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Homily at the Poor Clare Monastery

This homily was given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde at the Poor Clare’s Mary, Mother of the Church Monastery in Alexandria on the Feast of St. Clare of Assisi, Aug. 11.

It was midnight of Palm Sunday 1212. The night air was cool with the promise and freshness of spring, the stars were shining in the heavens, and earth was still as the inhabitants of Assisi slumbered. The only sound which could be heard was the soft footsteps of a woman rushing to meet her beloved. Yes, this was the night that St. Clare left her paternal home and made her way to the little chapel of St. Mary of the Angels outside of Assisi. There she exchanged her finest gown for the rough, cross-form habit of the Order of Penance. She was met with lighted candles at the chapel by St. Francis and his followers as she gave herself to her bridegroom — Jesus Christ.

The words of Hosea in our first reading were fulfilled in the life of St. Clare that day: "And in that day, says the Lord, you will call me, ‘My husband.’" St. Clare was a woman of noble birth. She was born into a loving family that could offer her all of the advantages of life. In the eyes of the world she "had it all." Education, wealth, social prestige, beauty, these were all a part of the life of St. Clare, yet she perceived the call of God in her heart to embrace Lady Poverty.

Indeed, her heart was stirred by the preaching of St. Francis, her fellow townsman. His words echoed in her heart like the words of a lover who whispers to his beloved — "I love you." The Gospel words of St. Francis were the heralds that disclosed to St. Clare the mystery of her life, of her vocation. She loved God with an unquenchable love, a love so strong that it would spread throughout the world down to our own day, eight hundred years later. Indeed, her life exemplifies the basic premise of the Christian life, which is to be a countercultural witness. God knows that we need tangible examples in our lives of how to be witnesses for Jesus Christ, and so He chooses to raise up in each generation countercultural witnesses to His Gospel. We see a perfect example of this in the life of St. Clare.

Like our Gospel reading last Sunday, St. Clare was rich in the "things that matter to God." She embraced the life God called her to with a joyful and generous heart. We find these witnesses also today in the daughters of St. Clare. What a countercultural example these women give to us and our world today. In a world which strives for fame and fortune, these women give a powerful witness to the Lord Jesus Christ by living a hidden life, by leaving everything to go into the cloister to pray and do penance. By this act they witness to the primacy of Jesus Christ in the world. Yet, their lives do much more than give a countercultural message to an ego-centered world. We are not all called to live in the monastery, so through their lives of prayer and penance they obtain for us the graces we need to build the Kingdom of God on earth. They obtain for us the grace to be "afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed….So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day," as St. Paul explained in our second reading.

And yet, their lives would be worthless, and so would ours, if we did not abide in our Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus tells us in our Gospel reading: "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing." St. Clare, and her daughters who are here with us today, grasped this reality and entered the cloister to abide with Him who is their husband. As followers and witnesses of Christ we must live this reality in our everyday lives. How? Through prayer, through meditation on His Word and through a regular sacramental life. St. Clare knew this and through this way of life each day gave more of herself to her Beloved so that He could abide in her completely.

In our Gospel we also discover the source of power of the prayers of these Poor Clare sisters. Jesus tells us: "If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you." This is the source of the power of the prayers of these daughters of St. Clare. Let us all recommit ourselves today to being countercultural witnesses to Jesus Christ. Let us take the beautiful example of the life of this young virgin of Assisi and allow God to live in us and transform us into the image of His Son Jesus Christ. Let us pull the life of grace from the divine Vine, Jesus Christ, and bring this life to everyone we meet so that all may hear the consoling and life-changing words of Jesus: "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love." Amen.

Copyright 2001 Arlington Catholic Herald.  All rights reserved.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2001