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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Message on Lenten Practices

"Everything is given to me on loan from God..." St. Francis

“The better we become, the less conscious we are of our goodness. If anyone admits to being a saint, he is close to being a devil. Jean Jacques Rousseau believed that of all men, he was the most perfect, but he had so many cracks in his soul that he abandoned his children after their birth. The more saintly we become, the less conscious we are of being holy. A child is cute so long as he does not know he is cute. As soon as he thinks he is, he turns into a brat. True goodness is unconscious.”
Archbishop Fulton Sheen

Jesus said, in regards to having the right perspective/attitude about giving Alms . . . ‘Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing!’ Thus, giving should be so reasonable, so natural, done so often that we, in a way, do it without thinking. We recognize the need, respond to the need by trying to meet it and never stop to think, ‘Wow! I’m pretty good!’ St. Francis, if this thought occurred to him, would rebuke it with, ‘Everything is given to me on loan from God – who owns all things – until I meet someone needier than myself. It is the poorer person’s by right and to hold it back from that person is the sin of theft!’

"From Worldly Princess to the Foot of the Cross: The Life and Writings of St Camilla Battista Varano"

Life and writings of Saint Camilla Battista Varano, Poor Clare Franciscan nun by Bret Thoman, OSF. The author conducts pilgrimages to Assisi and various environments in Italy and the Holy Land and is quite familiar with Saint Camilla and the nuns living at her monastery. This biography contains many quotes and spiritual instructions from the saint as well as her locutions and other mystical experiences. A marvelous look into conversion, medieval convent life, and the spiritual life lived in the love of Christ. Copyright 2012 by Tau Publishing.

St. Camilla Battista da Varano, Poor Clare

St. Camilla Battista da Varano (April 9, 1458to May 31, 1524)
"Two angels came to me, dressed in resplendent white garments which I have seen only worn by Jesus. They had wings of gold. One of them took my soul from the right side, the other from the left side, and they elevated it in the air, laying it down near the crucified feet of the Son of God made Man."
- Camilla Battista da Varano, 1491
Nearly 500 years after her death, St. Camilla Battista da Varano, a princess, a member of the Poor Clares, and a prolific writer, was canonized a saint on Oct. 17, 2010. It's an exciting contrast to St. Andre Bessette, also canonized that day, who lived in the 20th century.
St. Camilla Battista da Varano was born in Camerino, Macerata, Italy, on the Adriatic coast on April 9, 1458. Her father wanted her to have a husband, but she chose to enter the Poor Clares convent in Urbano at age 23.
The order was founded by St. Clare of Assisi who I first learned about at age 7, when I was taken against my will to see the Franco Zeffirelli film "Brother Sun, Sister Moon." Twenty years later, as a curious skeptic, I visited Assisi, Italy because of the movie and the experience of seeing the robe, sandals, and pillow (rock) of St. Francis, changed my life.
At age 25, St. Camilla Battista da Varano relocated to the monastery of Santa Maria Nuova in Camerino. Her father and brothers were killed under the persecution of Cesare Borgia in 1502.
Among her many writings was an autobiography written in 1491 and cited in the quote above. She died in Macerata on May 31, 1524 and her feast day is May 31.

 (The image of St. Camilla Battista da Varano is from Frati Minori di Puglia e Molise)

St. Clare Quote

St. Francis Quote



FRANCIS met the Lord when he embraced the leper and when he begged for stones and food; and he would never be detoured from that way, because he had found the Lord there. Saint Clare finds God in the poverty of contemplation, and she in turn never swerves from her way to the end of her life. For Clare poverty and contemplation are so intimately intertwined that contemplation presupposes poverty, because the Lord promises and gives the Kingdom of Heaven only to the poor. 

As she writes in one of her letters, What a praiseworthy exchange: to leave temporal things for those that are eternal, to choose heavenly things for earthly goods, to receive a hundredfold instead of one, and to possess a life, blessed and eternal. 

As with Francis, Clare’s poverty is not for its own sake but because it makes present the Kingdom and because of an ardent desire for the Poor Crucified. 
Since the great and good Lord, on entering the Virgin’s womb, chose to look despised, needy, and poor in this world, so that people in dire poverty and deprivation and in absolute need of heavenly nourishment might become rich in Him by possessing the Kingdom of Heaven, then you who have chosen poverty should rejoice and be glad! 

Always it is the Poor Christ whom Clare is determined to gaze upon, consider and contemplate, because He is the image of God, the Mirror we are to contemplate.
This image of the mirror is central to Saint Clare’s spirituality. As Francis was the mirror of Christ and Christ of the Father, so the life of the contemplative is to look into the mirror that is Christ and see there oneself, thereby learning who you are. By looking into the mirror who is Christ and recognizing yourself, you become a mirror of Him whom you contemplate, and you in turn mirror, through Christ to the Father, all the creation. You see yourself both in a mirror and as a mirror.

Saint Clare writes to her sisters: For the Lord Himself has not only placed us as example and mirror for others, but also for our own sisters whom the Lord has called to our way of life, so that they in their turn will be mirror and example to those living in the world. 

This complex imagery shows Saint Clare’s profound acquaintance with Sacred Scripture, with the literature of the Fathers of the Church, and with the lyrics of the troubadours, all of which are replete with mirror imagery.

There is, for example, a famous twelfth-century version of Ovid’s tale of Narcissus in which the troubadour has his Narcissus recognize that he is different from his image in the water, thereby discovering his own separate identity. For a contemplative like Saint Clare, however, the birth of self-consciousness through recognition is not enough. She finds her true identity by looking upon Christ and seeing there herself as an image of the Divine; and the more perfectly she mirrors the image of Christ, the more real she becomes. She says in a letter to Blessed Agnes of Prague: Because the vision of Christ is the splendor of eternal glory, the radiance of eternal light and the mirror without stain, look upon that mirror each day, O queen and spouse of Jesus Christ, and continually study your countenance within it, so that you may clothe yourself inside and out with beautiful robes and cover yourself with the flowers and garments of all the virtues, as becomes the daughter and most chaste bride of the Most High King. Indeed blessed poverty, holy humility, and ineffable charity are reflected in that mirror, and, with the grace of God, you can contemplate them throughout the entire mirror. 
She then expands her imagery to include the whole mirror. Look at the edges of this mirror, and see the poverty of Him who was placed in a manger and wrapped in swaddling clothes. Then looking at the surface of the mirror, dwell on the holy humility, the blessed poverty, the untold labors and burdens which He endured for the redemption of all humankind. Then, in the deep center of the mirror, contemplate the ineffable charity which led Him to suffer on the wood of the Cross, dying on it the most shameful kind of death. Therefore, that mirror hanging on the wood of the Cross urged those who passed by to consider, saying: “All you who pass by the way, look and see if there is any suffering like My suffering!” 

The most striking reality that this imagery confronts us with is the poverty of God. The Poor Christ is the image of the Godhead! God is poor, God is self-emptying; and in our poverty, our resemblance to the poor, crucified Christ, we become mirrors of God Himself. Poverty, then, is not an end in itself, but a way of becoming transformed into an image of the Trinity by contemplating the Mirror of the Trinity, Jesus Christ Himself. As a mirror is material, yet holds an immaterial image, so the Poor Christ is human and visible, yet is an image of the invisible God, who is poor in Triune self-emptying that is simultaneously a filling up.

It is no wonder then that Saint Clare holds so tenaciously to contemplation and poverty as a way of life: The two are one: the contemplation of poverty becoming the poverty of contemplation.

Source: Murray Bodo OFM, THE WAY OF ST. FRANCIS – The Challenge of Franciscan Spirituality for Everyone, Cincinnati, OH: St. Anthony Messenger Press,  1995, pages 29-31.