Palm Sunday is a special day for Poor Clares. Not only is it the beginning of Holy Week, when they, along with the whole Church, enter into the most solemn commemoration of the Paschal Mystery, but it is also the liturgical day St. Clare chose to begin her religious life. In the year 1212, exactly 800 years ago, she had listened to the preaching of St. Francis during Lent and had sought his advice concerning her great desire to consecrate herself wholly to Christ. He spoke to her with burning words of the love of Jesus and that His way of poverty and self emptying was a most sure way to His embrace.
On Palm Sunday morning, St. Clare, dressed in her most beautiful gown and adorned herself with her best jewels, attended Holy Mass in all her youthful splendor. When it came time to receive the palm, she became suddenly shy, perhaps overwhelmed at the thought of what she would be doing that night. The Bishop, who knew her plans, noticed her alone in her pew and came down from his throne to place the palm in her hand—a most precious token of God’s favor and the approval of the Church.
Knowing that her rich and noble family would never agree with her decision, when the day was over and all in her home were asleep, St. Clare, still dressed in her finery, took a trusted companion and abandoned her secure world in Assisi. She met St. Francis and his brothers at the little Church of St. Mary of the Angels outside the city walls.
There St. Francis cut her hair, the ancient sign of a woman’s spousal consecration to Christ, and gave her the simple brown habit of poverty and penance along with the veil of chastity. From then on, St. Clare would be united with the person and mission of Jesus, the suffering and risen Redeemer.
At each Poor Clare investiture, we reenact this dramatic scene in a ceremonial fashion, for we are each daughters of St. Clare. We dress in a fine dress, only to exchange it most joyfully for the Poor Clare habit. And since we assume that the “palm” St. Clare was given on Palm Sunday was most likely an olive branch (olive trees being much more common in Assisi than palm trees), we each also hold an olive branch. Our hair too is cut in a most poignant act of self-giving. We exchange our woman’s glory for the glory of the Cross and the beauty of belonging to Him.
I will not be posting until after Easter, so may I wish one and all a most blessed Holy Week and a glorious Easter celebration! May we follow the exhortation of St. Clare: “Gaze upon Him (Jesus), consider Him, contemplate Him, and desire to imitate Him”. And may all discerning a vocation have the same courage as St. Clare to follow it!