The following is my monthly column for January/February, which appears in Faith: West Tennessee. If you want great monthly content to help you grow in your faith, visit the Catholic Diocese of Memphis website to subscribe.
In this issue, we are celebrating the presence and ministry of the Poor Clares in Memphis for over 80 years, and we are expressing our gratitude for the great work they have done. For decades, the Poor Clares have lived in poverty and prayed for the city of Memphis and its people. Surely their prayers and witness have brought untold graces upon the people of west Tennessee throughout that time.
As a way of celebrating and expressing gratitude, it is appropriate to take a quick look at the life and teaching of their foundress, St. Clare of Assisi. St. Clare was a close friend of Il Poverello (“the little poor one”), St. Francis of Assisi. She admired Francis’ zeal and his commitment to the Gospel, and she wanted to form a community of cloistered nuns to support his charism and mission. So, the Poor Clares were born in the middle ages in Italy, and they spread quickly throughout the western Church.
The spread of the Poor Clares happened specifically because of Clare’s devotion to Jesus and the Church, which her new sisters shared. This devotion came through in everything that Clare wrote and taught. For example, she wrote a series of letters to a noblewoman, a lay woman in Prague. In the final letter, she wrote:
“Happy, indeed, is the one permitted to share in this sacred banquet so as to be joined with all the feelings of her heart (to Christ) whose beauty all the blessed hosts of the Heavens unceasingly admire, whose affection moves, whose contemplation invigorates, whose generosity fills, whose sweetness replenishes, whose remembrance pleasantly brings light, whose fragrance will revive the dead, and whose glorious vision will bless all the citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, because the vision of him is the splendor of everlasting glory, the radiance of everlasting light, and a mirror without tarnish. Look into this mirror every day…” (Fourth Letter to Blessed Agnes of Prague).
In her words, we see a great devotion to Jesus in the Eucharist, and we come to know more about the graces of Jesus Christ and how they are effective in our lives. Contemplating Him invigorates us. The affections of His heart move us. His generosity fill us. His sweet fragrance revives even those who are dead (physically AND spiritually). His sweetness replenishes us when we are depleted. Light comes into our lives by remembering Him. He is the mirror without tarnish, the splendor of everlasting glory, and the Light that provides all the radiance we might ever need! St. Clare, like St. James in the New Testament, reminds us that we should take the opportunity to look into that mirror every day (Jas. 1:25).
The Catholic Church has been blessed by the ministry and intercession of St. Clare for eight centuries now. In America, our flagship Catholic television station (EWTN) was founded by a Poor Clare. Closer to home, the city and Diocese of Memphis has been blessed by the presence of the Poor Clares for nearly a century. Indeed, they have taught us by their example how to gaze into the Mirror that provides splendor and light to our lives. And, they taught us how to be devoted to Jesus in the Eucharist as they made altar breads for parishes and churches throughout west Tennessee. Their generosity and their loving spirit will be remembered in our city and diocese for a long time to come! We must make every effort to extend this witness by our own devotion to Jesus and St. Clare’s example. St. Clare, pray for them and for us!