Below is an excerpt from an article written by Ilia Delio OSF
Clare, the Radical
We read daily about poverty around the world. Sometimes the stories are directly beneath the stock market quotes or surrounded by stories of the world’s wealthiest people. The juxtaposition may be coincidental or purposeful. I tend to think the latter is true because poverty makes us nervous.
The unnerving quality of poverty makes St. Clare’s emphasis on poverty difficult to grasp. Her desire to be poor, however, was not a glorification of human deprivation or neglect, but her desire for God. Had she not beheld the poverty of God as the immensity of divine love, I wonder if she would have pursued a life of poverty so vigorously or urged Agnes to do so. In her first letter to Agnes, she writes, “You have rejected all these things and have chosen with your whole heart and soul a life of holy poverty and destitution.”
It is difficult to understand how a woman of the aristocracy could choose a life of destitution and be happy, unless she had an understanding of poverty beyond material means. Clare had a God-centered understanding of poverty. For Clare, the logic of poverty was the logic of love. She saw the poverty of God as a fountain of love—a love that brings us into being, sustains us, and yearns for us. Her emphasis on the centrality of love is characteristic of Franciscan spirituality.
Clare of AssisiHow do we center ourselves in the love of God? Clare’s answer is simple and disarming: Become poor. Clare encouraged Agnes to pursue a life of poverty. It is hard to admit in a consumer culture that poverty is the key to the fullness of life. To the secular mind, it seems absurd. Western culture is immersed in a capitalism based on the idea that worldly success is a blessing of God. The type of poverty that Clare and the Franciscans speak of is opposed to the spirit of capitalism and self-sufficiency. It means to be dependent on others. That is exactly what Clare and Francis saw in the mystery of Jesus Christ.
In his Rule, Francis writes: “They must rejoice when they live . . . among the poor and the powerless. . . . Let them . . . remember, moreover, that our Lord Jesus Christ . . . was not ashamed. He was poor and a stranger and lived on alms.”
Francis perceived that Christ lived depen-dent on others so that God’s goodness could be revealed. When we allow others to do things for us, God’s goodness shines through them. Poverty is not so much about want or need; it is about relationship. Poverty impels us to reflect on our lives in the world from the position of weakness, dependency, and vulnerability. Poverty calls us to be vulnerable, open, and receptive to others—to allow others into our lives and to be free enough to enter into the lives of others. While Clare and Francis call us to be poor so that we may enter into relationship with the poor Christ, they also ask us to be poor so as to enter into relationship with our poor brothers and sisters in whom Christ lives.
In her second letter to Agnes, Clare writes that she is to “gaze upon him [Christ].” Although she does not explicitly link poverty and gazing upon Christ, the foundation of poverty in her first letter and the call to “gaze upon him” in her second letter suggest that poverty is the basis of spiritual vision or contemplation. To gaze is not simply to see, but to see with the eyes of the heart. It is the vision of the spiritually poor person who is inwardly free to contemplate the presence of God. If we are to enter into real relationship with God, we must become poor; we must embrace our poverty.
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Source: Franciscan Media