This reflection is the second blogpost of two, reflecting on Saint Clare of Assisi as precisely the saint we need at the present moment. The first reflection went up on Palm Sunday.
ST. CLARE UNDERSTANDS OUR LONGING FOR THE EUCHARIST
Perhaps you will be surprised to know that Saint Clare, as a cloistered nun, did not get to receive Holy Communion every day. She didn’t even get to receive every Sunday. For reasons layered and complex, the devotional fashions of the Middle Ages included only the very rare reception of the Eucharist. Saint Clare would have only been accustomed to receiving Holy Communion six times a year. This is yet another reason why Saint Clare is more relatable than ever, and very much a saint for our current crisis. Catholics throughout the world are missing the Eucharist intensely. Saint Clare, too, longed for our Lord with an intensity known only to God. No doubt her longing, like a sharpened blade, carved out a greater capacity within her to receive Him more devoutly and more gratefully.
Would that our longing for Jesus would increase and intensify, thereby better preparing us for every future reception.
ST. CLARE AND THE INDWELLING
One of the special treasures that has been passed down us through the centuries, is the The blessing of Saint Clare. The Saint offered her blessing – as Abbess and Mother – to her daughters, from her deathbed, and on other occasions as well. The blessing ends with a line that I like to call to memory often: “May the Lord always be with you, and may you always be with Him.” It’s the last part that I sometimes use to examine myself. The fact is, He is with me. He is dwelling in me as a wonderful and mysterious fruit of my Baptism. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are dwelling within me, but, am I with them? Or am I distractedly pursuing other things? If I will close my eyes, become still and go within, I can meet the Lord. I can be with Him in the inner room of my heart as often and as long as I want. He has made Himself completely available to me for perpetual adoration in my soul.
ST. CLARE AND DEATH
After 28 years of illness (intensifying the already strict and austere religious life which Clare lived heroically and joyfully), it was her time to die. When it became clear to the sisters that their beloved leader and tender mother was soon to leave them, as they kept watch at her bedside they had a privileged vantage point to observe the death of a saint. Those close-by heard Clare address her own soul saying, “Go without anxiety, for you have a good escort for your journey.” For the Lord already stood by the door in wait. Clare turned to one of the sisters near her bedside and asked, “Do you see the King of glory whom I see?” As the sister turned toward the direction of Clare’s gaze, she witnessed a train of heavenly virgins in clad in white dresses and crowned with flowers enter the room and process to Clare’s bed. The virgin at the top of the line was more splendid than the rest and emanated a light that made the dark of the cloister as bright as day. This unnamed virgin, leading the rest, went to Clare and embraced her tenderly upon her death bed. The virgins carried garlands of flowers and a mantle of exquisite beauty that the heavenly escorts used to stretch over Clare’s body and to adorn her bed as a bridal chamber. And so, Clare made her final journey accompanied by the loving tears of her daughters on earth and escorted forth by the joyous virgins from heaven. Such a scene (the account of eyewitnesses) could alter our natural depression at the thought of death. Granted, this is the death of a great saint, but it reveals a cause for hope meant for us all.
So focused are we on this valley of tears that perhaps we too seldom allow our minds to wander in meditation on the beauty that awaits us hereafter. (Now, you’ll accuse me of a denial of Purgatory here. I assure you, this is no such thing. Even a stop in Purgatory on the way to Paradise is a blessed and beautiful thing.) Maybe you, like me, are concerned about a loved one who is dying alone. I so desire to be at my dear one’s side, to hold her hand and to pray, to be there keeping company until the appointed time, but that privilege is denied me and so many of us. Instead, I think about that splendid Lady, certainly our Blessed Mother, and I ask her to accompany my loved one and yours, to caress the hands that are out of our reach, to embrace them tenderly on their death beds and help them not to be afraid. And may Our Lady prompt them to ask for mercy, the only word needed on the final journey.
We are part of a communion of saints, and while we are very limited – more so now than ever – the angels and saints can do the consoling and accompanying that we earnestly long to do. May the life and the death of Saint Clare be a light for us in the darkness of this present time, and beyond.
Mother Clare, CFR