FEAST OF ST CLARE:
In this year when we celebrate the 800th Anniversary of the Founding of the Order of Poor Clares, the Minister General has written a letter to coincide with the feast of St Clare on 11 August.
TWO NAMES, TWO PHENOMENONS, TWO LEGENDS: FRANCIS AND CLARE
VIII Centenary of the Founding of the Order of Poor Clares
Dear Poor Clares,
May the Lord give you Peace!
On April 16, in communion with all the daughters of Saint Clare present in the world we solemnly inaugurated in Assisi the celebrations of the VIII Centenary of the Conversion of Clare of Assisi and the Founding of the Order of Poor Clares. This event began with the celebration of First Vespers of Palm Sunday, presided over by the Bishop of Assisi, Msgr. Domenico Sorrentino, in the Cathedral of St. Rufino. This was followed by a pilgrimage toward the Porziuncula at St. Mary of the Angels, where the young Clare, having fled her “house, city and family, “sought refuge in order to consecrate herself to the Lord “before the altar of Mary” (cf. LegCl 8 ). There, she embraced the way of life that Francis showed her (cf. TestCl 5) and which was later blessed by Pope Innocent IV, when he approved the Rule of the Order of Poor Clares. The pilgrimage, which was attended by a large number of Franciscan Brothers, women and men Religious as well as many lay people, made a stop in those places where the Poor Clares preserve and reflect the purpose of life of Clare.
These places were the Protomonastery and the Monasteries of both St. Quirico and St. Colette. This was really an emotional time because of the event being recalled, namely, the Consecration of Clare, the cutting of her hair by Francis himself, and the Founding of the Poor Clares. Emotions were further heightened by the night pilgrimage from Assisi to Saint Mary of the Angels, which were inspired by songs and the reading of texts from Clare’s life and writings; it was also illuminated by the thrilling lights of the torches and for the prolonged stay at the Porziuncula, where “the Mother of Mercies “brought about the Order of Friars Minor and the Poor Clares (cf. LegCl 8). At the Porziuncula, on behalf of all, I thanked the Father of Mercies (cf. TestCl 2) for having inspired Francis to live according to the way of the Holy Gospel (cf. TestCl 5) and for having called Clare to be seduced by “the most beautiful of the sons of men” (IICl 20), to the point of drawing her “mind, heart and soul” to Him (IIICl 20) constantly and forever.
At the same time, I thanked him for the countless Poor Clares who, in these 800 years of history, followed Christ according to the way of life lived out and proposed by Clare of Assisi. In this way the prophecy of Pope Alexander IV was fulfilled, he who described the charism of this “new woman” of the valley of Spoleto, as “a tall tree, with many branches, directed toward heaven, which in the field of the Church produced sweet fruit and to whose pleasant and friendly shade many come from everywhere and still come to taste its fruits” (Bull of Canonization of St. Clare 31). In fact, at the death of Clare there were 115 monasteries in Italy and 50 outside of Italy. At the beginning of the fourteenth century, there were 413 monasteries. Today, the monasteries in the world number about 1000 with almost 15,000 sisters – all born of the Little Plant of Francis.
Meaning of the Celebration
The celebrations, which run from April 16, 2011, to August 11, 2012, are meant to be a favorable time to revive the memory of what happened 800 years ago; to propose anew the spirituality of this remarkable woman; and especially to rediscover the timeliness of her message.
• Reviving the memory.
“Through these women”, Francis said while repairing the Church of San Damiano, “glory will be given to our Father in heaven and in all the holy Church” (TestCl 14). Perhaps not even Francis himself was all that aware that the way of life embraced by Clare would be a means of support for the Petrine ministry and food for the mission of the Church – as Pope Gregory IX wrote to the Little Plant of Francis and the Poor Sisters of San Damiano in 1228. Clare’s life, “under the guidance of Francis,” wrote John Paul II, “was not hermitical though being cloistered and contemplative.” In the Bull of canonization, Alexander IV said, “Clare was silent, but her fame cried out.” Yes, her fame cried out because of the Gospel manner with which she brought Christ to those in the world and supported the wavering members; it cried out from her big heart, embracing every creature, even the most humble and forgotten among them, because it was marked by the benevolence of the Creator.
• Propose anew the spirituality of Clare.
In the message to the Poor Clares during the First International Conference of the Presidents of the OSC Federations, three years of preparation were proposed for these celebrations to study in-depth the following topics: vocation (2009), contemplation (2010), and poverty (2011). Yes, you have chosen a serious way to prepare to celebrate the Eighth Centenary. You have specified a precise path to re-appropriate the spirituality that sustains your life and proposed anew the whole “soul” of Clare to everyone. For my part, as your brother and servant, I have helped you along this path of going in-depth through the letters I wrote in 2008, 2009, and 2010, on the occasion of the Feast of our Sister Clare.
• Rediscover her message.
Obviously her message must appeal first to you who have chosen to follow Christ according to the “mirror and example” of Clare of Assisi. In the Letter to the Conference of Ministers General of the Order and the TOR, I wrote to you on February 2, 2011. Some of the questions we asked were “What do we want to celebrate together: the memory of a Rule or the memory of the history of God forever with you in time and which continues to make you passionate to ‘observe the Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ by living in obedience, without anything of your own and in chastity? How can we return wholly to the light of the way of life that makes visible and credible before all of us that ‘for our sake the Son of God has become the way, which our most blessed father Francis, a true lover and imitator of Christ, showed and taught us by word and example?’” (TestCl 5) How can you still be a living memory in the Church and for the Franciscan family of that which we, as baptized, are called to live?” As far as I’m concerned, I am fully convinced that the fascination of Clare lies in the evangelical life she embraced. What sustained her for 40 years in the cloister of a monastery was the Gospel. Once having fled from home and discovered the path indicated to her by Francis, Clare focused the Poor Clares’ way of life on “observing the Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (RC 1, 2). The Gospel is what reveals the secret of Clare’s ‘youth’ and her ability to be a benchmark for the Church and the world today. Dear Sisters, tell us with your lives what you contemplate and touch of the Word of Life as contained in the Gospel. Tell us with your existence that for all of us God is always love.
25th Anniversary of the Spirit of Assisi
It is providential that the eighth anniversary coincides with the 25th anniversary of the Spirit of Assisi. The evangelical experience of both Francis and Clare has led John Paul II to choose Assisi as the place to carry out the historic gesture of gathering the Leaders of the world to pray for peace. From this gesture came forth what, from then on, became known as the Spirit of Assisi. We, Franciscans, are born in Assisi, but we are not to consider the Spirit of Assisi as a glory of the family, rather as an urgent invitation to offer our contribution and service to build a more peaceful world. And you, Poor Clares, have much to offer because the message of Francis and Clare – as John Paul II said in Assisi in 1993 – can be summed up “in three words of the Gospel today: poverty, peace and prayer”. “Poverty and peace” the Pope continued, “are two requirements of Christ’s message, still valid for the world today more than ever.” The Holy Father the concluded by saying that “evangelical poverty is the source of peace.” This doesn’t mean avoiding the complexity of the issues or denying the urgency of profound change. It simply means that the civilization of love will not arise unless it is at the center of our cities and unless we have the boldness to be poor and free, and enter the “cloister” with Lady Poverty to understand in a new way the “secret of things” and its joyous response to the needs of men.
We, Friars Minor, and you, Poor Clares, can never forget one fact, namely, that “one and the same Spirit has brought the Friars and the poor little women out of this world” (2Cel 204). We have been birthed by the same Spirit who inspired Francis and Clare to live the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Yes, according to a happy expression by John Paul II in 1982, “it is not possible”, he said, “to distinguish these two names: Francis and Clare; these two phenomenons: Francis and Clare; these two legends: Francis and Clare. These two statements: “Francis and Clare.” In fact, both have expressed the original Franciscan ideal, the complementarity between the going of Francis and his brothers and the being of Clare and the Sisters. This, then, is about being able to combine both autonomy and reciprocity. This is an aspect we will try to do at the First International Congress of Presidents of the Federations of the OSC and Assistants, from February 5 to 12, 2012. At this point, I would like to renew, also on behalf of the Brothers, Francis’ commitment always to have diligent care of and special concern for you, Poor Clares.
Let me conclude this brief letter for the Feast of St. Clare 2011 by hearkening back to the evening of April 16, 2011, and proposing again the same desires with which I concluded my homily during that special circumstance, namely, that the Eighth Centenary of the Consecration of Saint Clare and the Founding of the Order of the Poor Clares may be a period of grace for the daughters of Saint Clare so that you may know and live your vocation better and be a sign in the world of a God who is love; and for the Friars Minor: may this be a time to intensify their fraternal rapport with the Poor Sisters, so that all may see in Clare “a mirror and an example” of adherence to Christ, our only Lord and Savior.
“May the Lord be always with you, and may you always be with him” (BlCl 16).
Rome, July 15, 2011
Feast of St. Bonaventure, Doctor of the Church
Fr. José Rodriguez Carballo, ofm
Minister General, OFM