ST CLARE was a fellowcitizen of St Francis. The teenagers of Assisi had chosen Francis for the leader of their revels, but after falling in love with the Lady Poverty, he called himself Herald of the Great King, living the Gospel life as literally us possible, in utter poverty.
After hearing the burning words of Francis. Clare was tired with the same ideal. In 1212, under the guidance of Francis. she and her first companions formed the Order of Poor Sisters. known later as "Sisters of St Clare" or "Poor Clercs".
They endeavoured to live the Gospel in every detail of their lives. and succeeding generations of Poor Clares have inherited their special devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. loyalty to the Church and missionary zeal, expressed by their life of prayer and penance. hidden with Christ in God.
Their material poverty was a necessary consequence of their desire to be stripped of all but Jesus.
Today young women are called to this life in every continent, the latest statistics showing about 20,000 cloistered Poor Clares. Of these approximately 350 live in 16 monasteries in England and Wales. besides those in Scotland and Ireland.
Recent reports tell of flourishing communities in Yugoslavia, Ceylon. Malawi, the Philippines and Brazil. to mention only a few.
At first the "call" may be only a query within us a felt need to give oneseslf more completely to God. Or it may be a fear that perhaps He wants just that! It may conic as an awareness that Christ loves us and a realisation, welcome or unwelcome, that lie is asking us to give up all we want to keep for ourselves.
It may come through a passing word, book, pictureor even an accident: God can use anything to get his Message home. It is a personal love for Christ that draws a young woman to follow His call to be a Poor Clare. a conviction that God has created her for that form of apostolate.
What kind of women become good Poor Clares? Those who love life. who have a truly womanly disposition. who are blessed with sound faith, sincerity, common sense and norInal good health. A sense of hilt:HOW is a great asset, but God calls every variety of temperament to form Poor Clare Communities.
Why are they called "PoorClares? Because at the time of St Clare, most monastic communities owned extensive lands, vineyards, herds of cattle and flocks of sheep. St Clare allows her Sisters only enough ground to grow their own vegetables and flowers. and forbids stable revenues.
We do not "recruit" candidates. but we welcome anyone who wishes to learn more about our life. Some monasteries can accommodate visitors for a few days' quiet prayer and consultation. We pray for all inquirers and do all we can to help them to discern God's will. whatever that may be.
The age for entrance into our Order depends chiefly on the maturity of the aspirane the middle-twenties is usually a suitable age. but those who are younger, or not too much older, would be given careful consideration.
The Church has laid down norms for the formation of candidates for Religious life, and on the whole. these are the same for all enclosed contemplative Orders.
They are meant to ensure that at each stage of preparation for final life-long commitment the aspirant. novice or junior Sister will be capable of making a free, intelligent choice actuated not by passing feeling, but by solid faith, and trust in God's neverfailing help. The preparation lasts for at least six years:
The aspirant is welcomed into a loving family and allowed to share gradually in their prayer and work. She learns much from the happiness and enthusiasm of the other Sisters, while the novicemistress explains the spirit which .should animate the various occupations of the day.
Usually this period lasts about 12 months. This is followed by two years novitiate, "the school of Christ", where the , novice strives to get to know Ilim better, by studying the Gospels prayerfully and begging Him to help her to become more like Him in her thoughts, words and deeds.
The lives of St Francis and St Clare help her to see how they became Christ-like, and "The Letters of St Clare" confirm the truth that Our Lady, the Mother of Christ, can help her most.
St-Clare had a clear realisation that by their lives of prayer and penance her Sistel s are called to he the support of the weaker members of Christ's Body.
These letters show great familiarity with Holy Scripture, and so the novice is encouraged to draw her own nourishment from the same source.
When these two years have been completed, the novice is free to ask if she wishes to be received for Temporary Profession. At Temporary Profession a novice vows to observe for three years the Rule of St Clare, living in obedience, without property, in chastity and in observance of enclosure.
Henceforth the young Religious applies herself as fully as possible to serve the Church in solitude and silence, in assiduous prayer and joyful penance, in humble work and holy deeds, in praise and adoration for all creation.
By her vow of enclosure, she has promised to remain in the same community, and she does not go beyond the monastery garden except for a lawful cause and with due permission.
This vow, far from confining the person, liberates her. It enables her to share, at a deeper level and on a wider scale, the work, sufferings and joys of all mankind.
After three years of life in temporary vows the Sister is free to ask to make her Solemn Profession for life. Usually after living six years in the community, she and,the community are able to discern God's will by the light of faith.
Normally she is longing for the great day on which she will be allowed to make her final lifelong commitment to Christ. She realises that God has first loved her and that it is by His love alone that she is able to respond in love.
During the ceremony of Solemn Profession, the celebrant will bless a silver wedding ring; while it is placed upon her finger, those wondrous words arc heard: "I espouse you to Jesus Christ, the Son of the Most High God."
The great privilege of enclosed Contemplative nuns is the responsihility of continuing the prayer which Christ offered during His days on earth, by singing the Divine Office, seven times a day, beginning at midnight.
The psalms and readings from Holy Scripture and Doctors of the Church provide daily food for loving contemplation. Devotion to the Blessed Sacrament is expressed by frequent, if not daily, periods of Exposition.
The traditional picture of St Clare, holding the Blessed Sacrament in a monstrance, is symbolic of her boundless trust in Jesus in the Sacred Host, to Whom she turned in every difficulty or danger, even when the Saracens attempted to raid her convent home of San Damian°.
Between the set hours of prayer and reading, the Sisters work hard to support themselves as far as possible, usually growing their own vegetables and flowers and doing much or the maintenance work of their monastery.
Many communities make vestments, altar-breads, and engage in other hand-works which can be carried out without "extinguishing the spirit of holy prayer and devotion to which other temporal things should be subservient." (Rule of St Clare.) A Poor Clare's needs are few. Many go barefoot indoors. They rely on the goodness of their Heavenly Father, who inspires benefactors to provide them when their own earnings are insufficient. Their lives bear testimony to the Scriptures, for "having nothing, they possess all things."
"The Lord be with you always, and be you with Him always, and in every place." (Blessing of St Clare.)
By a Poor Clare Poor Clare Monasteries of Britain Ark icy. Galley Vane, Barnet. 11 e rl fordshire; Arundel. Crossbush, Sussex: Baddesley Clinton. Rising Lane. Knowle, Solihull, West Midlands; Bothwell, Fallside Road, Glasgow; Be I lwel I, Brooklyn Road, Nottingham; Darlington. Co Mahan), SI Clare's Abbey: Edinburgh. Mount Alvernia, Lasswade Road, Liberton; Ellesmere. Shropshire: Hawarden. Aston Hall Lane.
Deeside. Clwyd: Liverpool. Green Lane: Lower BuhliflghaM, Hereford; l.yntnn, lee Road, Devon; Manchester, Clare Road, 1 Arvensh tr Ime: Nee th . Western Moor, G la morganshi re. South Wales: Sclerder Abbey. Lone. Cornwall; Southampton, Shirley Warren: Woodehester, Stroud, (.iloucestershire; York. St Joseph's Convent, Lawrence Street.