CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, AUG. 22, 2003 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II says the message left 750 years ago by the founder of the Poor Clare Sisters is more important than ever for a world characterized by superficiality.
In a letter, the Pope explains that the charism of St. Clare of Assisi “is characterized, in the first place, by a call to live according to the perfection of the holy Gospel, with a decided reference to Christ, the only and authentic program of life.”
“Is not this a challenge for the men and women of today?” the Holy Father asks. “It is an alternative proposal to the dissatisfaction and superficiality of the contemporary world which often seems to have lost its very identity, as it has ceased to experience that it was generated by the Love of God and awaited by him in a limitless communion.”
The papal letter marks the 750 years since the death of Clare (Aug. 11, 1253), who founded the feminine branch of the Order of Friars Minor, the Franciscans.
The origin dates back to the early morning of Holy Monday, 1211, when the 18-year-old Clare, who belonged to one of the noblest families in town, fled her home and went to St. Mary of Portiuncula in Assisi, where St. Francis and his first companions awaited her to consecrate her to the Lord.
Centuries later, St. Clare’s Rule retains “its spiritual fascination and theological richness,” says John Paul II.
“The perfect consonance of human and Christian values, the wise harmony of contemplative ardor and evangelical rigor, makes it for you, dear Poor Clares of the third millennium, a master way that must be followed, without compromises or concessions to the spirit of the world,” he stresses.
“Given the need for a renewed commitment to holiness, St. Clare offers at the same time an example of that teaching of holiness that, nourished by incessant prayer, leads to becoming contemplatives of the face of God, opening wide the heart to the Spirit of the Lord, which transforms the whole person, the mind, heart and actions, according to the exigencies of the Gospel,” he adds.
Her “exclusive option for Christ crucified” explains “the way of highest poverty” chosen by St. Clare and embraced by her followers, an “expression that encloses in its meaning the experience of despoliation, lived by the Son of God in the Incarnation,” the Holy Father says.
This led Clare to ask the then Pope for the “‘privilege of poverty’ as a prerogative of the way of monastic life she initiated. She introduced this ‘privilege,’ tenaciously defended throughout life, in the rule that received the papal confirmation on the eve of her death with the bull ‘Solet annuere’ of Aug. 9, 1253,” John Paul II recalls.
The Poor Clares now have, in their various branches, some 900 convents and 15,000 religious. An abbess heads each convent. As established in the 1950 apostolic constitution “Sponsa Christi,” these convents are organized in federations, according to the reformation or group to which they belong.