Sunday, February 22, 2015

St. Francis and Repentance

    Though he had converted to Christ and was already living a truly edifying life, Francis was often moved to deep contrition for the sins and wastefulness of his youth.  On one occasion, as he stood before God in fear and trembling and hot tears, a consolation and peace swept over him.  He knew that he had been forgiven.  Experiencing the state of grace he could now stand apart from himself and all his passions and look upon life as a child of heaven.  He could see with fresh hope the marvelous things God could accomplish through him.
   As was mentioned before, Saint Francis was not merely a messenger of the Gospel.  He himself desired to respond to that message.  He did not merely preach penitence, he was himself a penitent.  The Order he founded is an order of penance: not for saints but for sinners.  It is not an Order reserved for those who are very holy or endowed with mystical experiences, but for the little poor ones who have been forgiven. 

   A Poor Clare is conscious of a continual movement of conversion in herself.  She knows that God’s grace first turned her heart to Himself and it is this grace which sustains her.  Life in a Poor Clare community provides a constant experience of reflection, mutual contrition, and gratitude as the sisters urge one another to be reconciled to God and to trust in His Mercy.  Yet even in this there is a sense of surrender and confidence.  Forgiveness and repentance are a source of healing and strength to our fallen human nature.  God’s forgiveness freely offered on His own initiative and our acceptance of this forgiveness, as well as our response of repentance, place us back in a right relationship with God.  They save us from the fear and dread of the fugitive.  They give us peace in the midst of the confusion of our own passions.

    To be reconciled to God is the only way to be in a right relationship with the world around us.  By seeing ourselves as we are before God and humbly accepting our limitations we have the potential for growth.  For Saint Francis and for his followers in the Poor Clare Order repentance is an occasion for freedom and joy.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

St. Francis Responds to the Word of God

Little Poor Ones of the Kingdom
     Now that Francis’ ears were open and receptive to the Word of God, the Lord made use of this same Word to teach him the way of life he should lead.  Francis’ soul at this time was like fertile soil ready to receive the seed of truth.  He heard this Gospel proclaimed:
“Take no gold, nor silver, nor copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor a staff; for the laborer deserves his food…Preach saying ‘the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand’…Whatsoever house you shall enter say ‘Peace be to this house.’” (cf. Mt. 10)  From these and other similar verses Francis learned that he was to be a poor servant of the Kingdom.  Casting from himself all money and provisions and removing his sandals and leather girdle he clothed himself with a rough habit shaped like a cross, put a rope about his waist, and cried out in great joy that this is what he longed for with all his heart.  This was the birth of the Franciscan Order.
    The life of a Poor Clare within the enclosure is mystically akin to the missionary calling of Saint Francis.  In the spirit of faith she casts herself penniless upon Divine Providence as a daughter of the Kingdom.  God receives her into His household and her role is that of a daughter serving her Father and Spouse.  It is for this reason that the Church’s faithful supports her as part of its family.

    A Poor Clare claims nothing for her own and does not seek material security.  She is wholly confident that God will care for her.  She thus becomes a prophetic witness to the Kingdom of God as it will be for all at the end of time.  Moreover, by making no demands and harboring no ambition for her own advancement, she becomes a symbol of peace such as will reign in heaven.

    It is no figure of speech to say that the enclosed Poor Clare fulfills these passages in imitation of Saint Francis and of Christ Himself.  Her role of rendering perpetual praise and petition to God in adoring love is at the heart of the Christian mission.  Her struggle for holiness embodies the struggle of all mankind to come to a holy understanding and union with God in the midst of this complicated and fallen world.

    The Poor Clare Monastery is not comparable to heaven, but rather to Purgatory.  It is an antechamber to heaven where penance and purification take place.  A Poor Clare therefore not only bears witness to the Gospel, she herself portrays the consequence of heeding the Gospel Message.  In this way she is an imitator not only of Saint Francis rule but also of his personal sanctity: she preaches the Gospel and rarely uses words.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

St. Francis and Sacred Scripture

Before the feast of St. Francis last year, I began to share a series of reflections on his life, written by one of our novitiate Sisters.  I would like to resume this series now as we look forward to entering the season of Lent, the great time of joyous penitence and so an especially dear season for Franciscans.  The purpose of this study is to introduce the reader to our Poor Clare Spirituality through the lens of the edifying life of our holy founder, Saint Francis of Assisi. 

Immersion in Sacred Scripture
    In his journey of conversion to Christ, Francis found great consolation and support in Sacred Scripture.  The words of Jesus Himself in the Holy Gospel became so precious to him that he claimed them as his own rule of life.  Every Word of Scripture was for him a source of living water from which he drank with ardent thirst.  In the usual fire of his spirit he sought to conform himself in every way to the commands of his God and Lord as shown in the Sacred Text.
    St. John the Evangelist tells us in his Gospel that Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Word made Flesh.  The Word proceeding from the mouth of God has become Incarnate in the Person of His Beloved Son.  It is natural, then, that the one who would embrace Christ should also embrace the written Word of God.

    At first one may be attracted to Sacred Scripture by the wisdom and message found therein.  Saint Clare, follower of Saint Francis and mother of all Poor Clares, echoed Francis’ words in her rule saying “This is the form of life of the Poor Sisters: to observe the Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Therefore from the moment she has embarked upon this way of life a Poor Clare must attend to the Book of God.

    As an imitator of Saint Francis, it is the custom of the Poor Clare to read and meditate upon Sacred Scripture each day through the practice of Lectio Divina.  She must then endeavor to make of it her own rule of life.  She seeks in it the wisdom and means to help her grow in virtue.  If she is faithful she will learn to habitually think as God thinks and thoughts of the Kingdom will spontaneously arise in her heart.

    Yet the Mystery of immersion in Sacred Scripture as exemplified in the life of Saint Francis is even deeper than this.  For him it is the living Word, full of meaning and dynamic vivacity.  It is a spring that becomes a sea of reality flowing over every aspect of life.  As a Poor Clare is nourished more and more by contemplation of God’s Word she is herself made holy.  It becomes a place of contact with her God, of mutual understanding and spousal intimacy.  Phrases and stories which may at first have only seemed interesting and perhaps displayed an edifying message will now be for her mirrors of eternity through which she can identify her Lord and God.  For a true follower of Saint Francis, Sacred Scripture is a transformation and a source of everlasting life.