Feast of Saint Clare

Illustration by Mark Balma

Saint Clare of Assisi was born in 1194. A daughter of a noble Italian family of the city of Assisi. This young lady, who was not particularly interested in entering a noble marriage, heard Saint Francis preaching, and wanted to live the Gospel life he espoused. Because of the social strictures of her times, she began living the Gospel life behind the walls of a monastery.

From behind those walls, she was still able to inspire people to follow Christ. Women came to be admitted to her community located around the chapel of San Damiano, one of the first churches Francis repaired. They lived a simple life of prayer and work. They claimed nothing for their own, no dowries, no financial endowments. People came from all around Assisi, seeking her advice and guidance.

Her influence could be felt beyond the Italian borders; when a noble woman, Agnes of Prague, inspired by lives of Franciscan friars in Hungary, sought Clare’s advice. Agnes would herself establish a Franciscan monastery. Clare, would advise her in several letters. In her second letter to Agnes, she wrote:

O most noble Queen,
gaze upon Him,
consider Him,
contemplate Him,
as you desire to imitate Him.
If you suffer with Him, you will reign with Him.
If you weep with Him, you shall rejoice with Him;
If you die with Him on the cross of tribulation, you shall possess heavenly mansions in the splendor of the saints and,in the Book of Life, your name shall be called glorious among men.

Saint Clare died on August 11,1253.

Saint Elizabeth of Portugal

Born in 1271, Elizabeth was a daughter of one of the rulers of the kingdom of Aragon; which would eventually become part of modern Spain. At age 12, she was married to the king of Portugal, who at that time was named, Denis. She would eventually give birth to two children. While her husband was a philanderer, she remained faithful to him, and fulfilled all her royal duties. She was also a woman of faith, attending church regularly, and maintaining a life of prayer and charity.

She was drawn into royal politics and diplomacy, when her husband and her son’s relationship had deteriorated to the degree that civil war threatened the country. Through her efforts, peace was maintained. Much later in her life, she worked to prevent war between the kingdom of Portugal and the Spanish kingdom of Castile. For her efforts, she became known as “the Peacemaker!”

When her husband died, she left the royal court and took up residence in a Poor Clare monastery. She put on the habit of a Third Order Franciscan tertiary, and lived a life of prayer and charity. Still, she was continually called on to come out and apply her diplomatic skills to keep peace on the Iberian Peninsula.

Elizabeth died in 1336; in 1625, she was canonized as a Saint, in the Roman Catholic Church.

All Franciscans are called to be peacemakers; in our families, communities, churches, nations, the whole world. We do this by actively working for peace, speaking out for peace, supporting peacemaking organizations. And ultimately, maintaining peace within ourselves!

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

Once more, people of Irish descent; and those would like to be Irish, are celebrating the Feast day of St. Patrick. In this country, on this “holy” day, people would celebrate in bars and pubs, although maybe not so much during these COVID days! Individuals and families will feast corned beef and cabbage; and there will be the wearing of the green. Real, and what passes for “real” Irish music will blaring out in homes, stores and cars.

Sadly, we tend to forget what the churches are asking us to remember today, the story of a man of faith. As a young man living in ancient Britain, Patrick was kidnap by Irish raiders; taken to wild Ireland and sold as a slave. He would later escape, returning to his homeland. But he felt called to return to Ireland as a missionary. He would study and was ordained a priest; he was later consecrated a bishop, and sent to Ireland to establish the Christian faith there. He would be successful in his efforts. A Celtic style of Christianity would soon developed, which disappeared for awhile, but is experiencing a rebirth. Eventually, it would be Irish monks, coming over into Europe, that would lead to a rebirth of Christianity in Europe itself, as it recovered from the Dark Ages.

The following is part of a prayer, attributed to Saint Patrick, it speaks to his deep spirituality; Saint Patricks Breastplate:

Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me. Christ beside me, Christ to win me. Christ to win me. Christ to comfort me and restore me. Christ beneath me, Christ above me. Christ in quiet, Christ in danger. Christ in hearts of all that love me. Christ in mouth of friend or stranger.

“Blessed be God, in his angels and in His saints!”

“Good Pope John”

Pope John XXIIIToday, the Catholic Church celebrates the life of St. John XXIII, was Pope, Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, from 1958 to 1963.

Born Angelo Roncalli, in the Italian province of Lombardy, to a family of sharecroppers, in 1881. He would be ordained a priest in 1904, serve as an stretcher bearer and chaplain in the Italian army, during World War I. After the war, he would be a bishop’s secretary, papal diplomat to Bulgaria, Turkey, and France. During World War II, he would use his diplomatic and ecclesial status to help hundreds of Jews escape the Holocaust.

He was appointed Patriarch of Venice, Italy, and made a Cardinal, in 1953. In 1958, after the death of Pope Pius XII, he joined other Cardinals in the Sistine Chapel, to elect the new Pope. After eleven ballots, Cardinal Angelo Roncalli was elected Pope. As is custom he took a new name, and became Pope John XXIII.

He was expected to be a “caretaker” Pope, his papacy was to be short and uneventful. He shocked everyone when in 1959, he summoned the world’s bishops to what became the Second Vatican Council. He would not live to see it’s conclusion, dying of stomach cancer in 1963.

I have no memories of his pontificate. As an altar server, I witnessed the steady changes that came in the liturgy. When I was in high school, I came across a book listing his memorable sayings, including his more humorous ones. I became attracted to this Pope from the Italian countryside. In seminary, I read his spiritual journal, “Journal of a Soul,” and encountered the deeply spiritual Pope John. And I have read, or at least tried to read his social justice papal encyclicals “letters,” especially his famous “Pacem in Terris.”  I am finding that this letter still has something to say for our times.

Recently, I learned that there is something St. John XXIII and I share; we are both Secular Franciscans.  He joined the OFS during his seminary days, I joined in 1988.  So to my fellow Franciscan, I ask his intercession for our troubled Church, that the Holy Spirit will guide us into living the Gospel life more fully.