“Trusting in the Father, Christ chose for himself and his mother a poor and humble life, even though he valued created things attentively and lovingly. Let the Secular Franciscans seek a proper spirit of detachment from temporal goods by simplifying their own material needs. Let them be mindful that according to the gospel they are stewards of the goods received for the benefit of God’s children.
Thus, in the spirit of the Beatitudes, and as pilgrims and strangers on their way to the Father, they should strive to purify their hearts from every tendency and yearning for possession and power.” (Art. 11, Secular Franciscan Order Rule)
If August 11, 2013, had not fallen on a Sunday, we would have been celebrating the memory of Saint Clare of Assisi, co-founder with Saint Francis of the Second Order, then known as the Poor Ladies of San Damiano, and today known as the Poor Clares. We sometimes think of her and her sisters as the contemplative branch of the Franciscan family, but I would like to share a reflection on another aspect of Clare’s life and spirituality.
When the Poor Ladies were established at San Damiano, Clare requested a special privilege from the Pope and the Bishop of Assisi, the privilege of poverty. Her monastery would depend only on the income from the work of their hands, or from alms given to them. At a time when the established monasteries had huge incomes from the rents on lands gifted to them, and the dowries of the women who entered the monasteries, this was unheard of. The Popes of Clare’s time continually refused this request, believing that the Poor Ladies needed income and sustenance that only lands and endowments could provide. Now Clare was not an ascetic masochist, nor did she see poverty as an end. She saw evangelical poverty as a means to an end. As she and her sisters gazed on the San Damiano cross, they saw Christ, though He was the Son of God, willing to empty Himself for all humanity. And Clare realized that to follow Christ meant emptying oneself of all possessions, of the need to possess and control, and be dependent on the love of God. Thus, she held out against the Pope, until finally he relented and gave Clare and her sisters the privilege of poverty. She received the written permission shortly before her death.
We are also called to empty ourselves so that we can be open and receptive to the love of God. We, too, are called to empty ourselves and share the gifts of that love with everyone. Let us ask for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, let us be inspired by the lives of Francis and Clare. Let us have the courage to open our arms and share all that we have for the sake of the kingdom of God.