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EXCELLENCE OF MOST HIGH POVERTY
• “Let the sisters not appropriate anything” • “Pilgrims and strangers in this world” • “To serve the Lord in poverty and humility”
CHAPTER VIII, 1-6 1 Let the sisters not appropriate anything, neither a house nor a place nor anything at all; instead, as pilgrims and strangers in this world who serve the Lord in poverty and humility, let them confidently send for alms. 2Nor should they be ashamed, since the Lord made himself poor in this world for us. 3This is that summit of the highest poverty which has established you, my dearest sisters, heiresses and queens of the kingdom of heaven; it has made you poor in the things [of this world] but exalted you in virtue. 4Let this be your portion which leads into the land of the living (cf. Psalm 141:6). 5 Clinging totally to this, my most beloved sisters, do not wish to have anything else forever under heaven for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and His most holy Mother. 6 Let no sister be permitted to send letters or to receive or give away anything outside the monastery without the permission of the abbess. 7Let it not be permitted to have anything that the abbess has not given or allowed. 8should anything be sent to a sister by her relatives or others, let the abbess give it to the sister. 9If she needs, it the sister may use it; otherwise, let her in all charity give it to a sister who does need it. 10If, however, money is sent to her, the abbess, with the advice of the discreets, may provide for the needs of the sister.
“Let the sisters not appropriate anything”
The first part of chapter eight is borrowed nearly to the letter from St. Francis’ Rule, with the only variation of “send for alms” instead of “go begging”, something natural, 147
and the concluding addition: ”for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and His most holy Mother”, according to the style of speaking of Francis when addressing the Poor Ladies on the motivation of poverty. Francis sums up in this chapter, the most beautiful and biblical of his Rule, the whole contents of his ideal of poverty. Each expression responds to one of the fundamental teachings of his spirituality. As on the Rule of the First Order, the “let the sisters not appropriate anything” holds not the juridical meaning of renouncement to the right of ownership, as we said earlier, but refers to the spiritual attitude of detachment inherent to the concept of Gospel poverty. St. Francis has a deep doctrine on “appropriation”, as man’s claim to blatantly run away with God’s gifts, and on “disappropriation” as spiritual attitude of freeing the heart from the selfish enjoyment of goods, both external and internal, attributing them all to God, master of all.1 It is a matter of not staying put at houses, places or earthly things; keeping the lack of security suitable to a follower of Christ in poverty and the awareness of being here below as passing through. St. Francis made clear at his Testament the sense of “not to appropriate anything”: “Let them not accept houses or churches that were built for them, for they do not befit holy poverty … always lodging on them like pilgrims and strangers”. And St. Clare, in her Testament as well, offers a beautiful example of disappropriation by accepting, without opposing, the possibility of the community abandoning one day that enclosure of San Damiano, so dearly beloved to her, and go dwell somewhere else; she sets just one condition, namely, that at the new quarters, they do not betray holy poverty. As a consequence any attachment to a building, place, object … also to historical glorious events, honors and titles, donations from illustrious personages … is contrary to the spirit of the 148
Rule. St. Clare would have mercifully smiled were she to see her daughters falling prey to such concerns.
“Pilgrims and Strangers in this World”
Being a “pilgrim” was on the thirteenth century a social and religious imperative very few tried to evade. Ortolana, St. Clare’s mother, had been a fan of holy pilgrimages: she traveled to the holy places of Palestine, Rome and St. Michael at Mount Gargano. Clare herself encouraged others to travel as pilgrims. To her friend Bona de Guelfuccio, Clare had sent to visit St. James of Compostella in Spain. (Proc., XVII, 6; I, 4). St. Francis a great pilgrim himself, used to see on that show of Christian faith the faithful image of the longing of the poor towards God. He used to remind his brothers the “pilgrim’s laws”: “To be sheltered under someone else’s roof, to travel in peace and to thirst for their homeland” (2 Cel, 59). On the context of the First Order’s life, destined to “going about the world” at a permanent status of mission, we understand the connection St. Francis establishes between most high poverty and pilgrimage calling. But what sense does Clare give to that feeling of “pilgrims and strangers in this world” at a Gospel life encompassed by strict enclosure? Let us not forget that every Christian is to consider himself a “stranger and nomad” (1P 2, 11), since the entire Church, on its earthly condition, is a pilgrim too and traveling to the Lord. It is precisely in order to daily experience the reality of that itinerant spirit that hinders us from installing ourselves permanently on the wellness of here below, that Clare renounces the security of a stable, fixed means of livelihood, avoiding the material and social structure of the “monastery” and sets the female community on the definiteness of putting its trust in God’s fatherhood, having to recourse everyday to manual work and having to depend on men’s goodwill, their countenance 149
ever turned towards the “land of the living”. Thus is the way followed by a traveler while going through a land he may not call his father land.2 To feel like “pilgrim and strangers”, the Poor Sisters need not go around the world but diminishing their attachment to earthly realities to the point of “not wishing to have anything else under heaven” but the “only one heritage” of most high poverty, which turns Christ’s poor into “heirs and queens of the kingdom of heaven”. Jesus has said in truth that the kingdom of heaven belongs to the poor. Voluntary self enclosure at the cloister has to the Saint a significance of “transit and exodus” telling people that earthly life is just a passing through towards fatherland. She writes to St. Agnes of Prague: “ … 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 ….” (2LAg, 12-13). And to Ermentrude of Bruges: “ May the false delights of the deceptive world not deceive you. Close your ears to the whisperings of hell and bravely oppose its onslaughts.” (L Er, 6).
“To serve the Lord in Poverty and Humility”
Voluntary poverty in Christ’s following, such as we find it in the Gospel, does not only confine itself to the renouncement of material goods. Francis conceives it as freeing oneself from whatever may be a hindrance to loving, setting on guard against any sign of monopolizing selfishness and above all against the abuse of using others
up as instruments or setting over them whatever title: qualities, culture, authority…. For that reason, Francis does not just stop at poverty. The poverty he has embraced is not an ascetic program and even less a flag hoisted before the world; it is something very concrete: it is “life”, the life of the Poor Christ, and the life of any man who suffers penury or marginalization. It is “the poverty and humility of our Lord Jesus Christ”. It is a poverty-service: “minority”. Along the same line reflects St. Clare who marvelously knows how to assimilate every nuance of the beloved father’s teaching. It is mainly at the Testament, all of it centered on poverty and charity, as well as in the letters to Agnes of Prague, where she offers us amply the meaning of that poverty-humility which the three chapters of the Rule speaks about: “… that our Protector may always see to it that this little flock which the Lord Father has begotten in His holy Church by the word and example of our blessed father Francis by following the poverty and humility of His Beloved Son and His glorious Virgin Mother, observe the holy poverty that we have promised to God and our most blessed father Saint Francis (45-47). “In the Lord Jesus Christ, I admonish and exhort all my sisters, both those present and those to come, to strive always to imitate the way of holy simplicity, humility and poverty and to preserve the integrity of our holy way of living”(56). “Instead, as someone zealous for the holiest poverty, in a spirit of great humility and the most ardent charity, you have held fast to the footprints of Him to whom you have merited to be joined as a Spouse” (2LAg, 7). “And I sigh with so much exultation on the Lord as I have known you are following in the footprints of the poor and humble Jesus Christ … and that by humility, the virtue of faith and the strong arms of poverty you have taken hold 151
of that incomparable treasure hidden in the field of the world and of the human heart” (3LAg, 4,7). “Indeed, blessed poverty, holy humility and inexpressible charity are reflected in that mirror (Christ)” (4LAg, 18). The place poverty holds at St. Clare’s Rule and the firmness she defended it with could induce someone to ascribe her as a sort of fanatic, as if the ideal of poverty were to St. Clare an end in itself, but it will suffice scanning her motivations to verify fully the Gospel contents of that ideal. It deals about freedom to love” “she who loves temporal things loses the fruit of love” (1LAg 25). The supreme motive is the very same we find in Francis and much earlier formulated by St. Paul: ”For your sake, Our Lord Jesus Christ became poor in this world” (2 Cor. 8, 9). The poverty of the Son of the Most High is seen as an annihilation, a mystery of disappropriation of the Incarnation, as discomfort and mother-like anxiety at his birth, as destitution and humiliation at the Cross. “The Son of God never wished to abandon this holy poverty while he lived in the world” (T 35)…. “For this reason, on bended knees and bowing low with both body and soul I commend all my sisters, both those present and those to come, the holy Mother, the Roman church … that out of love of the God who was placed poor in the crib, lived poor in the world and remained naked on the cross, may always see to it that this little flock … by following the poverty and humility of his beloved Son … observe always the same holy poverty …” (T 44-47). “If so great and good a Lord, then, on coming into the Virgin’s womb, chose to appear despised, needy and poor in this world, so that people who were in utter poverty, want and absolute need of heavenly nourishment might become rich in Him by possessing the kingdom of heaven (2Cor 8,9), it is right that you be filled with happiness and 152
spiritual joy, because since contempt of the world has pleased you more than its honor, poverty more than earthly riches …you have truly merited to be called a sister, spouse and mother of the Son of the most High Father and of the glorious Virgin” (1 LAg 19-24) Francis saw in every poor the living mystery of the poverty and humiliation of the Savior. And Clare felt herself united to anyone in want and in pain. Like Francis, she too prepared little by little her spirit to hurl herself into following the Poor Crucified (Christ) by loving every pauper. Before coming to discover poverty as an ideal of life she had found it as a hurting reality on many living beings. From childhood she had shown a sharp leaning towards the poor. The depositions at the Process are quite explicit: “She loved the poor dearly”, thus following the example of her mother Ortolana, who “pleased to visit the poor”; “she felt compassion towards the afflicted”; “gave alms as much as she could and gladly”; she secretly caused the food served to her table at home in abundance be brought to those in need.3 among those in need – an interesting detail – was Francis himself once converted and those helping him at the reconstruction of churches. We know this from Bona de Guelfuccio: ”Lady Clare, while she was still in the world, also gave the witness a certain amount of money as a votive offering and directed her to carry it to those who were working on Saint Mary of the Portiuncula so that they would sustain the flesh” (Proc. XVII, 7). After having made her profession of a new life at the hands of Francis, it was the poor that benefited from her renunciation of her personal properties. From now on, poor among the poor sisters, she would feel herself spiritually united to every poor. It bothers her seeing at the collection of whole loaves as alms instead of the crumbs that other poor received. (Proc., III, 13). 153
All the different elements contained in the first part of the eighth chapter of the Rule are also present at the text of the Constitutions: the external and internal “disappropriation”, fruit of heart’s poverty (Gen CC, art. 144-145, 219; Cap CC, 123); the spirit of “pilgrimage and exodus” (Gen CC, art. 3, 11, 145; Cap CC, 117); the binomial “poverty-humility (Gen CC, art. 34, 36, 153; Cap CC, 3, 80, 117, 123, 131).
Footnotes to Chapter 11: 1. Cf. L. Iriarte, “Franciscan Calling”, 3rd ed., Valencia, pp.
2. The Instruction “Sponsa Christi” sees in cloistered life the
3. meaning of “exodus”, in relation to the paschal mystery of Christ: “Acta Ap. Sedis” 61, (1969), p.320. Proc., I, 2-4; III, 7; XVII, 1; XX,3.
POVERTY AND CHARITY THE SICK SISTERS
• Poverty and Life in Common • Charity with the Sick Sisters
CHAPTER VIII, 11-20 11 Concerning the sick sisters, let the abbess be strictly bound to inquire diligently, be herself and through other sisters, what their illness requires both by way of counsel as well as food and other necessities. 12Let her provide for them charitable and kindly according to the resources of the place. 13Let this be done] because everyone is bound to serve and provide for their sisters who are ill just as they would wish to be served themselves if they were suffering from any illness. 14Let each one confidently manifest her needs to the other. 15 For if a mother loves and nourishes her child according to the flesh, should not a sister love and nourish her sister according to the Spirit even more lovingly? 16 Those who are ill may lay on sacks filled with straw and may use feather pillows for their heads; 17those who need woolen stockings and quilts may use them. 18 When the sick sisters are visited by those who enter the monastery, they may answer them with brevity, each responding with some good words to those who 19 speak to them. But the other sisters who have permission [to speak] may not dare to speak to those who enter the monastery unless in the presence and hearing of the two sister-discreets assigned by the abbess or her vicar. 20Let the abbess and her vicar, as well, be bound to observe this manner of speaking.
Poverty and Life in Common
To be willingly poor means having a liberated heart open to love. When the first faithful of Jerusalem decided to abolish “mine” and “yours” putting all they own at the service of the community, they discovered the striking reality of fraternal love: ”They were one heart and one soul” (Acts 2, 44ff; 4, 32). In fact, voluntary poverty and common life have been inseparable at the Christian tradition. In a religious community all belongs to all. Whatever one receives for whatever reason, must flow to the community; all share likewise of everything without any other difference but that deriving from the person’s needs. Having into account the requirements of common life in fraternity – not certainly by the desire of controlling, the Rule decrees that everything coming in or out should do so through the abbess. First of all, the written communication (letters). In order to send them the abbess’ permit is required, though it is not said that she should read them; that would be against the general spirit of the Rule, so respectful with the sister’s individuality. On the contrary, the subsequent Urban IV’s Rule would take that step which later – from the Urbanite Poor Clares would move to the rest: “Let no sister be permitted to send letters or to receive them without the abbess or of one appointed by her for this end, having first read them”. (chap. 22) It is just a sample of the course towards systems of surveillance and suspicion observed by many monasteries after the Foundress’ death. So that each sister may practically live that consciousness of personal detachment and the purpose of things for common use, the Rule says that whatever one 157
may need should be received from the abbess or at least with her permission. Still it is not a question of depersonalizing centralism. Out of respect to the consignee, the will of the persons sending something to a sister is to be respected. It is she herself, were she not to need it, who must see who among the sisters is most in need of it so that she may benefit from it. This disposition, somehow surprising with the tradition kept even today in the norms of common life, constitutes a precious detail revealing the climate of maturity at which the mutual relations at the fraternity led by Clare was present: “Should anything be sent to a sister by her relatives or others, let the abbess give it to the sister. If she needs it, the sister may use it; otherwise let her in all charity give it to a sister who does need it.” From the point of view of teaching the sense of responsibility, the value of the paragraph comes out if compared with the text of St. Benedict’s Rule that the saint had in sight. The margin of trust she grants the sisters is wider than what Benedict gave his monks.1 “If, however, money is sent to her, the abbess with the advise of the discreets, may provide for the needs of the sister.” St. Francis had absolutely forbidden the Friars Minor to “receive money” by any excuse whatever. St. Clare does not only get away from this item from the First Order’s Rule, but expressly counts on money as a means to procure the necessities for the community. How could Francis’ “little plant” disagree with him on such an important aspect of life in poverty? Maybe she understood that the reasons the Seraphic Father had to free his brothers from the temptation to get strength through money did not apply with the Poor Sisters. It is also possible that she was convinced that the poor life of enclosed sisters could not be possible without money, specially after having ascertained that in reality neither the Friars Minor had been able to fulfill that prohibition of the Rule, but had recourse to 158
juridical pretense to rely on money, saving the Rule’s written letter. Clare simply loathed such shady compromises.
Charity with the Sick Sisters
As St. Francis did in his Rule, so does Clare speaks in hers about the charitable assistance to the sick within the context of poverty. It is but natural. The serious objection that prudent persons had opposed to a so radical common poverty was the duty of charity: Without a stable means of life, day in and day out living from hand to mouth, how was she going to meet the unforeseen needs and, above all, how was she going to provide the means to take good care of the sisters suffering from any ailment? As Francis himself, she does not see any conflict between poverty and charity. The solution will have to be sought as genuine fraternal love manages to seek for resources by lavishing itself the more, the fewer the economic means are at hand. The abbess is the first one to be concerned with the charitable solicitude, but it is the duty of all to do their utmost to ease the condition of the sick sister. It is not to wait for the sick sister, asking for a remedy; the Mother herself must realize when one is afflicted with pain and furnish her with charity regarding “prescriptions, food and whatever be necessary”.2 And each one should do for the sick sister as she would want done to her on the same situation. Rightly St. Bonaventure notes: The sound and strong do not feel things as do the sick, and on account of that they do not know how to sympathize with them; they will learn when they find themselves on that state …. It would 159
do good to a Superior to suffer the infirmities of others so as to learn compassion”.3 This norm of charity does not limit itself to corporal ailments but applies also to all other needs. For that reason, the sisters are “to confidently manifest to one another their needs”. Once this atmosphere of openness is obtained, without tensions or inhibitions, without fear to stir up suspicions, how many complexes are done away with, how easy it becomes to bear one’s own burden! The love each one should manifest for the spiritual sisters should by far exceed that a mother has for her natural daughter. The expression is borrowed from St. Francis’ Rule, VI, 8. The usual norms of austerity cease with the sick. They are to rest on straw mattresses and on pillow of feathers, and even on woolen mattresses, be it advisable. The discipline of silence is not to be applied; there “they may speak discreetly at all times for the recreation and service of the sick” (chapter V, 3). The sick are allowed to communicate and dialogue with their visitors briefly and with good words, without abiding by the right norms that binds the other sisters. That there be sickly and elderly sisters is but normal in a religious family. Fraternal relations take for granted this reality. St. Francis, in that sort of a lyrical last will he composed for the Poor Ladies while he himself was racked with pain exhorted them in these terms: “ … I beg you through great love to use with discretion the alms which the Lord gives you. Those who are weighed down by sickness and the others who are wearied because of them, all of you: bear it in peace, for you will sell this fatigue at a very high price and each one of you will be crowned … “4. This last recommendation echoes the one the Saint addressed in his first Rule to the sick brothers: “I beg the 160
sick brothers to thank God for everything and to desire to be whatever the Lord wills …. If anyone is disturbed or angry at either God or his brothers, or perhaps anxiously and forcefully seeks medicine with too much of a desire to free the flesh that is soon to die ….This comes to him from the Evil One and is carnal.” (Rnb, 10, 3-4). In a fraternity of paupers it is not at all possible that each one of the sick may find everything to his liking. St. Clare foresees this limitation inherent to real poverty when saying: “according to the resources of the place”. Every sister nailed to the bed of sickness can make her own the beautiful prayer of St. Francis for the time of illness: “I thank you Lord God, for all these sufferings of mine; and I ask you my Lord, if it pleases you to increase them a hundredfold. Because it will be most acceptable to me that you do not spare me, afflicting me with suffering since the fulfillment of your will is an overflowing consolation for me” (LM, 14, 2). Let her take holy Mother Clare for a model: “During the twenty-five years that she was oppressed by sickness, not a word of complaint or impatience came out of her lips but ever edifying expressions of thanksgiving. Forgetful of her own sufferings, she only cared about encouraging and consoling her afflicted sisters (L Cl, 27-30). Through the Process of Canonization we are informed on how she practiced with the sick sisters what the Rule commanded: “She was humble, kind and loving to her sisters and had compassion for the sick. While she was healthy, she served them and washed their feet and gave them water with her own hands. She even cleaned the mattresses of the sick sisters with her own hands”. (Proc., I, 12; II, 1; VI, 7). 161
Even her way of working her miraculous healings clearly manifests, perhaps more than a miraculous power, the compassionate love she had for every sister under the severity of any kind of ailment. When she was unable to find any other manner of relieving her pain, she would draw over her the sign of the cross praying humbly to God.5 We have already seen how the Constitutions approach now the relation between “poverty and common life”. As it could not be otherwise, they also mirror St. Clare’s will when speaking about the charity the “sick sisters” are to be attended with, though from the point of view of fraternal relations, and not of poverty, as the Rule does. The responsibility of this concern fall first of all on the abbess and on an immediate way on the sister infirmarian, but all of them should have in mind the commendation of the rule: “serving the sick sister as one would like to be served at the same situation. The sick sisters are to be revered as the suffering members of Christ. On their part, the sick should not forget the life of self-denial and poverty they have professed. Not only the sickly and elderly are to be granted these necessary mitigations but also those of weak constitution. Furthermore, it is not enough, to assist in case of sickness, but both the abbess and each sister are to try foreseeing and preventing beforehand the ills with watchful prudence, since it is a duty towards God, the author of life, and towards the sisters the conservation of their health. (Gen CC. art. 105; Cap CC, 148-151).
Footnotes to Chapter 12:
1. Rule of St. Benedict, 33.5: “… Let it not be allowed for anyone to have anything which the Abbot did not give or permit to have… 54, 1: Let it not be allowed at all for a monk to give or to receive letters, tokens or gifts of any kind, either from their parents, or any other person, nor from each other, without the permission of the Abbot … 54, 2-4: If anything is sent him by his parents, let him not presume to accept it before it has been made known to the Abbot. And if he orders it to be accepted, let it be in the Abbot’s power to give it to whom he pleases. And let not the brother to whom perchance it was sent become sad, that no chance be given to the devil.” The original says: “in consiliis”. In medieval Latin, “consilium medici” was the “doctor’s prescription”. Here then, Clare exhorts the abbess to provide the sick with the remedies prescribed by the doctor, as well as his suggested diet. “De sex alis Seraphim”, III, 4; “Opera omnia”, VIII, 136. L. Iriarte, “Escritos de san Francisco y santa Clara”, p. 108. Proc., I, 16, 18; II, 15-17; III, 16; IV, 7.
CHARITY WITH THE SPIRITUALLY SICK SISTERS
• The Stubborn Sister • Humble and Charitable Understanding • Redress of Personal Offense
CHAPTER IX, 1-10 If any sister, at the instigation of the enemy, has sinned mortally against the form of our profession, and if, after having been admonished two or three times by the abbess or other sisters, she does not amend, 2let her eat bread and water on the floor before all the sisters in the refectory for as many days as she shall have been obstinate. 3If it seems advisable to the abbess, let her be subjected to even greater punishment. 4Meanwhile, as long as she remains obstinate, let the prayer be that the Lord will enlighten her heart to do penance. 5The abbess and her sisters, however, should beware not to become angry or disturbed on account of anyone’s sin, 6for anger and disturbance prevent charity in oneself and in others. 7 If it should happen – may it never be so – that an occasion of trouble or scandal should arise between sister and sister through a word or gesture, let she who was the cause of the trouble, before offering her gift of prayer to the Lord, not only prostrate herself humbly at once at the feet of the other and ask pardon, 8but also beg her simply to intercede for her to the Lord that He might forgive her. 9 Let the other sister, mindful of the word of the Lord – “If you do not forgive from the heart, neither will your heavenly Father forgive you.” (Matthew 6:15; 18:35) – 10 generously pardon her sister every wrong she has done her.
The Stubborn Sister
Through a tight logic of association, St. Clare joins the second part of the previous chapter, dealing with sisters suffering from corporal infirmities, with the attention to those suffering with ailment of the spirit, deserving even more of the charitable compassion from their sisters. The Saint had motherly feelings towards any sister spiritually afflicted: “If she ever saw any of the sisters suffering from some temptation or trial she called her secretly and consoled her with tears, and sometimes threw herself at her feet.” (Proc., X, 5). “She had great compassion for the afflicted”, the depositions repeat at the Process of Canonization. (Proc., IV, 3; XI, 5). That is what she emphasizes to the abbess on the fourth chapter of her Rule: “Let her console those who are afflicted. Let her also be the last refuge for those who are troubled.” (ch. IV, 11-12) No matter how high the spiritual level of a community may be and how fully united their members, still we must count the human frailty. Carelessness and selfish attitudes, perhaps bad examples, will sometimes appear, with the expected repercussion on the common fidelity to the embraced life and to fraternal harmony. Correction is then essential. By Clare’s wishes, the humble acknowledgement of faults at the weekly fraternal meeting should be enough, “where both the abbess and her sisters should humbly confess their common and public offenses”. (R, IV, 16) But the Rule foresees that the common commitment to
better themselves will not always be enough. There can be painful cases of stubbornness. The sister who “at the instigation of the enemy, would sin mortally against the form of our profession,” – grievous transgressions against the Rule – will have to be “admonished, to begin with, two or three times by the abbess or other sisters “. That is the Gospel law of fraternal correction (Mt 18, 15).If there is no amendment, the public coercive remedy would have to take its place, until the guilty is able to enter into herself and change her attitude. Such rigor might seem to our modern sensitiveness excessive and somewhat odd: to eat kneeling down on the floor with just bread and water before all the sisters or another even more serious. But having in mind, at that time, the resources used to bend the stubborn sister, St. Clare’s Rule still stands out because of its moderation and pastoral sense.. St. Benedict’s Rule, for example, imposed the excommunication and scourging upon the monk who would not amend after the third warning. Jail was the normal remedy, and as time passed by, it was also introduced into the monasteries of the Poor Clares. The holy Foundress did not deem it necessary. There is a recourse that must be pressing on a praying community of sisters: “Meanwhile, as long as she remains obstinate, let the prayer be that the Lord will enlighten her heart to do penance.” Far from seeing in the obstinate sister an unrestrained member of the community, it is that very pitiful situation that, to Clare’s eyes, renders her more deserving of the compassion and solicitude of all. Once all human resources have failed, there still remains that of divine grace and, to deserve it, the sisters are to double their prayer for the sake of the sister in need. 167
Humble and Charitable Understanding
“The abbess and her sisters, however, should beware not to become angry or disturbed on anyone’s sin, for anger and disturbance prevent charity in oneself and on others.” This serious admonition is taken from St. Francis’ Rule. Harshness towards the brother who “falls” is really one of the sins against the fraternity that Francis abhorred. He had written in his Rule: “Let the brothers, both the ministers and servants as well as the others, be careful not to be disturbed or angered at another’s sin or evil because the devil wishes to destroy many because of another’s fault. But let them spiritually help the one who has sinned as best as they can, because those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.” (Rnb, V,7-8). The same Gospel text gives him support for the well known recommendation within the letter to a Minister: “I wish to know in this way if you love the Lord and me, His servant and yours: that there is not any brother in the world who has sinned – however much he could have sinned – who, after he has looked into your eyes, would never depart without your mercy, if he is looking for mercy. And if he were not looking for mercy, you would ask him if he wants mercy. And if he would sin a thousand times before your eyes, love him more than me so that you may draw him to the Lord … Let all the brothers who know that he has sinned not bring shame upon him or slander him; let them instead 168
show great mercy to him and keep the sin of their brother very secret”. (L Min, 9-15). St. Francis considers the lack of understanding towards the sinner a crime against God’s rights, since judging about the goodness or malice of each one belongs to God alone, and it tantamounts to appropriating the very sin that he criticizes: “No matter how another person may sin, if a servant of God becomes disturbed or angry because of this and not because of charity, he is storing up guilt for himself. The servant of God who does not become angry or disturbed at anyone lives correctly without anything of his own.” (Adm. 11, 2-4). The sister that deposed at the Process of Canonization repeat that Clare “was never seen disturbed” (Proc., III, 6; IV, 4). St. Bonaventure, addressing the Superiors, distinguishes three kinds of “spiritually sick” who ought to be the object of solicitude from the one in charge of the community: 1) “Those who lack in devotion and are prone to their own impulses, and commit serious faults out of weakness. These are to be aided by removing from them the occasions of sin and caring for them with love through corrections. 2) Those who, in spite of their good will and devotion, are easily frightened by correction, lose heart and get depressed, causing the brothers sorrow and grief. These are to be treated with greater understanding, helping them to be courageous. 3) The imperfect – that is, all of us – who are to fight everyday against our failures and shortcomings: pride, anger, lack of perseverance, envy, sensuality … Remedy: – Bearing one another and mutually helping each other in the common effort to improve.1 169
Redress of Personal Offense
The scandalous clashing of two sisters can be hardly understood at the spiritual family of poor sisters gathered together by the love of Jesus Christ. But there is room for everything with human weakness, and more so among persons staying together day after day within the same walls, open uncontrolled tension, perhaps without anybody’s fault, but just out if interpersonal gravitation. The Rule has also foreseen these painful situations: “If it should happen – may it never be so – that an occasion of trouble or scandal should arise between sisters through a word or gesture ….” Personal offense may be made not only by word but by “gestures”, and this is usually more hurtful. St. Clare applies most the point of the Gospel text (Mt 5, 23ff) which demands reconciliation with the offended brother before presenting the offering to the Lord, but she adds her “gift of prayer”. It is a good rule of conduct on account above all of the reality of contemplative life. How could a religious sister, whose whole life is to be constantly directed to God, desire to be accepted by Him when at the hour of prayer “remembers that her sister has something against her”? Reconciliation must not be delayed. It is the offender who first moves forward to humbly apologize and ask for pardon seeking the aid of the offended one to obtain the Lord’s pardon. On the part of the offended one, she must forgive her with generosity, without reserve, otherwise she would neither deserve the forgiveness of the heavenly 170
Father (Mt 6, 14). “Love is always patient and kind, it is never rude, it does not take offense or store up grievances” (1Cor 13, 5). Thus, with both of them assured of God’s forgiveness, they will be able to fruitfully open up their spirit in dialogue with God. The Rule demands the reconciliation to be done openly in proportion to the scandal given. However, a showy gesture may not always be the best way to bring back the good harmony of the two troubled hearts. Sometimes a simple sign of goodwill, an appropriate word, asking for a favor may be more conducive to dispel the storm. The Constitutions foresee the event of a sister who may come across a spiritual crisis, be it in relation to her vocation identity, or her behavior not conformable to the professed life, or even up to the degree of open confrontation with obedience, thus creating uneasiness in the community. It belongs first of all to the abbess to help her by all means to recover her calmness, clear up her situation and, if the case may arise, obtain her amendment by resorting to correction, ever “with humility and charity”. If this fraternal and pastoral aid could not bring about the desired good result, then another solution, though painful, must be tried through canonical remedies, which are quite precise: temporal secularization, dispensation of vows at the request of the interested, dismissal. All is to be done with great respect to the person, with high sense of justice and fairness and ever with evangelical love. Fraternal correction and pardon, humbly sought after and generously bestowed are also mentioned at the Constitutions (Gen CC, art. 94, 107; Cap CC 139, 152).
Footnote to Chapter 13: 171
1. S. Bonav. “De sex alis Seraphim”, III, 7s; Opera omnia, VIII, 137.
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