Saint Clare, whose feast the Church celebrates today, was born into a wealthy family in the year 1193. When she was eighteen years old, a charismatic wonderworker by the name of Francis came to preach a series of Lenten sermons at the church of St. Girogio in the town of Assisi. Clare was cut to the heart by Francis' words and literally left behind everything to enact in her own life Francis' call to embrace evangelical poverty.
Clare's commitment to Francis' spiritual vision would blossom into a community of sisters who would serve as a sisterly counterpart to Francis' spiritual brotherhood. Clare and her sisters would accept nothing that would diminish her commitment to evangelical poverty. She and her sisters would share all things in common. They would sleep on the ground and would not even accept sandals for their feet.
If such radicalism shocks and provokes us, it is doing precisely what it is meant to do.
Evangelical poverty is about belonging to Jesus Christ with the whole of one's being. Such a commitment requires a rigorous detachment from one's desires. The spiritual commitment of evangelical poverty is directed as a contrary to all that false beliefs that continually assert that we are defined by what we own, by how much money and property that we can accumulate, by our status or class, and by our need for security and control.
Our relationship with Christ insists that more important than any of these things, which are by their nature finite and passing away, is our eternal identity as the children of God in Christ.
Such dedication is a mysterious spiritual path that all are called to consider, but few are called to embrace in its totality. It should not be confused with a dualism or hatred of the material, but a prophetic charism that calls humanity to consider the truth that this world is not ultimate and the grace of creation is mitigated by our desire to possess it without acknowledging that what God has created is meant to lead us to share in his divine life.
The practical benefit of evangelical poverty is love. In choosing to have less, we offer to someone else more and discipline ourselves to accept that it is of greater value to give than to receive.
The other gift of evangelical poverty is humility. Evangelical poverty necessitates that one eschew honors, rewards, and recognition. It demands that we take our place not with the mighty and the powerful, but as the servant of the poor and afflicted. It radiates the peace of mind of a disciple, the contrary disposition to the worldly who, fearing that loss of their worldly things, are beset with anxiety and fear.
The witness of Saint Clare reminds us that it is integral to our mission as disciples of the Lord to accept the full implication of our act of faith in him. God gives to us his Beloved Son, a grace which has value beyond that of anything in the world. The gift of Christ is so tremendous that all our desires and attachments are relativized in his wake. We have in Christ everything, and all things find their proper place in relation to his priority.
May Christ permit us to be poor, like Saint Clare, so that we might share, as she does, in the riches of his own divine life.
Father Steve Grunow is a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago. He serves as CEO and Executive Producer for Bishop Robert Barron’s Word On Fire Catholic Ministries. He writes on theology, movies, and popular culture for the Word on Fire blog.