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Archive for the ‘Saints’ Category

I began this post yesterday, on her feast. Didn’t finish it. Going to attempt now.

 

I spent some time today reading about and trying to sort out St. Rose of Lima.  I knew the basics that most of us know, and not much more: mystic, extreme ascetic.  When I was a girl, I remember reading about how she drove her metal-spiked crown of thorns into her scalp. That was, not surprisingly, my main takeaway.

So today, I decided to dig deeper. I read through most of this 19th century biography – a translation into English from French. I read what chapters I could (the first two) of this reassessment and psychological unpacking, and finally settled in a more comfortable place than either of those with a chapter from Four in Heaven (1962) by British author Sheila Kaye-Smith.

What to make of her, the first saint of the Americas, this young woman who engaged in such extreme mortifications that even some of her contemporary confessors and other observers, including her mother,  thought she was going too far?

It might be tempting for us moderns to dismiss figures such as Rose. She was, we might gently suggest, mentally ill.  She was a victim and product of a guilt-ridden Catholic culture who could not simply accept the grace of God, but thought she had to abnegate herself in order to merit it.

But we shouldn’t do that. It is not helpful or right, in a Catholic context, to be so dismissive. Nor is it necessary to uncritically embrace all the hagiography. We must also always remember that in the Catholic view of saints, we bring two perspectives: to imitate st. rose of limaand to admire. We are not called to imitation of every action of every saint, because we live in different cultures, with various personalities. So not feeling the pull to jam a crown of metal thorns into our scalps should not cause anxiety. It’s okay.

In thinking this over, this struck me: it seems to me that even the saints who pursued extreme ways of personal asceticism did not indicate that everyone do the same.

St. Catherine, in her many letters, does not advise her correspondents that the solution to their spiritual problems was to live as she did, on a single grain of rice a day and sleeping on a board (when she slept). There might be a call to change, to repent, and perhaps to embrace some small mortification, but mostly what we read in her writings, at least, is an urgent invitation to realize how deeply Christ loves us and to live in that light, not the darkness the world offers.

They seem quite aware of the uniqueness of their own path, and do not suggest that theirs is the standard by which all others should be judged. In fact, the saints seem to take the opposite tack: as stubborn as they are about their own mortifications, they tend to keep them secret as much as they are able and are uncomfortable with “followers” who are following them rather than following Christ.

In trying to understand St. Rose, these thoughts come to mind.

She sensed a call to belong to Christ alone. In her culture and her family circumstance, she had to go to extremes to make sure that was clear to everyone and she would not be forced into marriage. Perhaps you can see this as manipulation, or you can see it as a strong rejection of the world in a most personal way.

It is interesting and important to note that hardly anyone knew of these mortifications during her life. The people of Lima who flocked to her funeral by the thousands certainly did not – they came because this young woman radiated the love of Christ.

 

St. Rose would say that her mortifications were in fidelity to her call to conform herself completely to Christ. Christ sacrificed himself. Christ’s supreme act of love was his Passion and death.  Many of us think of this call differently today: to accept what sufferings happen to come our way in a sacrificial spirit, in imitation of Christ, rather than to create them ourselves. Perhaps the experience of St. Rose can expand our own approach by helping us understand that living as a disciple does, indeed mean conforming ourselves to the Crucified Christ, accepting that the Cross will be a part of whatever path we follow, but that if we do find ourselves conforming to the world instead, it is time to take action and be more intentional – to make sacrifices in addition to accepting them as they come.

I also wondered, based on the minimal reading I did on this, if perhaps Rose knew herself and we should trust her. Perhaps she knew that she had a tendency to vanity. Perhaps she knew that even if she gave up marriage and lived as sort of anchorite, intensely focused on Christ, that she would still draw attention and that attention, even if it is directed at spiritual rather than physical beauty, would be a temptation to her. Perhaps her extreme mortifications were directed at keeping herself conformed to the humble Christ in the most radical way, a way that she knew, for herself, would be at risk as people were drawn to her. Perhaps she wanted to keep herself radically open to Christ in her physical weakness so that she would always remember it was Jesus, not her, that the people of Lima desired and sought.

I don’t know. I’m just guessing.

It comes down to this. Different culture, but same Jesus, same faith. We are tempted to dismiss it, but that’s not Catholic. Instead, we dig deeper, realize our own cultural limitations, and listen. Because, you know, she’s not wrong.

It’s a mystery, but suffering can be beneficial and bear tremendous fruit. She’s not wrong.

Christian discipleship is about conforming ourselves to Christ. She’s not wrong. 

The world is beautiful (Rose grew flowers!) but can stand between us and God if we don’t know how to love properly.  She’s not wrong.

“Success”  in the spiritual life can lead to an inflated sense of self and hubris.

She’s not wrong.

 

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Seven Quick Takes

— 1 —

Super quick. I just gave myself 30 minutes to do a Homeschool Takeaway Blog post – and I’m going to give myself 20 to knock of this one. GO.

First – today is St. John Eudes. Here’s a post from last year, highlighting what B16 had to say:

Today is the liturgical Memorial of St John Eudes, a tireless apostle of the devotion to the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary who lived in France in the 17th century that was marked by opposing religious phenomena and serious political problems. It was the time of the Thirty Years’ War, which devastated not only a large part of Central Europe but also souls. While contempt for the Christian faith was being spread by certain currents of thought which then prevailed, the Holy Spirit was inspiring a spiritual renewal full of fervour with important figures such as de Bérulle, St Vincent de Paul, St Louis-Marie Grignon de Montfort and St John Eudes. This great “French school” of holiness also included St John Mary Vianney. Through a mysterious design of Providence, my venerable Predecessor Pius XI canonized John Eudes and the Curé d’Ars together, on 31 May 1925, holding up to the whole world two extraordinary examples of priestly holiness.

 

— 2 —

I love reading history, but can’t always have a book going – or finish one. So I try to read academic journal articles – even if I read one a day, that’s a heap of learning. There aren’t many freely available online, and I don’t have access to a university library account, so I hunt around and take what I can get. Last week, I discovered that via JSTOR, you can access three academic journal articles…every two weeks. It’s kind of complicated, but you register, and you have a “shelf” and you can have up to three articles on that shelf at any time, and you “check out” an article for two weeks. Better than nothing.

— 3 —

This week’s reads:

The Science of Salvation: French Diocesan Catechisms and Catholic Reform (1650-1800)  Nothing earth-shaking, but a helpful overview of how clergy viewed the laity’s responsibilities to learn and understand the Faith.

The Naughty Canon of Catalonia and the Sack Friars: The Dynamics of “Passage” from Monk to Mendicant  First, engaging writing – unusual in an academic paper – and really interesting information both on the source of the information of the event and the event itself.

That led me to want to know more about the non-Franciscan and Dominican orders – I did not know almost all of them were suppressed after the Second Council of Lyon. This article, in addition to some other research, explained much of the period.  

 — 4 —

Perhaps the details of late Medieval history are not your thing – they probably aren’t – but honestly, if you want to understand – and perhaps be able to deal with – current Church controversies and questions, having a grasp of history is so very helpful.

— 5 

This is cute. Several months ago , a young British woman made a little mistake: 

Heekin made headlines earlier this year when she mistakenly booked a holiday to Las Vegas departing from Birmingham, Alabama, rather than Birmingham, England. The trip was a 30th birthday present to her boyfriend, Ben Marlow, and the two only realized the mistake when they showed up at the Birmingham, England, airport for their flight.

After the story went viral, many people stepped forward to turn the couple’s lemons into lemonade, to include Richard Branson and Virgin Atlantic (who funded their trip to Las Vegas) and famed Birmingham (Alabama) problem-solver Tom Cosby, who insisted the couple come to the Magic City to see what they were missing.

And so they were here for a couple of days this week, following an absolutely exhausting itinerary – see some photos here.

They came after Las Vegas, so I’m sure it was….okay.

6–

On my list for weekend reading: Alan Jacobs’ essay on Christian intellectuals in Harpers. There’s been a lot of blowback on this one, much of it from those who see the phrase as an oxymoron, and don’t hesitate to say so in the most tolerant, liberal way.

— 7 —

Almost out of time! Well, I’ll finish with some self-promotion. If you know anyone involved in school, parish or diocesan ministry who might be interested in an Advent devotional (no, it’s not too early!), you could point them to the one I wrote for Liguori, available in October. 

Follow on Instagram and Snapchat (amywelborn2)  – not much excitement this week, but there you go.

"amy welborn"

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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A blog comment indicated that I was leaving the impression that my lack of follow-up on a promised homeschool takeaway post was perhaps because I was in agony about it.

Yikes, no.

The delay is due more to the fact that it’s hard for me to write about the topic succinctly. I tend to plunge in and just go on and on. I’m going to give myself 30 minutes from start to finish on this one, starting….now. 

But inspired by that nudge, I’ll start. I’ll begin with the personal takeaway, and follow up at another time with my Big Thoughts on Philosophical Issues. I was initially going to write about this in terms of “what I learned,” but as I thought about it, I realized that wasn’t quite and accurate characterization of my takeaway. It wasn’t about learning, it was more about things I knew, but perhaps didn’t know I knew…or didn’t know that I believed so deeply.

When in doubt, bullet points:

  • I didn’t realize how much I had internalized the system. I thought I was all flexible and open, but I wasn’t. Homeschooling freed me in a deep way from assuming that once a certain path is begun, that’s the only way. That is – you start high school at this certain school..does that mean you have to finish there? Does that mean you are locked into the 4-year School Family Treadmill? No.
  • I learned that I’m not an unschooler. Sad. Just couldn’t let go of some things.
  • I learned that the reason we divide fractions is by multiplying the dividend by the reciprocal of the divisor is because that’s what division is . (8 divided by 5 is the same as 8 multiplied by 1/5.  8/5.)
  • Now, I say that, not just as a fun fact, but as a representation of a larger point: I learned a lot through homeschooling. 
  • With the math, as I have said before, I’m not mathy but nor am I terrible at math, img_20160819_110905.jpgand I’ve used it enough to still remember most of everything through Algebra. But using the Art of Problem Solving curricula with my kids taught me a great deal, introduced me to the architecture of mathematics in a way that I had never experienced and was sorry I hadn’t – understanding math the AOPS way would have helped everything make so much more sense to me in high school. So with the fractions and division thing – it was always presented as just a rule, with no reason. Sort of a random weird thing you do when dividing fractions. But it’s not random! There’s a reason! And that reason helps a lot of other things – division itself, fractions, decimals – fall together in a reasonable pattern.
  • But oh, so much more. Stuff I once knew, but had forgotten, and so much I didn’t know – about science, history, art…
  • One of the most wonderful things about homeschooling to me was that I think my kids understood that we were indeed learning together. Yes, I can go on and on about certain subjects, and sometimes they both irritate and amaze me with their questions to me and I say, “Well, I guess I should be flattered that you think I am some sort of encyclopedic genius,” but for the most part our homeschool environment was one of mutual learning and exploration, with me providing resources, guiding and explaining when needed, but me also saying regularly, “Wow, I didn’t know that!”
  • I think it became clear to them that the proper way to look at a teacher is as both an authority and expert of sorts, but also as a co-learner. Not all teachers present themselves that way, of course, but be honest. It’s what we are. I am endlessly curious about almost everything – which is not always a good thing, as it can lead to never being able to just calm down and stop researching – and I hope that they picked up that curiosity and open-mindedness, along with some degree of authoritative understanding – makes for a good learning experience.
  • We were also exposed, on a daily basis, to the fluidity of knowledge. Over and over again we encountered points of information that would be presented in a traditional school textbook as just FACT but are in FACT being called into question by current research and new information.
  • I came to appreciate the sciences and engineering and related fields so very much. I think this is a huge takeaway for me. It is not that I didn’t admire those fields – it’s that I come from a total humanities background – English/history/religion/political science/philosophy. Hardly anyone in my family (which is small, so I don’t have a large study cohort to go on) went into any other field but those. Through the reading that we did, the videos that we watched, the programs that we attended, I came to really appreciate the sciences and related fields as truly creative, exciting areas which contribute so much to human flourishing, even at the most technical levels, and this became a point I communicated to the boys over and over.
  • It may not make sense to some, but my goal as a home educator eventually evolved to: Help them become humble, skillful, wise skeptics. 
  • Humble: so we know how little we know and are never closed.
  • Skillful: so we can do what we need to do (write, compute, make)  well
  • Wise: so our minds are in communion with the Word
  • Skeptics: so we know that all human things, including knowledge, are contingent and temporary
  • I learned a lot about my kids. I am not keen on writing a lot about them in a public space, but I will say that my sense of my older son’s aptitude for planning, logic and making connections was confirmed and deepened by our two years of homeschooling and my appreciation of my younger son’s enthusiastic embrace of All Things Nature was as well.
  • Homeschooling them is going to be of great help to me in advocating for them and guiding them as we not homeschool.
  • On a very practical level, homeschooling revealed to me how many resources there are out there – explicitly educational resources, as well as others – both in real life in the community and online.  I wouldn’t have known about them if I hadn’t been up until 1 am following rabbit trails. There is no excuse for having a boring classroom these days. None.
  • I’m about to run out of time. So I suppose my final takeaway will bleed into the next episode about broader issues.  It was confirmed for me, although I had felt it and it was indeed a reason I decided to homeschool in the first place, how much of a time and energy suck school is. We did “school” in at most three hours a day – not counting days when they did classes or activities outside the home – and although we were busy, home was a pretty relaxed place.  Now they are gone 8 hours a day and re-entry into the home is marked by a flurry of papers, the dream2mental effort for everyone to sort out what needs to be done and when and fatigue and the general, already
    aggravated wistful look forward to May.
  • Don’t get me wrong. There are good teachers teaching interesting things in ways that they could not experience at home and systems that are having to build up ways to help everyone accomplish and learn and I get it. I get the challenges. I’ve been there. It’s just taking some effort to not allow the system and its many often picayune requirements pollute that culture of open-minded, relaxed learning that we enjoyed for four years, and in some small way, to keep it alive here in the amount of time The School Family permits.
  • Trade-off. Just keep saying it. Trade-offs. 

(Other homeschooling posts here, here, here and here. At some point I’ll do a category for these.)

 

 

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I was poking around looking for interesting commentary on today’s Gopel:

And, via the excellent Divine Lamp site, read this sermon of St. Augustine. I loved these passages – a bit of a wandering from the main point, but not really –  and just wanted to share them:

Here then is a precept of not putting off being merciful to another, and wilt thou by putting off be cruel against thine own self? Thou oughtest not to put off to give bread, and wilt thou put off to receive forgiveness? If thou dost not put off in showing pity towards another, “pity thine own soul also in pleasing God.”22 Give alms to thine own soul also. Nay I donot say, give to it, but thrust not back His Hand that would give to thee.

12. But men continually injure themselves exceedingly in their fear to offend others. For good friends have much influence for good, and evil friends for evil. Therefore it was not the Lord’s will to choose first senators, but fishermen, to teach us for our own salvation to disregard the friendship of the powerful. O signal mercy of the Creator! For He knew that had He chosen the senator, he would say, “My rank has been chosen.” If He had first made choice of the rich man, he would say, “My wealth has been chosen.” If He had first made choice of an emperor, he would say,” My power has been chosen.” If the orator he would say, “My eloquence has been chosen.” If of the philosopher, he would say, “My wisdom has been chosen.” Meanwhile He says, let these proud ones be put off awhile, they swell too much. Now there is much difference between substantial size and swelling; both indeed are large, but both are not alike sound. Let them then, He says, be put off, these proud ones, they must be cured by something solid. First give Me, He says, this fisherman. “Come, thou poor one, follow Me; thou hast nothing, thou knowest nothing, follow Me. Thou poor and ignorant23 one, follow Me. There is nothing in thee to inspire awe, but there is much in thee to be filled.” To so copious a fountain an empty vessel should be brought. So the fisherman left his nets, the fisherman received grace, and became a divine orator. See what the Lord did, of whom the Apostle says, “God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty, and base things of the world hath God chosen, yea and things which are not, as if they were, that those things which are may be brought to nought.”24 And so now the fishermen’s words are read, and the necks of orators are brought down. Let all empty winds then be taken away, let the smoke be taken away which vanishes as it mounts; let them be utterly despised when the question is of this salvation.

13. If any one in a city had some bodily sickness, and there was in that place some very skilful physician who was an enemy to the sick man’s powerful friends; if any one, I say, in a city were labouring under some dangerous bodily sickness; and there was in the same city a very skilful physician, an enemy as I said, of the sick man’s powerful friends, and they were to say to their friend, “Do not call him in, he knows nothing;” and they were to say this not from any judgment of their mind, but through dislike of him; would he not for his own safety’s sake remove from him the groundless assertions25 of his powerful friends, and with whatever offenceto them, in order that he might live but a few days longer, call that physician in, whom common report had given out as most skilful to drive away the disease of his body? Well, the whole race of mankind is sick, not with diseases of the body, but with sin. There lies one great patient from East to West throughout the world. To cure this great patient came the Almighty Physician down. He humbled Himself even to mortal flesh, as it were to the sick man’s bed. Precepts of health He gives, and is despised; they who do observe them are delivered. He is despised, when powerful friends say, “He knows nothing.” If He knew nothing, His power would not fill the nations. If He knew nothing, He would not have been, before He was with us. If He knew nothing, He would not have sent the Prophets before Him. Are not those things which were foretold of old, fulfilled now? Does not this Physician prove the power of His art by the accomplishment of His promises? Are not deadly errors overturned throughout the whole world; and by the threshing of the world lusts subdued? Let no one say, “The world was better aforetime than now; ever since that Physician began to exercise His art, many dreadful things we witness here.” Marvel not at this? Before that any were in course of healing, the Physician’s residence seemed clean of blood; but now rather as seeing what thou dost, shake off all vain delights, and come to the Physician, it is the time of healing, not of pleasure.

14. Let us then think, Brethren, of being cured. If we do not yet know the Physician, yet let us not like frenzied men be violent against Him, or as men in a lethargy turn away from Him. For many through this violence have perished, and many have perished through sleep. The amy-welborn5frenzied are they who are made mad for want of sleep. The lethargic are they who are weighed down by excessive sleep. Men are to be found of both these kinds. Against this Physician it is the will of some to be violent, and forasmuch as He is Himself sitting in heaven, they persecute His faithful ones on earth. Yet even such as these He cureth. Many of them having been converted from enemies have become friends, from persecutors have become preachers. Such as these were the Jews, whom, though violent as men in frenzy against Him while He was here, He healed, and prayed for them as He hung upon the Cross. For He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”27 Yet many of them when their fury was calmed, their frenzy as it were got under, came to know God, and Christ. When the Holy Ghost was sent after the Ascension, they were converted to Him whom they crucified, and as believers drunk in the Sacrament His Blood, which in their violence they shed.

15. Of this we have examples. Saul persecuted the members of Jesus Christ, who is now sitting in heaven; grievously did he persecute them in his frenzy, in the loss of his reason, in the transport of his madness. But He with one word, calling to him out of heaven, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?”28 struck down the frantic one, raised him up whole, killed the persecutor, quickened the preacher. And so again many lethargic ones are healed. For to such are they like, who are not violent against Christ, nor malicious against Christians, but who in their delay are only dull and heavy with drowsy words, are slow to open their eyes to the light, and are annoyed with those who would arouse them. “Get away from me,” says the heavy, lethargic man,” I pray thee, get away from me. Why? “I wish to sleep.” But you will die in consequence. He thorough love of sleep will answer, “I wish to die.” And Love from above calls out “I do not wish it.” Often does the son exhibit this loving affection to an aged father, though he must needs die in a few days; and is now in extreme old age. If he sees that he is lethargic, and knows from the physician that he is oppressed with a lethargic complaint, who tells him “Arouse your father, do not let him sleep, if you would save his life”! Then will the son come to the old man, and beat, and squeeze, or pinch, or prick him, or give him any uneasiness, and all through his dutiful affection to him; and will not allow him to die at once, die though he soon must from very age; and if his life is thus saved, the son rejoices that he has now to live some few days more with him who must soon depart to make way for him. With how much greater affection then ought we to be importunate with our friends, with whom we may live not a few days in this world, but in God’s presence for ever! Let them then love us, and do what they hear us say, and worship Him, whom we also worship, that they may receive what we also hope for.

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It’s not a Holy Day of Obligation this year. I won’t even start on that one. Fr. Jeff Kirby of the Charleston diocese writes a bit about the issues here.

I’m sharing with you here the chapter on the Assumption from my book Mary and the Christian Life. You can click on each image for a larger, clearer version, or you can just make your life easier by downloading a pdf version of the book here. 

 

 

Interested in more free books? The following are all links to pdf versions of books of mine that our now out of print. Feel free to download and share and even use in the parish book groups.

De-Coding Mary Magdalene

Come Meet Jesus: An Invitation from Pope Benedict XVI

The Power of the Cross

 

 

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Seven Quick Takes

— 1 —

As you might be able to discern from my blog output this week…I’m not homeschooling anymore.

And not just because of the content in which I say, outright, I’m not homeschooling anymore. No, it’s the…sheer bulk of the posting that might clue you in. It is very weird for me to not have a head full of homeschooling notions in the evening and not have a day full of kid(s).

That’s a lot of creative energy….

Now if you’ve been following, you know that the my high schooler has been in school for two years, and for the past two years, it’s just been the now-11 year old and me. The decision for him to go to school was not sudden – it was sort of assumed it would probably be this way all along if the school in question continued to be maintain the quality it mostly has in the past. It seems as if it has, and even improved with new facilities, particularly a fantastic science lab. But for more that – go back over the posts this week. You will get an earful. Or eyeful.

— 2 —

Update on the Snapchat v. Instagram Stories journey. I am still Snapchatting (amywelborn2)– to some extent, although I’ve not done anything terribly interesting this week, so I have, I admit been scarce. But I do like Instagram Stories – I did a story yesterday on St. Clare, mixing up photos from our own trip to Assisi with some art – and I liked doing that sort of thing more there than I do on Snapchat. We’ll see.

— 3 —

Speaking of far more interesting pictures. The adult coloring book trend has another few months in it, and I am so happy to see Daniel Mitsui enter the fray. I am longtime fan of Daniel – I purchased a print of his wonderful Japanese-themed St. Michael – and was happy to see him make some pages available online a few months ago, and even more delighted to see that Ave Maria Press is publishing two sets of his pages:

Congratulations Daniel – and readers, do spread the word to all of your coloring friends!

 — 4 —

An odd bump in my stats this week. For some reason, my 2010 post on Saltillo , Mexico was getting a lot of hits, seemingly out of the blue. If you were reading back then, you might remember than in the summer of 2010, we did a parish-sponsored mission trip with Family Missions Company to General Cepeda, Mexico. It was a great experience. General Cepeda is in the diocese of Saltillo and I wrote a post on our visit there.

Well, a quick search showed that there was a claim of a miracle there – a  pretty lame one – someone just happened to be video recording the crucifix when the eyes of the corpus just happened to open.   Imagine that. Well, here’s the replica of that crucifix I purchased and brought back. I do love it, even with eyes closed.

"Saltillo Crucifix"

— 5 

Today is the feast of St. Jane de Chantal, great friend of St. Francis de Sales and foundress of the Visitation Sisters. Here’s a link to my post from last year on her, and I do invite you to go check it out and then follow the links to read some more of her letters – she writes in such a down-to-earth way and so practically about the spiritual life. I just love the way she so gently encourages her sisters to…maybe not take yourself so seriously?

6–

You have portrayed your interior state with much simplicity, and believe me, little one, I tenderly love that heart of yours and would willingly undergo much for its perfection. May God hear my prayer, and give you the grace to cut short these perpetual reflections on everything that you do. They dissipate your spirit. May He enable you instead to use all your powers and thoughts in the practice of such virtues as come in your way.

More of her letters  – so helpful and real. 

— 7 —

I wrote about St. Jane de Chantal in The Loyola KIds’ Book of Heroes.  The entry isn’t online, but here’s the first page….

amy-welborn

"amy welborn"

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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(Repost….but why reinvent the wheel.)

What do we know about St. Clare of Assisi?

As is the case with many historical figures, separating legend and history can be a challenge with Clare and the effort can even miss the point because…well, who knows?

But it can be helpful and important to try to tease the two apart, not just for the sake of accuracy, but also so that we engage the willingness to be critical, not so much of the record that comes to us, but of our own assumptions.  Are we, for example, molding the figure of St. Francis to a particular modern agenda by  embracing some exaggerated legendary material about him but ignoring aspects of his life that are actually historically verifiable  – his strict views on liturgy and reverence, for example?

So, Clare.

58d729de3674eabab7869868b547b9aaIn his excellent and necessary biography of Francis, Fr. Augustine Thompson, O.P. writes a bit about Clare, what we know about her and what is disputed.

He says that it is not clear how Francis and Clare came to meet. For his part, as an historian, he leans toward the view that it was via one of Francis’ early followers, Rufino, who was also Clare’s cousin. We don’t know how many times they met, but, as Fr. Thompson says, “The eventual result, however, was a plan for Clare to ‘leave the world,’ just s Francis had nearly seven years earlier.” (46)

The night of Palm Sunday 1212,  Clare and her sister Pacifica left the family home and went to the Porziuncula. “They found Francis and the community waiting for her in prayer before the candlelit altar. Francis cut the young woman’s hair and gave her a habit like that of the brothers, but with a veil. Before the ceremony, as Clare later recounted herself, she made profession of religious obedience for life directly to Francis…Francis now faced a new problem: what to do with his first female disciple. As on several other occasions of need, he turned to Benedictines.” (47)

After some time, they were settled at San Damiano. Francis prepared a rule of life for them by which they were charged to “follow the perfection of the holy Gospel.” (48)

And from that point, until his death, we have no record of contact between Francis and Clare.

When he died in 1226, his body was taken to the sisters at San Damiano for reverence.

********

The letters of St. Clare to Agnes of Prague. 

Agnes was the daughter of a king and espoused to the Emperor Frederick, who remarked famously upon news of her refusal of marriage to him, “If she had left me for a mortal man, I would have taken vengeance with the sword, but I cannot take offence because in preference to me she has chosen the King of Heaven.”

She entered the Poor Clares, and what makes the letters from Clare so interesting to me is the way that Clare plays on Agnes’ noble origins, using language and allusions that draw upon Agnes’ experience, but take her beyond it, as in this one: 

Inasmuch as this vision is the splendour of eternal glory (Heb 1:3), the brilliance of eternal light and the mirror 6477dcad09d8967545d8190b6c9cbdc1without blemish (Wis 7:26), look upon that mirror each day, O queen and spouse of Jesus Christ, and continually study your face within it, so that you may adorn yourself within and without with beautiful robes and cover yourself with the flowers and garments of all the virtues, as becomes the daughter and most chaste bride of the Most High King. Indeed, blessed poverty, holy humility, and ineffable charity are reflected in that mirror, as, with the grace of God, you can contemplate them throughout the entire mirror.

Look at the parameters of this mirror, that is, the poverty of Him who was placed in a manger and wrapped in swaddling clothes. O marvellous humility, O astonishing poverty! The King of the angels, the Lord of heaven and earth, is laid in a manger! Then, at the surface of the mirror, dwell on the holy humility, the blessed poverty, the untold labours and burdens which He endured for the redemption of all mankind. Then, in the depths of this same mirror, contemplate the ineffable charity which led Him to suffer on the wood of the cross and die thereon the most shameful kind of death. Therefore, that Mirror, suspended on the wood of the cross, urged those who passed by to consider it, saying: “All you who pass by the way, look and see if there is any suffering like My suffering!” (Lam 1:2). Let us answer Him with one voice and spirit, as He said: Remembering this over and over leaves my soul downcast within me (Lam 3:20)! From this moment, then, O queen of our heavenly King, let yourself be inflamed more strongly with the fervour of charity!

Now, more on Clare herself, from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, first from a General Audience in 2010

Especially at the beginning of her religious experience, Francis of Assisi was not only a teacher to Clare whose teachings she was to follow but also a brotherly friend. The friendship between these two Saints is a very beautiful and important aspect. Indeed, when two pure souls on fire with the same love for God meet, they find in their friendship with each other a powerful incentive to advance on the path of perfection. Friendship is one of the noblest and loftiest human sentiments which divine Grace purifies and transfigures. Like St Francis and St Clare, other Saints too experienced profound friendship on the journey towards Christian perfection. Examples are St Francis de Sales and St Jane Frances de Chantal. And St Francis de Sales himself wrote: “It is a blessed thing to love on earth as we hope to love in Heaven, and to begin that friendship here which is to endure for ever there. I am not now speaking of simple charity, a love due to all mankind, but of that spiritual friendship which binds souls together, leading them to share devotions and spiritual interests, so as to have but one mind between them” (The Introduction to a Devout Life, III, 19).

After spending a period of several months at other monastic communities, resisting the pressure of her relatives who did not at first approve of her decision, Clare settled with her first companions at the Church of San Damiano where the Friars Minor had organized a small convent for them. She lived in this Monastery for more than 40 years, until her death in 1253. A first-hand description has come down to us of how these women lived in those years at the beginning of the Franciscan movement. It is the admiring account of Jacques de Vitry, a Flemish Bishop who came to Italy on a visit. He declared that he had encountered a large number of men and women of every social class who, having “left all things for Christ, fled the world. They called themselves Friars Minor and Sisters Minor [Lesser] and are held in high esteem by the Lord Pope and the Cardinals…. The women live together in various homes not far from the city. They receive nothing but live on the work of their own hands. And they are deeply troubled and pained at being honoured more than they would like to be by both clerics and lay people” (Letter of October 1216: FF, 2205, 2207).

Jacques de Vitry had perceptively noticed a characteristic trait of Franciscan spirituality about which Clare was deeply sensitive: the radicalism of poverty associated with total trust in Divine Providence. For this reason, she acted with great determination, obtaining from Pope Gregory IX or, probably, already from Pope Innocent III, the so-called Privilegium Paupertatis (cf. FF., 3279). On the basis of this privilege Clare and her companions at San Damiano could not possess any material property. This was a truly extraordinary exception in comparison with the canon law then in force but the ecclesiastical authorities of that time permitted it, appreciating the fruits of evangelical holiness that they recognized in the way of life of Clare and her sisters. This shows that even in the centuries of the Middle Ages the role of women was not secondary but on the contrary considerable. In this regard, it is useful to remember that Clare was the first woman in the Church’s history who composed a written Rule, submitted for the Pope’s approval, to ensure the preservation of Francis of Assisi’s charism in all the communities of women large numbers of which were already springing up in her time that wished to draw inspiration from the example of Francis and Clare.

In the Convent of San Damiano, Clare practised heroically the virtues that should distinguish every Christian: humility, a spirit of piety and penitence and charity. Although she was the superior, she wanted to serve the sick sisters herself and joyfully subjected herself to the most menial tasks. In fact, charity overcomes all resistance and whoever loves, joyfully performs every sacrifice. Her faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist was so great that twice a miracle happened. Simply by showing to them the Most Blessed Sacrament distanced the Saracen mercenaries, who were on the point of attacking the convent of San Damiano and pillaging the city of Assisi.

Such episodes, like other miracles whose memory lives on, prompted Pope Alexander IV to canonize her in 1255, only two years after her death, outlining her eulogy in the Bull on the Canonization of St Clare. In it we read: “How powerful was the illumination of this light and how strong the brightness of this source of light. Truly this light was kept hidden in the cloistered life; and outside them shone with gleaming rays; Clare in fact lay hidden, but her life was revealed to all. Clare was silent, but her fame was shouted out” (FF, 3284). And this is exactly how it was, dear friends: those who change the world for the better are holy, they transform it permanently, instilling in it the energies that only love inspired by the Gospel can elicit. The Saints are humanity’s great benefactors!

St Clare’s spirituality, the synthesis of the holiness she proposed is summed up in the fourth letter she wrote to St Agnes of Prague. St Clare used an image very widespread in the Middle Ages that dates back to Patristic times: the mirror. And she invited her friend in Prague to reflect herself in that mirror of the perfection of every virtue which is the Lord himself. She wrote: “Happy, indeed, is the one permitted to share in this sacred banquet so as to be joined with all the feelings of her heart (to Christ) whose beauty all the blessed hosts of the Heavens unceasingly admire, whose affection moves, whose contemplation invigorates, whose generosity fills, whose sweetness replenishes, whose remembrance pleasantly brings light, whose fragrance will revive the dead, and whose glorious vision will bless all the citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, because the vision of him is the splendour of everlasting glory, the radiance of everlasting light, and a mirror without tarnish. Look into this mirror every day, O Queen, spouse of Jesus Christ, and continually examine your face in it, so that in this way you may adorn yourself completely, inwardly and outwardly…. In this mirror shine blessed poverty, holy humility, and charity beyond words…” (Fourth Letter to Blessed Agnes of Prague, FF, 2901-2903).

And then from a 2012 letter to the bishop of the area on the occasion of the anniversary of her conversion.

According to St Clare’s Testament, even before receiving his other companions Francis prophesied the way that would be taken by his first spiritual daughter and her sisters. Indeed while he was restoring the Church of St Damian, where the Crucifix had spoken to him, he proclaimed that women would live in this place who would glorify God by the holy tenor of their life (cf. FF 2826; cf. Tommaso da Celano, Vita Seconda, 13: FF 599).

The original Crucifix is now in the Basilica of St Clare. Christ’s large eyes which had fascinated Francis were to become Clare’s “mirror”. It is not by chance that the looking-glass would become a topic so dear to her that in her fourth letter to Agnes of Prague she would write: “Look into this mirror every day, O queen, spouse of Jesus Christ, and continually examine your face in it” (FF 2902).

In the years in which she met Francis to learn from him about the way of God, Clare was an attractive young woman. The “Poverello” of Assisi showed her a loftier beauty that cannot be measured by the mirror of vanity but develops in a life of authentic love, following in the footsteps of the Crucified Christ. God is the true beauty! Clare’s heart was lit up with this splendour and it gave her the courage to let her hair be cut and to embark on a life of penance.

For her, as for Francis, this decision was fraught with difficulty. Although some of her relatives understood her immediately — and Ortolana, her mother, and two of her sisters even followed her in the life she had chosen — others reacted violently. Her escape from home on the night between Palm Sunday and the Monday of Holy Week had something of an adventure about it. In the following days she was pursued to the places Francis had prepared for her but the attempts, even with force, to make her go back on her decision were in vain.

Clare had prepared herself for this struggle. Moreover although Francis was her guide, several clues hint that she also received fatherly support from Bishop Guido. This would explain the prelate’s gesture in offering the palm to her, as if to bless her courageous decision. Without the bishop’s support it would have been difficult for Clare to follow the plan that Francis had devised and that she put into practice, both in her consecration in the Church of the Porziuncola in the presence of Francis and his friars, and in the hospitality she received in the days that followed at the Monastery of San Paolo delle Abbadesse and at the community of Sant’Angelo in Panzo, prior to her definitive arrival at St Damian.

Clare’s story, like Francis’, thus has a specific ecclesial trait: an enlightened pastor and two children of the Church who entrust themselves to his discernment. In it institution and charism wondrously interact. Love and obedience to the Church, so marked in Franciscan-Clarissian spirituality, are rooted in this beautiful experience of the Christian community of Assisi, which not only gave birth to the faith of Francis and of his “little plant”, but also accompanied them, taking them by the hand on the path of holiness.

Francis saw clearly the reason for suggesting to Clare that she run away from home at the beginning of Holy Week. The whole of Christian life — hence also the life of special consecration — is a fruit of the Paschal Mystery and of participation in Christ’s death and Resurrection. The themes of sadness and glory, interwoven in the Palm Sunday liturgy, will be developed in the successive days through the darkness of the Passion to the light of Easter. With her decision Clare relives this mystery. She receives the programme for it, as it were, on Palm Sunday. She then enters the drama of the Passion, forfeiting her hair and, with it, renouncing her whole self in order to be a bride of Christ in humility and poverty. Francis and his companions are now her family.

Sisters were soon to come also from afar, but as in Francis’ case, the first new shoots were to sprout in Assisi. And Clare would always remain bound to her city, demonstrating her ties with it especially in certain difficult circumstances when her prayers saved Assisi from violence and devastation. She said to her sisters at the time: “We have received many things from this city every day dear daughters; it would be quite wicked if we were not to do our utmost to help it now in this time of need” (cf. Legenda Sanctae Clarae Virginis 23: FF 3203).

The profound meaning of Clare’s “conversion” is a conversion to love. She was no longer to wear the fine clothes worn by the Assisi nobility but rather the elegance of a soul that expends itself in the praise of God and in the gift of self. In the small space of the Monastery of St Damian, at the school of Jesus, contemplated with spousal affection in the Eucharist, day by day the features developed of a community governed by love of God and by prayer, by caring for others and by service. In this context of profound faith and great humanity Clare became a sure interpreter of the Franciscan ideal, imploring the “privilege” of poverty, namely, the renunciation of goods, possessed even only as a community, which for a long time perplexed the Supreme Pontiff himself, even though, in the end, he surrendered to the heroism of her holiness.

How could one fail to hold up Clare, like Francis, to the youth of today? The time that separates us from the events of both these Saints has in no way diminished their magnetism. On the contrary, their timeliness in comparison with the illusions and delusions that all too often mark the condition of young people today. Never before has a time inspired so many dreams among the young, with the thousands of attractions of a life in which everything seems possible and licit.

Yet, how much discontent there is, how often does the pursuit of happiness and fulfilment end by unfolding paths that lead to artificial paradises, such as those of drugs and unrestrained sensuality!

The current situation with the difficulty of finding dignified employment and forming a happy and united family makes clouds loom on the horizon. However there are many young people, in our day too, who accept the invitation to entrust themselves to Christ and to face life’s journey with courage, responsibility and hope and even opt to leave everything to follow him in total service to him and to their brethren.

The story of Clare, with that of Francis, is an invitation to reflect on the meaning of life and to seek the secret of true joy in God. It is a concrete proof that those who do the Lord’s will and trust in him alone lose nothing; on the contrary they find the true treasure that can give meaning to all things.

From St. Pope John Paul II

Due to a type of iconography which has been very popular since the 17th century, Clare is often depicted holding a monstrance. This gesture recalls, although in a more solemn posture, the humble reality of this woman who, although she was very sick, prostrated herself with the help of two sisters before the silver ciborium containing the Eucharist (cf. LegCl 21), which she had placed in front of the refectory door that the Emperor’s troops were about to storm. Clare lived on that pure Bread which, according to the custom of the time, she could receive only seven times a year. On her sickbed she embroidered corporals and sent them to the poor churches in the Spoleto valley.

In reality Clare’s whole life was a eucharist because, like Francis, from her cloister she raised up a continual “thanksgiving” to God in her prayer, praise, supplication, intercession, weeping, offering and sacrifice. She accepted everything and offered it to the Father in union with the infinite “thanks” of the only-begotten Son, the Child, the Crucified, the risen One, who lives at the right hand of the Father.

In the fall of 2012, as it happens, we visited Assisi.

The way to San Damiano:

"amy welborn"

The room where St. Clare died – the far corner, in fact.

"amy welborn"

Photographs are not allowed in the chapel – the site where Francis discerned the voice of Christ.  The “San Damiano” cross that is in the chapel at San Damiano is a reproduction – the original is in the church of S. Chiara, back up in Assisi.

120

S. Chiara basilica. 

And….part of the fruit is Adventures in Assisi…so even if you can’t have a photo of the cross inside S. Chiara, you can have a gorgeous watercolor..

9. Santa Chiara basilica - spread 8 copy

and of San Damiano’s interior:

8. San Damiano Chapel - spread 7

assisi

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