As Lent begins, we pray with a selection from the Little Flowers of Saint Clare. Like the Little Flowers of Saint Francis, these stories have been collected over the centuries to illustrate the deep faith of Saint Clare and the Poor Ladies of Assisi, who made their home at San Damiano, the little church where the Crucified Christ first spoke to Saint Francis. In this story, Francis responds to Clare’s desire for spiritual direction by offering a profound lesson in humility: that no matter how holy we may appear, each of us must acknowledge our brokenness and pray for the Lord’s compassionate love and mercy. During this Holy Season of Lent, let us be mindful of this lesson and remain steadfast in prayer. Saint Francis, pray for us! Saint Clare, pray for us! Our Lady of Angels, pray for us!
Circle of Ashes
A Story of Francis & Clare
Clare was insistent that Francis should visit the Poor Ladies more frequently. Her convent at the Church of Saint Damian was a stronghold of poverty, chastity, and humility where these three essential vows were kept with great devotion. Indeed, Clare’s fidelity to Francis and his way of life was manifested in a free and obedient observance of these vows and was the foundation of their intimate friendship. Francis knew this. He was well aware of Clare’s integrity and looked upon her as the living image of the gospel ideal. Among those who aspired to follow him, only Clare was capable of such dedication and sacrifice.
From the moment that Clare had shaken off the trammels of her family and the world, she had no uncertainty and no regrets. And she continued to make sure and steady progress in the gospel way of perfection. Although Francis was content with Clare’s spiritual growth, she wanted more advice and guidance. She did not mind a lack of bread, water, or wine, but she suffered from a perceived lack of spiritual direction. But Francis was inclined to leave Clare more alone than ever with her penance and prayer; to leave her completely in the hands of God. Because Clare had so completely cut ties with the world, Francis believed that she was anchored securely to heart of Divine Providence. So, he stopped visiting the Poor Ladies and even encouraged his brothers to refrain from visiting the convent on a regular basis.
Among the brothers, only Bentivenga visited to deliver oil for the sanctuary lamp and to inquire about the material needs of the sisters. Sister Ortolana routinely accepted these gifts at the gate until Clare resolved that the Poor Ladies would receive no further sustenance from the brothers. Without resentment, Clare said to Brother Bentivenga: “If we must provide for our own spiritual nourishment, then we should also provide for our own bodily nourishment.” In this way, Clare confirmed the convent as a stronghold of Christian poverty and severed its last link with the world.
Francis immediately grasped the importance of Clare’s decision. He understood that she and her sisters wanted more guidance from him on the gospel life. They wanted to hear from his own lips one of those discourses that so fed and fired up the soul. Among the olive groves around the convent, they hoped that he would reignite in their midst the mystical fire that burned so brightly among the woods near the Chapel of Saint Mary of the Angels. So, Francis walked from Saint Mary’s to Saint Damian’s and knocked at the door of the convent. Inside, the news spread quickly that Francis had relented and would renew his sacred instruction. Within a few moments, Clare and the Poor Ladies crowed eagerly around their spiritual father. Francis sat silently, seemingly inviting the sisters imitate him. They sat in a circle with him in its center and waited patiently.
In the past, Francis had spoken words that pierced the marrow of their bones. At first, he would be hesitant. But as his fervor increased, Francis shifted from foot to foot as if standing on hot bricks. His discourses were short and his words were full of devotion and pain. When Francis spoke the Holy Name of Jesus, his voice would take on an extraordinary sweetness. And he would trace his tongue over his lips as if that Holy Name had the taste of honey. But now, Francis remained silent. Clare and her sisters waited, expecting a sermon that would come forth like a blessed torrent. Instead, Francis stirred from his meditation and asked for ashes from the kitchen. He then spread them in a circle between himself and the sisters. He sprinkled some on his head. In a sorrowful voice, Francis chanted the Miserere: “Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness. In your compassion, blot out my offense. O wash me more and more from my guilt and cleanse me from my sin…” After singing this penitential psalm, Francis rose from the circle of ashes and left the convent with great humility and reverence. Amen!
For our families & friends, we pray: Hail Mary…
For our parish communities, we pray: Hail Mary…
For our Holy Father, Pope Francis, we pray: Hail Mary…
For our departed brothers & sisters, we pray: Hail Mary…
For the Catholic Church around the world, we pray: Hail Mary…
For more faith, hope, and love in our world, we pray: Hail Mary…
Psalm 51: The Miserere
Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness.
In your compassion blot out my offense.
O wash me more and more from my guilt
and cleanse me from my sin.
My offenses truly I know them;
my sin is always before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned;
what is evil in your sight I have done.
That you may be justified when you give sentence
and be without reproach when you judge,
O see, in guilt I was born, a sinner was I conceived.
Indeed you love truth in the heart:
then in the secret of my heart teach me wisdom.
O purify me, then I shall be clean;
O wash me, I shall be whiter than snow.
Make me hear rejoicing and gladness,
that the bones you have crushed may revive.
From my sins turn away your face
and blot out all of my guilt.
A pure heart create for me, O God,
put a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
nor deprive me of your holy spirit.
Give me again the joy of your help;
with a spirit of fervor sustain me,
that I may teach transgressors your ways
and sinners may return to you.
O rescue me, God, my helper,
and my tongue shall ring out your goodness.
O Lord, open my lips
and my mouth shall declare your praise.
For in sacrifice you take no delight,
burnt offering from me you would refuse,
my sacrifice, a contrite spirit,
a humbled contrite heart you will not spurn.
In your goodness, show favor to Zion:
rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
Then you will be pleased with lawful sacrifice,
holocausts offered on your altar.
Glory to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever.
Saint Francis of Assisi, pray for us!
Saint Clare of Assisi, pray for us!
Our Lady of Angels, pray for us!
Holy Men & Women of Assisi, pray for us!
Founded in 2007, the Assisi Project is a Fellowship of Franciscans in Spirit that seeks to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ through the inspiration of Saint Francis and Saint Clare of Assisi. Our mission is to serve the Church and to give witness to the Good News of Christ through formation and prayer, pilgrimage and retreat, and educating others about our way of life. In 2018, we will lead our eleventh annual fall pilgrimage to Assisi; meet monthly for Mass, faith formation, and faith sharing; and offer adults other opportunities to experience a Franciscan day of prayer and reflection. For more information about the Assisi Project and upcoming opportunities for formation, prayer, and pilgrimage in the Franciscan spiritual tradition, please contact Cliff Garvey at firstname.lastname@example.org. May the Lord give you peace!
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