One of the things that I’ve learned this year is that I cannot truly know Francis without also knowing Clare. She was influential in his life around the time of his conversion, was in close relationship with him throughout his religious life, and after his death, she and her order continued to protect Francis’ words and relics from distortion and abuse. Clare’s charism was that of Francis, and Francis’ charism was that of Clare.
While we haven’t devoted a lot of time to Clare in an academic sense [yet], we have spent much of this year developing a relationship with her order of sisters.
Here in Wilmington, the Capuchin Poor Clares at the St. Veronica Guiliani Monastery have been our closest companions. Not only do these sisters host us for Vespers and mass once each per week, they have also included us in two of their sisters’ renewal of vows ceremonies, and invited us to observe Francis’ death and feast in their monastery. Just last evening we were invited into their cloister for a wonderful dinner and more than an hour of laughs. As a bonus, Sister Dolores (kneeling in the front) is also our habit maker and Spanish teacher, and so is very important to many people in our province!
Because our relationship with Clare and her sisters is so important, we have found ourselves venturing great distances from Wilmington to be in relationship with them (and vice versa). The biggest of these gatherings is of course the Franciscan workshop I’ve mentioned in Finally, a Franciscan! and Acting Like Friars at the Graymoor Spiritual Life Center. You can see from the picture that we met a lot of Poor Clares from all over, and that the existence of such a gathering proves the importance of developing a relationship with one another early in the formation process.
The extent of our traveling does not end there, however, as in the past six months we have visited the Clares in Wappinger Falls, NY and Chesterfield, NJ for prayers, mass, and meals. Both of these visits were refreshing (and entertaining!) chances to share our vocational experience with others so close to us on our journey of faith, and to thank those closest to us in prayer for all of their support. I do not believe that the friars would be the way they are today had it not been for the prayers and direction of the Clares throughout our history.
And thus, our relationship must live on beyond initial formation, an outside of formal gatherings. We’ve been given the opportunity to travel as a group to meet a number of excellent monasteries, and now it is up to us to foster these relationships and continue the bond between our two orders. Edgardo and Ramon have already started: this past weekend they took it upon themselves to travel to Langhorne, PA for the solemn profession of one of their sisters. I hope to do the same over my upcoming break and make a trip to see the Traveler’s Rest, SC sisters, where there are a number of wonderful sisters there that have been praying for me and sending me letters throughout the year. How can we possibly be a Franciscan without knowing his sisters? I’m not sure, nor am I going to find out!