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Peace in Complete Surrender
A chapter conference given by Mother Mary Francis, P.C.C.

“Look at Him, keep on gazing upon Him,
contemplate Him, yearning to imitate Him.”
(St. Clare’s Second Letter to St. Agnes)

There were three themes given me by our dear Lord for this special chapter. And I wondered of which one he wished me to speak. I took this problem to him for a solution, and he seemed to make it clear that there was no problem, that these three belonged together.

And I see these three themes do indeed belong together. The first is that great word of our holy Mother Clare, “Love him in complete surrender.” Every word is so important. It is not a servile giving. It is not a required surrender. It is loving. We love him, and therefore we surrender. The word “complete” is vitally important, because when surrender is painful, it is because it is not complete. If it is complete it may be suffering, but it will not be painful. It will not be anything involving turmoil. The second theme came out of our holy Mother's great givenness, totally occupied with what she was supposed to do. So there was the theme of total activity, total occupation. The third theme is adoration. Adoration is the overspill of our love of God.

Surrender is always a work of love. We may be brought in to a kind of service, an unwilling service, as so many are in the world, but this is not surrender. Surrender is something that I myself decide upon. When an army surrenders to the enemy it is because they have decided this is the best thing to do. Our surrender is never to an enemy unless we would choose it to be so. But it is to God. It is something that we decide upon. One can never force surrender. And so sometimes in war, forces that see they are outnumbered will not surrender. They would rather die than surrender. We would rather die than not surrender. It is a free choice, a free gift, and it must be complete. Now in the secular sense there are usually terms of surrender, so that armed forces will say through their generals, “We will surrender to you if and if and if.” Lifting this to the spiritual plane we see that sometimes our surrender is like this. “Yes, I will surrender my will, I will surrender my heart, I will surrender my spirit, if and if and if.” This is not what our holy Mother is talking about. “Love him in complete surrender.” Complete. And when love's surrender is complete it is immensely rewarding, it is the fountain of happiness within us. When there is anything grudging or anything that demands terms in spiritual surrender it is already doomed. In time we will chafe at a surrender which has never been true because it is not complete.

Now, man has always been concerned (I guess I should show how modern I am by saying “persons” have always been concerned) with rights. There is something basically very correct in this. In the Declaration of Independence, we have that wonderful statement we all memorized as little children in grade school, “that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.” They just cannot be taken away, they belong to the nature of human beings: the right to life, the right to liberty, and the right to the pursuit of happiness. Now, we surrender in our religious vocation, in our life as daughters of our Mother St. Clare, the right to direct our own life. This is not surrendering the inalienable, because it is truly inalienable, but it is taking life to a much deeper level. I freely desire to have my life totally directed by God, through the Church, through the charism of Francis and Clare and through my superiors who take their place, however poorly or unworthily, but still do take their place. And so this is a tremendous assertion of my right to life. My right to life is only actuated in that complete surrender to Christ. He said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” So how can one exercise one's inalienable right to life unless one is totally immersed in Jesus, who is the Life? If we are not, if we are outside of Jesus, we are that much lacking in life. We should burn these words into our hearts. “I am the Life.” Our holy Mother understood that so well, and that is why she said, “complete surrender.” Just, as it were, dive into Jesus, immerse yourself into the Beloved, that you may have life. Again he says, “I have come that you may have life, and may have it more abundantly.” For life outside of immersion, of total surrender in him, is less than life. And so we respond in complete surrender.

For Poor Clares,
bellsong is recognized as
the voice of the Bridegroom
summoning us to do his Will.

Then, the right to liberty. How many in our times are deprived of their outward liberty. How many thousands and millions we have in the world today whose external liberty has been taken from them. But there is the internal liberty which no one except ourselves can ever take from us. Each one of us is the only person who can really constrict her liberty. Our holy Mother knew that real liberty is found in Christ, in total givenness to our dear Lord. She tells us that to have this life in him we must go the narrow way. “Narrow is the path that leads to life.” She doesn't hem and haw about this: narrow is the path which leads to life. He says, “I am the way. I am life, I am the way to life. I am the whole thing.” I choose to respond. I was called, individually, personally, by Jesus. I choose with his grace to respond, I find that liberty to do what I said I would do. One is certainly not free when one says, “I will do it” and then refuses to do it. That is just the very opposite of liberty. I am so constricted by my own willfulness, my passion, my own niggardliness, my own self-involvement, that I just don't have any freedom. I am not free enough to do these things. We find the right to liberty on a deep level, a deeper level than many understand.

The hair of a newly-clothed novice,
encircling her crucifix, is placed on
the altar step in the nuns’ choir on
the day of her investiture ceremony.

Then, the pursuit of happiness – such a beautiful word, pursuit. We should be in hot pursuit of God, who alone is the Source of our happiness. And when we are in hot pursuit of God and his dear will, we are inevitably and invariably in pursuit of others' peace and happiness, and thus in hot pursuit of our own. Happiness comes of giving, and that leads me into that second point of reflection: that our Mother was totally occupied in what she was supposed to do. This complete surrender is a passivity of the highest kind, that is, I choose to be surrendered. And true passivity of this kind is of course the highest activity. When we are completely given it isn't that we sit around and wait for something to happen. That certainly isn't spiritual passivity. When I am completely surrendered I am totally occupied with what I am supposed to be doing. And this is why Clare is so great. She responded to God through the words of our Father St. Francis who was, after God, her only pillar and support. The rest of her life was spent in being completely surrendered to that surrender, and in being totally occupied with what she was called to do. We are in pursuit of happiness when we are completely surrendered, when we are in hot pursuit of what we have promised to do, and when we are totally occupied with what we are supposed to be doing. This brings the beautiful accompaniment of a downpour of God's grace. There must be this downpour in our life, this completeness, this totality. Happiness is not a phantom - like pursuit, but it is a hot pursuit in a firm choice, a spirited race, not an unmapped foolish riding off in all directions.

We go on to the third point: adoration, which is a consequence of faith. Our Father St. Francis knew this so well. When he came into the presence of the Blessed Sacrament he really believed that our dear Lord was physically present. God was present, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, so he fell down in adoration. We come into the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, we believe, and as a consequence, we must adore. Where there is not that impulse towards adoration, it is because faith has weakened, has slackened, and perhaps is near death. This lack of faith shows in other areas: the lack of faith in Christ's Vicar, the lack of faith in the Church's magisterium. This is always partnered with a lack of adoration. When we believe, we must adore. Adoration is the overspill of our love for God. It is also a consequence of faith. That consequence of adoration must be exercised. We go down prostrate before God in body and spirit, in heart. We are just totally prostrate before God in complete surrender, in adoration. This must be exercised.

I think a clear figure of this is some small infirmity, for example, with the knee. If it has been injured, then to kneel again, to prostrate, one has to practice and practice. How much more on the spiritual level. If we are not posturing ourselves in adoration we will lose the facility to do so. That adoration of the heart must be repeated over and over. We must bring this into all the details of every day.

There is so much to ponder about loving in complete surrender. Never leave out the adjective. Surrender is not just unrewarding, but it is not real surrender in our spiritual life unless it is complete, unless it is the work of love. Let us never be partially occupied with what we are supposed to do, but totally occupied like our Mother, in what we are supposed to do. She was always there all the time, completely surrendered, totally given, totally occupied. We don't need anyone to prove to us that she was totally occupied with praising God at the Divine Office. She was totally occupied with him in prayer. She was totally occupied with the love of her sisters, so much that she would get up in the middle of the night when the weather changed to see if everyone had enough blankets. She was so totally occupied, that she would work miracles not just to feed them, but to give them what she considered indispensable as an Italian woman: they had to have olive oil. This is such a dear human touch. You cannot eat without olive oil. So she worked the miracle of filling the jar for the olive oil.

“Living in obedience,
in poverty, and in chastity;
and I vow to observe enclosure.”

Clare was totally occupied with God's desire to be praised by her, worshiped by her, adored by her; totally occupied with the needs of her sisters, because these are always enmeshed, they can never be separated. If we were ever to think, “I am totally occupied with God, but I cannot be distracted by the needs of others” we are greatly, fatally mistaken. Nor can we ever think, as some tend to do in our tune, “I have to be so occupied with social justice, with doing this and doing that, and I really do not have time to pray; my work is my prayer.” This is an equal heresy. When we are completely surrendered, totally occupied, these two mesh together. These two are totally consonant.

Let us remind ourselves and remind one another by our manner of living that there is peace only in complete surrender. We will never find peace in a partial surrender, a grudging surrender. But we will find it as a work of love in complete surrender. We will find rest and fulfillment in being totally occupied with what we are called to do, with what we have promised to do. Keep always that posture of the heart, adoring before God, adoring before his holy will. “I admonish, and pray, and exhort you,” my daughters, and my own poor self, that we love in complete surrender, that we be totally occupied with what we are called to do, and that by faithful practice we keep always the agility of the heart to fall prostrate in adoration of God and his most dear will. In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Solemn profession





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