By sr Luz Maria Leyva, president of the Federation of Our Lady of the Angels
Saint Clare is rich in her poverty. She knew how to discover the hidden treasure she encountered precisely in being poor, as Our Lord Jesus Christ said: “for theirs (the poor) is the Kingdom of God” (Mt. 5:3). Clare´s voluntary enclosure in the cloister signifies poverty for her, the poverty of an exodus. She did not need to travel the world to sense herself a poor pilgrim, rather she so limited her attachment to mundane realities that she desired no earthly inheritance other than the highest poverty, which makes the poor of Christ heirs of the Kingdom of heaven.
Voluntary poverty in the following of Christ is not only a renunciation of worldly goods but also a freeing of oneself from everything that hinders her walking closely in the path of the poor Christ. Being a pilgrim obliges one to detach herself completely, as did Saint Clare, and helps one to not look back.
Who could know the profound suffering her heart experienced when she left her father’s house and ventured into an unknown life? Radical poverty must have been one of her crosses, since she had been brought up in a life of wellbeing and security. Because of this Clare understood all that is inherent in human weakness. We see her, then, on a solitary journey, not one of an arrival but of a departure to another destiny, in which Clare wished to walk only with the presence of God.
“O marvelous humility! O astounding poverty! The King of angels, Lord of heaven and earth, is laid in a manger!”
It was a great struggle in the life of Saint Clare for her to obtain the Privilege of Poverty, which she loved because Christ loved poverty. From the lips of Clare flowed these words: “O holy poverty! To those who love and desire her, God promises the kingdom of heaven and guarantees eternal glory and a blessed life. O God centered poverty! Whom the Lord Jesus Christ desired to come down to embrace before all else. In effect Christ had no where to recline his head (Mt. 8:20), but inclining it on the cross he gave over his spirit (Jn. 19:30).” (1CtCl)
In the letters of St. Clare is reflected the poverty of the penitential life. However, in every bodily discomfort she suffered because of poverty, she overcame and transformed it into a loving gift for her Lord; and for her sisters. In her first letter to Agnes of Prague, Clare expresses the joy she has in (Agnes) choosing to exchange the temporal riches of the world for the Kingdom of God. She writes: “You could have legitimately been married to the illustrious Emperor, but you have rejected all these things and have chosen with your whole heart and soul the life of holy poverty and bodily want.”
Christ became for our salvation the vilest of humans, despised, beaten and whipped mercilessly in his entire body, suffering a most atrocious death on the cross. These words echo those of our most poor mother: “There is no doubt that you know that the reign of heaven is promised only to the poor, and when you love temporal things you lose the fruit of charity.” It is not possible to seek the glory of this world and reign afterward with Christ (4CtCl).
Seeking to guard every aspect of poverty but avoiding that it become an inhuman suffering, St. Clare in her Rule expressly leaves us this point: “The abbess is firmly obliged to inform herself both with personal solicitude and through her sisters about the infirm sisters, and to provide for them in charity and mercy, according to the possibilities of the situation, regarding medicine, food and other necessary things their infirmity requires” (RCl).
Clare, as does every soul that seeks to imitate the Poor Christ, begins a long journey in the desert of the spirit. Her route is filled with many difficulties: those of community life with all its dangers, her sickness, and the attacks of the enemy. Nevertheless we see that for St. Clare the sisters are highly important; that is, not the self but the other, above all Christ poor and suffering in the person of the infirm sister.
Clare found her riches in her poverty, whose privilege was granted by Pope Innocent III to leave us the heritage of this precious treasure.