A Mystic Spirituality of St Clare of Assisi Empowering Women in Contemporary Times. By Father Bernard Bhatti OFM

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Though, it is more than 800 years St Clare of Assisi was born to an elite family of her times. She lived the most comfortable, luxuries and extravagance life ever one could imagine in those times. What amazed me to discover, rediscover and explore her life again being a Franciscan friar is her extreme conversion from one way of life to another. . The Magic of St Clare of Assisi head speaks till today!
This is not an ordinary conversion, adaptation or vocation to live the life she lived and became an iconic personality for all the eternities.
She journeyed from human to a deity. She passed all the exams which as a human one could go through in his/her life to attain the heights of spiritual perfections.
I firmly believe that her conversion must have taken place after reading these verses of St Paul to the Romans 8: 38-39. "And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God's love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow---not even the powers of hell can separate us from God's love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below---indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord".
If we just take a moment to reflect on these verses for a while, focusing fully only on these, I believe that the message being one in Christ will be revealed to us as it was revealed to St Clare of Assisi. This is an invitation to live one's life with single mindedness. Nothing else but only Christ, the sole persistence of one's life!
She followed the same pattern of Christ himself as one asked him in the Gospel of St Matthews 22: 36-40... 36 "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" 37 Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
She was clanged to this very aspect of love and could not ever come out of it ever in her life. She fell into bottomless love where you only experience falling and never touch the ground. Why I am saying this because she had already seen St Francis of Assisi in her life, because when he was dying he said to his brothers "Let's start again up till now we have done nothing". She knew the meaning of that very life, that encountering God face to face is essential, to live the life of the Gospel, one has to start afresh, it is a new beginning, falling in love again and again with Christ. It contains newness in it. Knowing more and more of Him, and yet you don't know Him fully. One finds something new and life-giving all the time.
St Augustine of Hippo also experience the same while explaining the 'Holy Trinity' as he says "I know it but I cannot explain it", St Clare knew the love of Christ, being in Love with him, but she was not able to explain it fully in words. The fullness of love can be seen in her life, because she lived it, in every moment of her life.
If one is in love and don't have a crush of a teenager, getting crazy for everything of the beloved, can't be in love. This love will be matured after being hurt deep down with the same love of Christ.
St Clare of Assisi surrender herself faithfully like mother Mary, 'let it be done to me according to Your Will', to that very love of Christ, which transformed her life and whoever came in contact with her. It was contagious love. Once in contact one will start experiencing the same immensity.
The other powerful aspect of this very life of St Clare of Assisi is that one has to be faithful, no matter what happens, and she did it by going against the currents of her elite lifestyle. There must be lot of tension going on in her house due to her behaving that way, which is not probably recorded. The recorded history of her conversion might be a bit of it, but what was going inside hers must be totally different what we can comprehend and read about.
There must be many sleepless nights, just pondering what I am up too, or what is happening to me, what do I really want in my life, why am I acting and reacting this way, may be my family, dignity, and respect is more important than what I am thinking to live, a different life. Shall I accept my family's decisions? Many more endless crazy questions must have surrounded her.
And to gain that very spark of love and the flame of love starts sparkling high and high and she must be running out of her room, saying to herself no, no, I will live my love, what have these hurts, pains, suffering tensions, beating can do to me. I can't live the life of lifelessness. I will live for my love only and only.
The true deep down love burst out in tears without knowing the reason, but still, knowing why this is happening, without understanding it. If the overflow of love is explained in words it cannot be a love. It carries all kinds of emotions, sentiments, passions and feelings, deep down in one to be one with the beloved. John 17:21. "that, all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me". St Clare of Assisi was very clear for what she had chosen to live her life, and the beauty of it is that she lived and became one with the Lord.
She went through that very often being living in her house. The pain of love inside hers is immense and immeasurable. It can be seen in the eyes, on face, in every act of the one who is in love. She Clare of Assisi knew the cost of it. She knew that her life may be taken from her, but there is no way back from it, only one way and that is going forward.
The other thing which can be observed that love makes lovers very brave, they don't fear, they don't care about the status quo of themselves, or of the society, which is not an easy thing to do. One has to be irrational to do that. And St Clare of Assisi did that.
Who is Mystic: -
Mystic is the one who becomes the lover and beloved at the same time. It is not what he/she wants to be. It is a journey from self to selflessness. It is to surrender oneself to the will of the lover and to become lover and beloved at the same time. It is the one who is ready to seek and get connected to the absolute truthfulness. It is to lose everything and gaining and attaining perfection in the love of the beloved. It is when one becomes mirror of the beloved. It is to see clearly; it is to meet the beloved face to face. 1Cor: 13: 12 "For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known".
St Clare of Assisi reach to this extent where she could see what others can't see what she could perceive, the others could not even imagine of it. It is a call from the beloved which can only be heard who belongs to Him. It is to live the image of God, which was distorted, in the Garden of Eden. A mystic is led toward God, in God, and to live the godly life as human. "Through him, with him, in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, almighty Father, forever and ever." It is to connect to the spirit of God, in every breath we inhale and exhale.
The mystical life of St Clare of Assisi can be seen in every aspect of her life. She traveled from secularity to spirituality focusing Christ as her sole goal of life. Looking and gazing upon the Holy Eucharist she experiences the transcendental state. For many people that could be paranormal but for a mystic it is normal to be with the beloved.
It is to go through endless quench and thirst seeking and looking for the Will of the lover. St Clare of Assisi kept on seeking the presence of the Lord as she says in her first letter to Agnes of Prague v.4. "I greatly rejoice and exult in the Lord. I am not alone in rejoicing at such great news, but I am joined by all who serve and seek to serve Jesus Christ".
Being a mystic, she could see the holiness and goodness in others too. This is a great sign of a mystic that nothing remains hidden from them in their own selves and others too. They can see through all the aspects of human emotions, feelings present in one.
For a mystic both physical and spiritual touch of a lover brings joy to their inner self. As she says to Agnes of Prague in her first letter V.7-9 to her, "Thus You took a spouse of a more noble lineage, Who will keep Your virginity ever unspotted and unsullied, the Lord Jesus Christ.
8 When You have loved Him, You shall be chaste; when You have touched Him, You shall become pure; when You have accepted Him, You shall be a virgin.
Whose power is stronger, whose generosity is more abundant, Whose appearance more beautiful, Whose love more tender, Whose courtesy more gracious".
The mystic cannot live his/her life in the limitation of human body, both physical and mental. The mystic will grow out of it, to become the limitless. The mystic have the ability seeing beyond. St Clare of Assisi was able to see the life of Agnes of Prague though there was no physical contact amongst them. This is what make one the mystic, to be able to feel the impulses of others.
If we look into the life of St Francis of Assisi, who understood him the most, not his brothers, who were living day and night together with him. The Brothers mostly misunderstood him, but St Clare of Assisi was able to see inside of St Francis of Assisi and understood him fully, that can only be done by a mystic. Like the scripture says in Jeremiah 1:5 "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations."
A mystic cannot be mystic if he/she is not misunderstood. Their will is not theirs; it belongs to the Will of 'Divine' they cannot run away from it even if they want too, like Jeremiah 20:09, says "But if I say, "I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name," his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot".
St Clare of Assisi was so firm that no one could ever change her mind, which can be seen when she wrote her rule, she waited and waited only two days before her death, the pope Innocent IV finally approved her rule to live the life of prayer and poverty.
To be a mystic is a call and invitation from St Clare of Assisi. It does not need any special ability or telnet to be like her. It is to be open to listen to the inner voice of 'Divine' within yourself, and let that voice to make you and mold you both inside and out, the way Divine has fashioned you for.
It is to establish our relationship with the Lord, no matter who you are what you are where you are, just be present to Him and his call in prayer, medication, and contemplation to His Words, and pondering upon the Holy Eucharist Like, St Francis of Assisi, St Clare of Assisi, and many more to make Christ the center of our lives. As she says 'Gaze upon the Lord', which means letting God to sink in, without using words!
Empowering Women in Contemporary Times
How can I be empowered in modern times? When I am bombarded with so much of worldly attractions of the world. It creates such a massive pressure in one self, to be like others rich and elite. It also leads to the longings of the modern sophisticated material substance to have in life, which become great hindrance, to think or to see anything else in life, beyond this.
I think it is a question of realization ones inner and outer necessities of life. If I am not ready to realize what do I really want in my life. I will become blind follower and salve to this unending wishes circle of greed, it will create in one the craving of constant hunger and thirst to grab everything around.
This kind of mentality will create a society of consumerism, where one is ready to buy everything, even if not needed. The human psychology, emotions and feelings are exploited using all types of media advertisements that one will be only happy if they have more material stuff, even if one does not need it. Like they say, 'More is Better'. Just look into our houses or room where we live they almost have turn into stores, we don't have a house to live we have a house in a store, isn't it.
This is one of the biggest challenges for us all. It is time to make conscious choices, saying to one it is enough what I have, every time I go out to the market I have to remind myself what I really want and what do I really need.
The women cannot be empowered if they are not ready to play in the hands of the consumer society all around them. Wherever we go more than 80% stuff in the markets is only for women, and it leads to them into a false projection that whatever you have already is out of fashion or not enough.
If one has to compete with the world they need to have what we are offering them. It is such a trap, that once we are caught into it, seems impossible to come out of it. These things have altered the concept of ancient enslavement into new forms of slavery. Now everyone in the family has to work to pay for the things which we hardly use in our houses. And we are taught, to live with this fake concept of freedom and liberty. Is it really a freedom or liberty? The question arises.
In all this does not mean that we lose hope or there is no hope, 'it is never too late' if one is ready to realize it and ready to challenge.
Hope is the key to transform oneself in any kind of tough circumstances around us. Weather, it is socio-economic, political, cultural or religious situations.
Throughout the history of humankind this is strongly observed that in every area of life, women have given the new direction to the society. Though, often the role of women was not as highlighted as it is now, that is due to the male dominant society in every part of the world. However the 19th and 20th centuries have played the great role to highlight the power of the women. Many a times this role of women in this modern age is seen as insurgence toward the ancient customs of the society. They only have to serve in the family as mothers, sisters, or wives, that is more sitting behind the curtains and function from there. The modern era has taken away the curtain so that women also to be part of the day to day life as equal levels. But still a lot has to be done to recognize their potentials in the society as equals.
Empowering Dynamics of St Clare of Assisi for Modern Era
· St. Clare of Assisi was born into a wealthy Italian family in 1193. · Your Birth is not in one's control and must not determine what one wants in his/her life.
· St Clare of Assisi left her lavish lifestyle to live the life of devotion and simplicity. · This is one of the biggest challenges one has to face. A time to take a mature and lasting decision in one's life.
· St Clare of Assisi fled her home and joined Francis of Assisi. · Once a mature step is taken than not to look back or to regret on it. The choice has to be clear after much realistic prayer, meditation contemplation and reflection.
· St Clare of Assisi established her own religious order. · Making a realistic and practical decision and to be ready to establish one's own life, surrounding to God.
· After the death of St Francis of Assisi, St Clare of Assisi continued his work and broadened her own influence. · A nonstop following the vision is the most significant. Staying in constant achieving mode is the key.
· St Clare of Assisi also showed early on that her calling would involve helping the poor, as she set aside food from her family table to give to the needy on the streets. · Generosity is the key to go forward with the realistic vision and set goal. One has dedicated oneself to, and involving underprivileged is the success, for inner peace and happiness.
· St Clare of Assisi's sister Agnes soon joined her, and they moved to the Church of San Damiano, recently rebuilt by Francis. It wasn't long before other women joined them, and San Damiano's residents, known for their ascetic lifestyle, became known as the "Poor Ladies." · Once your realistic goal is set. One becomes one man army, and it will attract many to follow the same spirit and life one is living, seeing the goodness in it.
· Clare became the abbess of San Damiano in 1216, and, while spending her days doing manual labor and praying, she began dedicating much of her time to changing the governing rule (established by the pope) of the order from the Benedictine spirit to one of the newly established Franciscan rule. (Two days before Clare died; Pope Innocent IV finally approved her request.) The order became known for its life of abject poverty and committed life of prayer, prayer that Clare used to attain worldly victories that are credited with saving Assisi on two occasions. · Your personal commitment, conviction and firm faith can move the mountains. This is what St Clare of Assisi is known for. She was able to shake the church for the newness of Gospel life. Sign of great power and surrounding herself to God and His people. James 1:12 "Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him".
Paradoxical Discrimination of the Society towards Women
It is amazing to see that women are accepted as deities, worshiped and venerated in all the minor and major religions. There are many proverbs which honor women, be inspired, some examples are here. Swami Vivekananda one of the most influential and renowned mystic and Guru of all time in Hinduism says that, "An enlightened woman is a source of infinite energy" Sir William Golding the Nobel laureate goes beyond while explaining the dignity and the role of women in this very era. He says that, "I think women are foolish to pretend they are equal to men, they are far superior and always have been. Whatever you give a woman, she will make it greater. If you give her sperm, she will give you a baby. If you give her a house, she will give you a home. If you give her groceries, she will give you a meal. If you give her a smile, she will give you her heart. She multiplies and enlarges what is given to her."
But at the same time the reality of treating women in day to day life is totally different. In every society they are seen as low creatures than the men. The level of discrimination could be different from country to country and culture to culture. But the reality is that the discrimination is there in all its forms. Discrimination is present in the family's atmospheres. Fathers and Brothers are treated better tensionally or intentionally no matter how much you try to treat equally both genders. Why this happens, because it is part of the unconscious mind from centuries, it is something that human genes have learnt to act and react that way, of which one might not be aware. It is present in every field of life; the intensity could be different from one place to another. As long as we know the human recorded history we can count the number of women, who had done something extraordinary in some fields, compare to the countless number of men who are present in the recorded history.
The biggest challenge is who and how can I transform it in my own reality of life. The first step, everything cannot be changed, overnight. The transformation will take place from my own self, how do I treat my female members in family, neighborhood, workplaces, in day to day interactions with women. Once I am aware of it, my human genes will start learning this new behavior and which will be transferred from one generation to another

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