A chapter conference given by Mother Mary Francis, P.C.C.
The great achievement of our Mother St. Clare was that she made remote values seem near to us and she made ultimate realities immediate. We can assess a person by her sense of values: On what does she really set her heart? What does she value most of all? All around us (and of course, in ourselves), we see such a sorry sense of values when what is desired is the immediate satisfaction of self. Everything that is not immediate seems to have no value. It is, of course, possible to have, alongside of this, sterling ultimate values. I do want to live for God, even if at this moment I am living for myself. I really want and value holiness, but at this moment it demands too much. So my immediate value is my satisfaction, my ease, the triumph of my aggressiveness, the indulgence of my sensitiveness, my moodiness. Dwelling on my self takes precedence over ultimate values, the remote good that I acknowledge but which seems to have little to do with the present situation.
A person is a spiritual person according as ultimate values close in and absorb the immediate value. These immediate values can be for our satisfaction, and God wants our satisfaction. But we become very short-sighted when we believe this is to be achieved in the way we decree: people must change their ways, things must be changed so that we can be satisfied; and the ultimate value – which is true satisfaction – fades out of the picture. But with our holy Mother it was never so. The ultimate values were to her as proximate as the person next to her, as proximate as the present situation. This, I think, accounts for her great light-heartedness. She made remote realities immediate.
What is my reality? God is my reality. And the more immediate he is in the present situation, the more am I the true values-person that she always was.
Now, there are three facets of value. We see the first in the meaning of the word, which comes from the Latin “valere”: to be strong, to be worth something. And so according to what we value, we are strong or weak. We see that very vividly in the Gospel about dear Peter who was invited to walk on the water. He had an ultimate reality. He had a final goal: Jesus was there on the waters and he wanted to be with him. The boat was just too far away. He wanted nothing between him and Christ. This was a sterling value, and he asked that it be achieved. He told the Lord, “I'll do anything at all if you say, ‘Come.’” And our Lord said, “Come!” So Peter set out in this marvelous strength, toward this ultimate reality: Christ, looking at him across the water. And then his feet got wet (as ours so often get wet) and the wind came up (just as we often feel the winds of supposed adversity or real adversity) and the immediate value arose before Peter: I am going to get hurt, I am going to suffer, I am going under. The ultimate value faded out except as a means of deliverance. All his strength was transferred to the present situation: “I am going down!” The fact that Christ was still looking at him diminished in importance until it had no meaning at all. Now it was all Peter: “I'm going down!” And so, seeking to find the strength of values in the present situation, he became weak, and this is just what we do. God is so good to give us dear Peter for our encouragement.
We see this so prominently in our holy Mother: when God said, “Come”, she came. Certainly she had her own interior battles to wage. She is not great because she never struggled – quite the reverse! He said to her as a young girl, “Come”, and she never returned to her family, to the materialities she once had. She just came and kept on coming. Surely she often felt her feet getting wet and felt the wind of adversity in every way. She felt the threats, but she never wavered because the ultimate value of Christ's calling her was always proximate. She was, despite frailty and infirmity of body, a woman of marvelous strength.
The second facet of value is trust. When one lives by the ultimate value, one is equipped to trust. If we find our confidence in the immediate, it will be such a weak thing. We find our confidence in God, where she found hers. She trusted, just as Peter should have trusted, that God would somehow vindicate his own claim. We know that if Christ says, “Walk on the water”, we can walk on the water, and we can keep on walking until we come to him. She never wavered in that strength. Her trust was so adamantine!
And then, the third facet of strength that came from her values was totality. It is only when we make the ultimate value the proximate reality of our daily lives that we can be total persons. She was a total person all her life. At eighteen, she was not about to think this over for five more years. She got up, and she went, leaving everything behind. She was not concerned about the settlement of her estate or whether some of it should be set aside; she was just so total! In the line of materialities, she wore her best dress. This was an impractical thing – surely she should have brought warm, durable clothing for the kind of life she was going to live. But she went dressed for a ball to that little chapel. She wore her best dress for Christ to give it away: a beautiful symbol of everything she was leaving behind. She must have had footgear very unsuitable for that walk to the Portiuncula. Let us linger on these little details, too, and love to think of them.
"I will espouse you in fidelity, and you shall know the LORD".
And then she was total as regards her family. She loved them more than any other earthly tie, but left them and, in the very leaving, found them on a much deeper level, the profound level of the Heart of Christ.
And then, the totality of her vision! Let us think for a moment of the totality she asked of her daughters, the things that shine out in her beautiful, simple Rule. Christ is my spaciousness in the enclosure. He is my riches in poverty. There is this sweeping, free, beautiful totality. When we are not totally given, there is always a weight upon the heart; we always carry luggage in the heart. Even the smallest self-concern is too heavy for one who is called to run as lightly as we are called to run. Through the rocks of life, the crags of temptation, we are spiritually bare-footed. One has to be totally given to do that.
So let us not gather weights. Why, after putting off all concerns, should we put them on again? Let us trust, not in ourselves, not in the circumstances we should like to alter or modify, but in God! And when God says to us each day, in one way or another, “Come! Walk on the water”, we must come, not putting our trust in the weather forecast, in a study of the waves, in research on gravitational pull; our trust is in his word. Because he says “Come”, we can come.
This “Come” will be heard today if we listen, and we can come. Let us not be things-persons, but values-persons, as she was. We can do this by making the remote ideal proximate, the ultimate value immediate. This makes us rejoice. If God is present in the difficulties that arise, we can't brood, though we can certainly suffer. A great ideal unleashes the fullness of human response.
Here is an example of what I mean. Holy Father Francis died when holy Mother Clare was still very young, and so this very strong woman, this woman full of trust, this totally given woman, did not give a false human response. She did not just thank God, who brought him into glory, and go on to carry out his ideal, but she cried and she cried and she cried! This was a warm, human response. They say that Clare could not be stopped from weeping. She got little pieces of cloth to touch to his precious wounds. She wanted, as a true woman, some little memento to keep. So she cried and kept little remembrances, but she went on. She had the full human response enlarged into the divine response. She didn't say, “I can't go on without him”, or “What shall become of us?” She said that, after God, he was their only pillar and support, but now that pillar and support is taken away; we have God alone. And she went on.
This is only one example of how her warm, human response was always enlarged by her response to eternal values. It seems to me that if we are not capable of the valid human response, we cannot arrive at the divine response. She did not step over this. She knew how to cry, she knew how to laugh, and she knew which response was appropriate. Then it was enlarged into the divine response.
So may we be values-persons – strong in making the ultimate immediate, full of trust because the remote is present, and totally given, so that, with her help, we may achieve that joy, that lightness of heart, that unwaveringness that characterize the beautiful woman we call St. Clare.