Wednesday, August 11, 2010

St. Clare, the Evangelical Counsels, and Consecrated Virgins

During the month of January immediately prior to my priestly ordination, my classmates and I made a trip to Rome to study the missionary nature of the Church for a month.  At the end of the month, we made our way to Assisi to go on a week-long retreat prior to ordination as required by Canon Law.  Assisi is most famous as the birthplace and final resting place of St. Francis.  Only slightly less famous, however, was one of his followers, Clare, who dedicated her life to obedience, chastity, and especially poverty.  She founded a monastery after the model of Francis' own rule of life and remained superior of the community for some forty years.  Today marks her feast day.

The readings assigned to Clare's feast are all about abandoning the riches and niceties of the world in order to follow Christ more closely.  It was in Assisi, on retreat, that I really came to understand poverty and its relationship to the other counsels.  In prayer it became very clear to me that poverty was first and foremost a spiritual reality.  Poverty acknowledges that I am not in charge of my life.  Only God can ensure that I will take my next breath.  Only he will cause me to rise from sleep in the morning.  Only he can initiate the life of intimacy that I long to share with him.  Poverty, then, comes in my willingness to submit myself to him and to go where he may lead me without consideration of the cost or of my preferences or of my desires.  This relationship is prior to every other relationship in life.  Christ comes before family, neighbor, and friend.  Christ alone and union with him must be my most prized possession.  Resulting from this many choose to adopt physical poverty.  It is hard to focus my life on God's will for me when all of my money is being swallowed up in a financial crisis.  it is hard to pray when my Dodge pick-up is being beaten by hail.  It is hard to love God when I spend my day coveting the iPod or car of the guy down the street.

Chastity and obedience, though distinct counsels, are related to poverty.  In obedience, I submit my will to that of another person, believing the other person has been ordained by God to use me for the advancement of God's will and the mission of the Church.  In Chastity, I forsake the pleasures of a carnal relationship, preferring to dedicate myself entirely to the union with Christ that will be fully realized only in heaven.  St. Clare models these counsels in a heroic way.

Though Clare's feast is celebrated, today also marks the forth anniversary of Susan Safford's consecration to perpetual virginity.  Though not religious, Susan and those called to the vocation of consecrated virgin live these evangelical counsels in a real and radical way.  They, like priests, but as women, have already begun to live the life of union with God to which all of us aspire.  They live and work in the world, acting as leaven in their parishes and communities.  Their work is often unseen and silent, without the benefit of a religious community to support them and show them the way to holiness.  Though lived in various ways, consecrated virgins share a particular commonality; the most powerful work they do is accomplished in the time they spend praying for the Church, for priests, and for the world.  They haven't the benefit of a habit to protect them nor to suggest that the world should take them seriously.  They are armed only with the love of God which has pierced their hearts and penetrated their lives so deeply that their lives testify to the profound desire that God has to love each of us as his betrothed.  This testimony should spur us all to deeper love of God and a deeper desire for holiness.

This has been the effect of Susan's presence in my life.  She is a good and holy woman, and as only a woman can, she manages to point out how I am called higher.  Likewise, as only a woman can, she encourages me on the more difficult days.  As a seminarian, she was to me both taskmaster and mother.  Her role is not entirely different now that I am a priest.  She reminds me what I am supposed to be doing, and never lets me forget where my priorities should rest.  None of this is cruel or unkind.  It is often accomplished through a persistent witness to God's love and fidelity and a willingness to dedicate herself to prayer for me and for my intentions day after day.  At times she, with great precision, she demonstrates exactly how and why I am wrong in my opinion or approach to something.  She will not abide cowardice or laziness on my part, and reminds me from time to time that I could always sacrifice just a little more to be a better disciple.

I constantly remind seminarians of the debt of gratitude they owe Susan for the work she does in the vocations office.  I probably don't thank her often enough for the good she does for me.  So, happy anniversary, Susan.  And happy Feast of St. Clare.

1 comment:

  1. Your blog is a gift, Fr. Tyler -- an amazing window into your corner of the priesthood, at least. Thank you.


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