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THE SISTERS THAT THE LORD


GIVES US

• God’s Initiative in the Calling

• God Gave Me Sisters

• Vocation and Proselytism

• Requirements of Suitability
a) Orthodox Faith and Christian Life
b) Freedom from Marriage Commitment
c) Contraindications

• Following Christ in Poverty

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Chapter II, 1-11
1
If, by divine inspiration, someone comes to us
desiring to accept this life, the Abbess is bound to seek the
consent of all the sisters; 2 and if the majority has agreed,
she may receive her, after having obtained the permission
of the Lord Cardinal Protector. 3If she sees that the
candidate is acceptable, let the Abbess diligently examine
her or have her examined concerning the Catholic faith
and the Sacraments of the Church. 4And if she believes
all these things and is willing to profess them faithfully,
and to observe them steadfastly to the end; 5and if she has
no husband, or if she has a husband who has already
entered religious life with the authority of the Bishop of
the diocese and has already made a vow of continence; 6
and if there is no impediment to her observance of this
life, such as advanced age or ill-health or mental
weakness, 7 let the tenor of our life be thoroughly
explained to her.
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If she is suitable, let the words of the Holy Gospel
(cf Mt. 19, 21) be addressed to her that she should go and
sell all that she has and take care to distribute the
proceeds to the poor. 9If she cannot do this, her good will
shall suffice. 10Let the Abbess and sisters take care not to
be concerned about her temporal affairs, so that she may
freely dispose of her possessions as the Lord may inspire
her. 11However, if some council is required, let them send
her to some discerning and God-fearing men, according
to whose advice her goods may be distributed to the poor

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God’s Initiative in the Calling

In its theological sense, vocation is a choice and a call


on God’s side and a free response on man. Christ, through
the Church constantly calls to His following those the
Father has associated as co-workers of His task of
salvation. God always takes the initiative by loving and
choosing. Each vocation to the Kingdom is, then, of
“divine inspiration”.
This idea of vocation that Clare has in mind in her Rule
is what St. Francis had already formulated in his first Rule
as an answer to the experience he had at the origin of his
Gospel life, when he started to do penance (Testament).
Clare, at the beginning of her Testament, admits likewise to
have received her vocation as a great benefit, bestowed on
her through St. Francis, and exhorts the sisters to esteem it
as it is due:
“Among the other gifts that we have received and
do daily receive from our benefactor, the Father
of Mercies, (2Cor 1:3) and for which we must
express the deepest thanks to the glorious Father
of Christ, there is our vocation. ….We must
consider the immense gifts that God has bestowed
on us, specially those that he has seen fit to work
in us through his beloved servant, our blessed
Father Francis.”

Every call to an evangelical life of poverty and


humility needs an attitude of conversion. Both Francis and
Clare speak of their own calling as a process of coming
back to God and as the beginning of a “life of penance”.
“After the Most High heavenly Father saw fit in
his mercy and grace to enlighten my heart that I
should do penance according to the example and
teaching of our most Blessed Father Francis, a

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short while after his conversion, I, together with a
few sisters whom the Lord had given me after my
conversion, willingly promised him obedience, as
the Lord gave us the light of his grace through his
wonderful life and teaching” (Testament 24- 26).

According to this true theology of vocation, the


initiative comes totally from God, “The Father of mercies”
and giver of all goodness. When communicating to his
beloved his design of loving preference, God illumines “the
heart”, a very biblical concept: “Love the lord and your
heart will be illumined.”(Sir 2:10); “May he enlighten the
eyes of your mind so that you can see what hope his call
holds for you.”(Eph 1:18) That is how St. Francis was
praying before the St. Damian crucifix at the start of his
conversion” “Oh most high and glorious God, illumine the
darkness of my heart.” What matters most at the time of
conversion is not actually that the mind be illumined, but
that we allow God to illumine our heart. Human mediation
is normal in divine calling. In the case of Clare,
Francis was the instrument God made use of - the
example of his life and the effectiveness of
his teachings.
“Conversion” to the Lord does not mean in the
Franciscan vocabulary, to come out of sin, but to give a full
turning about of our life, placing God and his interest at the
centre, and courageously disregarding all the difficulties
and obstacles. Thus did Clare respond when her moment
came to take the decisive step on that night between March
18 and 19, 1212. She secretly abandoned her home,
pushing aside the reserved door strongly barred with stones
and wood, a symbol of the many hardships she would
continue to overcome in following the Poor and Crucified
Christ, as when she was furiously harassed by her relatives
who tried to force to take her back home with them. She

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stood her ground and stayed unconquerably firm.1 Agnes,
her younger sister, would imitate her fortitude a little later.

God Gave Me Sisters

This coincidence of Clare with some deep nuances of


Francis is noteworthy as it happens so often: “…with the
sisters God has given me”. Francis said so exactly: “after
the Lord gave me brothers…”. (Test.) This seems o have
been a usual expression of the Seraphic Foundress, as it
shows at the depositions of sisters during the canonization
process: At St. Damian, the Lord “gave her” more sisters
to guide.2
The charism of the foundress flows down into their
followers not only as a spiritual inheritance, but as an
impulse that the Holy Spirit infuses into everyone called to
the same ideal. When a young one, moved by a true
vocation knocks at the door of a monastery, the sisters are
to welcome her as a “gift from God”. Each new vocation is
a proof that St. Clare’s daughters continue being actual in
the Church, and ought to be received as an invitation of the
spirit to the sister’s own renewal. The community should
not only think of what they may offer to the new sister, but
of what she will offer to the group. She is like a new life –
hot in the arm that guarantees the harmony with the people
of every time, the link between the life and the Gospel that
may never be missing in the Franciscan family,
Every new postulant should awaken in the receiving
community a renewing restlessness, a certain uneasiness
causing them to revive the authenticity of its form of life
and the image it holds out to the fresh arrival. To
disappoint her would tantamount to hurting her, but it
would be most of all, to jeopardize and waste God’s design,

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who counted on her. The Rule wants to sensitize that
responsibility weighing on the whole community by
requiring that “all the sisters” be counted on when
admitting the postulant to the year of trial.

Vocation and Proselytism

It is God who chooses and calls, but He uses human


signs and instruments to convey to each chosen one His
own design. Vocational propaganda – after the teaching of
Vatican II (PC,24) – is perfectly valid. Nothing can be
better than trying to share with others the wellness we
ourselves have found in the consecrated life.
The Council adds: “Religious should remember that
the example of their own lives is the best recommendation
of their institutes and is an invitation for others to take on
the religious life.” What will cause young modern
candidates to discover the divine call will be the radiation
itself of the wealth of spiritual experience at prayer, self-
renunciation and fraternal union which shines forth from
the silence of the monastic life.
Both Francis and Clare resorted to a noble and efficient
proselytism. Were the Seraphic Fathers to meet anyone
who they thought apt to the evangelical life, they soon
devised a plan to work on to win him over, thus
cooperating with the divine plan. Clare herself was the
conquest of this active zeal. Along with clandestine
meetings with her, together with Brother Philip, he was
progressively hemming her in “by exhorting her to give up
herself totally to Jesus Christ”.3 until he finally succeeded
in hurling her bravely towards the following of Christ by
the way of poverty and contempt of the world.
The cloistered San Damiano community soon got to
exercise a great power of attraction. Clare was an expert at
the art of discovering and winning over new vocations. A

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great majority of the sisters composing her community had
forsaken the world persuaded by her through fervent parlor
conversations. Sr. Fellipa disclosed to have entered
because the Saint “made her meditate on how our Lord
Jesus Christ had suffered His Passion and death on the
cross for the salvation of mankind”. Sr. Amatta, a full
niece of Clare, stated to have done so “by the advice and
exhortation of the Saint”. Clare used to tell her how she
had asked God’s grace for her so that she would not allow
her to be deceived by the world ….and so did Sr. Cecilia
and the others. (Proc. IV,1).
The Poor Ladies benefited too from the kindly
propaganda the Brothers of the First Order made for them.,
Francis at the head of them. The Saint sent to Clare five
candidates at one time and, out of them, she soon found one
not apt for that kind of life. (Proc. VI, 15).
In Europe, a great part of the contemplative
communities find themselves affected by a general
vocation crisis. And they regret it much! What might be
the cause? We are not to deem that “divine inspiration”
has ceased inviting to follow Christ in total self-giving. To
say that today’s youth does not offer to take hold of God’s
call is just a comfortable excuse. The same was being said
at the time of St. Francis about the youth in Italian
municipalities. The bare truth is that our youth nowadays
possess nowadays a high degree of authenticity, and
demand verifying whatever they are offered. They wish to
see the ideal embodied in a clear and sincere experience
and know how to discern where spiritual depth exists,
where fraternal love is lived, where the Gospel is the form
of life, as they capture too, on the contrary, where a
senseless, empty conventionalism is prevalent.

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Requirements of Suitability

An essential condition to discern whether one is called


by God is the aptitude for the life intended to embrace. The
first sign required by the Rule is orthodoxy of faith and
willingness to live up in conformity with that faith. The
second is freedom from marriage commitments, i.e.
availability to give oneself to God and his interests with an
undivided heart, as St. Paul defines voluntary virginity (Cor
7:32-35). The third is the absence of contraindications to
the observance of the Rule and fraternal communion, i.e.
advanced age, illness or mental abnormality.

a) Orthodox Faith and Christian Life


By the time of Francis and Clare, there were a lot of
religious movements and tainted by heresy. A great deal of
vigilance was needed to avoid some of these elements
becoming part of the Order, who might later perturb the
uprightness of faith in the community or make it suspicious
to outsiders.
This requirement of the purity of the Catholic faith on
the part of those asking to embrace consecrated life is still
valid at present. Faith free from error is not enough
though. The Rule exacts that the candidate be willing to
faithfully confess the contents of her faith by word and
deed, i.e. she must give proof that the professed faith really
guides and informs her life. She alone who has taken
seriously her Christian commitment and the promises at
baptism is on a good shape to step along the same life of
fidelity to the Gospel by fully consecrating her life to
Christ. Religious vocation presupposes the full awareness
of the “Christian calling”.
Francis liked to remind his brothers about their
condition as “Christians”.4 A very significant detail indeed

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- when he talked about Clare, he did not refer to her by her
name, but simply called her “the Christian”.5

b) Freedom from Marriage Commitment


This condition was also a requisite of Canon Law at
that time. Vocation to the state of virginity “for the
kingdom of heaven” consists normally on renunciation to
marry, but Christian tradition recognizes too the profession
of chastity on the common widows (1Cor7:8). The Rule
does not set the condition of being “single” but of “having
no husband”. St. Clare applied this norm to her own
mother Ortolana, who, on entering St. Damian, became the
spiritual daughter of her own natural daughter.
The case is also foreseen of a married woman whose
husband has professed continence. Were she to feel the
call, she would be free to consecrate herself in religious
life.6 Today’s Canon Law declares invalid the admission of
a consort while marriage is still lasting. (Can. 643)

c) Contraindications on the Rule and Fraternal


Communion
The first of them is “advanced age”. The Rule does
not set an age limit but simply gives the criterion. It is well
know that there comes a time when the capability of
adaptation gets lost in front of a new human environment,
no matter how good the will may be. The best age for an
active adaptation in a woman is from age eighteen up to
twenty five. Up to forties, there is a greater or lesser
disposition to get involved in a new setting. After that age,
the only exemption to be made ought to be on well
educated candidates or on those used to lavish themselves
out of love for the sake of others.
Besides that, lack of flexibility by reason of age and
chronic illness may also bring some difficulties to fraternal
communion and the commitment to religious life, much
more so with mental deficiency. Clare calls it “fatuidad”
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(foolishness) including under this concept, affective and
psychological immaturity. These contraindications are not
found in St. Francis Rule. St. Clare has added them up
having no doubt in mind that, at a cloistered life, a special
degree of mental equilibrium is required, and also to avoid
that the convent get to become a refuge of beings in a state
of human frustration.7

Following Christ in Poverty

“If she is suitable, let the words of the Holy Gospel be


addressed to her, that she should go and sell all that she has
and take care to distribute the money to the poor.” Francis
and Clare took as a pattern the very disposition required by
Jesus in the Gospel to whoever wished to follow him in
total commitment among his immediate co-workers’ group:
absolute detachment from everything worldly, and without
a secure means of life for the kingdom’s sake. Jesus did
not like the group close to him to benefit from the personal
renunciation of others. Even as a group, they were to live
the risk of voluntary poverty under the provident love of
the heavenly Father, entrusting themselves fully to men’s
good will.
Both Francis and Clare followed this pattern with their
first followers. The depositions at the process of
canonization are in agreement, stating that Clare, on
embracing her new life, “caused her property to be sold and
its proceeds distributed among the poor”. One of the sisters
who witnessed at the process added that “Clare’s parents
tried avoiding the dispersal of the patrimony by offering a
bigger price than any other bidder, but she refused to sell it
to them so that the poor would not be defrauded.”8
The Rule foresees that not all the candidates will be
able to fulfill the latter part for multiple reasons. That is

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why it only says “let her take care to distribute it among the
poor”, in any case, were she not able to integrally follow
the Gospel advice, “let her good will suffice”.
In order to run courageously the adventure of a life in
poverty, without possessions or fixed income, St. Clare
begins by not allowing the community to receive anything
at all as a consequence of the new sister’s detachment..
Abbess and sisters must give example of disappropriation
by not interfering in the fate she will decide, giving to
whatever she leaves behind, “so that she may freely dispose
of her possessions as the Lord may inspire her”. At most,
she might be referred to persons who could advice her on
the distribution to the poor.
This external renunciation however, is nothing else but
a way to reach the inner one, which alone renders us free to
love. “St. Francis instructed those coming to the Order that
they should first of all outwardly renounce the world by
offering to God, in the poor, their possessions, and
afterwards interiorly, their own persons. He would not
admit into the Order those who did not give up everything,
without keeping anything for themselves, thus fulfilling the
Holy Gospel, and so that the attachment to wealth would
not prove later on an obstacle to them.”9
It is indeed such a disposition of spirit that should be
above all stressed to the postulant, when “explaining to her
thoroughly the tenor of our way of life”, as the Rule
wishes. The previous Rules of Hugolinus and Innocent
IV had stated, after the old monastic pedagogy: “The hard
and austere realities through which one is led to God and
which must necessarily be observed, must be explained to
all who wish to enter this religion before they actually
enter.” Through her humane and Franciscan style, St. Clare
asks that the tenor of our life “be simply presented to the
postulant”.

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The Rule of St. Clare does not make mention of the
“dowry”. It would have been in frontal opposition to her
ideal of evangelical insecurity.
As a matter of fact, the candidates’ economic
contribution, corresponding to the marriage dowry, was not
introduced among the Poor Clares up to the well advanced
fourteenth century, contemporarily with the distinction
between “choir” and “extern” sisters. It became a universal
prescription of Canon Law only at the Sixteenth century,
after the Council of Trent. In virtue of the Constitution of
Clement XIII (1759), the Apostolic See alone, or the
diocesan bishop in particular cases, could dispense the
“choir” sisters from the dowry. St. Colette allowed, at the
most, a little entirely free contribution by way of alms “as
to the rest of the poor”, but never and in no way as a
condition for admission. The Capuchinesses reform did
away too with the dowry, though by demand of the
ecclesiastic authorities, most of the monasteries had to get
later used to the general canonical norm.
Nowadays, due to the radical changes in the family’s
economy, the tradition of the dowry has lost its meaning,
specially so as it has become a source of discrimination
among the sisters. What really matters is the cultural
preparation of the young candidate, which no longer
depends on the economic condition of the family; and
above all, the purity of her motivation. The dowry has
disappeared in the new canon law. The daughters of St.
Clare then, have been able to back to this point in their own
Rule by establishing it: “It is not permitted to demand or
accept any dowry at all from the postulants.” (Gen CC, art.
187,2) “In accordance with the spirit of our Rule, no form
of dowry will be accepted from the candidate. But if she
would bring any money along with the idea of helping with
expenses, it should be carefully noted. So that it may be
returned, together with her clothing and other personal

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property, if she ever decides for any reason to leave
religious life.” (Cap CC,16)
In fact, Christ demanded from his immediate followers
the surrendering of their persons and giving up all their
previous possessions. Nothing could be more anti-
evangelical than creating a hierarchy of classes inside the
monastery on account of economic or social family status.

Footnotes to Chapter 2:

1. Proc. XIII.1; XVIII.3. Interesting deposition of Lord Rainieri


di Bernardo, one of the witnesses, who might have been a
former suitor of Clare as a young girl: to his wooing, “she
preached to him of despising the world” (Proc XVIII.2)
2. Deposition of Sr. Beatrice, sister of St. Clare, Proc. XII.5.
3. Proc. XII.2; XVII.3.
4. Rnb, XVI,6; Lt.Min, 7.
5. According to the testimony of Brother Stephen, as quoted by
Tomas of Pavia, Hist. Arch. 5, 1912, 419.
6. This canonical norm came from a decree of Innocent III
promulgated on 1198.
7. This requirement came from the “Form of Life” by Hugolinus:
“One should not be received who proves to be less than
sufficiently fit for the observance of this life because of
advanced age, sickness, or mental deficiency. I.
Omaechevarria, Escritos, p. 220ff.
8. Proc. I,13; II,22 III,31; XII,3; XII,11 XIX,2.
9. 2Cel, n.80.

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