12 August 2014

Feast of Saint Clare and Feast of Saint Jane de Chantal

On August 11 we celebrated the Feast of Saint Clare. Clare had one of the keenest understandings of the nature of religious poverty I know. She understood poverty as the counterpart of love, a theological reality modeled on the poverty of God which corresponds to that love which flows from the Father to the Son and from the Son to the Father in the Spirit. When asked how it is we center ourselves on the Love of God, Clare's answer was clear: "Become poor." In saying this she was reminding us to become what we truly are, let us be ourselves in relation to God, to others, and to all of creation. And, let us be entirely transparent to the love of God which makes us what we are and is our greatest (or even our only true) treasure.

The contemporary Church focuses very strongly on the preferential option for the poor which is so prevalent in the Gospel.  But what is also true, and what the preferential option for the poor can sometimes obscure is that in Jesus' proclamation all of us are identified as the poor ourselves just as we are called to allow ourselves to become even more truly and exhaustively poor, even more truly and exhaustively disenfranchised from (or less entrenched or enmeshed within) one world so we are more truly citizens of the Kingdom of God. Moreover, while we can provide all kinds of things for the materially poor, what we are called to give them (and to make possible within them!) is our credible proclamation of the Gospel. The irony is that we can do so only if we live lives of genuine renunciation ourselves. We can only do so if we show with our lives that God in Christ is our treasure and sustains us in ways nothing and no one else can or does. Each of us is called to create a world which is "egalitarian" and marked by our wealth in Christ. Each of us is called to be poor in the same sense as every other person, and that actually means some degree of real material poverty.

This, of course is one of the messages Clare proclaimed with such clarity --- and Francis as well! It is a central piece of the Franciscan witness in our world. Franciscan joy is genuine and it is striking because it is the counterpart of and counterpoint to Franciscan (Christian) poverty whose wealth is found in the love of God. On this day we especially reflect on the fact that if we wish to center our lives on the love of God we are called to become poor. While that means becoming who we are in relation to God it also means embracing a real material poverty as well. May Clare inspire us to answer this call in our own lives just as she did in her own.

I began the post on St Clare yesterday but it reminds me very much of a passage from St Jane de Chantal's Letters of Spiritual Direction. Today (August 12) is her Feastday: [[ All God wants is our heart. God is more pleased when we value our uselessness and weakness out of love and reverence for the Lord's will than when we do violence to ourselves and perform great works of penance. The peak of perfection lies in our wanting to be what God wishes us to be. What God, in his goodness, asks of you is not excessive zeal but a calm, peaceful uselessness, a resting with no special attention or action of the understanding or will, except a few words of love or of faithful, simple surrender, spoken softly, effortlessly, without the least desire to find consolation or satisfaction in them. If you put that into practice, it will please God more than anything else you might do.]]