Sunday, March 22, 2015

Charity in Solitude and Prophetic Witness

Charity in Solitude
     As Francis was returning from Rome with his small group of brothers they lived in a state of utter poverty.  They possessed nothing and had neither food nor shelter.  Yet the Lord provided for them and they trusted in His Providential care for them.  They endeavored with all their hearts to live their lives in holiness according to God’s Will.  The question arose among them whether they should live in solitude or among men.  Francis betook himself to prayer and God made known to him His Holy Will.  They were not to live for themselves alone but to spend themselves in the service of their Lord and fellow men.
     A Monastery is an island of peace in a troubled world.  Those who visit it can feel the sacredness and smell the grace exuding from its very walls.  When one enters a Monastery she has the experience of a place set apart where she can be alone with her Beloved in spousal communion.  She sees it as a blessed garden wherein she can pursue the life of holiness and contemplation.  The discipline and austerity of cloistered life ensure her of a safe vessel to bring her to the sublime rest of love in the Heart of the Triune God.

     Yet a cloistered Poor Clare cannot live for herself.  The life of solitude and self sacrifice in the enclosure leads to more than the intimacy with our Lord mentioned above.  A follower of Saint Francis is called to be a little poor one.  She must not make demands for rights and privileges for herself.  In her life with God she must surrender to His Will in all things.  Her every moment must express her spirit of self-denial. 

     By giving her time generously to prayer, penance, and the service of her sisters regardless of her own desires, a cloistered nun participates in the missionary activity of the Church.  On her knees before Almighty God she has the interests of the world and all suffering souls in her heart.  She gives herself for them.  Although she earnestly desires the love of Christ and is indeed His chosen bride, she accepts suffering even in her life of prayer in the spirit of generous surrender.  Just as Saint Francis realized that the wonderful life and the Mystery of Holy Poverty were not for himself alone, so also his Poor Clare followers receive this sacred gift only so that they might give themselves.

Prophetic Witness
    After his Order had been approved by the Roman Pontiff and God had shown Francis what he was to do, Francis went about heartily preaching the Kingdom of God and the Gospel of Repentance.  He did not speak in flattering and lofty words conniving to gain human respect, but rather he testified to the truth in simple sincerity.  Many came to know of him and desired to listen to him.  He made available to all the message of salvation.  He called himself and those who had gathered around him the “lesser brothers,” for he desired that in all things they should be poor, lowly, and subject to all.
    There is in the world today, as there has been in every age, an influence of materialism and secularism.  Superficial things which have their roots in the mortality of this present life become for many the only world they know.  Their sustenance, pleasure, and purpose come from the world which will pass away.  They know nothing of the world which will not pass away.  To remedy this God calls some to live their lives on earth in surrender to the reality of the life to come.  They become a Prophetic Witness to the Kingdom of God.

    As was shown in a previous section, a Poor Clare does not proclaim the Gospel in an ordinary way.  Her life is hidden and silent.  She spends herself in penance and prayer.  Even her self-gift and sacrificial offerings take many small invisible forms throughout her daily life.  Her entire ministry and purpose is centered on faith.  She must believe that the graces she receives and obtains for others benefit the entire world.  She cannot see the effects of her self offering, but she trusts implicitly that God in His Mercy accepts her gift and deigns to use it as a vessel of His Graces.

    The poverty lived by Saint Francis disproved the idea of earthly wealth as the goal of life.  His detachment from material things bore witness to a world of greater value.  In the same way the life of a cloistered religious is singularly prophetic.  Her person is dedicated to her Spouse, but she awaits the consummation of her nuptials in heaven.  God has promised her joy and a great reward, but she must wait for the fullness of her inheritance beyond the grave.  All that a cloistered contemplative lives for is incomprehensible to those who have no faith because her whole existence depends on the belief in God’s Work among humanity and the certainty of a real and everlasting Kingdom where goodness and love shall reign.

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