“Amen, Amen, without turning back!”
“Love is not Loved!” bemoaned St. Francis. The fact that so few love Our Good God with the love we ought led St. Clare and her followers to this day to give their entire life to God, that they might love Him fully who is Love itself, who gave His life for us. What a beautiful gift of love and devotion. The dedication of the followers of St. Clare is carried out through the numerous orders who today follow in her footsteps. The original order, the Poor Clares (OSC) follow the “Rule of St. Clare,” which was approved by Pope Innocent IV the day before St. Clare died in 1253. Other branches of the followers of St. Clare are the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration (PCPA) (originally known as the Franciscan Nuns of the Blessed Sacrament, founded in 1854, counting Mother Angelica among its members), the Capuchin Poor Clares, and the Colettine Poor Clares (PCC). This is a general look at the life of all these ladies dedicated to the work of God, and the tradition of St. Clare.
The life of a Poor Clare is one of Joy and Peace. The simplicity of their order is beautiful, and is easily seen by one who visits a Poor Clare monastery. One senses there that it is a place set apart, that something holy and splendid exists here. Theirs is a life called by God, wholly devoted to Him and his people He has called them to love and receive His love. Their life is devoted to Him that “Love might be loved”.
One of the questions asked of a woman, when she takes her first simple (temporary) vows, nicely summarizes the Poor Clare life and mission:
“Do you wish to dedicate yourself to God alone in the solitude and silence of the enclosure, in persevering prayer and generous penance, in good works and humble daily toil, united in love with all your sisters, for the sake of the kingdom of God and all His holy people?”
Poor Clares indeed live a life of solitude, enclosed in a monastery, not closed off from the world, rather “set apart” for the service of God. We sometimes look with uncertainty upon the things we do not understand, some to perceive the cloistered* life in a negative light. However, once we see why they are enclosed, and the fruits of the enclosure, we can see that it is for a good. The purpose of the cloister is not to close out the world or be “anti-social”, but to draw near to God to unite their life to Him, for His sake, but also as a gift for us, who are out in the world. The unity fostered by each one giving their part and working together in order each day brings strength and grace, and unites them in the work of God. Just as one can see with any well-ordered organization or family, where all work together in peace, there is a harmony which one can truly admire and appreciate. So it is with cloistered religious. *(For those wondering what the word “cloister” means; it is an enclosure or place of seclusion for nuns or monks inside a monastic establishment.)
Cloistered religious are like a chain that stretches around the world, not a chain to close out or exclude, but a chain that unifies, a chain that unites us to God through their prayers for us all. Every day, throughout the day, they pray, together and privately, for those who ask their prayers and for those in need throughout the world. The graces gained through this gift of love and prayer are greater than we can truly know this side of heaven. We treasure these dear ladies and the joyful love they show, and in this tribute to them we hope to help you see the wonder of the gift of a vocation to the religious life. We do not suppose ourselves to speak here for the Poor Clares, or any particular monastery or group, merely to give a tribute, inadequate as it may be, to the followers of St. Clare and their example of dedication and devotion to Our Lord, and to thank them for answering His call!
In a world that so often closes God out, where most seek to separate Him from their day to day lives, as though He has no place or business there, the Poor Clare stands for us as a reminder that He is the very reason for our life, and to be honored in all we do. Our Lord should not be a mere afterthought, coming at the end of our list of life’s priorities, but the major focus in our days; He deserves to be first in all we do, as He gave His ALL for us. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.”(Matthew 6: 33) The Poor Clare nuns show us how to put our priorities in order. Truly, if it were not for God we would not even be here this moment. (If you do not believe this, think of your heart. Can you cause it to stop or start at your own whim? No, it is our God who makes our heart to beat within our mother’s womb, and continues it without any effort of ours until He calls us at the end of our days.)
So often we are inclined to put material things first. Poor Clares are truly unique in that they leave it all behind, owning nothing at all. They desire only the riches of God’s love and grace. Christ chose to do the same, giving up all, allowing Himself to be nailed to a cross, so that the Love of God might triumph over death and sin, so we might be saved. The crown of thorns a Poor Clare receives at her solemn profession symbolizes their bridal union with a Crucified Spouse and their desire to give their lives, in union with His, for the salvation of the world.
Some may think this life would be sorrowful or a trial, but to the Poor Clare it is truly a life of joy. Throughout history so many saints and religious have found the blessed truth that when you sacrifice all to give to others, in dedication to the Lord the reward is a joyful spirit and freedom. Truly, anyone who meets them will tell you that Poor Clare nuns are the most joyful, well-adjusted ladies they have met. They are not a person running from the world, but turning towards the joy of life the service of God. The life they live is not a burden, but actually one of liberation from the troubles of this world, in the freedom of living only to serve God and His people in love. In the poverty they embrace they do not have to worry so much about “things”, and are thus free to go peacefully about each day with order, and joyful service and solitude, in union with one another and with God. “In solitude and silence, in persevering prayer and willing penance, in humble manual labor and contemplative study, in the intense community life of the cloister, the Poor Clare proclaims to the world that in God alone do we find hope and joy, fulfillment and peace.”
Many ask, “Isn’t the cloistered life a waste, they could be doing so much good to help the poor, the sick, orphans, etc.?” To that we answer, no it is not a waste. It is through prayer that graces are gained, and miracles given. It is the prayer of cloistered religious that supports the work of the active religious out “on the front lines”, so to speak. Many a priest or nun will tell you the value of their cloistered brothers and sisters, who intercede for them daily before the throne of God. The cloistered religious does not join the religious life solely for the sanctification of their own soul, although that is one of the blessings of their calling. They receive the call to support Holy Mother Church, and answer it with a resounding “Yes!”, in the complete gift of their lives. Their continual prayers and sacrifices support our priests and missionaries, our bishops, cardinals, and yes, each of the lay faithful in their daily lives. It is their adoration of Our Lord, their close union with Him, their prayers and sacrifices that are the hidden bulwark of the Church. It is precisely in this life of hidden prayer that the contemplative is a missionary, consumed with a burning desire for the salvation and sanctification of souls.
As a community of prayer, the Poor Clares have a highly structured daily schedule that conforms to the Church’s traditional cycle of public prayer. The schedule of one monastery is below, others are similar, one thing that remains the same in each is that there is a schedule and order to the day (changing at times for special circumstances), focused around the hours of prayer, the fiber of the contemplative life.
- Midnight: Rise for Night Office
- 1:20 AM: Return to bed
- 4:30 AM: Rise for Morning Praise
- 5:30 AM: Breakfast – bread & coffee
- 6:00 AM: Lectio Divina (prayerful reading of the Scriptures)
- 7:00 AM: Mass
- 8:00 AM: Midmorning prayer
- 8:30 AM: Study
- 9:00 AM: Community work
- 10:40 AM: Mid-day prayer
- 11:20 AM: Dinner (main meal)
- 12:50 PM: Rosary and Mid-afternoon prayer
- 1:40 PM: Work
- 4:05 PM: Evening Prayer (Vespers)
- 5:15 PM: Evening Meal (Collation – light supper)
- 6:10 PM: Recreation
- 7:10 PM: Night Prayer
- 8:15 PM: Lights out
To see a delightful highlight of the hours in the day of one Poor Clare Monastery click here.
There are a number of hours set aside for prayer throughout the day, both in community prayer and private prayer. Usually two hours of the day are devoted to private prayer. Each nun chooses where and how to spend that time in prayer. Some prefer to spend this time in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament in Exposition, others in their cells, and others outdoors in the midst of the natural creations of Our God.
St. Clare considered work to be a grace and taught her daughters, through her example, to work “so that in banishing idleness, the enemy of the soul, they do not extinguish the spirit of prayer and devotion, which all other temporal things must foster.” The work is varied. Prayer is not the only “work” of the community. Each nun does her part to care for and supply the needs of the monastery. Nuns make and distribute altar breads (hosts), do secretarial and correspondence work, artwork, sewing, cooking, dishes, gardening, cleaning, some maintenance of the monastery and many other things.
Besides prayer and work, an important part of the life of Poor Clares is penance, offered in reparation and love for the sins of all. The penances include fasting and times of silence. Far from making life burdensome these penances train the soul to empty itself of its own desires, and to offer all to God. The more one empties the soul of self, the more open one can be to love and grace.
Among the things a nun offers up to our God in sacrifice is her virginity. Often misunderstood, this is one of the most beautiful of her gifts to the Lord. The vow of chastity, taken in solemn profession, is far more than “missing out” on the physical love of Matrimony, it is a choice of the supernatural (literally above nature) love of the Divine Spouse. Marriage between two persons is inarguably a good, bringing forth new life to serve the Lord, but a nun is the Spouse of Jesus. Her soul is given in full and lifelong union to her Divine Spouse when she takes her final vows. What a beautiful truth. Many bemoan the fact that she could be a mother and raise a family of her own. In truth, a nun is also a mother, not in body, but in soul, of countless souls throughout world. To anyone who would argue that this is not motherhood, we ask whether you believe that an adoptive mother of a child is rightfully called their mother? So too, the nun who cares for and prays for us daily has the right to claim spiritual motherhood of our souls! In her great love and thirst for souls, in imitation of our Divine Savior, she takes on the task of mothering countless children.
The vow of chastity is only one of the four taken by the Poor Clare nun. The vows taken in the religious profession of a cloistered nun are fourfold. The three ordinary vows of religious profession are poverty, chastity, and obedience; in addition cloistered religious take the vow of enclosure. Some monasteries have extern sisters to whom is entrusted the outside business of the community and who are permitted to leave the monastery when necessary. These do not make the vow of enclosure but sacrifice this vow to be of much needed service to their sisters in the community. In other monasteries, the external business of the door and telephone is attended by cloistered nuns appointed for this task, as is allowed by the Church. These vows are taken with the same joy and serious nature as the vows taken in Holy Matrimony, with love and a promise of lifelong fidelity. In fact, as part of the ceremony of the profession of vows the nun is given a wedding ring accompanied by the words “Receive this ring that marks you as a bride of God.” In the acceptance of this ring, she knows that she has entrusted herself to the greatest of Spouses, Who will love her and be faithful to her, unconditionally.
We pray that through this look into the life of the Poor Clares we have given you a new and refreshing view of the beauty of the life of these awesome ladies, that you walk away with a new appreciation of the religious life dedicated fully to the service of God. We also desire to honor here not only the Poor Clares, but all nuns, monks, brothers, priests, bishops, cardinals, and our Pope. We appreciate all those who give their lives and are consecrated in the service of souls. We thank you, and pray God rewards you abundantly in the life hereafter!
“Totally love Him, Who gave Himself totally for your love.”
-St. Clare of Assisi
“Gaze upon Him, consider Him, contemplate Him, as you desire to imitate Him.”
-St. Clare of Assisi
“Our labor here is brief, but the reward is eternal. Do not be disturbed by the clamor of the world which passes like a shadow. Do not let the false delights of a deceptive world deceive you.”
-St. Clare of Assisi