Poor Clares celebrate 800 years with Mass and gathering at St. Clare's Monastery in Mission
By Nathan Rumohr
Not many groups can commemorate an 800th anniversary, but the archdiocese's Poor Clares have been doing that for the past year. On Aug. 12 they honoured their order's founding as Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, celebrated Mass at the Poor Clare monastery in Mission, recognizing their beginnings in 1212.
"The contemplative life demonstrated by the Poor Clares is a constant reminder that God gives full meaning and joy to human lives," said the archbishop.
"Following in the steps of their beloved foundress, the Poor Clares have sought the Lord and brought to realization that experience of God Who tells us to taste and see that the Lord is good," Archbishop Miller said during his homily.
"Innumerable women, like our beloved sisters in Mission, have throughout history consecrated themselves to God, and we are all grateful beneficiaries of what they bring to the Church and to the world."
Archbishop Miller said the sisters' lifestyle speaks louder than words in showing the faithful the way to the "heavenly Jerusalem."
He said the sisters also remind the faithful of their call to holiness through their dedication to living in the presence of God. He called their lifestyle a "foreshadowing of the goal to which the entire community of the Church is journeying."
The Mass ended a year of celebration of the founding of the order, when St. Clare abandoned the life of her noble family to serve God as a religious in 1212. Born to a rich family in the city of Assisi, St. Clare had lived a pious life from an early age.
At 18 St. Clare was to be wed to a suitor chosen by her parents, but the young saint yearned for the holy life instead. She begged St. Francis of Assisi, who was teaching in the town, to help her to leave the worldly life and to start a new life serving God.
St. Francis saw the young Clare as a soul chosen by God who would do great things and lead many to holiness. He told St. Clare to dress very well and walk among the crowds on Palm Sunday, ironically displaying the beauty that was to be consecrated to holy life. Then she was to leave Assisi the following evening.
St. Clare secretly left her home, accompanied by her aunt and another companion. She met up with St. Francis and his followers at the Portiuncula chapel. There St. Francis cut her hair (a tradition that remains to this day) and dressed her in a rough penitential habit.
Archbishop Miller said St. Francis taught St. Clare that God is true beauty.
"Clare's heart was lit with this splendour, and that's what gave her the courage to let her hair be cut and to embark on this new life," Archbishop Miller said. "From that Palm Sunday on the young Clare became the virgin bride of Christ: humble, poor, and consecrated radically and totally to Him. So began the Poor Clares."
Settling at the poor chapel of San Damiano, Clare lived out her days as a cloistered religious. Many women were inspired by St. Clare's life of poverty, chastity, obedience, and enclosure. In her lifetime 165 convents were erected. Since then thousands more have come into being.
To mark the anniversary, Pope Benedict XVI announced a Clarian Jubilee Year beginning on Palm Sunday 2011. The Pope granted a plenary indulgence throughout the year which could be gained once per day by the Poor Clare sisters or by the lay faithful who visited a church or monastery attached to the Order of St. Clare. The plenary indulgence could be offered for oneself or for the dead.
"This is a phenomenal year for us," said Poor Clare vocation directress Sister Claire Marie Blondin. She said many of the sisters offered their indulgences for souls in purgatory.
"The Holy Father wanted to empty out purgatory this year," she joked.
A final plenary indulgence of the jubilee year was available after Mass.
The Poor Clare Order was established in British Columbia in 1911 in Victoria. In 1950 a monastery was established in the Archdiocese of Vancouver by four of the sisters from the Victoria diocese. The sisters finally settled in Mission near Westminster Abbey in 1962.
The sisters' vow of enclosure was visible in their chapel; a steel-gated divider separated the sisters from the lay faithful attending the Mass. The sisters leave the monastery only for medical emergencies or extraordinary circumstances. Their days are dedicated to prayer, especially for the petitions of Vancouver Catholics.
"The Poor Clares tell all of us that our true riches lie in Christ in the Gospel," Archbishop Miller said, "not in the clutter of our lives that in the end don't satisfy us anyway."