Born in 1193 in Assisi of a wealthy family, Clare caught the joy of a new vision of the gospel from Francis’ preaching. Escaping from home, first to the Benedictines and then to a Béguine-style group, she chose a contemplative way of life when she founded her own community, which lived in corporate poverty understood as dependence on God, with a fresh, democratic lifestyle. Clare became the first woman to write a religious Rule for women, and in it showed great liberty of spirit in dealing with earlier prescriptions. During the long years after Francis’ death, she supported his earlier companions in their desire to remain faithful to his vision, as she did. Some of her last words were: “Blessèd be God, for having created me.”
It is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.
How do you respond to adversity? Are you one of these people who take whatever life throws at them on the chin? Or are you, what our culture scathingly calls, a bit of a snowflake: do you melt at the least bit of heat? My guess is that often we find ourselves somewhere in between or wavering from one to the other.
Perhaps Paul did too. He knew a thing or two about the hard knocks of life. In his second letter to the Corinthians he lays it all out. He has endured overwork, imprisonment, flogging, stoning, getting lost at sea, dangers everywhere and from anyone, hunger, sleeplessness, cold, anxiety and threat of death (ch. 11). He tells the Corinthians this because they too have treated him badly. Having visited there to address false apostles, he finds himself rejected and publicly humiliated. His visit ends in failure. And so he writes to them to tell them about all he has suffered but also to let them know that he is not broken by it.
Clare of Assisi, whose saint’s day it is today, likewise was no stranger to suffering. Living a life of contemplation and prayer, she chose poverty and service to others, at great personal cost. For the last 27 years of her life, she suffered ill health. And yet, in all of it she kept her resolve and blessed God.
As did Paul. We are afflicted in every way, he said, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.
Both Paul and Clare of Assisi knew that it was by the grace of God that they could endure whatever came their way. Through their vulnerability God’s light, love and mercy could shine.
Loving God, whatever comes my way today, may I not lose heart. When I feel afflicted, perplexed, persecuted or struck down, may I too know myself loved, cherished and held by you, so that through me your light may shine and Christ’s life be made visible. Amen
Francis Brienen, Deputy General Secretary (Mission) of the United Reformed Church