Ty Mam Duw
This past year of the Lord has been one of extremes, not only of weather, but of joys and sorrows, not just in Britain but in the Church and the world at large - reminiscent of the opening lines of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities- ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’. And it is certainly a time in which God calls us once again through the events of history to put out once more into the deep in faith, trusting in our heavenly Father, who alone can “make all things well”. So we look forward once more to Christmas, recalling God’s redeeming Word made flesh, who entered once and for all into the light and darkness of human history and whose love will determine its final outcome.
Among the events here for the Year of Clare’s Vocation, were a couple of Franciscan Guided Prayer Days, the first focussing on St Agnes of Assisi, St Clare’s younger sister, whose life and vocation were closely bound up with hers in the new religious community at San Damiano. The second day, in March, featured St Agnes of Prague and included a dramatised presentation, with Saints Clare and Agnes of Assisi, and Saint Agnes of Prague reminiscing about her life, the dialogue being partly based on the few extant letters St Clare wrote her - copies were only discovered in the 20th century in the Vatican library by Achille Ratti (later to become Pope Pius XI). This year our Beloved Mother Francesca translated the legend of St Agnes of Prague from a German version, persevering valiantly to the end, despite having to do about forty pages again after the computer developed a hiccup when she had almost finished!
The theme of our Advent Carol Service was the hearing of the word of God and putting it into practice, as Clare did 800 years ago when she heard Christ’s call to follow Him and to live out the Gospel in her life as Francis did in his. The service began with the ringing of all the bells and then the singing of the Martyrology by Sr Pia, dressed as a medieval herald, a role she maintained throughout. She then decided to proclaim God’s word with the aim of putting into practice a verse found by opening the Bible at random, but changed her mind when she hit upon Gen 4:8 And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother and killed him!
At which point Clare turned up to tell her of the need topray as Francis did before opening the scriptures, and of how her own life had been shaped by the Gospel of the Incarnation. Several scenes from the Nativity account, interwoven with passages from the Old Testament which had foreshadowed them were acted out simply with three Sisters manipulating colourfulhome-made string puppets.
The Herald announced that as the New Testament had fulfilled the Old, it was now up to us all to fulfil the New by putting the Gospel into practice and to offer our lives in love in the service to the Christchild, as the Kings had brought Him gifts.
During Advent we had, as always, shared reflections within the community, most notably a fascinating one by Sr Juliana on the theme of the liturgical development of the Mass, from the first centuries of the early Churchtill Vatican II, and on to the latest translation of the Missal.
Beloved Mother and Sr Pia, produced an epidiascope sharing based on the book about Pope Benedict written by his cat Chico. And we had a pseudo-documentary starring Sr Anezka as a modern TV producer investigating the disturbing “disease” of Christianity. He duly travelled back through time to interview several people who had been seriously ‘infected’ by it - St Agnes, St Clare and St Anezka, and ended up deciding perhaps to read the Gospel after all as there might be something in it!
Sr Amata and Sr Ruth did a computer presentation on the theme of Abraham, the father of faith of the old covenant, and on Our Lady, whose faith was the beginning of the new covenant. The Feast of St Lucy brought us a sharingby Sr Elizabeth and Sr Lourdes for the first anniversary of Sr Anezka’s clothing, and in thanksgiving too for our own clothings. Apart from psalms and hymns appropriate to the occasion, they had set up a blackboard to which they pinned paper versions of the habit, white veil and kerchief, cross, and cord received at the clothing ceremony, with prayers recalling their significance. Afterwards we enjoyed special St Lucy’s buns made by Sr Lourdes, while they read us a Swedish legend of a miracle worked brought about by St Lucy’s intercession.
Several Sisters had shown great ingenuity in decorating their “star-partner’s” cell door during Advent, trying not to reveal their identity in the process, till all was made manifest at dinner on Christmas Day. We were intrigued by pairs of cut out angels singing Holy, Holy, Holywhich appeared on the walls in places Sr Elizabeth frequents - from her choir stall to the hopper outside the kitchen. We discovered later that they came from Sr Yolanda’s hands - the only place she had not dared put them was on the dog kennel, for fear the dogs kicked up a shindy and drew attention to her activities!
In actual fact they already have a guardian angel painted on the door of their kennel, but it does not seem to have preserved Millie, our miniature dachshund from delusions of grandeur. She seems to think that if she stands gazing at the topmost branch of a tall pine and barking determinedly, any pigeon she thinks she sees will be totally daunted and faint at her feet!
Our choir crib was on a much smaller scale than usual, as Sr Juliana, who generally masterminds it, had other commitments in the pottery-making line. But it still comprised about 20 scenes, arranged in four tiers still standing about ten foot high. This left more room in the sanctuary for the large Christmas tree to be appreciated in its own right, complete with a goodly number of new intricate straw stars made by Sr Piaand Sr Anezka - exquisitely lovely and, like the snowflakes the Lord makes, of which it is said no two are ever alike! (We are unsure how people know that fact, but it is probably something to do with their mathematical structure and the law of probabilities!)
When Dear Mother tried her usual technique of standing on the top of a ladder on a trestle table to put the fretwork angel at the very top of the 15 ft tree, the greenery was so thick that she couldn’t get near it - so we sent out an SOS to our good friend Tony, who came and did it himself with a longer ladder!
Of the various home-made cribs, two deserve special mention - one in the cloister had a background map of the world drawn by Sr Anezka with a good many of the 800 or so Poor Clare houses indicated by small lights. The Christchild was El Nino of Atocha, now wearing priestly vestments and standing behind an altar.
The life-size figure in a Poor Clare habit sitting in front of the altar, was somewhat disconcerting, as most of us tended to greet it with the traditional “Praised be Jesus Christ!” as we passed by, expecting it to answer “Now and forever. Amen”! Sr Seraphina and Sr Elizabeth who are so creative that they can make anything out of the most unlikely materials did the refectory crib, which featured three–dimensional figures about 4 ft high made out of brown paper, rolled, folded and pleated to get the desired effect.
Beloved Mother & Sr Pia had decorated the cloister area outside the kitchen and turned it into Chiara’s Bistro for Christmastide gatherings, where they spoke to us on the theme of hospitality and put their words into delicious3-dimensional practice in the form of home-made biscuits. Sr Juliana had made the heads and hands of small crib figures from Fimo, and their bodies were made from stiff plastic canvas, colourfully embroidered by our Beloved Mother Francesca.
The Christmas Vigil itself took a fairly straightforward form this year with carols and appropriate readings, followed by Midnight Mass and then our own “Shepherd’s Mass”. On the Feast of Holy Innocents, we gathered for light-hearted fun in the novitiate, adorned with fluorescent wigs which had been given in. As the theme was the current “Year of Clare’s Vocation” we had a form of “Pin the tail on the donkey”, which involved pinning Poor Clare figures on to a boat crossing the British Channel en route to London to make the foundation of our motherhouse at Notting Hill. One Sister ended up so far west of the assigned mark that she must have landed at Hawarden 70 years early! Later we had an obstacle course, inspired by an amusing account in the early annals.
This we had to negotiate in pairs, one Sister in a wheelchair with the other one blindfolded, pushing and steering it according to her instructions. -far from easy, as there was only an inch or two of leeway, and most of us came to grief through running into a ferocious cardboard bull en route!
The Year of our Lord 2012 began with a Vigil followed by a midnight Mass celebrated by Fr Paul Shaw from Chester. Its theme was God’s call to surrender our lives to Him and follow Him to the glory and peace proclaimed by the angels to the shepherds at the Nativity. We recalled Clare’s words, and some of the famous women who had followed in her charismatic form of living out the Gospel and handed it down to us - among them St Baptista Varano, an Italian mystic and princess, and St Alphonsa, the first canonised saint of the Indian subcontinent. Then there was St Catherine of Bologna, Renaissance artist, musician and reformer, and Josephine Leroux, who served cakes and coffee to the representatives of the French Revolution before she was guillotined.
Saints also featured at our traditional “consolation party” at the end of Christmastide after we have taken down all our cribs and decorations. Each Sister came dressed as a saint or bringing a symbol of one, and the rest of us had to guess the one she had chosen. These ranged from , St Jerome and St Martin de Porres, to St Zita, patron saint of domestic helpers, as well Hildegard of Bingen andBl. Marianna of Molokai and Bl. Kateri Tekakwitha, who like her were canonised later this year. We enjoyed our party collation at small tables and had various quizzes - one entailed the identifying of various objects within the monastery
from photos taken at unusual angles - part of a knotted Franciscan cord taken in rather blurry close-up, which most of us identified as a hand and others as a cabbage, an aerial view of part of a metal dustpan, a jar of paintbrushes, and the base of an electric kettle.
The only one we were all sure of was a pair of eyes which we all identified as Sr Amata’s.
Unfortunately, no sooner were we back to what the liturgy prosaically calls “Ordinary Time” , than we developed major problems with our drainage, which led to chaos in the little wood, and we had men here on and off for the next month trying to trace where all our drains went, and cutting down some small trees which could cause further damage to them. Despite the cold wet weather early in February a goodly number of people attended our annual Colette Mass. Among the babies for whose arrival we thanked God were twins, born to a couple who were married last year and were devastated when told by the medics that they would not be able to have children. The father was himself a “Colette” baby some decades ago arriving prematurely and safely against heavy odds, so we were delighted to know that St Colette is now looking after the next generation!
In 1960 when our founding Sisters moved into the present monastery, they brought with them a large kitchen dresser they had acquired secondhand in the early days at Flint. Unfortunately after decades of struggles against woodworm, it had basically lost the battle, so we decided to replace it. We got a carpenter to make a new one for us, strong enough to hold all our kitchen crockery and supplies. Dear Mother and helpers spent some hours taking all such articles out of the kitchen, and setting them on tables set up in the cloister.
They then borrowed an impressive sledgehammer and set to work demolishing the old dresser. This was quite a feat, but by 10 pm it was reduced to movable pieces which were duly carried along the cloister and thrown out the door, making a first-rate bonfire the next morning.
The carpenter was due to bring the new one and assemble it in the kitchen the next day, but rang at the last minute to say he was unable to come. So we were left with most of our kitchen supplies and implements laid out on tables in the cloister for the next three weeks. It’s just as well that we Poor Clares are fairly adaptable! As necessary a quality when living in community, as is a sense of humour! But this state of affairs had a very happy ending with the eventual arrival and assembly of the new cupboard, which has left us much more free working space in the kitchen, something we find a real boon.
One very worthwhile project for this Year of St Clare, was the making of a DVD on our Poor Clare way of life, which combines shots of our life of prayer, work (and recreation) together as a community, with the reading of our Rule, written by St Clare herself and confirmed by Pope Innocent IV just a few days before her death. The filming went smoothly, but the weather had turned very cold with a hard frost and sleet on the ground, so we had to wrap up well for the scenes in the garden.
These included one of Sr Elizabeth bringing us a welcome hot cup of coffee midway, illustrating Clare’s allowance forexceptions to her strict regime in cases of particular need. Our friend, Mr Bailey, who made the film also brought us an unexpected gift - a family heirloom in the form of a bonsai yew tree, about 2 ft high and an exact replica of a full-size one. It is apparently several hundred years old, but to his dismay the severe winter of 2010 finished its long life, and so its branches are bare, but it is stillhas plenty of potential for our Christmas crib - and in fact for the next six months stood by the altar in choir sheltering a home–carved figure of St Clare.
In March our dear Sr Seraphina from the Philippines became a fully-fledged British citizen,and was accompanied by Dear Mother complete with Bible to the small ceremony in which she swore allegiance to Queen and country and was presented by the local Sheriff with her citizenship papers.
Preparations were also in full swing at this time for our 3-day Clare Exhibition, and we were very grateful to Tony for all his help. Not only did he dig over the entire vegetable plot for us in early spring, thus freeing us for other enterprises, but also made a big free-standing noticeboard forinformation on our Order and a large Tau-sign for the entrance to the monastery.
At present he is recuperating valiantly after a major operation, and looking forward to being back this way helping us where he can. His showpiece was the construction of a small cell with a barred window in the extern quarters to represent St Colette’s earlier years as an anchoress, before God called her to renew Poor Clare life in her own war–torn country of France and beyond in the early 15th century. In the anchorage we had placed a very lifelike model dressed in a habit and white veil to represent St Colette, and the scene proved to be a source of endless fascination to our visitors. A small tree from our garden was turned into a Poor Clare family tree - we had to print and cut out leaves to stick on it as it was completely dead! - and it had origami flowers on it for each of the foundations that have contributed to our own branch, along with the all the other foundations which have flowed from related sources. Those who came to the Exhibition were over the moon with it all, some coming back several times bringing friends, but it is also true that we ourselves learned a lot about our roots through all the behind-the-scenes work that went into it, reading up the early annals, identifying old photos, and finding renewed inspiration in the lives of those throughout the world who had gone before us in the past eight centuries.
There were special celebratory Masses here on each of the three days. Our own Bishop Regan celebrated the final one at which Fr Peter Hall OFM from Canterbury preached a splendid sermon on St Clare, speaking of her as the Mother of the Franciscan charism, nourishing it by gazing into the eyes of Jesus, lifted on the cross.
To our delight, copies of the CTS edition of the combined Sunday and daily missals arrived in March, beautifully produced and much appreciated, a gift from our dear Marianne, to be used and treasured in the service of the Lord day by day. A small wooden statue of St Clare made at Lourdes, also a gift from Marianne for this special Clare Year, came in April and now graces the cloister by our refectory door.
All went smoothly at the Easter Vigil. Armed with the new Missals we all successfully negotiated the newEnglish translation of the long traditional prayers, and were glad to find that the bees once again got an honourable mention in the Exultet! Canon Quigley, who always celebrates Mass beautifully, himself carried into choir the Paschal candle, which had been beautifully decorated Sr Beatrix, using mottled gold-coloured sheets of wax.
After Easter some members from Birmingham of the new Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham came to see us. We had made contact with them earlier to assure them of our prayers and spiritual support as they became fully-fledged members of the Catholic Church, enriching it with some of the insights and liturgical traditions of the Anglican communion.
The month of May brought with it the nowtraditional with us Flores de Maio devotions in honour of Our Lady. The final day was dedicated to her as Mother of Joy, in thanksgiving for all the blessings that had come to us through her intercession. There were hymns, a scripture reading and meditation and a sung Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory be in honour of her Seven Joys. At the4th Mystery, the Adoration of the Magi, the tabernacle was opened and we had half an hour’s adoration of the Lord present in the Blessed Sacrament. At the end of the celebration the statue of Our Lady was crowned, a flower crown being lowered on a string from the ceiling, slowly revolving as it descended from on high and coming to rest at exactly the right point on her head. Quite a feat of accuracy! The 2 hour service finished with a heartfelt Te Deum.
Other graces that month included contact with the Vocation Fathers at Holywell, who now have the care of the Hawarden parish, and who came several times with Canon to give us Benediction. Brother Parker FMS was also here for a couple of days, giving us a series of talks on the early Church in the time of the martyrs, illustrated with slides, and
followed by a input on the Giotto frescoes in the Basilica of St Francis at Assisi. Spiritual blessings may have abounded in May, but horticultural ones definitely were in short supply!
The slugs had virtually finished off the kohlrabi seedlings we had already replanted once on their account. Remembering how our old Sister Clare used to make wine, and put out the lees in small cups to catch, intoxicate and drown the slugs, we duly edged the vulnerable part of the plot with paper cups and some leftover oddments of wine.
All to no avail, as we didn’t catch a single marauder. Perhapsthe presentslug generationare connoisseurs and spurned our offerings as second-rate or too dilute, or simply have learned from the fate of their ancestors and turned teetotal! When harvest came we were only able to glean enough kohlrabi for a single meal. Such is life!
Our spiritual preparation during the great novena leading up to the feast of Pentecost had included the recital each day of part of Pope Paul VI’s Credo of the People of God, which he had written for the Year of Faith in 1965. The Pentecost Vigil itself comprised excerpts from Pope Benedict’s apostolic letter, Porta Fidei (the Door of Faith), written as an introduction to the Year of Faith which began lastmonth. Several of the Gospel incidents referred to in it were mimed simply, and the word FAITH, formed from letters cut from gold card mounted on oasis and surrounded by flowers, was gradually built up in front of the altar a letter at a time being brought up together with a candle. The Vigil was followed by Holy Mass celebrated by Fr Paul Shaw.
Then of course came June and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. We saw much of the BBC coverage, and it was a real tonic to see so many ordinary people simply enjoying themselves together in a neighbourly manner despiteall the anxieties so rife in these days of financial crisis and less than cheerful world news.
The rain which descended so memorably on the day of the Thames River Pageant continued here for most of June, and prevented us getting out in the garden, which meant the weeds, which unfortunately grow 24 hours a day, got well ahead of us. However the long wet weeks had one good result - we had a rather overdue rearrangement of workrooms and suchlike indoors, which brought to light a goodly number of articles that had been mislaid since the last general tidy-up.
June also brought us Brother William Short OFM from the States, who gave us a full week of talks, three 40–minute ones a day on the life, writings and times of Saints Francis and Clare. They were fascinating and a real inspiration to us all. In the afternoons he spent happy hours at St Deiniol’s Library in the village, an internationally known theological library, which in recent years has housed the Bishop Moorman collection of books, letters, documents on Franciscan sources and the history of the Order. He made an interesting point about St Clare’s stipulation in her Rule that the Sisters were to have only enough land for a vegetable garden - plus a bit more if necessary to ensure proper enclosure and due privacy. He explained that this was part of the Franciscan concept of poverty, such a radically new concept in Clare’s time, and a contentious issue through the ages - the idea of living from day to day trusting in God’s providence, without relying on a sizeable stable income, such as other Orders had from the farming or letting out of large areas of land. September was to bring us a week of celebrations within the community for Sr Pia’s Ruby Jubilee of profession, so Dear Mother’s profession day in August was kept more simply than usual. We did not put on a major recreation. for her, though there was still joy in plenty and the singing of a four-part round composed by Sr Amata and based on the Blessing of St Clare. We also had the happiness at the end of the month of welcoming a new aspirant to our life, who is sharing much of our daily round of prayer and work within the enclosure. The Jubilee Mass at which Sister renewed her vows and Fr Francis Maple OFMCap preached, with our Sister receiving a crown of ruby-coloured rosebuds and a lighted candle, was basically a private one. Sr Agatha and Sr Seraphina had decorated the refectory for the occasion, with Bl. Kateri Tekakwitha (who has since been canonised and is sometimes referred to as the Lily of the Mohawks) as the presiding saint. They had ingeniously made all the colourful decorations - table mats, banner, a large figure of Kateri, and smaller table decorations of Mohawk angels, on weaving sticks using oddments of bright coloured wool which had been given in. Later that week Sr Beatrix joined them in telling the story of Bl. Kateri Tekakwitha, illustrating it with paper cut-outs on a miniature stage (mounted on a revolving cheese board, which allowed change of scene and an opportunity for the players to bring on or take off characters as the drama developed). There was some poetic licence in the artistry as several figures bore a strong resemblance to ones seen in a book we had been given recently with photos of the Bayeux tapestry!. Other contributions towards the Jubilee was an epidiascope rendering of A Duffer’s Guide to Dante’s Il Paradiso, with text and illustrations by Sr Elizabeth and shown us in several episodes, leaving us in the seventh heaven governed by the fixed stars, with more exciting instalments to come. Sr Yolanda had organised a day of varied games. In one we were invited to people San Damiano with Sisters, of which we had four tiny felt ones apiece. The aim was to throw them to land within the walls of a cardboard mock-up of the monastery, with extra points if they landed within the cloister garden. Later a complex and highly enjoyable “vegetable garden” game, entailed dividing into smaller groups each with their own vegetable garden to lay out with up to ten different vegetable seeds. These then developed and grew, or were attacked by blight or slugs, depending on which news items about them were drawn from a watering can by Sr Yolanda. It was all too true to life, with on several occasions weeks of rain being announced as having put an end of rows of peas or cabbages! But at the end we all still reaped something of a harvest, if not exactly the hundredfold mentioned by Our Lord in the parable of the sower. On another day we were invited to a “royal dinner” hosted by Sr Anezka at small tables in the cloister, and told to come in an appropriately English-style hat (from any period). Prizes were awarded by our Ruby Jubilarian queen for the most electrifying, most expensive, most eco-friendly, most patriotic, most rabbity, and most all-year-round hat etc! Another Jubilee game was Scrabblethon, a Ty Mam Duw version of Scrabble devised by Sr Ruth, with double the number of squares on the board and also double the number of available letters. We divided into four groups, each with 14 letters and the opportunity of adding two words to the growing crossword. The “board” was in fact a 5 ft square poster, to which the letters were blue-tacked, and the total score came to almost 1200 points. An enjoyable time was had all round, especially as dictionaries were provided in which we were allowed to seek for possible words, as well as to check spelling! Spiritual input for the Jubilee included a very lovely presentation in choir on Saint Pio, parts of which were mimed or danced. The backdrop was formed by slides projected on the sanctuary wall, with Sr Juliana juggling 3 projectors and a CD player. The music and songs based on St Pio’s words, together with excerpts from his writings were those of the disk we recorded a few years ago on him, and among the slides used were ones of the modern mosaics in San Giovanni Rotondo by Fr Rubnik, depicting his life. September was also a time of blessing for the diocese as a whole with the episcopal consecration in Wrexham Cathedral of Mgr Peter Brignall as our new Bishop. Dear Mother and Marianne attended it on our behalf and were delighted to learn that he had chosen as his motto a quote from St Hildegard of Bingen, one of their celestial pinups. A number of his relatives from his mother’s side had come over from Germany for the occasion, which was a very lovely one, both solemn and moving. In July, with the Year of St Clare coming to its official end, Dear Mother and Sr Beatrix had the joy of taking part in a special public Mass being celebrated for the occasion by Mother Mercy and her Poor Clare community at Nottingham. We had originally arranged a concluding Mass here in August, but decided to postpone it till September. By then life in Britain had returned to normal after all the excitement of the Olympics, friends were home from their summer holidays, and we in turn had the joy of Mother Mercy’s presence at our own special Mass on 29th September. The very wet weather of the past few days had cleared and our hearts rejoiced at the sight of a lovely rainbow arching over the monastery that morning, a sign to us God’s loving care and protection. Fr Gareth Jones, Ecclesiastical Assistant to our community, was the main celebrant, wearing a new vestment with a panal of Florentine embroidery which our Beloved Mother Francesca had spent many long and patient hours in working. He preached a splendid sermon, and the Mass began with a procession in by several Sisters, including Mother Mercy of Nottingham, carrying a series of colourful banners made during the Clare Year depicting saints and daughters of St Clare down through the ages. After the offertory gifts had been brought up, we came forward and stood together before the altar to renew our holy vows. Dear Mother and Mother Mercy then gave us each a sizeable palm branch in remembrance of the one Clare had received from Bishop Guido on that Palm Sunday 800 years ago when she left all to follow Christ, and smaller pieces were later distributed to the congregation. All in all it was a memorable end to a wonderful year. It was of course soon to be followed by the Year of Faith, announced by Pope Benedict XVI and lasting from 11th October 2012 till 24th November 2013. We began it with a special Matins, its readings recalling the life of Blessed Pope John XXIII, who opened the Second Vatican Council 50 years ago., followed by an excerpt from his encyclical Pacem in Terris. The next morning we had a long period of Exposition and silent prayer punctuated by the reading of moving and inspirational talks given by Bishops at the Eucharistic Congress in Dublin earlier this year. We later watched a video of the Mass in St Peter’s Square that morning , which not only opened the Year of Faith but also reflected on a smaller scale the great opening Mass of the Second Vatican Council 50 years ago. In October we were also very busy making things for our Autumn Fair later that month. We were dismayed to learn that a law had been passed making it illegal to sell items in reused jars, as we had done up till then, but fortunately managed to obtain a supply of new jars and fill them with freshly made jam in time for the Fair. The weather which continued unsettled with periods of very wet weather, had led to a disappointing harvest, not only for ourselves but for many farmers, and so we were especially grateful this year to those schools and churches who generously brought us gifts from their own harvest festivals. The only crop which has increased and multiplied of its own accord this year has been mushrooms, of which we have gathered a goodly number at irregular intervals to delight the hearts of the cooks amongst us. The Fair itself went happily and it was good to know that our baking and cooking and various handicrafts were so much appreciated by friends both old and new - and that the proceeds raised from the event will help towards paying our heating bills in the wintry days ahead. And whatever the next 12 months may bring, you can be sure that we are enfolding you and your families in our hearts before the Lord, thanking Him for your own faith and your generosity towards us, and for allowing us to share in your joys and sorrows, hopes and fears. May you know the nearness of His saving love and protection at all times. With loving prayers for every grace and blessing, from your little Sisters at Ty Mam Duw
The Year of the Vocation of St Clare
The Eighth Centenary Logo
At the centre of the logo is a pearl. The Kingdom of heaven, to which we all have a vocation, is symbolized by a pearl, which, the Lord tells us, takes all we have and are to buy.
The pearl is surrounded by four doorways: the Door of the Dead by which St Clare left her former life and family, the door of the Portiuncula which she passed through to receive new life, the door of San Damiano where she spent the remaining years of her life and the door to Eternal Life; the gift of Mercy
Live & give Life
The message which we have chosen for the year is: Live and give Life. Clare was not chosen for herself alone, but to adore God and to intercede for the Church and the world. We, her Sisters, live for others. As ; has Frodo say, at the end of The Lord of the Rings, ‘When things are in danger, someone has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them.’ The falling church of San Damiano where St Francis places St Clare is a thing ‘in danger’ that symbolizes the whole Church. But anything we might give or give up so as to repair it, is minute in comparison with what the Lord gives us: a hundredfold here below and in heaven, eternal life - if not without persecutions.
Called by name
Jesus called Clare to follow him. In Latin to call is ‘vocare’. The Lord calls each one of us, by name; we all have a ‘vocation’ to live in him.
To us, the Lord says, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who on finding one pearl of great value went and sold all he had and bought it.’ (Mt.13:45-46). The pearl of the kingdom is of unlimited value, yes - but it costs not less than everything! Clare sold what she had and gave it to the poor.
We receive a gift of unlimited value in baptism. To be baptized, to be in Christ, comes to us as a gift, and, like all God’s gifts, we have no way of giving anything commensurate to him in return. What he asks us to do is give what we would give him to our brothers and sisters. Love one another as I have loved you (John 13:34), sell what you have and give it to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me (Mt 19:21). Jesus chose the image of a pearl for the kingdom of Heaven.
What is a pearl? Interestingly, it is a minute piece of grit, a tiny irritation that rolls around trying the patience of an oyster. The oyster is like the Church: not always impressive from the outside, but inside she is full of radiance and colour.
The grit inside the oyster gradually picks up the radiance of the inner shell and is slowly absorbed into the pearl and disappears. Not all pearls are perfect, that is, perfectly spherical - some are very odd shapes, but they all shine with the nacre of the parent oyster. We are not all saints who will be canonized, but our Mother, the church has given us all her shine.
Clare is a pearl. Many poets and theologians, like the Franciscan, Alexander of Hales and the author of the medieval mystical poem ‘The Pearl’, have equated pearls with innocence and virginity. Not merely in the superficial, physical sense but with regard to the inner spiritual core of a person’s being; the simple intactness of who a person is; in the place where one encounters God.
Clare invites us to live from our integrity in God. The love of the Lord does not take anything away from our life. He gives us love, freedom and ever widening horizons into the kingdom. Clare says of Christ, ‘When you have loved Him, you shall be chaste; when you have touched Him, you shall become pure; when you have accepted Him, you shall be a virgin.’ Virginity is a person’s future in God.
To pass through an open door is to invite change into your life. To re-phrase the well known words of Blessed John Henry Newman: to love is to change, to love well is to change often, proceeding, as St Paul indicates, from glory to glory.
Wales, where we live, retains more of its prehistoric aspect than any other part of Britain, short of Stonehenge. Prehistoric stone circles can be found at Bryn Cader Faner, Carn Llechart, St Non’s Head and Moel Ty Uchaf amongst others, but stone quoits or Dolmen - two or three enormous stone uprights topped by a third monolith to form an apparent door going into seemingly nowhere, are strewn around all over the Principality. Some like St Illtud’s ‘Bedd’ were converted into hermitages for early Celtic monks, but they are far older and do not seem originally to have been either buildings, tombs or altars. Yet huge effort must have gone into erecting them.
C. S. Lewis is fond of presenting such symbolic doorways in his stories. At the end of ‘Prince Caspian’ the children and others pass through a space like a door frame to return to their own world. In ‘The Last Battle’ the stable door, viewed from the new heaven and earth, is simply a door without a building of any sort; but at the end when it is opened, all creation passes through it.
Clare’s passage through life is marked by four such doors.
The First Door
the Door of the Dead
Clare cannot leave home on the night of Palm Sunday, 1212, by walking through the portal of her family domain on the new Cathedral Square in Assisi, without question, nor can she slip through discretely without compromising, Ioanni de Ventura the Man at Arms on the door who, oddly, was one of the witnesses at her canonization. So, taking with one companion, Clare went to the cellar and with a 'strength she did not know she had', according to the author of her first life, hauled away by main force, the stones and timbers barring the “other door”. This may have been the so-called Door of the Dead which, in Assisi and elsewhere, existed in the houses of those too superstitious to have the deceased leave by the main gate. Clare’s house was the fortified stronghold of seven knights and if this door was not guarded, the household must have considered it sufficiently impregnable to resist attack - at least from the outside! This grim struggle with immovable objects, in the darkness of an underground place is a parable of God’s grace. God gives us the strength to fulfil the call he has given us.
Clare steps out of the dark into the light of the stars and the three-quarter Paschal moon. For her, living God’s call begins in Holy Week, but all her life she will see the Lord’s agony, his crucifixion and death, not in terms of suffering, but in terms of love. She has begun her pilgrimage through the Paschal Mystery into the Clare-clear light of Easter, on her way to the door of the Kingdom of heaven.
The Second Door
the door of the Portiuncula
The Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us. Though those who worship the Father must worship him in Spirit and truth, Christianity is the religion of people and places. Christ really became man. In a real place. In Bethlehem. He really died on Calvary. He really rose from the Sepulchre. Our life is a pilgrimage on which, as St Clare says, ‘The Son of God has become our way.’ He is the Door - as he said himself and he is the Way.
On Clare’s pilgrimage, the Portiuncula is a place like Bethlehem. It is a place to be born. It saw the birth of the fraternity of the Family of the Lesser Brothers. It saw the emergence into light of the real person Clare was to become. It is the Little Portion of the Mother of God, who, in the mystery of God’s choice, took the Franciscan family into her maternal womb. For Mary is, as Francis called her in his Salutation, the Virgin made Church.
Nowhere is Mary more conspicuously the Virgin made Church than in the Portiuncula. One of Pope Benedict’s first gestures was to give the Assisi Basilicas a Cardinal Legate like the four great basilicas in Rome, because, as he wrote in the Moto Propio, Totius orbis, the whole world regards them with special consideration. Before the doorway of the Portiuncula, Blessed John Paul II was the first to gather the world’s religions in a dialogue of peace
This is the place to which Clare came as the seed of a little plant, and from which she departed a great tree in whom the birds of heaven could take refuge. It is the place of her Annunciation and her fiat.
The Third Door
The door of San Damiano
St Clare spent forty one years in San Damiano. She passed through its door as one entering into the life of Jesus. She lived reflected, as her letters say, in the mirror of his birth in poverty, his public ministry, and his death and glorification. His life was reflected in her life of holy poverty and highest unity.
His love was reflected in hers. She prayed and protected her city against the Saracen mercenaries of Vitale d’Aversa. She adored God - and at his request, discerned Francis’ vocation for him when he needed to decide whether he was to be a solitary hermit or a missionary preacher. She healed the sick of body or spirit who came to her. Of her, Pope Gregory IX wrote: ‘You are my one hope on earth.’ And after Francis died she was ‘Our Mother, Sister Clare’, to his faithful brothers, who thus inscribed the breviary made for her. She rebuilt the Church by her life, obeying Christ’s command from the cross of San Damiano, and she fulfilled his prophecy which he made before he had a single brother: 'Here will come to dwell (again) holy women by whose life the Church will be rebuilt.' And it was from San Damiano that Jesus opened for Clare the door into heaven.
The Fourth Door
The Door of Heaven
‘After this I looked,’ St John wrote, ‘and there in Heaven, a door stood open. (Rev.4:1) Heaven must have looked something like earth to the dying Clare. Spectacular in seven dimensions and with a stupendous cast, but the community were still singing ‘day and night without ceasing’, as she and her sisters had done on earth. Seeing this she exclaimed, ‘Vade secura, go forth safely, for you have a good escort. Go for he who created you has made you holy he has sent you his Holy Spirit and has protected you as a mother does her child. He has loved you with a very tender love. Blessed are you O Lord who has created me’
She turned to Sister Amata, who was seated by her bed, and murmured, “Do you see the King of Glory whom I see?”
In her, for all of us, the Spirit and the Bride said, “Come.”
There is no light in the city for the Lamb is its light. The weight of his glory is reflected in the mirror of the saints. This is where Clare’s ‘Yes’ leads. It is an invitation to all of us.
A flame of fire
In our beginning is our ending:
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
and the fire and the rose are one. (TS. Elliot, Four Quartets)
Behind the pearl and the symbolic doorways is a streak of flame, symbolic of the Burning Bush.
Moses was looking after his father-in-law’s sheep, he was fulfilling his obligations to every day life in the wilderness - and we all live in a wilderness. ‘The angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of the bush’ (Ex. 3:1-6)
Moses beheld the bush and took hold of the mysterious reality that the bush was always burning but never consumed. The Lord waited for him to behold the bush and to hold on to the concept before he called him by name. Moses as a name, Scripture tells us, means ‘drawn out of’ - he had been drawn out of the river Nile, but the name of the river was not added to his name and we can say with certainty that before all he was drawn out of God’s heart. Moses beholds and holds and he lets himself be enfolded by God’s call - his ‘vocation’. He answers ‘here I am’, hinayni, in Hebrew; ‘yes’, in other words. He discovers he is on holy ground and like Clare he takes off his sandals.
One of the marks of Poor Clare life is going barefoot, for the whole world is holy ground. For Clare as for Benedict XVI ‘the cross is the Burning Bush’ (Jesus of Nazareth I) In her second letter to St Agnes of Prague, Clare invites us to turn to the Lord and to gaze upon Him, consider Him, contemplate Him. As the original Latin formed a rhyming tag; videre, intuere, contemplare we chose to translate it as behold, hold and enfold. If Francis’ steps to the kingdom of heaven were to listen, behold and enfold, Clare moved toward God by seeing; she spent her life beholding, holding and enfolding the icon of the Crucified and Risen Christ that is the cross of San Damiano to whose voice Francis had listened when God had mandated him to rebuild the Church.
The burning bush is before us; the Lord is with us always and in every place. Clare beholds God’s burning mystery in her life and she invites us to do the same.
The Clare Exhibition 2012
March 16 2012
The Year of Faith 2012-2013
What I don’t believe
I believe it is going to be sunny tomorrow for George’s birthday.
No you don’t! You wish it would be - and if you live in North Wales the chances are that it will rain tomorrow as it did yesterday. Faith is not wishful thinking.
I believe Boots is down the third turning on the right.
That means: I’m guessing! You may follow my directions and end in the River Dee.
I believe in America.
No, America is not an article of faith; it is a fact. You can save up and fly there and establish that fact for yourself.
I believe Alice is no better than she ought to be!
Warning! you are on thin ice, you are repeating gossip. Faith is not hearsay.
I believe God exists. If God was good enough for Grandma; he’s good enough for me.
You are getting warmer, but you are still way off the target. Grandma’s faith may have been marvellous, but God has no grandchildren.
Faith is not wishful thinking, it is not an optimistic guess, it is not a fact that you can prove for yourself, it is not a mere suspicion and it is non-transferable. Which by the way, is what the parable of the wise virgins is about (Matthew 25:2-13). Faith is the fuel that keeps you alight, even when it is very dark, but although it is truly yours and you can witness to it and pray for others to have it, each person must choose it for herself, faith is a substantial thing; it is the substance of things hoped for (Hebrews 11:1)
What I do believe?
Faith is apostolic
The Lord chose witnesses to his life, death and resurrection. The litany of the saints begins with the twelve apostles and when a church is dedicated twelve crosses are set on the walls of the building and blessed. In the creed we proclaim that the Church is one, holy, catholic (that is, universal and worldwide) and apostolic.
In the beginning of his first letter, the apostle John speaks of the nature of the witness he is giving: ‘which we have heard, which we have seen with our own eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched...’
The apostolic community lived with the Lord on earth. We ourselves, have not heard, seen or touched the Lord in that time, when the Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us, but we accept the witness of those who did.
For why on earth should they lie? What possible purpose could be gained by inventing or distorting facts which the first Christian communities made haste to write down? They could have easily been contradicted by their contemporaries. And what (earthly) good did it do to the first witnesses who almost all died violent deaths, refusing to deny what they had seen and heard and touched?
The tradition of the Church is not what Grandma may have personally believed or liked, though she may in fact have been faithful, loving and true, it is what the apostles saw, heard and experienced that the Church presents to those who come to her seeking faith.
Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. Romans 10:17