St. Clare – divine love is a reality

St. Clare - divine love is a reality

On the feast day of I return from the summer break to take up the Forum blog once again. I do this today to honor my friends, the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist, whose residence is St Clare Hall at the University of St. Thomas. These sisters have blessed us with many gifts — their joy and generosity, their practicality, and their love of Christ. Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist, they live the Eucharist, as Blessed John Paul II said of Clare and Francis: “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.” See his letter for the Eighth Centenary of the Birth of St Clare. Any women who seek to live a call to the religious life would do very well to consider this community of beautiful Franciscan women, the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist. See their website here.

In his book about St (The Dumb Ox), Chesterton points out that the saint is an antidote, providing the age what it needs to counter a poison and they exaggerate whatever the world neglects. The world neglects reason today, so Thomas remains a saint for our time. The world neglects fair love; oh brothers and sisters, we see how they neglect fair love even more than they neglect reason, and yet their hearts still pine for a pure love, the love of Christ. Chesterton said of the roman empire that “it was no metaphor to say that these people needed a new heaven and a new earth; for they had really defiled their own earth and even their own heaven. How could their case be met by looking at the sky, when erotic legends were scrawled in stars across it.” We too have defiled our surroundings; the media bringing us news and knowledge, sports and entertainment, have become choked with the weedy tendrils of disordered love and pornography. Thus, Francis and Clare are also very much saints for our day, bringing to us the newness of real love and the joy of self-giving. Chesterton has a fine passage about Francis and Clare, celebrating this love as a gift to the modern world:

There is no story about which even the most sympathetic critics of another creed have been more bewildered and misleading. For there is no story that more clearly turns on that simple test which I have taken as crucial throughout this criticism. I mean that what is the matter with these critics is that they will not believe that a heavenly love can be as real as an earthly love. The moment it is treated as real, like an earthly love, their whole riddle is easily resolved. A girl of seventeen, named Clare and belonging to one of the noble families of Assisi, was filled with an enthusiasm for the conventual life; and Francis helped her to escape from her home and to take up the conventual life. . . . he helped her to elope into the cloister, defying her parents as he had defied his father. Indeed the scene had many of the elements of a regular romantic elopement; for she escaped through a hole in the wall, fled through a wood and was received at midnight by the light of torches. . . .

If it had really been a romantic elopement and the girl had become a bride instead of a nun, practically the whole modern world would have made her a heroine. If the action of the Friar towards Clare had been the action of the Friar towards Juliet, everybody would be sympathising with her exactly as they sympathise with Juliet. . . .  But the point for the moment is that modern romanticism entirely encourages such defiance of parents when it is done in the name of romantic love. For it knows that romantic love is a reality, but it does not know that divine love is a reality. . . . The fact is that as soon as we assume for a moment as a hypothesis, what Saint Francis and Saint Clare assumed all the time as an absolute, that there is a direct divine relation more glorious than any romance, the story of Saint Clare’s elopement is simply a romance with a happy ending; and Saint Francis is the Saint George or knight-errant who gave it a happy ending. And seeing that some millions of men and women have lived and died treating this relation as a reality, a man is not much of a philosopher if he cannot even treat it as a hypothesis. 

For the rest, we may at least assume that no friend of what is called the emancipation of women will regret the revolt of Saint Clare. She did most truly, in the modern jargon, live her own life, the life that she herself wanted to lead, as distinct from the life into which parental commands and conventional arrangements would have forced her. She became the foundress of a great feminine movement which still profoundly affects the world; and her place is with the powerful women of history. . . .  I have often remarked that the mysteries of this story are best expressed symbolically in certain silent attitudes and actions. And I know no better symbol than that found by the felicity of popular legend, which says that one night the people of Assisi thought the trees and the holy house were on fire, and rushed up to extinguish the conflagration. But they found all quiet within, where Saint Francis broke bread with Saint Clare at one of their rare meetings, and talked of the love of God. It would be hard to find a more imaginative image, for some sort of utterly pure and disembodied passion, than that red halo round the unconscious figures on the hill; a flame feeding on nothing and setting the very air on fire. 

So here is to St. Clare and to the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist who show us the reality of divine love and the beauty of Christ — fresh shoots of divine love. With them, John Paul II points us to Christ in order to understand love: “love is greater than sin, than weakness, it is stronger than death; this revelation of love is described as mercy; and in man’s history this revelation of love and mercy has taken a form and a name: that of Jesus Christ.” (Redeemer of Man §9)

St Clare wrote: “Look upon him who became contemptible for you, and follow him, making yourself contemptible in this world for him. Your Spouse, though more beautiful than the children of men, became for your salvation the lowest of men, was despised, struck, scourged untold times throughout his entire body, and then died amid the suffering of the cross…. Gaze upon him, consider him, contemplate him, as you desire to imitate him. If you suffer with him, you shall rejoice with him; if you die with him on the cross of tribulation, you shall possess heavenly mansions in the splendour of the saints, and in the Book of Life your name shall be called glorious among men” (2LAg 19-22).

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