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How St. Clare of Assisi can help us make the most of today’s strange times…

How St. Clare of Assisi can help us make the most of today’s strange times…

One of the great blessings of the Catholic faith is the awareness we are given of the communion of saints. When we embrace the gift of their active intercessory presence in our lives, we know we are never alone. 

Getting to know the saints helps keep them close. The more we become familiar with individual stories, experiences, and personalities, the more we might find the lives of the saints coming to be a known, even undeniable part of our lives. This has certainly been the case in my life. 

But this spiritual gift is not an individualistic one. We’re members of the body of Christ, brothers and sisters together on this road to heaven as Christians.

And so while her feast day is more than a month away (Aug. 11), there’s a saint who seems to be stalking me lately, in the best of ways: St. Clare of Assisi. 

With St. Clare, it’s been a decade or so in coming since my first visit to Assisi with good friends, who made her a part of our pilgrimage in some of the most natural of ways. We joked about her, and almost had her sitting in the car back to Rome with us, so real her influence on our lives had immediately become. 

There is an excerpt from a letter of hers that appears in the Liturgy of the Hours every year on her memorial. When one of those friends died three years ago, I got holy cards made up with some of it, asking people to pray for her and her family.

“Happy indeed,” it begins, “is she who is granted a place at the divine banquet, for she may cling with her inmost heart to Him whose beauty eternally awes the blessed hosts of heaven; to Him whose love inspires love, whose contemplation refreshes, whose generosity satisfies, whose gentleness delights, whose memory shines sweetly as the dawn; to Him whose fragrance revives the dead, and whose glorious vision will bless all the citizens of that heavenly Jerusalem. For His is the splendor of eternal glory, the brightness of eternal light, and the mirror without cloud.”

Pilgrims from Kathryn Lopez’s group in front of the Basilica of St. Clare in Assisi in 2008. At left (with sunglasses) is the late journalist Kate O’Beirne, who died of lung cancer in 2017. (Kathryn Jean Lopez)

The “she” St. Clare refers to is a fellow religious sister, St. Agnes of Prague, whom St. Clare addresses as “Queen and bride of Jesus Christ” (Agnes was also born into worldly royalty, the daughter of the king of Bohemia).

“Look into that mirror daily and study well your reflection, that you may adorn yourself, mind and body, with an enveloping garment of every virtue, and thus find yourself attired in flowers and gowns befitting the daughter and most chaste bride of the king on high,” Clare wrote to her friend. 

“In this mirror blessed poverty, holy humility and ineffable love are also reflected. With the grace of God the whole mirror will be your source of contemplation.”

That image of the mirror is powerful. Think about how many times we look into a mirror. Look no further than today’s selfie culture for how vain we can easily become in this world.

St. Clare’s mirror offers something different.

“Behold, I say, the birth of this mirror. Behold his poverty even as He was laid in the manger and wrapped in swaddling clothes. What wondrous humility, what marvelous poverty! The King of angels, the Lord of heaven and earth resting in a manger! Look more deeply into the mirror and meditate on His humility, or simply on His poverty. Behold the many labors and sufferings He endured to redeem the human race. Then, in the depths of this very mirror, ponder His unspeakable love which caused Him to suffer on the wood of the cross and to endure the most shameful kind of death.

“The mirror Himself, from His position on the cross, warned passersby to weigh carefully this act, as He said: All of you who pass by this way, behold and see if there is any sorrow like mine. Let us answer His cries and lamentations with one voice and one spirit; I will be mindful and remember, and my soul will be consumed within me. In this way, queen of the king of heaven, your love will burn with an ever brighter flame.”

And so, the image I put on the flip side of the holy card for my friend Kate O’Beirne — who we liked to call “Kate the Great,” because not only was she great, but she brought out greatness in other people — was of St. Clare holding the Blessed Sacrament in a monstrance. It’s a reference to what is considered a miracle from 1241, when a sickly St. Clare was able to hold back an army by the power of the Blessed Sacrament.

“Saint Clare with a Monstrance,” circa 1600, attributed to Andrés Sánchez Gallque. (Public domain)

There are two lessons for us from this image. First, trust in Jesus. His presence in the world is real and has power, more power than everything that tempts us to despair, so overwhelmingly now, perhaps, in these days of pandemic and uncertainty. 

The other message is the call to always be his presence. We have no idea what’s to come. That’s always the case, but maybe it’s more evident in the frightening days of 2020. For months, Mass was unavailable, churches were closed, and it can all happen again. Drink him in — whenever you are at Mass, whenever you can be before the Blessed Sacrament.

So how are we going to prepare for whatever is to come? Look in that mirror that shows your soul. See how good God made you and for what goodness. He gives you courage and wisdom and all the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Let’s make use of them! Let’s “give God permission” as my dear friends, the Sisters of Life, put it. He wants to transform our lives!

Even if the sacraments are taken from us, or the churches are closed, we still have the Lord. We still belong to the Lord. St. Clare was so close to him that she heard him confirm this for her, that she is not alone.

We may grow frustrated, expecting to hear him with the same clarity she did in her cloister in San Damiano.

He does not leave us alone, and he sends his saints like St. Clare — including living ones — to remind us, to intercede for us, and walk with us. 

Knowing this, we can be that monstrance, showing Jesus to the world in the way we love one another. We may not all have a monstrance or an army to defeat, but evil will be decimated by our love, united with the heart of Jesus.

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