Clare’s Encouragement: Go Forward and Stay There

Clare’s Encouragement: Go Forward and Stay There

This blog continues our Lent 2021 series of reflections on the Franciscan Intellectual-Spiritual Tradition by a variety of women and men Franciscans.

“We’ll get together when it’s safe.” How many times have you said this, or something like it, this past year? Who are you missing most this Lent? In your Christian vocation, who has been your greatest encourager recently?

The need to connect with loved ones

In this Lenten season of opportunity and loss, I have found Clare of Assisi to be a good friend and encourager. I am rereading her letters to Agnes of Prague, someone Clare grew to love but probably never expected to meet this side of heaven.

As I have needed to connect with others while distanced, so Clare and Agnes needed to connect with each other—in much more difficult circumstances! I have needed my loved ones to remind me who I really am, who I am called to be. Clare met this need for many friends, over many years. We do not know what Agnes of Prague shared with Clare, but in the few responses we have from Clare, there is deep, dynamic encouragement. I believe we can make that encouragement our own.

Always be mindful

In 1235, nine years after Francis died, Clare’s Second Letter to Agnes urges the Bohemian princess-turned-penitent to “always be mindful” of her commitment. Clare writes from her little space at San Damiano:

What you hold, may you hold,
What you do, may you do and not stop. (11)

The path of prudent happiness

The cloistered woman of Assisi goes on to write about movement like someone who is utterly unconfined in any way:

But with swift pace, light step, unswerving feet,
so that even your steps stir up no dust,
may you go forward
securely, joyfully, and swiftly,
on the path of prudent happiness . . . (12,13)

When was the last time you felt you were going forward “securely, joyfully, and swiftly”? What was drawing you? Who was with you then?

The going will not always be easy

Clare next signals that the going will not always be easy. But you knew that already, didn’t you? Go forward, she tells her friend,

believing nothing,
agreeing with nothing
that would dissuade you from this commitment
or would place a stumbling block for you on the way. . . (14)

Go forward, and stay there

Like Paul, who did not “run aimlessly” (1 Corinthians 9:23-27), and Francis, who prayed we might “follow His most holy commands even to the end” (Office of the Passion), Clare understands the stakes are very high for her friend. Agnes has been called by the Spirit:

so that nothing prevents you from offering
your vows to the Most High
in the perfection
to which the Spirit of the Lord has called you. (14)

Go forward, and stay there, Clare says.

The cost of commitment

She certainly knew the cost of such commitment. When Francis—her own spiritual father and brother—died, she was not among those able to be at his deathbed. I have thought about this kind of separation a lot in the last year, at too many bedsides. The separations we have been asked to bear have been hard, and harder still for some of us.

This Lent, maybe we can pray for those unable to understand what is happening around them. Separation without comprehension can hurt our spirits.

Distress never seems to diminish

Clare understood the pain of separation. I recall that, in 1230, five years before this letter to Agnes of Prague, Clare received a letter from her own sister (another Agnes). This Agnes had been sent from San Damiano to a new community far away, in Florence. In the letter to her sister Clare, Agnes of Assisi pours out her heart in sorrow and, it must be said, some bitterness. She writes:

The lot of all has been so established that one can never remain in the same state or condition. When someone thinks that she is doing well, it is then that she is plunged into adversity. Therefore, you should know, Mother, that my soul and body suffer great distress and immense sadness, that I am burdened and tormented beyond measure and am almost incapable of speaking, because I have been physically separated from you and my other sisters with whom I had hoped to live and die in this world. This distress has a beginning, but it knows no end. It never seems to diminish; it always gets worse.

Can you imagine how Clare might have felt when she read this? This was her little sister, the one who had been beaten by the men of their family for running off to join Clare.

See the pain in others

Agnes of Assisi goes on to do good work in Florence. She is even allowed to return to San Damiano for Clare’s death. I sometimes wonder if this painful sharing is in the background when Clare writes to encourage Agnes of Prague. What pain do you see in others this Lenten season?

Go forward, and stay there, Clare says.

Embrace the poor Christ

Stay where? Before Christ Jesus. He is the One Clare exhorts Agnes of Prague to gaze upon, to consider, to contemplate, and to imitate. He is the “there” where Agnes will find herself.

Among your own friends and family, who really “gets” who you are and who you are called to be? If you are able, perhaps you can make a little time with that person for Lent.

We’ll get together when it’s safe. Until then, embrace the poor Christ and go forward securely, joyfully, and swiftly.

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Image courtesy of Donna Foley.
Donna Foley

Written by : Donna Foley

Donna Foley, OFS, has tried to be a Franciscan-hearted wife, mother, and coworker for some years now. When offering retreats on Saint Clare, she found that Clare’s vibrant commitment to Gospel life with others spoke to many kinds of people. Donna currently serves in pastoral care with retired Sisters of St. Joseph of Philadelphia.

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