August 2019 Monthly Meditation by Fr. Francis Sariego, OFM Cap

St. Katherine Drexel Regional Fraternity

Regional Spiritual Assistant

St. Francis of Assisi Friary

1901 Prior Road

Wilmington, Delaware 19809


tel: (302) 798-1454      fax: (302) 798-3360      website: skdsfo     email: pppgusa@gmail.com

August 2019

Dear Sisters and Brothers in St. Francis,

The Lord give you his peace!

Among all the other gifts which we have received and continue to receive from our benefactor, the Father of mercies, and for which we must express the deepest thanks to our glorious God, our vocation is a great gift … Therefore, beloved sisters, we must consider the immense gifts which God has bestowed on us, especially those which he has seen fit to work in us through his beloved servant, our blessed Father Francis …Therefore, if we have lives according to the form of life given us, we shall, by very little effort, leave others a noble example and gain the prize of eternal life … Therefore, I, Clare, the handmaid of Christ and of the Poor Sisters of the Monastery of San Damiano – although unworthy – and the little plant of the holy Father … bound ourselves to our Lady, most holy Poverty, so that, after my death, the Sisters present and to come would never abandon her … which we have promised the Lord and our holy Father Francis … (Testament of St. Clare)

Powerful words and beautiful!  They were written by a woman whose life and example have helped transform the lives of veritably millions of women and men through the centuries.  Yes, men as well!  The patrimony of the saints is for all who are ready and willing to learn from God Who speaks through them.  The whole question of holiness is one that is dis-cussed so much that at times it can become dis-gusting.  Not because the matter is irrelevant or noisome, but because we dissect the issue so much that we turn holiness into a scholastic theory to be studied rather than a goal to be achieved with the help of God’s grace and our collaboration.  In fact, as we have heard in other matters, it is the journey to holiness itself that is the goal already achieved but not yet fully.

The call to holiness, offered to all God’s children indiscriminately, awaits a response.  God does not force the issue, but will do all that is possible to make it accessible.  The wonderful gift of free will, greatest gift the Creator gave us after His love and life, is the gift we can offer back in thanksgiving by allowing ourselves to live in light of God’s will.  This is where holiness is!  The saints show us with their lives how they had come to know God’s will for them and how they responded.  Each saint is unique.  The uniqueness only enhances the vastness of God’s goodness manifested to every single person who recognizes the working of the Spirit in God’s holy ones. If we are willing to listen rather than just hear, we discover a vast horizon open before us that welcomes us into the myriad signs of a God Whose love is just waiting, or better anticipating, our entering His loving embrace in mystery during our time on earth as we advance towards the fullness of its reality in eternity.

In calling herself “the little plant of the holy Father”,  St. Clare tells us of her love for St. Francis and how deeply she recognizes his influence in her life.  The free spirit of St. Francis of Assisi and the joy that emanated from his life were an attraction that encouraged Clare to be free from all that held her back from fulfilling the desire of her heart to be consecrated to the service of the Lord.  The unique expressiveness of the Poverello’s actions, caring less about human respect and opinion, but only concerned with calling others to praise the Lord of creation, urged St. Clare to recognize the uniqueness of her own desires and how God was speaking to her. The humility of St. Francis in remaining in Assisi where many knew him before and ridiculed him after his conversion expressed to Clare a conviction and commitment in him that strengthened her own resolve. The wealthy and poor who followed Francis and lovingly accepted one another without distinction as brothers undoubtedly enhanced and filled St. Clare’s heart with a yearning no human affection could fill. The community she entered when she passed the doorway of the Portiuncula introduced her to a family she would love and protect until her death.

Once she entered the doorway of the Portiuncula, Mother-Sister-Confidant-Counselor Clare, became the first sister of all the brothers.  Her presence and words were revered both by St. Francis as well as by all the brothers.  Her prayers were a consoling and reassuring promise that encouraged the brothers in their life and daily trials. Her counsels were sought by St. Francis and the friars. Her sharing in the Gospel Life filled out the Franciscan Family.  She is not only a follower of the spirit of the Poverello, she too is an innovator and foundress.  Like St. Francis, St. Clare will forcefully, yet respectfully and patiently, refuse to accept the Rule of any other religious community. Exalted poverty was the “gift” she wanted above all else that the Church grant her.  Only shortly before the end of her earthly journey did our Mother St. Clare receive the desired Privilege of Exalted Poverty.  She rejoiced and could die in peace.

In speaking of St. Clare in his decree for her canonization the Holy Father said: O Clare, endowed with so many titles of clarity!  Clear (clara) even before your conversion, clearer (clarior) in your manner of living, exceedingly clear (praeclarior) in your enclosed life, and brilliant (clarissima) in splendor after the course of your mortal life.  In Clare, a clear mirror is given to the entire world. (Alexander IV).  The Holy Father understood and proclaimed the beauty of the woman who really lived her name.  The transparency of her life and total surrender to God’s will made her an example to be praised and raised up for all to admire, emulate, and imitate.

One of the qualities spoken of much by political groups and religious organizations is transparency.  To be “clear” about matters can determine the outcome of many discussions, especially when sides involved are very distinct in their opinions and opposed in their reasoning.  How truly transparent are people willing to be?  The clarity with which we live our lives often is determined by the situations and people we encounter and with whom we must interact.  You are what you are before God and nothing more is a saying attributed to our Seraphic Father Saint Francis of Assisi. The fact itself cannot be denied, but the way we live out who we are and how muddled or clear our character and actions come across depends on us and what we permit to affect us.  St. Clare, daughter of Favarone and Ortolana, truly lived the name she was given at birth.  The light of God’s love and goodness that emanated from her life still encourages and enlightens thousands who accept to follow her example and Rule of life. Everything serves a purpose and indicates, for those willing to see and hear, the will and work of God. The following brief paragraph, taken from the Legenda, briefly tells the interesting story of the naming of the child who became the Mother of the Franciscan Family.

While the pregnant woman (Ortolana, the mother of St. Clare), already near delivery, was attentively praying to the Crucified before the cross in a church to bring her safely through the danger of childbirth, she heard a voice saying to her: “Do not be afraid, woman, for you will give birth in safety to a light which will give light more clearly than light itself.  Taught by this oracle, when the child was born and then reborn in sacred Baptism, she ordered that she be called Clare, hoping that the brightness of the promised light would in some way be fulfilled according to the divine pleasure(Legend of St. Clare, Part 1, chpt.1,2).

Who could have known this child would one day be the mother, sister and servant of a multitude of women, and the beloved spiritual mother, sister, confident and counselor of so many men. The women to whom she would give birth spiritually by the transparency of her life and actions continue to be in our twenty-first century world a beacon of clarity of faith, brighter hope, and brilliant love for God and all creation.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  A light is not put under a bushel basket but set on a candle stand so that its light shines for all to see and from which all may benefit.

The process of the “conversion” story of St. Clare is not complicated. Twelve years younger than the “eccentric” son of Peter Bernardone, Clare probably heard and saw the rich spoiled Francis Bernardone turned poor itinerant preacher when he walked through the streets of Assisi.  She sought understanding and was able to speak with St. Francis. Her heart was assured and determined to be the “mother-sister-servant} of a multitude whose prayerful penitential life is even today the strength of the Franciscan Family. Although she had been promised to a young suitor for marriage, Clare carefully prepares an “escape” from her family home. After the famous “kenosis” of St. Francis, ridding himself of his past even to the stripping off of the clothes he wore, affected and attracted both elite and commoners to follow his gospel lifestyle. The love and sincere support for each other that she saw in them, was no doubt an example St. Clare could not deny or disregard.  As she sought clarity and direction for her own life, St. Francis offered her the loving encouragement, strength, and support she needed to take the final step that would introduce her to a life that would fulfill her prayerful desires.

The Family of St. Francis would be less than incomplete if St. Clare had not responded to the call to follow St. Francis in the gospel life.  She followed, yes, but St. Clare is her own person.  St. Clare makes the Family complete.  Just as one parent can care for a child but the child’s family life is incomplete, we Franciscans can see ourselves in the same way had St. Clare not accepted to become the “mother” of the Family.  First Order Friars, Third Order Regular Religious, Secular Franciscans living in the world, would all be less than complete had St. Clare not left her home the night of 28 March 1212.  St. Clare is not just another follower; she is the mother of the Family.  As St. Francis, St. Clare recognized the uniqueness of her new life and would not accept any rule but the simple Rule St. Francis gave her, and then the Rule she would write.  Her strength of purpose and character, and the undaunted insistence with the Holy See that the Privilege of Poverty be granted to her religious family, filled her with joy when it was eventually granted.  It is the distinctive mark of “Poor Ladies of San Damiano” and all who accepted her Rule.

As Spiritual Children of St. Francis of Assisi, how could we ever not consider ourselves children of St. Clare of Assisi as well?  Her life of prayer, penance, and exalted poverty call us to reflect upon our Franciscan vocation.  She was “in love” with the Lord Who called her to a life of total surrender and trust in Divine Providence.  Though we live in society, we can still live the spirit of total surrender and dedication that our Mother learned from our Seraphic Father and lived in the uniqueness of her own vocation. The heroic expression of the gospel life she chose to live with her daughters/sisters at San Damiano, and the life all who followed her lived, challenge us who call her our Mother in the Franciscan Family, to follow her example and seek to simplify our lives and detach ourselves from unnecessary attachments to all that we allow to control.

The poverty she sought was expressed not only in the material goods of life but also in her humility.  What greater poverty can we express, and one that all professed men and women can live if they will to, than the willing expression of a humble life. The self-emptying of Jesus, even to death on a cross, is the ultimate expression of poverty any one could hope to live.  Our Mother St. Clare teaches us that the privilege of poverty, and living it according to our state in life, empties us of all that controls us, enables us to be more receptive to grace, and makes us available to open our hearts to everyone. Let us strive to learn from the example of our mother.  Let us learn to be detached from what we allow to control us, humbly be at the service of one another, and sincerely love our sisters and brothers.  Unless we accept the giftedness of our vocation and the fact that each one of us is a gift that God offers the other, we will never strengthen the bond of charity among us.  As we honor the poverty and humility of St. Clare, let us not forget that the “ego” is the greatest and often last “treasure” we are willing to let go of.  May the example and holiness of St. Clare of Assisi help us to live as faithful children of our Seraphic Family, who see poverty as freedom, chastity as love, and obedience as victory.

May God bless us; may Mary, Queen and Mother of our Seraphic Family, keep us in the depths of Her Immaculate Heart; and may Our Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi and our Holy Mother St. Clare of Assisi watch over each one of us, their Spiritual Children, with loving care.

Peace and Blessings

Fr. Francis A. Sariego, O.F.M. Cap.

Regional Spiritual Assistant

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