Wednesday, August 12, 2009


Tuesday morning is always reserved for Morning Prayer/Eucharist at St. Mary’s Convent where we worship twice a week. This week, these Anglican Sisters are observing a silent retreat and at the conclusion of this retreat, they’ll do some “strategic planning” (for lack of a better phrase) for the coming year. During this time, we’re allowed to worship with them, but we can’t speak, and we aren’t allowed to share breakfast with them as we do after morning worship on most days. We biscuit eaters are in serious distress without the fluffy bread that the kitchen crew prepares for those of us who attend early morning services. Ah, austerity!

Tuesday was the Feast Day of St. Clare, the Italian beauty who left her home at 18 and became inured to St. Francis of Assisi’s way of life after she escaped from her father’s home. Clare established a Benedictine Convent at St. Damiano in Italy and became its abbess, modeling the name for which her order became known: “The Poor Clares.” In the convent at St. Damiano, Clare served the sick and poor, went barefoot, ate no meat, and was said to observe silence most of the time. During the last 27 years of her life, she was very ill but was able to consult with Popes, bishops, and cardinals who came to her for counsel and appreciated her dedication to the gospel of poverty.

A noteworthy movie that features both St. Francis of Assisi and Clare is “The Little Flower,” written, or rather, adapted from a 14th century story, by Federico Fellini. “The Little Flower” is a neo-realistic movie in which Fellini and Director Roberto Rossilini avoid the spectacularism of Hollywood versions of religious subjects. The film shows the meeting of St. Francis with Clare at St. Mary of the Angels and is a magical treatment of the encounter between these two inspiring religious figures. The first time I watched it, I was taken aback by the simplicity of the characters and scenes – it’s in stark black and white – and wondered about some of the whimsical wanderings of St. Francis and his small band, but during a second viewing, I realized that Fellini was deliberately avoiding any sensational treatment of the lives of the Religious featured. The Vatican now recognizes the movie as one of the outstanding movies about spiritual figures, and critics who first panned “The Little Flower” have been overshadowed by those who appreciate the beauty and simplicity of this classic.

A snippet I wrote on this feast day:


The bagpipe of illness keens a mean tune
in the recitations of Prayers for the People

who are absent at the altar
but remembered by earnest petitions

we fling to an unencumbered sky,
a clean sheet seen through the chapel window.

Mountains watch, through the glass,
women singing psalms of praise

on this feast day of St. Clare;
St. Clare, who cast aside the gown of her wealth,

allowing St. Francis to cut off her hair
and donning a woolen tunic,

became a free woman
who would one day build for St. Francis

a wattle hut in an olive grove
where the bagpipe of illness keened

its last tune, the shrill sound dying
as St. Francis composed and lifted up…

his Canticle to the Sun.
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