It was August 11, 1993. I had just taken lunch at St. Francis Friary, our Franciscan headquarters. I worked as an editor and writer at St. Anthony Messenger for many years. After lunch, I stopped to say a prayer in the friary chapel. At the foot of the altar, I noticed a picture of Saints Francis and Clare of Assisi standing together. The picture had been placed there because of Clare’s feast, which is August 11.
With the support of Saint Francis, Saint Clare found the order of Franciscan women who became known as the Poor Clares, or simply Clares. August 11, 1993, was also the date on which the worldwide Franciscan family had chosen to celebrate the 800th anniversary of Clare’s birth.
The daughter of a noble family living in Assisi, Clare was known for her deep spirituality and love for the poor. Her heart was attracted to the radical way of life preached by Francis. One night, to the dismay of her family, Clare secretly met Francis and his small band of brothers to commit her life to God and to begin a community of women devoted to living the gospel. Clare and the holy women who followed her—and who continue to follow her in our day—have always been a revered part of the Franciscan movement. The Clares serve as vibrant models of contemplative prayer that all Franciscan seek.
A Feast-Day Favor
Clare, whose name means “light” or “bright,” has indeed been a brilliant source of light for the Franciscan Order and the Church. As I sat there looking at the picture of Clare and Francis, I asked Clare a favor on the occasion of her feast: Would she, in her goodness, share with me some light and advice on prayer and contemplative union with God?
Almost immediately, the realization came to me that if our prayer lacks vitality at times, it is because we are not relating to God, but only to concepts of God. The best prayer is not one that is satisfied with ideas about God, but one which seeks only the living God!
Suddenly, my awareness shifted. I left behind my ideas and concepts, and simply sat in the realness of God—the God of beauty, the God of far-flung galaxies and vast oceans, the God of all nations and peoples of all centuries. During that gifted moment of prayer, the vastness and goodness of God touched me, not just theological concepts of these mysteries. I felt high—and at one with God.
The experience helped me understand why St. Francis spent whole nights in prayer, simply repeating “My God and My All!” He was not analyzing concepts of God. He was embracing no one less than the Most High God, who is lovelier and more vast and mysterious than any word or concept—the God who “is not far from any one of us, in whom ‘we live and move and have our being’” (Acts 17:27b-28).
Like Staring at a Sunset
It made me recall that prayer can be as simple and as silent as a loving couple holding hands and sitting in silent admiration before a sunset. It’s an experience—a relationship—and not an exercise in thinking. There is no need for words or thoughts. The couple is content simply to rest quietly and lovingly in each other’s presence.
Evaluating our prayer experiences, I know, is tricky. Prayer cannot be judged on the basis of “highs” or “feel-good” experiences. All I can say is that, for me, my experience on Clare’s feast day was truly one of those lights that God gives each of us on our personal journeys. To this day, I consider it a special gift from Clare.
Prayer to Experience the Living God
My God and My All, you are so much more vibrant than our weak ideas of you.
Free us from the prison of our narrow preconceptions and stereotypes and let the real “us” embrace the real “you” as you are!
Praise and honor and glory to you forever and ever. Amen.