In the late 1100s and early 1200s, Saint Francis and Saint Clare attracted multitudes of men and women thirsting for truth and the Gospel. Biographers at the time framed their mission in the social and spiritual context of that period with words like these:
Even as the morning star in the midst of a cloud, shining with the bright beams of his life and teaching [Francis], by his dazzling radiance led into the light them that sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, and… preached the gospel of peace and salvation unto men.1
O Clare, endowed in a manifold manner with titles of clarity!…O how great the vehemence of the light of this one and how vehement the illumination of this clarity of hers! This light, indeed, remained enclosed in secret cloisters, and outside it emitted sparkling rays…2
Today, in the 21st century, we, daughters of Clare, feel that we have the same mission, although the ways we live out this charism are those suggested to us by current times, and they are always under discernment, so that our message and witness may reach people of today through their language, and respond to their real questions.
In recent years, we have all found ourselves living in a heavy climate, first because of the pandemic, and then because of the war on the doorstep of our Europe. In an interconnected world, everything reaches us and wounds us, because we are aware that we belong to this humanity that suffers and faces a thousand urgent needs. Ours is a life of prayer and contemplation, but a prayer in which our hearts carry the cry of all our brothers and sisters, the hopes of entire populations, as well as the worries of the friends who are closest and most present to our gaze.
During the pandemic, not being able to have direct contact with people to make them feel our closeness and participation, we prepared a YouTube video in which we dedicated a song of hope to Covid patients and healthcare workers. This initiative had many positive impacts, but we know that these means of communication would not be useful if they did not express a true involvement of faith and love — that love which led us to dedicate all of that year’s Lenten season, privately and in silence, to uninterrupted Eucharistic adoration, during which we interceded for our country and the whole world.
Similarly, stirred by the torment of the war in Ukraine, we decided to involve the faithful who attend our church in prayer, proposing shifts for Eucharistic adoration every Sunday of Lent, starting from the early hours of the morning when the singing of Lauds opens that blessed time of grace.
This powerful time of intercession culminated with the Easter Vigil, which was celebrated with particular intensity. Our thoughts turned to all the situations of death and suffering entrusted to us: the sick, lonely and desperate people, the homeless, families in difficulty… We saw them all illuminated by the glory of the Risen One who transfigures pain and draws new life from it. We follow some of these brothers and sisters of ours more closely, meeting with them in the parlour and praying together to sustain them in the most difficult moments (for example, a mother who lost her only son in an accident, families with children in difficulty, young people in search of the meaning of life, women who would like a spiritual guide, etc.).
Another method our Way of Life has suggested to us to reflect Christ’s light, which we have adopted more than once, also in light of the new documents on cloistered life that the Church has published,3 is that of opening the Lectio Divina meetings we usually hold among our sisters as a community, to the closest and most interested people.
This initiative, too, draws life from the roots of our contemplative life, because the penetration of the Word is not improvised, nor do we recognize the voice of the Spirit if we do not listen to it daily and with perseverance, offering our hearts to listen to the Word with love.
Furthermore, we are convinced that the possibility Clare has today of spreading light and emanating clear light in the house of the Lord is above all tied to our witness of fraternal life, in unity and communion. Saint Clare summed up the cardinal points of her vocation and her charism as, “Holy unity and most high poverty”, and today, bearing witness to the possibility of overcoming the individualistic drives that dominate the prevailing culture and mindset, it is even more incisive and necessary. A witness carried out by working on one’s own heart in continuous conversion, in the grace of the Spirit, so as to build, day after day, that communal we in which the living presence of Jesus himself beats, through which we become fruitful and productive in the Church and the world.
1 Saint Bonaventure, The Life of Saint Francis of Assisi. Translated by E. Gurney Salter, 1904, by E.P. Dutton, New York, US., Prologue, 1.
2 Clara claris praeclara, The Bull of Pope Alexander iv , Bishop servant of the servants of God, On the Canonization of St Clare of Assisi, Co-Foundress of the Poor Clares.
3 Vultum Dei quaerere e Cor Orans.