Palm Sunday, at the age of 18, she left her comfortable
and privileged life and met Francis and the friars in the chapel of St. Mary
of the Angels, there putting on the cloth of a penitent, cutting her hair
as a symbol of her surrendering her attachments and as we say in Spanish,
her “entrega,” her total commitment to Christ. Her desire must
have been so strong to ‘follow God’s ways, loving and serving the Lord with
all her heart and all her soul!’ She embraced and clung to “Lady Poverty”
in order to free herself to embrace Christ. Many others followed her
and at Francis’ urging she founded a women’s community at San Damiano today
known as the Poor Clares. (See All Saints: Daily Reflections on
Saints, Prophets and Witnesses for Our Time by Robert Ellsberg.)
Many young women and men today are struggling with your call to them, Lord.
They seek to serve you. Many are responding generously and prophetically
to your call to love and serve you with all their hearts and souls and to
‘befriend the alien.’
Give them the courage and support they need to deepen in intimacy with you
and to forge new models of Christian community as Francis and Clare did 800
Help those of us in ministry with them to keep up! Free us also to
befriend the alien and take up the cause of the poor.