are quite a few young girls, mothers, sisters,
aunts and cousins named Colette and you may
wonder how the name originated. No doubt you have
heard of St. Nicholas, Patron of children between
the age of eight and eighty? Well, let this be the
auspicious beginning of our story that begins in
the 14th century where there lived an elderly couple
in a little town called Corbie, in France. Their
greatest sorrow was that they were childless, so
daily prayers to St. Nicholas were offered in their
devout household, and finally, through the intercession
of St. Nicholas, a baby girl was born, albeit it
that the mother was past the age of 60.
She was immediately baptised Nicola, and called
Colette for short. She
was a bright lively child but grievously undersized.
Realizing how anxious her parents were because of
her short stature, Colette went on pilgrimage and
asked Our Lady to add some inches to her stature,
and on her return home it was found that she had
become a good average size girl. As one might expect,
not only were her early years unusual, but her whole
life stood under the star of unexpected turns on
her journey to God.
Not only did she make several efforts at religious
life, but she also spent considerable time in a
hermitage, believing that this was where God wanted
her to be. It took a very strong and painful lesson
from God (she became blind) to make her aware that
she had been called to reform
– not only the second order known as the Poor Clares,
but also the first order of the Friars Minor.
After a life of continuous penance, she left to
her daughters a very important document, referred
which expressed her devotion and clear vision of
God and the things of God.
You can also read her full life at
One of her spiritual daughters , Sister Mary Francis
of the Five Wounds, (Venerable Margaret Sinclair)
was surely a true and faithful follower of the ideals
of St. Colette.
to read the TESTAMENT in its entirety.
Meditations on the Testament of St. Colette
Jesus! Maria! Anna!
Glory, honor, awe and reverence to the
three Divine Persons in one unity. Amen.
You may wonder why the
Testament of St. Colette starts
with the invocation, Jesus, Maria, Anna,
rather than invoking the Blessed Trinity first.
For many centuries, almost right up until the Second
Vatican Council the most frequently quoted gospel
was that of St. Matthew, almost to the exclusion
of the other three.
Well if you open the first page of the Gospel of
St. Matthew, it begins with the Genealogy of Christ.
Here Colette employ's a similar device, calling
on Jesus , his Mother Mary, his grandmother Anna,
and having surrounded herself with their much loved
and revered company, then places herself before
the Blessed Trinity, it is a much used device to
surround oneself with friends, on whose assistance
one can confidently rely.
For the medieval man the presence of the Saints
was indispensable, they were part of the family
and quoted lavishly as intercessors for any petition
offered to God. In addressing God but using the
words, Glory, Honor, Awe and Reverence,
Colette , as a true child of her age, sees the Divine
as the beatific vision, which is held before us,
not only as the end of our journey, but more so,
as the continuous encouragement of the worthwhile
of the journey.
In Roman society, the word Gloria,
was attributed to the Emperor only, on the festive
occasions when he returned to Rome at the head of
a successful army. Moreover the Greek word doxe,
somehow conveyed that glory was a shining success
which spread itself from the person of the Emperor
to the crowd, surrounding him with their jubilations.
It was easy for the medieval man to transfer on
to God that same jubilant joy , knowing that the
victory over sin and death had been won by Jesus,
and was in effect fruitful to everybody.
So let us begin this series of meditations by invoking
the names of, Jesus! Maria! Anna!
dearly beloved sisters and daughters, in the charity
of our merciful, sweet and loving Redeemer, Jesus,
and of his loyal spouse, our mother Holy Church,
with all humility of heart and devotion, I commend
myself to you, in life and in death. I commend both
my intentions and the burden which I have to carry
before our Lord, that I may render a good account
of it to him on the day of judgment.”
(From the prologue to the Testament of St. Colette)
If, as a child, you were asked
to eat up your dinner, you were probably also toldthat
there would be ice-cream to follow, in other words
something positive and nice is held before us to
move us on. Mother Colette begins her Testament
by addressing her sisters as, dearly beloved, again
we find, the same solicitude, to present not only
herself but her sisters and daughters before the
throne of the Almighty. Note also the use of the
word, daughter, which by implication says that she
considers herself to be the mother.
In our present climate this is, regrettably, often
an unacceptable term in contemporary religious life
and sometimes in family life! It is indicative of
an attitude that rejects responsibility, which prompts
us not to desire the relationship of mother to daughter.
Which also means that I can claim my life, my freedom,
my enjoyment ...
The minute I am in a relationship of responsibility
the horizon changes, my daughter expects something
of me as I expect something of her, together we
build up a relationship of trust and mutual upbuilding,
and a relationship in the Spirit far surpasses that
of the blood.
Then, Mother Colette calls on Jesus, the merciful,
sweet and loving Redeemer. Here is presented to
us an image of Our Lord which wholly responds to
the Franciscan ideal of Our Lord. It is said of
Francis that he savored the name of Jesus. Not only
Our Lord but his loyal Spouse, Our Mother Holy Church
is called upon, this is again very interesting.
We falsely believe that ours is the only age with
polarization and tension in the Church, the facts
are different. But consider this: in the time of
Our Holy Mother St. Colette, there were three Popes
vying with each other for supremacy, and the one
who accepted Colette's vows was actually an anti-Pope,
and yet Colette sees the Church as the loyal Spouse,
as the holy Church.
Why? because in all her frailty, the Church is the
visible sign of the invisible presence of God and
all human fragility cannot change this.
Colette commends herself to her sisters with humility
of heart and devotion, there is no room in her understanding
for the imperious Mother Superior, in fact the word,
“superior“ is never used, neither for that matter,
the word “subject“.
Humility of heart is the sober realization that
we are what we are before God, no more, no less,
which in turn enables us to approach God.
Not only does Colette entrust her position to her
sisters, but also the office she holds, as a burden
that needs to be carried before Our Lord, in fact
to this day, in Colettine Monasteries, on having
confessed her fault the Abbess will be told by the
Vicaress, that the burden of the office is penance
And finally Colette rounds off her first paragraph
with the reason for turning to her sisters and asking
for support, the reason being to be able to render
a good account of the day of judgment.
The medieval man never lost the awareness that he
was asked to give an account of himself before the
One Who is not only our Judge, but more so, our
“My dearly beloved sisters, chosen
out of the valley of the shadow of death by the
uncreated wisdom of our sovereign Father, to enter
into the gospel way of life of his dearly beloved
Son Jesus. To be his spouses, true daughters of
the sovereign King, temples of the blessed Holy
Spirit, heiresses and queens of the most high realm
of heaven; and for a little labor to obtain repose,
honor, glory, and unending salvation without limit
... Therefore, my dearly beloved daughters, be aware
of your call from God to holiness, your great dignity
and high perfection. Ignorance of these things is
damaging, consciousness of them will enable you
to bear much fruit.”
(From the prologue to the Testament of St. Colette)
This time Colette addresses her
sisters without mentioning the word daughter, and
it is easy to see why this should be. All of us
, including herself are chosen by the uncreated
wisdom of the Sovereign Father, in that way establishing
a sense of equality as far as the invitation from
the heavenly Father is concerned, and the invitation
is issued by the Sovereign Father, not the dear
Father, not an Almighty Father, but by One who is
as much a King or a Ruler as he is a Father.
We are reminded of Our Dear Lord's words, “It is
not you who have chosen me, but I who have chosen
A timely reminder that a vocation is a gift , once
given cannot be returned, as the French say,
noblesse oblige! (nobility obliges you).
This Father acts not out of whim, but is motivated
by Uncreated Wisdom, and, as Job had to learn, at
great cost, that the Almighty cannot be questioned.
The invitation then is to enter the Gospel way of
life, which stands in contrast to the life led in
the shadow of death, and the reason for this is
that the Gospel way of life is that of his dearly
beloved Son, Jesus. Again, we are reminded of the
Baptism of Our Lord, that the Father declares him
to be his Beloved Son.
And now comes the key sentence, every word of which
is pregnant with meaning. The invitation amounts
to becoming a spouse, a true daughter, an abode
of the blessed Holy Spirit, and heiress, and a queen,
higher than this one cannot aim and the price to
be paid a little labor, the reward repose, honor,
glory, unending salvation, as they say in advertising
circles, “aim high!” – some of it will stick !
And now having put before her sisters and daughters
the essence of their vocation, St. Colette turns
her maternal concern for her dearly beloved daughters
to make them aware of their calling to holiness,
the holiness that results in great dignity and high
perfection, and finally adds a word of warning,
pointing out that ignorance is damaging and consciousness
of this renders each sister fruitful for the kingdom
We have experienced in our time the
painful truth of this warning; not only is ignorance
damaging, it is destructive.
How many Religious having become unfaithful
to their holy vows ever reflected on what they have
lost by betraying their holy calling.
It is without question a sad replacement which changed
religious life for the benefit of doing social work,
important as this is, as the blessings for the Church
and suffering mankind are increased and multiplied
by a life of prayer and dedication, simply because
everything is given for the greater glory of God.
then, that you have entered on the true way through
the door of divine inspiration and God's loving
call. For as our dear Saviour says, no one can come
to me, unless my Father draw them by his inspiration.”
Having cleared the ground in her
introductory remarks, Mother Colette comes to the
first vital point of her Testament, saying that
we must enter through the door of divine inspiration
and God's loving call.
Two things are obvious, the first is, the reference
to the door, meaning the gateway, Our Lord himself,
St. John Chapter 10, and secondly the verbatim quote
from the “Form of Life of Mother Clare”, who says,
“If by divine inspiration anyone desiring to accept
this life ...”
It is obvious that Mother Colette draws her inspiration
from St. Clare whose order she was called to reform,
and like St. Clare assures her sisters that a vocation
is a God given gift and not a man made ministerial
service. How many religious need to reflect upon
the reality that their calling is not as such to
serve in a “productive” manner, but to love.
It is in the ontological nature of a vocation to
partake in the Trinitarian life of God, and the
Trinitarian life of God is the life of relationships,
the Father loving the Son, the Son loving the Father,
and the bonding between the two Persons is the Holy
Therefore it is not our “output” that matters but
our willingness to allow God to love in us, and
This is what Colette refers to as God's loving call.
Furthermore she makes a point that nobody can come
unless invited, and we are reminded of the Parable
of the Wedding Feast, where the father of the household,
greeting the guests, rebukes the one who comes without
the wedding garment, St. Colette seeing that the
wedding garment as divine grace that is essential
to a consecrated life.
gateway into the rich field of the Gospel way of
life is total renunciation of the world, the flesh
and one's own will. For thus says the blessed Son
of the pure Virgin: “If any want to become my followers,
let them deny themselves and take up their cross
and follow me“ by continually repenting of their
sins and failings, so as to keep the grace God gives
whole and alive and avoid future falls. This is
shown in St. John the Baptist, who was sanctified
in his mother's womb. All his life long he carried
the cross of continual penance, not because he had
committed any actual offence but so as to persevere
in grace and give good example. If this is what
the just man does, what ought the sinner do? Whether
here below or in the life to come, every sin will
have its consequences.”
Now Colette is ready to confront us with the definition
of what she understands what the gateway into the
Gospel way of life is meant to be.
First. Total renunciation of the world, total renunciation
of the flesh, total renunciation of ones own will.
We have a trio of much misunderstood injunctions.
How can we renounce the world when we live in it
How can we renounce the flesh when we are embodied
How can we renounce our own will as dignified adults?
In the sense of the total renunciation that is required
of every Christian, a renunciation we are reminded
of Easter night when we renew our baptism vows,
renouncing Satan and all his works, and all his
pomp, and renouncing the mastery of sin in our lives.
Practically speaking , the renunciation of a banker
will concern itself with honest dealings, trustworthy
promises and reliable business policies. The prime
aim of business is not earthly gain except inasmuch
as it redounds to maintaining and ameliorating the
individual, the family, and humane society at large
The renunciation of the flesh, requires respect
for relationships, in and outside of marriage; neither
partner is a commodity to be used and disposed of
at will. It is always the need of the other that
is the criterion of a morally sound action.
We renounce our will if our decisions are ruled
by the needs of our neighbor and not by
our own pleasure. Obviously each state of life has
its own unique responsibilities, its impediments
and many broad implications, but the fundamental
truth remains the same.
St. Francis De Sales in his book, “Introduction
to the Devout Life”, has this to say,
“A housewife cannot sustain long hours of prayer,
a carpenter needs to work to support his family,
a priest needs to attend to his people, therefore
their devotions differ in length, but not in intensity,
they all serve the same God.“
For Religious, the basic structure of a consecrated
life is already preparing the individual for his
commitment. All he needs to do is to enter into
it with a willing heart and an open mind, or more
plainly, as St. Teresa of Avila said with tongue
in cheek, 'Eat well and sleep well, the rest we
can teach you'.
But to return to Colette, our dear Lord tells his
disciples to take up their cross and follow Him.
Note that Our Lord did not say to take up HIS cross
– but ours – it is the cross of our
own limitations, of our own character flaws, our
own idiosyncrasies, that we need to carry; only
in that way can be prepared to repent and do penance
John the Baptist, the precursor of Jesus, when he
preached penance as a preparation for the coming
of the kingdom effectively had this to say:
Repent.....rethink! ... and then act. Why?
because the Kingdom is at hand.
Finally, and for good reason, Colette mentions what
every priest in Confession can verify: whether here
below, or in the life to come, every sin will have
its consequence. But the consequence of sin is
not the punishment of God, Who
is willingly forgiving us, but the damage done that
has to be redeemed: if I am an alcoholic, the damage
to my liver may be beyond repair, if I have committed
murder, I may have rendered a family fatherless,
or motherless. In short, as our forebears in their
wisdom ever told us, God need not punish us, even
if He were inclined to (which He is not) – for sin
has its own punishment. It carries its
penalty within itself.
Lord says, follow me. Follow by final perseverance,
keeping completely until death all that you have
promised in accordance with the Holy Gospel, so
as to be found in your last hour only desiring the
fullness of my will; rooted in the perfect love
Colette, again quoting the Holy Gospel, invites
her sisters not only to follow the invitation but
to persevere to the end. Underlying this injunction
is, of course, the understanding that the eschatological
view is taken for granted.
As so often, the medieval man saw all things of
present life sub specie aeternitatis, that
is to say, with the end in view. It is both astonishing
and scandalous (and very much a sign of our times)
that at a recent meeting of top theologians, it
was generally held that the vision of eternal life
and the things to come made no difference to our
Our Lord himself more than once promised the reward
of heaven to those who are faithful.
It is virtually impossible to try to be good “because
it is good to be good”, in other words, for the
sake of goodness itself; the widely spread humanistic
liberalism functioning on the false presumption
that we will choose to do the right thing once we
know it to be right, a concept that has taken a
sad but not surprising turn in the wrong direction.
Every teacher, and perhaps more so every policeman,
knows this to be profoundly untrue.
For Colette, however, not only are we asked to keep
our promises until death, we are also assured that
this is in accordance with the Holy Gospel. Only
then will we be able – when our last hour has come
– to desire nothing but the holy will of God.
In Franciscan spirituality the holy will of
God and the love of God are exchangeable terms,
God loving and God willing have the same meaning.
Sadly, for many, the notion of God loving
us is decidedly more palatable than the notion of
God willing us to do things. At this point
in history, it is almost an unacceptable, an intolerable
concept, and yet, when we earnestly reflect that
in the perfect union of love there is a 'oneing'
of two into one, it is nothing less than surprising
that the obvious implication of this truth appears
to remain opaque to our understanding.
It is with this in mind that Colette can complete
her reflections on living the gospel by saying that
all our actions are rooted in the perfect love of
“... Note well then, my beloved daughters, that
you have been called by grace to perfect obedience,
so as to obey at all times and in all things, save
in sin. Jesus Christ did this even unto death.”
Now Colette moves medias in res (right into the
heart of the matter). Obedience.
It is somewhat surprising that the first death mentioned
concerning the Gospel way of life is obedience.
It would have seemed that the theological virtues
of faith, hope, and charity, would have had first
claim, but then we are reminded that the Holy Rule
of Mother Clare defines profession as being received
into obedience. The Canon Law also defines a religious
as someone living in obedience.
The question naturally arises, why is obedience
such a basic issue? Let us look at the Word, which
conveys the notion of eager listening ... to whom?
As Jesus Christ is the Word of God, he is the bridge
between God the Father and us, and as He himself
says, seeing Him, listening to Him, is seeing and
listening to the Father.
St. Paul, in his letter to the Hebrews, tells us
that Christ was made perfect through obedience,
and during Holy Week the recitation of the Divine
Office repeatedly makes reference to Christ's obedient
even unto death, death on the Cross. And therefore
God raised him up!
So we, his disciples, having been invited to follow
Him, embrace a life of obedience so that we too
may be raised up on the last day.
If we look at the people to whom Christ gave his
own obedience, there is not only Mary and Joseph;
there are the Jewish authorities watching him, many
filled with malice, ill disposed, awaiting His downfall.
In no way can we say that His obedience was rendered
to worthy sources; it is only by keeping his eyes
on his Heavenly Father that his obedience became
blessed and fruitful. We must do the same, for the
servant is not greater than the Master.
We see in our Holy Mother Church, continuation here
on earth of the ministry of Christ and we obey.
Our obedience is solely based on the conviction
that our Heavenly Father is honoured by our trust
and our confidence in Him.
More on Obedience
“For it is not sufficient to obey when it suits
you, or in certain limited things only. We should
obey, even unto death, in everything not opposed
to God, or contrary to your own souls, or to the
Holy Rule. Following the example of our merciful
Redeemer, who became obedient for our sakes even
unto death, we in our turn ought to obey, for his
sake, even unto death.”
Colette now explains in greater detail the nature
of our obedience, pointing out to us that obedience
is all embracing; it is not confined merely to certain
aspects of our lives in Christ, still less to things
naturally amenable to us or of our own liking. Obedience,
being a form of love, must always be applied. We
do not love God at certain times and under certain
circumstances, but always, as He loves us always
and under all circumstances – because God alone
is always lovable.
However, Colette was also aware of the abuse of
authority and makes provision for this as well:
obedience must never be in opposition to God, to
the dictates of our own conscience, or to our form
This is a very important safeguard which we do well
to take to heart. The obedience of a truly loving
person is enlightened by the inspiration of the
Holy Spirit, always within reason, and not contrary
to God's Holy will.
We are mindful of many examples in totalitarian
regimes where a man presumed that his obedience
held personally unaccountable, and excused him of
the most horrendous crimes. Even in peaceful times,
a well informed conscience is the best safeguard
against wantonly willful actions and desires.
Again taking as an example Our dear Lord, Who became
obedient unto death, we too die – in the form of
lesser deaths: death to our arbitrarily expressed
feelings, to our false expectations, to our exaggerated
desires, so that the new person can be born within
Still More on Obedience
“Let us not to set our own judgments and feelings
above those of our superiors, for the even the true
Wisdom, Jesus Christ, was
submissive to Joseph and obeyed his dear Virgin
Colette now points out a very common failure, rarely
repented of, the failure of reason and charity involved
in setting ones own judgment as the norm, the measure,
of all things. Already the Blessed Francis foreseeing
that learning, wrongly used, could be exercised
as a tool for power, warned his first followers
against, not learning of itself, but the arrogance,
even hubris engendered through learning at the cost
of love, of charity .... even of reason. Although
he himself had to admit that his friars needed teaching
in order to preach orthodox truth remained doubtful
and unhappy on this particular issue.
It took St. Bonaventure to resolve the problem of
training the clerics without loosing simplicity
In the same context the word feeling occurs, there
is nothing harder but to reason against somebody's
strongly expressed feelings, and usually it is a
useless endeavour; feelings, if not subordinated
to reason, are often expressed to great detriment,
vexing us, not only in our dealings with our next
door neighbour, but also in a sober assessment of
our assessment of our own situation.
Life must be ruled by reason, and not simply reason
in and of itself, but greater reason still: reason
which is enlightened by faith. To act on reason
that has been christened with faith is the aim of
obedience, and its fruit is peace of mind and an
Quoting the example of our Lord, the source of true
wisdom, Colette points out to us that Jesus Himself,
immediately after his Bar Mitzvah, stayed behind
in the temple. It was a lawful and right decision,
for He had been declared a man, subject to the Torah.
However, we must note that while He was henceforth
no longer under a mandate of obedience to Mary and
Joseph, He nevertheless chose to be subject to them,
and would, for the next 18 years lead a hidden and
uneventful life, growing in wisdom and strength
It is not likely that we can obey the holy will
of God in serious matters if we have not seen the
daily events in the light of obedience. Every daily
act, from sunrise to sunset is God's invitation
to us to listen to Him, to live in obedience to
Him, an obedience freely given and therefore not
of the nature of servitude.
In our daily fidelity to seemingly insignificant
events, our openness to hear the voice of God grows
ever more strongly. Only then can we hope to, are
we able to, accept moments of purification and trial.
It is a dangerous falsehood to believe that maturity
is expressed in self will, nothing could of been
further from the truth. The enlightened will (the
will acting according to reason informed by faith)
does not seek itself; being enlightened, it seeks
something greater than itself. It seeks God – Whose
will, as we saw so clearly in the Garden of Gethsemane,
is not, humanly speaking, always ours. It was the
most enlightened, the most loving human will in
the person of Jesus Christ from whom we take example:
the will expressed itself in that unspeakable act
of abnegation that inaugurate dour redemption, the
redemption of the whole world, the will that uttered,
sicut ego volo, sed sicut tu”
– “Not as I will, but as You will.”)
... and Still More on Obedience
truly obedient person is concerned only with the
work of true obedience, obeying purely for God sake
and as with much reverence as if he had received
his orders from the lips of Jesus. The more humble
the command in human eyes, the more precious is
devout obedience in the eyes of God. The truly obedient
person fears more to be lacking in obedience than
to run the risk of bodily death; after the example
of our blessed Saviour Jesus Christ, of whom St.
Bernard wrote, saying: remember, that Jesus Christ
much rather preferred to lose his life through his
bitter Passion, than to fail in obedience to God
Saint Colette has still a few more
points to raise, pointing out that the truly obedient
person is concerned only with the work of true obedience,
obeying purely for God's sake as if the order had
come from the lips of Jesus.
A word of explanation is needed here.
It is regrettable that very few people are aware
that every baptized Christian, by the very fact
of his baptism, has chosen to follow Christ. Prior
to his Baptism, knowingly or unknowingly, he had
followed Satan through the stain of Original Sin.
But with Baptism, this stain, this impediment, not
of our own making, has been washed away, and with
it comes the obligation to follow Christ.
Because most of us have been baptized in our infancy,
the promises made by our Godparents, and the awareness
of our commitment to follow Christ is not always,
or even largely, present in our mind, and it must
be stated that those who follow their conscience
will, and can, be saved by their fidelity to the
dictates of conscience.
There is no neutral ground for the baptized person,
he has chosen Christ, so he must follow.
It therefore matters little whether the command
he receives is an important one or insignificant;
with Christ he can say, “my food is to do the will
of my father”. Every action of the day, including
the most ordinary duties, the most trivial choices,
even the necessities of eating and sleeping, can
be sanctified through obedience and so constitute
one of the highest forms of worship.
Pope Leo the Great says, “Christian beware of
your great dignity.” To do the Holy Will of
God imbues us with dignity and worthiness. It is
said of St. Bernard, preaching on the Passion of
Christ, that Christ in order to obey His Father
preferred to loose His life, and his Heavenly Father,
rewarding him for his obedience, raised Him to new
In a great paradox, a divine paradox, it was to
the God by Whom He felt forsaken that Christ surrendered
Himself – and here we enter the mystery of our Redemption.
The disobedience of Adam could not have been remedied
by anything less than the perfect obedience of the
second Adam – Christ – laying down His life as a
We may never be called to such an extraordinary
act of obedience; on the other hand, we may. But
we are not wanting in opportunity or practice: even
our daily life offers us many opportunities to abnegate
our will, in small things, hidden things (seen so
clearly by the Father!), seeking, instead, the holy
will of God. We need only look to Margaret Sinclair
for so perfect an example.
evil comes through disobedience. As another St.
said: one prayer of a really obedient person is
worth a hundred thousand of a disobedient one. If
we are obedient to God, and to our Superiors for
God's sake, God himself will obey us in granting
all our good desires.”
Colette continues her admonition
by making what appears to be a very harsh statement
that all evil comes from disobedience. We must
remember that years of experience as a reformer
had brought her face to face, not only with her
own disobedience, but also that of many religious
and lay people with whom she came in contact.
To start with, she would have much preferred to
stay in her hermitage and pray, and she said so
to God. But God had other plans, and smote her with
blindness. It was only when she agreed to be an
instrument in His hands that the blindness lifted.
The one and only weakness we know of in her life
was her fear that when her eyes pained her, the
blindness would return. It is quite possible that
she suffered from what we now term, migraine, and
it is the only occasion when she was persuaded to
use some ointment to relive the pain. Also, her
encounters with the members of the first order were
not always of a positive nature; strong resistance
was shown to her reform, even the Benedictines in
Corbie made no exception to this. Worse still she
took her Holy Vows in the hands of a Pope who proved
to be an anti-Pope!
Besides this her need for funds to build her monasteries
continuously confronted her with benefactors – some
willing, and some less willing to support her ideas.
It was much later that Henry the Eighth, King of
England in the 16th Century, petitioned the Holy
Father to raise the Virgin Colette to the honour
of the altar because of her humility and obedience.
Her life exemplifies the statement that one prayer
of an obedient person is worth a hundred thousand
of a disobedient one, and God will obey us
if we obey Him.
yourselves then of all self-will for it is the one
fuel for eternal destruction.”
.... Now follows the reason for
her admonition to obedience. Categorically, she
states that self-will is the fuel for eternal destruction.
These are strong words, uttered not in anger but
with great anguish of heart.
Why should it be that the exercise of self-will
points to such a terrible end?
Simply this has to be said, we are here on earth
to love God. Adam, however, after the Fall, usurped
the place of God and arrogated the throne to worship
of the self, heedless of the very clear fact that
this was contrary to the design of his Divine Maker.
The acquisition of the knowledge of good and evil,
however tempting, could not be acquired in any other
way but through God and for God. Having grasped
for this knowledge because of the whisperings of
the evil one, he is now left with knowledge that
is not beneficial (is the knowledge of
evil – which requires the acquaintance of evil
through the experience of evil,
It took our present age to wean ourselves off our
pride and to discover that the claims of the Enlightenment
– sometimes still vaunted today –were false, that
its foundation was corrupt, and its promises unattainable.
Even if we do know what is right – we do
not choose it! This is not a weakness in man, but
an evil, a perversion, of the will that turns aside
from the good, knowing that its only alternative
While we have gained tremendous insights in every
field of science, the human person is still left
in darkness as how to achieve happiness and peace
in any other way other than listening to God.
all the other virtues I recommend to you holy obedience,
in which the excellence of charity is shown forth,
when in all things we obey the creature for
love of the Creator. In this virtue with Jesus on
the Cross, may we be able to die and obtain life
In her final summing up, Colette
draws a most astonishing conclusion, pointing out
that if we obey the creature for love of the Creator
we are combining charity and obedience. This is
a truly striking statement, one with which many
religious people would readily disagree, arguing
that in many instances obedience has been a stumbling
block to the exercise of charity – and how many
people have opted to free themselves from obedience
in order to practice charity as they
How is one to resolve this dilemma? In the last
sentence of this paragraph, Colette points to Christ
on the Cross. Charity is a truly crucified love.
When our false self has been crucified, and our
imaginary expectations have been disowned, when
we have learned to trust that nothing could ever
be asked of us that is damaging to ourselves, then
we might be able to understand that there cannot
be any contradiction between obedience and charity.
God, our loving Father, would not have given us
the example of His Son had He were it not that we
are called to life by obedience, and to true freedom
his divine word.
the renunciation of ourselves through complete obedience,
our Savior wishes us to carry our cross daily -
that is, our vow of holy poverty. Poverty is the
heavy cross of not wishing for anything under heaven,
except him who bore the cross on his shoulders,
and deigned to die for our love on this cross: pierced
with nails, crowned with thorns, spat upon and heaped
with blows; his side pierced by a lance.”
After her exhortation to Holy Obedience,
Colette moves further into the subject on hand,
We need to understand that poverty as such is an
evil that could never be justified.
By the Evangelical Counsels a potential evil such
as self-will, however, is turned into a blessing
through obedience, and the evil is replaced with
trust. It is only by looking at poverty
from the viewpoint of trust that we can
understand its meaning and its importance.
God the Father provides! Therefore we can trust.
This trust may be severely tested, but following
the example of Our Lord, Who, hanging on the Cross,
entrusted Himself to a Father Whom He no longer
experienced upholding Him or as being present. It
is to this Father that Christ surrenders Himself
and it is to this same Father that we surrender
our life, our welfare, and our future.
It is this same Father Who provided new life, better
life, for his Son as He raised Him from the dead.
And this same Father will raise us up in many ways,
great and small, if we entrust ourselves to Him.
The suffering of Christ invites us to imitate, in
accordance with our state of life, the life of Our
Lord, carrying our cross the way
Christ carried His.
holy poverty! Finery of our redemption! Precious
jewel and certain sign of salvation!”
Colette bursts into a lyrical statement, calling
poverty the finery of redemption!
It seems amazing that privation should be equated
with finery, for finery is the fetching finish to
a pretty dress, turning it into something special.
Blessed is he who can see privation as a precious,
much sought after, finish to a life with God.
Only the person who can see the value of growing
in trust could embrace such a statement. The truly
poor person experiences the riches of heaven when
divine providence turns from being a phrase into
the reality of knowing that Our Heavenly Father
One is reminded of one of Grimm's fairy tales, where
a little orphaned girl leaves her home after the
death of her grandmother to seek her fortune in
the wide world. Being inexperienced, she willingly
shares first her provisions, then her garments ,
until by nightfall, clad only in a little shift,
she even hands that over to a beggar child, knowing
that in the darkness, nobody could see her — But
the heavens open and the stars fall down, dressing
her with starlight.
That is truly the finery of our redemption.
It is truly the precious jewel, but unfortunately
if I at the receiving end, believe myself to have
received merely a red stone, I will not have a ruby
but just that ... a red stone.
And in response to the trust we put in God, it is
through poverty that we discern a certain sign of
is to poverty that the King gives possession of
the kingdom of heaven ,lastingly and without end.
.... And you, daughters of Adam and Eve, 0 why do
you not love this precious jewel, this noble pearl,
whose worth and dignity is that of the kingdom of
heaven, and so is far more precious than innumerable
In her next paragraph, Colette
holds out a treasure beyond price: the possession
of the Kingdom of Heaven. It is the fulfillment
of every Christian's hope and expectation. We only
need to remember Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress and
become aware of how deep seated the yearning for
heaven is in the heart of every Christian — and
the price to be paid? Poverty! Our Lord himself
in the first of the Beatitudes tells his listeners
that it is the poor in spirit who will possess the
kingdom. Many are the interpretations of what the
“poor in spirit“ denotes and the Blessed Francis
himself taught his disciples that “poor in spirit“
means not to have any claim before God, we can appropriate
to ourselves absolutely everything , from the chair
we are sitting on, to our pet opinions, idiosyncrasies,
and even learning.
St. Francis shrewdly discerned that learning, needful
as it is, can become a weapon for power and hence
And so Colette following in the footsteps of Francis
and Clare again compares poverty with a precious
jewel, a noble pearl, buying our entrance into heaven,
basing it on Our Lord's words, when he warns his
disciples in asking them, “what use is it to possess
all the world ... if you loose your soul?”
and more than a hundred thousand times, alas! You
could possess poverty more easily and as an incomparably
better bargain than this wretched world, which is
full of wrong choices, traps and snares, lies and
clinging mire; in the midst of which, you can, all
too easily, lose the kingdom of heaven and saddle
yourself with pain and eternal torments.”
Colette cries out in sadness and
frustration, pointing out to her sisters that the
possession of poverty is more easily obtained than
anything in this world. The meaning of the word
“world“ here is to be understood as St. John uses
it in the Gospel: the fallen world ruled by the
prince of evil.
She herself, in her own life, experienced plenty
of hostility, false friends, and setbacks. Albeit
that there is no record to confirm this, we have
reason to believe that Joan of Arc and her troops
lodging in the same monastery (Auxerre) probably
exchanged her own struggles and difficulties with
the Abbess, Colette, present in the same house.
It is a wonderful opportunity to imagine the two
women encouraging each other in their warfare with
evil. Therefore Colette warns her sisters that it
is all too easy to loose the kingdom of heaven and
be saddled with eternal torment. This is strong
St. Alphonus de Ligouri, centuries later, warned
his penitents in one of his sermons saying that
it is better to escape eternal punishment by attrition,
than not to repent at all. In our present climate
we find it difficult to understand that attrition,
that is, the fear of eternal punishment – rather
than our love for God — which motivates us to turn
away from sin, should be considered, if not ideal,
at least permissible. Those who have gone before
us had no such scruples: better to live limping
into Heaven then somersaulting into hell.
By all means have perfect contrition, let the love
for your suffering Savior shine forth, but be mindful
that attrition opens the back door to heaven.
“.... O my most beloved sisters,
love, love, love most perfectly this noble and precious
and most excellent virtue, the poverty of the gospel;
loved by God and hated by the world.”
Now Colette addresses her sisters in a
most affectionate manner, exhorting them to love
to love, to love most perfectly this noble virtue.
But what does Colette mean by loving perfectly?
Does it mean flawlessly? No. Unfortunately, in our
present day understanding the word “perfect“ conveys
the concept of one hundred per cent, however, Our
Lord himself, encouraging his followers to become
perfect, certainly did not mean that their conduct
should be flawless (He knew our human weakness only
too well), but rather that they should carry through
to the end in fidelity what they had begun.
Our Heavenly Father knows our many faults and failures,
but just as He supported His Son to the end, we
too must run the full course in order to gain the
victory. The world is full of people – and the Church
is no exception to this – who have begun with great
determination only to fall short of their goal.
As we grow older, this brings us to an unavoidable
confrontation with the truth: we find, to our surprise,
that the last part of our journey to God – insofar
as letting go of so much – is not as easy as it
appeared from the blush of youth. If we have equated
our self-worth with what we do .... rather than
with what we are ... the letting go will be a great
trial filled with much pain, for we will find ourselves
asking, inevitably, what there is left to live for?
How wonderful to see in a mature person the sense
of worth based on being and not on
doing. This is attaining to wisdom.
Surely the practice of material poverty has one,
and only one aim: to assist us in learning to let
go, and to learn to trust. A shroud has no pocket!
the example of Jesus Christ, who had nowhere here
below to lay his head, and the example of our glorious
father, St. Francis, and our mother, Lady St. Clare,
be utterly content with the form of your poor habit
allowed by your Rule, and hold everything else as
suspect, such as books, chaplets, thread, needles,
pins and whatever trivia; kerchiefs, veils and other
things which may be for your own use and on which
you may set your affection.”
Colette now puts before us the
example of Our Lord Who had nowhere to lay His head,
we know from the Gospel account that the poverty
of Our Lord and his disciples lay not in destitution
but in the uncertainty of their daily circumstances.
Here comes a fact, little regarded but of the utmost
importance: even a life of destitution can contain
a degree of certainty, whereas the essence of apostolic
poverty is the insecurity, never able to predict
what tomorrow will bring.
As Our Lord reaches his disciples to pray for the
daily bread, He specifically points out that we
are to pray for the daily bread today and not that
of tomorrow, in other words we are to trust that
tomorrow our Heavenly Father will provide as he
has provided today. It is in the nature of poverty
to learn to trust, as this is at the heart of every
How often do we say glibly Our Heavenly Father knows
our needs – and then make surethat we are covered
by every possible insurance. How many of us do seriously
believe that Our heavenly Father knows our needs
... and provides?
In Poor Clare life there is a simple custom which,
if practiced faithfully, underpins this lesson,
each day at dinnertime, when the meal is being served,
each sister lifts up her bowl, like a begging bowl,
knowing that it will be filled with the necessary
Underlying the custom is the far more important
lesson to learn to trust, that all our needs, physical,
spiritual, psychological are provided for and as
always in love, we conclude from the exterior manifestation
of seeing the food in the bowl and eating it to
the realization that others needs are equally taken
care of. It is a humble lesson, but very essential
for the well being of our inner being.
St Francis and St Clare understood this only too
well. It is possible that even small possessions
can hold our attention, that in the end, the thing
possess us and not we it.
A very needful criterion is to ask oneself, if I
were to loose this would it matter?
only those things which are truly necessary, and
possess all things in common. .... In this present
life, be content with what is necessary, so as to
attain more easily to the true goods of the celestial
kingdom, to which you already have a claim by reason
of that holy poverty which you have willingly promised
and vowed for the love of God.”
Mother Colette offers some practical
advice on the subject of material poverty, telling
her sisters to have only what is necessary. Of course
this is a vast subject. Depending on the customary
lifestyle the definition of what is necessary will
vary a great deal, neither is there is anything
wrong with this. The touchstone is this, whatever
the average working class man or old age pensioner
has to dispose of could probably be classed as being
The question arises is one prepared to let go, for
somebody in greater need.
The far more difficult issue is that of possessing
things in common.
The interplay of human relationships can grievously
tested by trying to hold things in common. Some
people are fastidious, others are haphazard, some
people understand the value of a given tool others
are blissfully ignorant of it, and there is no easy
answer. But there is probably no better recipe for
the practice of charity than holding things in common;
it really goes to the core of the matter. One either
learns to become generous, accepting with peaceful
resignation something spoilt in ignorance, looking
beyond the spoiled to the person who is far more
important. Failing this one can live in a perpetual
inner turmoil and become very judgmental.
As Colette points out it is so important to be content,
because it is contentment that creates peace of
mind, and it is peace of mind that is part of the
kingdom of heaven as Our Lord promises, My peace
I give you ...
Moreover Colette promises even to have a claim by
reason of this holy poverty that we have promised
and vowed. And again explaining this, she tells
her sisters that it is done not for the sake of
thriftiness but for the love of God.
kingdom of God will be ours without fail if we keep
faith with Lady Holy Poverty. .... By this cross
of holy poverty I mean: to live a life of continual
abstinence, not eating meat, fasting daily, going
barefoot and enduring the cold, sleeping on hard
beds, wearing poor clothing, being content with
scanty and coarse food, and bearing the burden of
labor, both manual and spiritual.”
Mother Colette puts before us the promise of the
Kingdom of Heaven at the end of our journey, knowing
in her wisdom that those who are setting out on
a journey need to be reminded of the end of the
journey that they may not to loose their courage.
After the example of Mother Clare, who also encouraged
her daughter Agnes to look to heaven – to the end
of the journey – an inspiration that manifestly
came from St. Clare's deep contemplation of the
San Damiano Crucifix, depicting Our Lord standing
in front of his tomb, gazing into the distance,
with the angels awaiting Him, and the outstretched
arms of the Father lifting him into heaven and into
glory. Respice finem! Look to the end!
However, the vision of heaven in no way obscures
the reality of the Cross here on earth. Mother Colette
lists various forms of poverty: continual abstinence,
fasting daily, going barefoot; in short, sharing
the fate of the laboring class, who, like her and
her daughters, wished nothing better than to be
counted among God's little ones.
Like the poor who have no choice but to carry the
burden of their poverty if they wish to survive
we, too, must carry the burden of our poverty, although
our burden is, in many ways, of a different nature.
At the conclusion of Vatican II an experiment was
made in Italy among the various Poor Clare Houses.
A sufficient number of volunteers were found to
live as if they were living in the Middle Ages:
the habitation had no drainage, no running water,
no sanitation, very primitive cooking facilities,
no heating, and the experiment lasted for
exactly five years, at the end of which, the police
came and closed it down.
Is there a lesson to be learnt from this? Surely
there is. The poverty of the Middle Ages could not,
and should not, be that of the 20-21st centuries
— however, when we decide that we must not live
in history past we still make an option to live
with Lady Poverty, to surrender and to trust — for
those who love poverty, no day will pass without
The most precious possession that we have is our
time. Have we ever considered it is as an irrevocably
surrendered reality that we possess; a part of our
being which, once spent, cannot be recalled, recovered,
retrieved. Our availability to God, to others,
is one of the least recognized forms of poverty
in our present day and age, and yet, one can die
to oneself without anyone noticing it by making
the gift of oneself , of ones time, ones love, available
to all. That truly is the burden of this labor of
which St. Colette speaks.
at the hour of death is found possessing anything,
in fact, or in deliberate desire, will be dispossessed
of the kingdom of heaven. .... Live and die truly
poor, my dearly beloved daughters, just as our sweet
Savior died on the cross for us; for if it seems
that few love him in this way, it is all the more
reason that we should so love him.”
our Mother Colette makes a very daunting statement,
saying that any possession, be it factual or in
deliberate desire, might occasion the loss of eternal
happiness. This is indeed a very frightening proposition,
but then one has to keep in mind the old saying,
a shroud has no pockets! When Sister Death takes
us home, we need to go without luggage.
The luggage can be that of bitterness and resentment,
and what we should have had, and in fact did not
receive, it is a timely reminder.
How many people go through life with the bitter
luggage of resentment never shed, how many people,
even sincere Christians, hold themselves excused
on so many grounds, very often the plea of privation
in early childhood; it is a deadly excuse, in fact,
it is the most serious stumbling block to our effectively
receiving the grace of God within us. It usurps
the seat of mercy, which we, in denying others,
deny to ourselves.
Holy Mother Church teaches that in human failure
God's actual grace can always prevail. It is only
our bitterness that prevents us from experiencing
it. Only our own malice can thwart God's goodness,
a goodness that cannot be forced upon us, but which
must be received, accepted, embraced.
Therefore looking at the first beatitude which encourages
us to have no claims before God, we find that these
claims pertains not only to what is material; much
more importantly, they pertains to love and affection,
to relationships and expectations. nothing to which
we lay claim before God will bring us to the Kingdom
of Heaven. Claim Him ... and you claim the Kingdom.
“After Lady Holy Obedience in the
order, I recommend to you above all else, Poverty,
which is the straight ladder by means of which,
without anxious wobbling, one mounts easily to that
self-same kingdom, thanks to the complete renunciation
of all passing goods for the love of God, who is
so good, and who promises us his kingdom and does
In her final summing up on the subject of poverty,
Colette again points to Heaven as our final goal.
Depicting poverty as ladder on which we climb to
Heaven, Colette points out to us that it is all
the more easily ascended if a minimum of luggage
is essential. And therein lies the problem, in our
determining what is essential and what is not.
Here lies the challenge for continuous reflection
and personal decision. We are reminded of St. Bonaventure
who was once rebuked by the brothers for failing
to live the same mortified life as St Francis had
before him. To which St. Bonaventure replied, “My
dear brothers, our revered father Francis did not
have to preach, or teach, the way his sons now do
in the service of Holy Mother Church, and hence
our mortification will need to differ from his mortification
as we need to carry our cross as he carried his.“
Down the ages, we have suffered from a deficient
understanding on this subject, largely a misunderstanding
altogether. By limiting ourselves to an external
observance which, in many cases, is neither inspired
nor enlightened by the Holy Spirit, we are
creating ingrown, immature, individuals who, far
from being free, continuously suffered from unfulfilled
desires. The problem is not that the desires remain
unfulfilled, it is that the desires have remained;
they have remained without being transformed, translated
into something greater than their selfish motives,
into something more noble than what nature, apart
from grace, is capable of. Without rehabilitation
they remain disordered because they have not become
new creations of themselves through the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit renews totally – not in part. It
leaves nothing of our nature unredeemed,
without being suffused with, and transformed by,
grace. This requires authentic, not
just superficial, spiritual formation. It is not
possible that the era following Vatican II could
have been marked by so dramatic a failure to authentically
update spirituality, rather than furniture and architecture.
Now that the wind of change has taken down all the
dead wood, one can hope that a new interpretation
of Holy Poverty will find its way into our religious
houses and families, bringing a renewal of hearts
and a fervent dedication to Christ.
our Lord has said follow me, I understand that we
really are to follow Jesus Christ — the spotless
lamb, the virginal Son of a Virgin Mother — through
true purity of heart and body until death. Through
this true vow of angelical chastity, one becomes
a loyal bride of Jesus Christ, in virtue of that
faithfulness promised and given at the time when
we made our vows in the hands of superiors, who
represented God on earth; a pledge made in the presence
of witnesses:— the Blessed Virgin Mary, St.
Francis, St. Clare, and all the Saints, and before
those other witnesses who were present when we made
our vows at our holy profession; a profession through
which we obtained the remission of all our sins
and the full assurance of eternal life.”
The Vow of Chastity
A good deal of confusion surrounds the notion of
the vow of chastity. While most people accept without
question that one must learn to be poor and obedient,
it comes as a surprise to some that one equally
has to learn to be chaste. What is more, to add
to the confusion, chastity is – in a way that poverty
and obedience are not – a universally governing
precept that applies with equal rigor to the single,
the married, and the Religious state. Does this
surprise you? Several years ago, the Holy Father,
Pope John Paul the II, was taken to task by the
secular press for urging husbands to exercise chastity
in their marriage. “Absurd“, they cried in protest,
being clueless of the concept of chastity itself,
understanding concupiscence in the most superficial
and vulgar terms.
The confusion arises, because we misunderstand the
word itself. It is derived from a Latin word of
which only the past participle is still in usage.
Castus was the word the overseer used when
his slaves had finished scrubbing the marble floors
at the crack of dawn each morning, having reported
to the mistress that the floors had been scrubbed
and hence were clean, the mistress then proceeded
with affairs of the household.
It is important to note that castus not
only denotes the accomplished fact of cleanliness,
but it also denotes that it was a cleanliness achieved
by the process of scrubbing. It is that awareness
of a process, not in itself an end, but aiming toward
an end more important than the act by which the
end is realized, through which it is attained.
Applied to the concept of chastity, it is to be
noted that the process of cleansing is not only
apropos of the end, but necessary to it.
It is a pity that the word chastity has come to
acquire such a shallow connotation limited to abstinence
from sexual activity, for even in the married state
chastity needs to be practiced. Mutual agreement
to intimacy is needful, both partners need to listen
to the wishes of the other. The single state is
the training ground for this discipline as necessary
to Religious life as to marriage. If one cannot
be chaste outside of marriage (natural or mystical)
or Religious life, it is unlikely that one will
be able to be truly faithful in the single state.
To be chaste is to be exclusively one other's –
and not, as it were, the common property of many.
The mystical marriage of a Religious to her Divine
Spouse Jesus, Whose Ring binds her to Him, together
with her vow, is as real as any marriage in the
world. She belongs to Him alone! He has taken her
to Himself and her betrothal to Him excludes all
others. She is called to the chastity of a marriage!
How differently we understand this than the world
does, even as it failed to understand the Holy Father
in his insistence that the married be chaste, that
is considerate to each other.
In both cases the aim of chastity is charity – although
in a Religious it extends to all in a way that is
super-eminent – for a man does not see his wife
in all women, nor a woman her husband in all men
– but the consecrated Nun sees her Divine Spouse
in *everyone*, and fidelity to Him is her fidelity
tot hem! It is, to them, the pledge of His love
—for in her, they find Him!
This pure love that expresses itself, pledges itself,
in chastity, is a striking testimony to the reality
that nobody can rightfully be treated as so much
chattel. No! The needs of the other in whatever
form they present themselves, and in whatever state
– and preeminently in the Religious state since
the Spouse is God Himself – are essential to the
practice of chastity in all its venues.
But as we now see, we are all called to be chaste!
chastity therefore means to follow the lamb through
true purity of heart and body until death.”
It is interesting to note that purity of heart preceded
purity of body. It has always been understood in
the Franciscan family that the vow of chastity,
which promises consecrated chastity, looks forward
and not backwards.
From the moment the realization of invitation shines
on the face of the one invited ... from that moment
onwards ... she must keep her eyes on the Lord,
and leave all for the sake of the Kingdom.
To be a loyal bride, fidelity at all times is required,
but it must be noted, that the term of angelical
chastity can be misleading. We are not angels, nor
are we going to be angels in heaven. Angels and
men are of entirely different created natures.
Our human body is not only the instrument of sin,
but far more importantly the instrument that leads
chastity to charity. Our vows made into the hands
of the Mother of the Community are therefore made
into the hands of God.
Also present as witness, we call on the Blessed
Virgin Mary, our founders Clare and Francis, the
Saints and Angels, to remind ourselves that we call
on their help each day of our life. In fact we renew
our holy vows three times everyday, when we say
the Angelus. Together with Our Lady, who gave her
consent, to bring forth the Word of God, we
too , in fruitful chastity we rejoice in our spiritual
motherhood, by bringing forth the Word of God as
we pronounce our holy vows.
Again and again Christ is being born into this world
as we proclaim our holy vows.
noble and most precious virtue of chastity! Loved
by God as his loyal bride, honored by the angels
as spouse of their Lord and King, most highly praised
by the Saints, and so splendidly proclaimed in Sacred
Scripture! .... It is the noble crown you will wear
in the kingdom of heaven at the true wedding feast
of your true spouse, Jesus.”
Our Mother Colette praises chastity
as the most precious virtue, perhaps it will be
helpful to understand what the word virtue means
in this context. Many good acts form a habit, the
exercise of a habit creates virtue, in practical
application that means, every act of kindness,
enables us to grow . A habitual practice of kindness
leads to the habit of charity, and chastity and
charity become interchangeable concepts. This explains
why Colette calls chastity, the loyal bride of God.
there has been in the past a lot of misunderstanding
It has often incorrectly been presumed that marriage,
albeit a Sacrament, is inferior to a life of consecrated
chastity. God who is love is the prime source of
love for everyone. In Heaven, Christ tells us, there
will be no marrying, God is in the centre, but neither
will we be angels. As those older and wiser than
us put it, marriage is for the stability
of society, passion is for God.
Read the Song of Songs, it is full of it.
It is for this reason that Mother Church is very
reluctant to dissolve a marriage because both partners
need to look beyond to God in their midst. It is
also for this reason that while canon law permits
a separation, should harm befall one of the partners,
a separation is still not a divorce; and while it
is true that a relationship may not work out, God,
our true Lover is always there. It is with this
in mind that Colette refers to the true wedding
feast with our Spouse. It is in the plan of God
and therefore not a haphazard choice that some people
are set aside to love the Lord their God without
human intermediary for the sake of the Kingdom.
They are a sign to this world visible and audible
that God lives.
most excellent garden! Full of all the plants that
are truly good! You never let thorns, nettles, or
poisonous weeds grow in you; you do not allow any
profane thing to enter. 0 how good is your strong
surrounding wall! How loyal is the one who keeps
faithful watch at your gates and allows none but
the true messengers of your true spouse and king
to enter! .... Naturally you will find your place
in the imagery of Sacred Scripture as the finest
flowering trees bearing this noble fruit, which
is served to the King of true love in his kingdom!”
Down the ages the Religious life has been compared
to a garden enclosed, drawing on the imagery of
ancient poetry, just as the Creation account suggests
the fullness, beauty, blossoming, and flowering
of life prior to Adamic Sin. In a very similar manner,
life with God is nurtured toward the flowering of
charity and mutual support.
One can sum up all of this in a few words. In an
enclosed garden one learns to forgive and to be
forgiven. Let me explain.
Tragically, this very simple truth has not been
honored, and attempts have been made to build a
life of prayer and of fidelity side by side with
unrepentant uncharity. It does not work. There is
only one cross that we must carry – and it is united
to the cross that each of us carries within us –
and that is the weakness of our next door neighbor,
and through carrying that cross bringing something
truly redemptive out of it, out of the pain, the
weariness, the injury, it brings us.
The strong surrounding wall designed to keep worldliness
out cannot protect the heart should it wander away
from the path of forgiveness and charity; this requires
constant vigilance, continuous effort. In this context
we are reminded of St. Paul's words to the Corinthians,
“do not receive the Lord unworthily.” Unworthiness
of receiving the Blessed Eucharist is, if we remember
Christ's words, always caused by an unrepentant
lack of charity, our being unreconciled to another
in love, which makes us unworthy of Him Who Is in
the Eucharist, for, “what you do to the least of
my brothers you do to me.“
The profane thing that Colette is referring to is
actually the lack of Charity. Consider this: the
notion of fruit figures largely in the beginning,
in the book of Genesis, and in the end, in the Book
of the Apocalypse, and in this sense we find a very
revealing metaphor, for the fruit pertains to the
First and the Last, the Alpha and the Omega, Who
is Jesus Christ, the image of the Father ... Who,
the Apostle John simply tells us ... is Love. The
noble fruit of which Colette speaks is love itself,
the beginning and the end of every endeavor in Christ,
the love which we must bear toward each other, as
St. Paul tells us, in bearing with each other. This
is charity. This is the noble fruit of the enclosed
garden that prefigures the true Garden of Paradise.
The “true messengers of your true spouse“ whom alone,
according to St. Colette, we must admit ... of Whom
and of what do they speak? Of love! Each messenger
must proclaim the message entrusted him by the spouse,
“Love one another even as I have loved you.” It
is the fruit of union with that Spouse, the fruit
that itself is served to the King of true love in
the banqueting hall of Heaven – and that must be
served to the children of the King also; those within
enclosed garden walls on earth, and even those beyond
If we can re-capture the true meaning of love we
can discover that in our God-given creatureliness
that we carry the source of true life , that is
to say we are able to love and we are able to receive
worthy and excellent virtue! Your dignity, your
meaning and your worth, and the excellence of your
victory - it is impossible to understand them properly
and to express them! God alone is your reward, whom
you will see in bliss divine! This virtue, coming
next in order and merit in the sight of God, who
loves holy chastity, I commend to you, so that through
her you will have honor and merit on the great day
of judgment. But those who are false to the vows
that they have promised before God, and who have
not made fitting reparation, will suffer the consequences!”
Colette breaks forth in laudatory terms praising
chastity as a worthy and excellent virtue. Perhaps
it is important to understand the true nature of
the word 'virtue'.The original meaning of this word
was to denote the qualities a man must have in order
to be regarded as estimable. Therefore it
included, courage, uprightness, honesty, to mention
All this applied to the virtue of chastity makes
clear that the acquisition of chastity requires
a persistent struggle against selfishness and self
centeredness. We are far from being angelic, we
are in constant of God's cleansing us and to leading
us to purity of heart. Mother Colette, therefore,
notes the excellence of victory, for there can be
no victory without a battle. Most often, however,
and especially in Religious life, the battle is
without clamor or clarion to which the world's attention
would be called. It is not the clash of great armies
but of great wills ... and in many very real and
very arduous ways.
We are reminded of the silent, but very heroic example
that the scriptures put before us in the person
of St. Joseph, who, silently surrendering to God
all his pre-conceived values and expectations of
life and marriage, agreed to live side by side with
a woman he loved, with no children of his
own, and content to be the protector and, in that
sense, the father of the one and only son he had.
Despite some depictions in art, it is extremely
unlikely that St. Joseph was old. He could scarcely
have traveled to Egypt and provided for his family
the way he did, had he been old, but as scripture
says, he was righteous before God. St. Joseph subdued
himself. His sacrifice was silent, and apart from
Jesus and Mary, unknown.
It is therefore true to say that it is not possible
to understand the notions of enclosure, battle,
and victory with reason alone. By and large we see
no visible battle, know of no victory, see none
of the wounds, and understand little of the sanctity.
More than cloistered walls obscure our vision of
heroic sanctity within. It must be accepted in faith.
And in this faith we can do all things in God who
strengthens us. Ever before us is the faithful held
fast in faith that our reward will be nothing less
than God Himself. It is needful for us to have this
eschatological vision, since it is for Heaven that
Holy Mother Church for many centuries never dispensed
anyone from the vow of chastity, even if a dispensation
from the vow of poverty and obedience was granted.
The reason for this is that a vow made to God, surrendering
soul an body, could not be negated, annulled, renounced.
Only for grave pastoral reasons had this recently
been attenuated, and only for the care of a potential
spouse and children. We are reminded of Jesus telling
those who argued for divorce on the grounds of the
Mosaic Law that it had been granted them “only for
the hardness of their hearts.“ But it was not what
God called them to, nor was it God that granted
One can understand that, as a reformer, Colette
had much to say on the subject of chastity. Ultimately,
it is by doing penance — that is, by re-assessing
ones false values and applying the insights given
through grace to ones conduct — that we can grow
in purity of heart on our journey to God the Father.
An Introduction to
vow of enclosure must come as a surprise to anybody
not familiar with the spirit of St. Clare. It has
been suggested that the legislation of Canon Law
motivated Mother Clare and succeeding generations
into yielding on this issue, where other contemplative
orders such as the Benedictines or Carmelites, keep
their Enclosure by the implications of their holy
Not so the Poor Clares.
One also has to keep in mind that at the time of
St. Clare, heretical groups such as the Albingensians
allowed women to roam the countryside side by side
with the brothers that were sent out to preach and
there was no distinction made.
This may lead some to a mistaken assumption that
Francis may possibly contemplated such an arrangement
with Clare and her sisters, especially since they
belonged to the same order, and would be joining
the brothers in more than spiritual ways. One could
also assume, from the complexion of the Moon, that
it is made of cheese, but it does make it so (as
the Americans proved some years ago).
From the evidence of the holy rule we hold with
absolute certainty that Clare very clearly envisaged
a life of authentic enclosure, and in fact we consider
enclosure, together with community and contemplation,
the three pillars of Poor Clare life.
It is easy to understand why Clare voluntarily undertook
a life of enclosure with her sisters, as inspired
by St Francis. Clare did not envision her sisters
as either coming from, or confined to, one social
class alone. Moving beyond the boundaries of her
own feudal society, she received into her community
all those who desired to embrace a life of poverty
and prayer. There must have been in San Damiano
members of the aristocracy, and we know of least
one sister who was a foundling and reared in the
monastery. To Clare everybody led by divine inspiration
In order to create a community out of such diversity,
a life together consisting of prayer, work, and
charity needed to be designed. Unlike Francis ,
who desired his brothers to be itinerant preachers,
Clare, calling herself the little plant, appears
to have understood early on that belonging and being
rooted in one place was essential to the building
of a community, for the welfare of the plant consists
in being rooted firmly in the soil and only in being
rooted firmly and remaining in that sacred soil
will it flourish.
At the end of her life Clare could say with certainty
that she had created a community of like-minded
sisters. From this we conclude that the concept
of the enclosure was interpreted as the environment
within which a life together, around the table of
the Lord, could be lived, practiced, realized, daily.
It is a great pity and a deep misunderstanding to
interpret enclosure solely in terms of keeping out
the world. Far from it! St. Colette, following the
example of the founders, admonishes her daughters
to carry the joys and the sorrows of the world in
their hearts. Therefore if possible, Poor Clares
live in urban areas rather that remote country areas
in order that the laity have access to the community.
Lord willingly allowed himself to be shut away in
a sepulchre of stone. .... As it pleased him to
be enclosed for forty hours, my dear Sisters, you,
too, must follow him; for after obedience, poverty
and pure chastity, you have your holy enclosure
to support you. In it you may well live forty years,
more or less; and in which you will die. You are
therefore already in your sepulchre of stone; that
is to say, the enclosure which you have owed.”
Mother Colette point to the highest
possible example of enclosure, which is Our Lord
being buried in the tomb. One must remember that
far from being a time of decay a great, great deal
unseen occurred during those 40 hours, not least
of which was His descent among the dead, to the
Limbus Patrum, when his disciples were
grief-stricken, unable to come to terms with their
The Orthodox Church has a beautiful painting of
Our Lord in the tomb, not depicting him lying down
but sitting upright, peacefully, poised for action.
There is also in the Orthodox Church a most beautiful
liturgy celebrated on Holy Saturday, whereas the
Latin Church keeps a day of quiet mourning.
During those 40 hours, Our Lord visited the underworld,
leading out those of the Old Testament and many
others who have followed the dictates of their conscience,
and again the Orthodox Church depicts Our Lord crossing
over into the Nether world with Adam and Eve and
everybody behind in eager expectation.
There is even a little poem, where an old man approaches
Our Lord and, putting his hand on Our Lords shoulder
says, son , how is your mother?
As we can gather from these statements an enclosed
life, far from being a wasteful life is a life of
intense spiritual activity, those who have vowed
obedience, poverty and consecrated chastity are
certainly aware that enclosure is an essential support
for the practice of these vows. It is all
too easy to love your neighbor in far away country
to which you will never journey, but it is more
realistic, and sometimes a good deal more difficult,
to love your neighbor who is next to you 24 hours
of the day, every day, each day, seven days a week.
Many people in the navy or army, can witness to
the fact that a confined space evokes the best and
the worst among those living there.
“O how precious is the sepulchre
of Jesus; that tomb visited by so many out of devotion!
.... O how precious is that sepulchre - your enclosure
- into which devout souls enter to obtain their
salvation. From the depths of that tomb, these souls
take flight, with the help of the three vows already
mentioned, soaring to the great celestial palace
without difficulty, or hardly any, and without danger,
having carried out all the works required in accordance
with the call they have received from God, How much
comfort, delight and aid, should these fellow captives
feel when a new bride enters into the noble realm
of the Bridegroom she has loved and desired.”
people visiting the monastery remark on how peaceful
a place it is, and those of us who hear it, smile,
knowing in our heart of hearts that the peace which
rightfully imbues the place and suffuses its surroundings
is Gods gift for those who are engaged in spiritual
warfare. Not for nothing does Our dear Lord in the
Beatitudes consider those who make peace as being
Blessed! He does not mention the peace lovers ,
He mentions the peace-makers, peace has to be made,
continuously — there is no respite, no let up.
As Mother Colette rightly points out, if we
have carried out all the works that are required
of us in the practice of our holy vows, then we
will indeed soar up to Heaven, albeit the more sober
minded among us might prefer to call it stepping
stones which we climb slowly and gradually.
And it is perfectly true that after a life of fidelity,
Sister Death comes as a welcome friend, taking into
her arms the bride yearning for the Bridegroom.
Every night as a Poor Clare prepares to sleep she
is aware that the Bridegroom might come — perhaps
this night — so she lives in constant expectation
and joyful hope. Yes, peace is proper to the place
where sanctity dwells. It is the vestibule to Heaven.
is the abundance and superabundance at the table
of this blissful marriage feast, that when a tiny
part of the great and immeasurable joy and bounty
of the noble King and Spouse falls from it, it cannot
but delight the poor captives, whom sin still keeps
from entering into this noble wedding feast.”
Mother Colette again calls the
gaze of her sisters to Heaven, placing before them
a joyful expectation of their place at the Heavenly
Banquet. Comparing heaven with the blissful marriage
feast, she tells her sisters that even here, on
earth, small particles of joy will fall
upon them, albeit that they are still kept on this
earth because of sin.
And no point is the virtue of hope meaning, certainty
employed more convincingly. In the Gospel Our Lord
uses a familiar image to invite those who listen
to Him to seek the kingdom of heaven, unlike his
philosophical contemporaries in the Hellenistic
world, He does not employ abstract idealism, but
tangibly appeals to very basic human instincts.
In all cultures a wedding feast is an outstanding
event; much preparation has to take place, many
sacrifices are being made, and it is not an uncommon
that the family may well be bankrupt afterwards.
The whole emphasis, however, is upon the joy of
the bride and groom being shared and in that joy,
an enjoyable time being had by all. To that
end much is prepared to induce the guests to coming,
in ways immediately apprehensible to them. It is
not entirely without afterthought that we
are also reminded of the Parable of the Prodigal
Son, who returns to his father's house for no higher
motive than that of the assurance of food and drink.
Here again we see the deep wisdom of Catholic teaching,
meeting human nature at that junction where it can
be appealed to, induced to something greater, holding
out what is most noble without imposing impossible
means to attaining to it. And yet without any doubt
the expectation of the Heavenly banquet has always
been inspired within us through a vision of
the ideal, and through that vision, a fervent dedication
to seek it, attain to it, find our seat among the
guests by remaining on the straight and narrow path
to Heaven. Among Poor Clares, there is often said
in jest — more a desideration than presumption –
that a Poor Clare goes to heaven without going to
Purgatory. While uttered in jest, it nevertheless
highlights the fact that, however light heartedly
put, it is a desire taken seriously, in great earnest.
Even our elderly mothers in religion do not demur
from penance, trying in small ways to atone for
smaller acts of self-will and lack of charity.
The Bridegroom ever patient, loving, and wise will
know the moment when the bride is perfectly adorned
... and then He will take her, everlastingly, to
that wedding feast ... and to Himself
“... O happy
enclosure, which can remove you from many vices
and occasions of evil and keeps you secluded securely
and worthily in the midst of noble virtues.
... O noble castle, powerful and strong, of the King of heaven! It
fears not the assaults of the world, the flesh and
... O impregnable tower, you enclose within yourself all truth's provisions
against the assault of the devil.”
Mother Colette powerfully points
out the great advantage of seclusion which enables
her sisters to enjoy protection and mutual support.
St. Boniface, many centuries before, refers to the
protection of God as a tower into which one must
run, to be safe, against the assaults of the enemy.
In fact the medieval man had many occasions to take
refuge in a fortress, to shelter the young, the
tender, from the ravages of the enemy. Here, our
enemy is threefold: the world, the flesh and the
devil. St.t John is his Gospel sometimes refers
to the world as evil, implying that it seduces us
away from the Kingdom of heaven, and what is more,
there is also our fallen nature to contend with,
militating against the sweet yoke of obedience
— and last, not least, the great deceiver himself.
Although it is true to say that we are the
temple of the Blessed Trinity, temptation can
not come to us in any other way but through our
senses. These must be safeguarded and trained
with great carefulness. Within the environment
of the enclosure — the impregnable tower as
Colette calls it — all that is needed to lead a
holy life is provided. It is a wall that God
Himself has built, and within it, a Garden which
He Himself waters, so that what grows, is
nurtured within ... blossoms
on earth and blooms in Paradise
have within yourself universal obedience, the
daughter of Holy Humility, which condemns all
self-will, the cause and root of all evil; you
are fully supplied with Lady Holy Poverty, which
has no care about worldly things and who makes
it her entire aim and desire to tend entirely
towards his glorious kingdom, without anxiety
about the untrustworthy things of this passing
world. Against the strong and harmful assaults
of the flesh, our particular enemy here below,
we have its adversary Holy Chastity, continual
prayer, fasting cold and bare feet, close guard
of the senses, holy silence, chapter, correction,
meditation, tears, sighs, regular discipline,
the Divine Office, sacred Scripture, holy Mass,
the sweet partaking of the precious Body of
Jesus Christ, purity of heart, right instruction,
the remembrance of death, the cross, the passion,
the sight of the cemetery, the faithful guardianship
of your good angel, the fidelity loyally promised
to your dear Spouse, the hope of eternal reward
- and the thought of the terrible punishment
of those who will have merited otherwise.”
Mother Colette enumerates to
her sisters the many means at their disposal
to assist them to grow in holiness.
Not surprisingly she begins her admonition by
pointing out that Obedience is the daughter
of Holy Humility, it is only the humble man
who is prepared to surrender himself, making
his will consonant with the holy will of God,
which in fact is the essence of every true expression
of love – whereas self will is the root of all
Again she mentions Holy Poverty, which enables
us to attend to the needs of the kingdom,
even as God is attending to our own
needs on every level. How anxious we often are
and how much we need to renew ourselves in continuous
trust knowing that God will truly provide.
Holy Chastity enables us to experience the love
of God in prayer. Various forms of mortification
and the regular exercises of devotional practices
all create purity of heart.
And once again she invokes the eschatological
view, which beyond any doubt promises us life
everlasting, with the bliss of Heaven.
She also adverts to the “terrible punishment
of those who will have merited otherwise.”
Collette does not blench before the truth, nor
hesitate in uttering it, for it comes from the
very mouth of Christ, the Beloved – however
disinclined we may be to hear it. Unfortunately,
it is not socially “correct“ to talk of hell
fire and damnation, and yet, in this sense,
as in so many others, medieval man had no such
inhibitions, and he was that much richer for
In essence, our spiritual warfare confronts
us with powers and principalities, but unlike
any other warfare, the victory is certain, for
it is Christ's.
This explains why the early Franciscans in meditating
upon the Passion of Our Lord always started
with the Resurrection – Christ, victorious over
death and sin, sitting at the right hand of
the Father in glory.
gone then, away with you, foolish and rebellious
flesh, full of distracting promptings and evil inclinations;
you who seek to lure us from the way of perfection,
bringing shameful death and perdition.
.... Be led by Lady Holy Grace as her servant, and
by wise reason, for your profit and, ultimately,
.... Sin passes away swiftly and its punishment
is unending; penitence is short, but its ending
will be your eternal glory.”
Colette breaks forth into strong terms of rejection.
Here one must keep in mind that we are not listening
so much to a mother but to a reformer. A reformer
has a clear vision and strong views on the
right kind of form necessary to what has become
misshapen. It has clearly become the case that a
good deal of reforming is needful.
It can be said with certainty that the neglect of
the vow of poverty, and more so, the neglect of
the vow of enclosure, account for most of the abuses
that had crept into religious life.
It must also be clear that this did not happen over
a short period of time, it is far more likely to
be the result of a continuous and unrepeated negligence,
which in the end becomes the pernicious norm.
Once negligence and injustice have become the norm,
it is virtually impossible to uphold a community
life with mutual charity. And therefore Mother Colette
encourages her sisters to be led by grace.
In the pre-Vatican text books on grace there was
a distinction made between habitual grace, which
is to say, the indwelling of the Blessed Trinity,
and actual grace which is strength provided for
the present moment.
While it was a perfect formula, it did not always
effectively communicate that, however weak we are,
Gods grace is always stronger.
It is important that we realize with trust and confidence
that not only is God's grace always with us, but
that, his presence is made known to us, particularly
in moments of weakness and stress.
Therefore, wise reason, with which grace always
cooperates, takes us ultimately to our glory. It
nevertheless remains that while sin itself passes
away swiftly, its consequences can be everlasting;
penitence, on the other hand, while short, has consequences
more far reaching still — leading us to eternal
happy enclosure! 0 soul completely enclosed, according
to the will of its superior, which nothing causes
to go straying abroad here and there, but which
rests at all times completely submissive to the
will of its superiors. There is its only rest!
.... O precious and sure enclosure! To be
enclosed by continual remembrance in the precious
wounds of Jesus Christ!
.... O happy captives, soaring above the
heavens to hear with the ears of the spirit the
nine choirs of angels, whose sweet praise and chanting
magnifies the Holy and Blessed Trinity, one God
in three persons.”
Again Mother Colette sums up her
thoughts in praise of enclosure. The joys of the
garden enclosed are put before us where the bridegroom
walks with the bride. We are reminded of the book
of Genesis, when God walked in the cool of evening
with Adam and Eve. There is promised to us rest,
because our will has become one with the divine
will of God. It is this expectation of bliss that
can be foreshadowed in the cloistered life, as the
Psalmist says, when I am with you the earth
delighted me not.
One must keep in mind that the garden enclosed,
by its very nature encourages those who live there
to raise their eyes to Heaven, to join their voices
with the Heavenly Choirs and to journey through
life, light footed with a song on ones lips. There
is no concern for a career or any advancement of
any kind. Having eliminated so many distractions,
the one and only aim is Heaven itself and the Court
of the King.
all the angels praise God, glorify him - in him
and through him, and through all his creatures in
heaven and on earth: exalt him above all for his
inestimable favour in creating the human person
in the image of the Creator, and for the sovereign
gift of the sacred Incarnation of our God, who is
so good that, after having created all things for
our sake, he himself became truly man and our loving
Brother, so as to restore all things by his glorious
death and his passion.
O infinite good!
.... O bounty without measure!
.... O ingratitude which forgets so great a gift!
.... Praise him! Exalt him with all your voice for
the great gift received in Holy Baptism, that of
knowing complete innocence and becoming temples
of the blessed Holy Spirit.”
Mother Colette having concluded
her admonitions , breaks forth into praising God
with all the choirs of angels and with all His creatures
here on earth. We are reminded of the book of Revelation
where we find a continuous choir of voices praising
and glorifying! In fact, throughout the history
of monastic life the laus perennis*
was the dominant occupation of Monks and Nuns.
To praise God is in fact what we have been created
Mother Colette considers this as one of God's greatest
favors that we have been created in the image and
likeness of God. Dun Scotus never ceased comparing
the Incarnation as the final gift of love, which
is to say, that in Jesus Christ, God revealed Himself
in his true being. For Duns Scotus, Christ became
man not so much for the salvation of mankind, but
far more so in order to have somebody so perfect,
so holy, as to love God in a with a love commensurable
with God. As God he could love his Father in the
fullest sense of the word, on equal terms, and as
man he could love his Father perfectly, wholly submitting
himself to the will of the Father.
As our brother, He enabled us to become co-lovers
with Him. In the fullest sense of the word He is
the bridge between heaven and earth. Therefore by
his Cross, Passion and Resurrection he could bring
back to life himself, his brothers and sisters and
all creation that groaned in great turmoil awaiting
the great revelation of God.
Mother Colette praises the infinite good , the bounty
without measure, the priceless gift.
All these gifts are ours: when we receive the gift
of Baptism, the Blessed Trinity begins to dwell
in us and we become the temple of the Holy Spirit.
It comes to some as a surprise that medieval spirituality
was deeply Scripture-based and in fact truly charismatic.
*The “laus perennis“,
or “Perpetual Psalmody“, dates to the early 6th
century A.D., and was carried on, day and night,
by several choirs, or turmae, who
succeeded each other in the recitation of the
Divine Office, so that prayer went on without
thanks worthily to the Lord for having borne, so
generously, with your sins and failings. His pity
has recalled us to himself through contrition, confession,
atonement and the resolution to lead a good life.
He has drawn us through our call to the religious
life, to enter into the state of perfection found
in the Form of Life, with a good company which will
not desert us, so as to glorify him at all times
for the holy promise of eternal life, the promise
he has already made to us.”
Mother Colette admonishes her sisters
to be mindful of their failings but not through
succumbing to self pity, or worse still, to mere
remorse, but by pointing to the Lord, who has born
for us our failings and renewed us in his grace.
One is reminded of prayer that was recited during
the offertory before the Vatican II reforms eliminated
it, which said something like this, “Oh God you
have created us wonderfully and recreated us more
wonderfully, never must we see our sinfulness without
the awareness of the merciful love of God.”
Through contrition we are recalled to God Himself;
confession and atonement put us on the path of righteousness.
Perhaps it is of importance to reflect here on the
word atonement. If we analyze its structure,
it falls into two elements, the meaning of which
is that we are at one with God. It is a great pity
that the element of being at one with God
has been neglected in the past, particularly since
the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus revolved
a great deal around the conception of atonement.
To be at one with God means to place all our confidence
in him. There is no room for self pity or self accusation,
we are washed clean in Precious Blood of Jesus.
Those of us who have been privileged to be called
to the Religious life know for certain that having
entered the state of perfection does not mean that
we are perfect or ever will be; it only means that
we have the grace to see the job through, that is
to say, to persevere following the Lamb wherever
He leads. Guided by our form of life which is based
on the Gospel, we have all the inspiration we need
to know the holy will of God and do it.
We are also privileged to know that in living the
Gospel life the promise of eternal life is ours.
And ever more, here on earth we have the hundredfold
even with persecution.
Admittedly our journey to God equals that of a serpentine
road, rather that the straight flat from a
to b – but our certainty is the destination,
and it is no less than heaven itself.
him, love him, serve him worthily so you can be
sure of everlasting life - as sure as those who
are already in full possession of it and who see
God in the clear vision of his sweetness and infinite
goodness, in the highest bliss arid perfect surety
of their eternal inheritance.”
is of importance to notice the order of phrases
as they follow each other: praising, loving serving.
First and foremost we are asked to praise God, to
acknowledge His majesty and almighty power, He is
the Creator, we are the creatures, that is the most
fundamental premise upon which our relationship
to God is based.
Having acknowledged His majesty, our hearts
response is love. His majesty inspires our
love and by virtue of our loving Him we serve Him.
It is of importance that we understand that our
service is that of a free response freely given
through our awareness of our place in this creation.
The promise of eternal life is then reiterated by
Colette. We begin to understand how needful it is
for us to keep before our mind's eye that heaven
is what we are living for.
Quite emphatically, Colette assures her sisters
that heaven is ours with a certainty no less than
those who have gone before us and who enjoy the
Beatific Vision, the vision of God's infinite sweetness
This is a far cry from the categorical imperative
which obliges us to do our duty because it is our
duty to do our duty. No such sterile and uncompromising
obligation is laid upon us apart from love and what
love of necessity, of certainty, not only engenders
but entails. We can anticipate the highest bliss
and the surety of our eternal inheritance. Our faithfulness
in love is the surest pledge of life everlasting
Just as children are being rewarded for their efforts,
we the children of God need to be lured by the goodness
of God and not by the stern sense of duty to follow
the path that leads to salvation. That is compulsion,
duress. Love, on the other hand, invincibly moves
to the Beloved, it is preeminently free; love, not
duty, compels the soul to the Beloved Who is its
We are reminded of St. Stephen who, when being stoned,
cried out aloud, “I see heaven opened and the Son
of Man standing at the right side of the Father!”
May our vision — and our end — be no less compelling
through our love.
order to be able to attain to this by his grace
and his aid, we must loyally keep the vows that
which we have promised him, and if we commit some
fault through human frailty, we must make haste
every time pick ourselves up, to make ourselves
clean and to make up our losses through holy penance.
And our dear Father, during this life receives us
without delay into his mercy and his sweet reconciliation,
considering that first, holy and good intention,
which he gave us in our holy vocation and in his
loving binding of us to himself, and for the sake
of all his innumerable favors, graces present and
now puts before us our eternal inheritance which
we can obtain with God's grace and His aid. However,
we in turn need to be faithful to the vows we have
promised and perhaps this is the place to say that
while the Church dispenses from the obligation of
the vows and enables a Religious to own property
and to make decisions, this does not mean that the
commitment once made to God — providing it was made
freely and without compulsion – has become null
Vows in religion are based on Baptismal Vows and
are actually only a deepening of these vows, and
they therefore remain valid even if the actual obligation
of each vow can no longer be fulfilled.
Mother Colette also gives some wholesome advice
as to how one repents through Holy Penance: there
is no place for maudling and undue self pity. As
every good confessor will advise, to make an Act
of Contrition suffices and we must just leave it
at that. Considered carefully, we find that it is
full of common sense and much to the point. We are
assured that our Heavenly Father receives us with
open arms and sweet reconciliation.
There is also a very needful explanation provided
by St. Colette that there is a binding
as part of the nature of the holy vow; in fact the
word religion, means just that, a bond
– and having bound ourselves to God we could not
not possibly wish to cut ourselves loose because
there is the inescapable truth that if we are not
bound to God we will be bound to the evil one, there
is no neutrality in things absolute, final, and
eternal. There is no middle way. It was not so with
our Holy Spouse, Jesus Christ. It cannot be so with
praise always, praise everlastingly, and love the
Father, the Son and the blessed Holy Spirit; the
most humble Virgin who bore Jesus Christ, the holy
and sacred soul of our Redeemer, and his precious
body which hung upon the cross for us all; love
the Saints, men and women, and all the angels, and
all the good and just people who serve God day and
Mother Colette, the true charismatic,
encourages her sisters to praise God everlastingly
. It took the charismatic movement to re-discover
ancient long-forgotten truth which medieval man
knew so well, that is, it befits us, first and foremost
to praise and adore the Almighty. This is where
we belong in the order of creation. Our Mother Clare
admonishes her sisters to praise God by our lives,
and Colette , a true and faithful daughter continues
this admonition, telling her sisters to love the
Father, The Son and the Blessed Holy Spirit.
Often prayer is interpreted as the personal relationship
between myself and Jesus Christ. While
this is true, it is only half true: as a baptized
person I am relating to the Blessed Trinity, three
persons, one God.
This form of prayer, of praise, nourishes the soul,
day and night, and for Poor Clare's the Office of
Matins is the best proof of what our Mother Colette
preached and practiced, for when we arise we sing
the Lords praises – in the middle of the night
we are motivated by our desire to praise the Father
as his daughters, praise the Son as his mothers,
and praise the Holy Spirit to whom we belong in
bridal love. Our soul stretches out its wings in
loving union with all the Saints, past and present,
all the angels gathered around the Tabernacle, and
all the many good people who serve God by their
We are mindful that many who do not know God meet
the God of creation by their fidelity to their daily
tasks and commitments to duty.
Set your minds on living well and
dying holily. The end is approaching; the world
not improving: malice increases; goodness, loyalty
and truth decrease; iniquity abounds, charity grows
cold again; devotion and religion are found in very
few hearts. Many are called, but few are chosen.
.... Alas ! The pity of it all ! For God, according
to his holy will, wants to save all humankind without
exception! Yet so few of them let themselves be
chosen ! All are called, but few consent to come;
and if there are those who start out and go on for
some time, nevertheless there are very few who persevere
to the end in keeping the law of God.”
Mother Colette sums up her whole teaching in a single
sentence, exhorting her sisters to live well
and die holily.
More sound advice could scarcely be imagined. It
leaves us in no doubt and stands in need of no explanation.
Colette herself provides the qualification to this
sweeping statement, pointing out to us that the
end is approaching – that malice increases, charity
Concluding this statement with another terse admonition,
Mother Colette admonishes us, as Jesus Christ Himself
“many are called but few are chosen”;
a warning as apropos of our time as as it was in
the time of Colette. In the history of mankind there
are times of exploration and new development – and
there are also times of decline, decadence, and
negligence, Colette's time was one of those. And
our own day, in many ways, is not unlike hers.
However Colette reassures us yet again that it is
God's wish to save all mankind — if only we would
be ready to be chosen. As she herself says, while
all are called, few consent to come, and what is
worse still, even many of those who do
come do not persevere unto the end.
are many who make solemn vows in religion but alas,
and more than a hundred thousand times alas, there
are all too few today who acquit themselves of them
loyally in the sight of God who misses nothing.
In order to be saved people are obliged to keep
completely, justly and loyally, all that they have
promised and vowed; the punishment for dishonesty
is eternal! Surely it would be better not to promise
anything and so fail in nothing, than to promise
much and then fall abysmally short.
.... The greater the promise, the greater the injury,
and the more awful the fate of the transgressor.
But for the good, the greater the promise, the greater
is the merit and the greater the salvation, which
will be given us as a pure gift by the Father of
all mercy, the Son by his holy Passion, and by the
blessed Holy Spirit, the fountain of peace, of sweetness,
of love and of all consolation,.
.... Amen, amen, without recall.”
In her summary, Colette, true to her reforming spirit,
reminds us that there are many who have taken solemn
vows and so few who loyally, faithfully, embrace
their obligations. We need to keep in mind that
Colette as a reformer met many Nuns and Friars who
had been attentive to the invitation – but overcome
by the spirit of the world failed or compromised.
The seed that falls upon good soil, and not among
thorns; which takes deep root in deep love and thrives
through perseverance, are sorrowfully few. Did not
our Master tell us as much?
Practical to the end, Colette points out to her
daughters that in order to be saved, we need to
keep completely, justly, and loyally
what we have vowed. It is a necessary,
a vital reminder in our present and increasingly
secularized climate, one that should motivate us
to carefully and truthfully examine our own conscience
relative to our understanding of our own commitment.
While it is true that life is a journey, with many
unfamiliar bends on the road, it is equally true
that we must follow it right to the end of the road
if we desire eternal life. A journey without a clear-cut
understanding of where it ends
becomes meaningless and wasteful.
There is only one life to live, and there is no
trial run for it.
Mother Colette completes her testament with a blessing
that the Son, Who by His holy Passion, and the Holy
Spirit, the fount of peace and sweetness, of love
and all consolation, may always be with us, – it
is the unfailing promise of Christ Himself:
“I am with you always. Even unto the end ...”
We pray that all those who read this commentary
will find a new and beautiful awakening of God's
love in their hearts.
Now that we have completed our
reflections on the Testament of Our Holy Mother
St. Colette it seems appropriate to try and
evalue what these reflections have shown us.
For those of us who were part of religious life
in the pre-Vatican era, it was taken for granted
that we took the Colettine reform on board: our
life was austere, and quite often below the bread
level. That is to say, the aspect of penance was
stressed almost to the exclusion of other considerations
she had raised in her reflections.
When we were asked by the Council Fathers to return
to our roots and think afresh the heritage we were
honored to carry, many, rather than returning to
their roots, cast their charism aside and reformed
their religious life as they thought best and most
amenable to them – to the point that the original
charism that inflamed their orders were eventually
extinguished or became mere smoldering wicks.
Others steadfastly maintained a no-change attitude.
The resulting polarization was, and still is, very
It poses a question well worth pondering: did Mother
Colette anticipate that her reflections would, without
any question, without any change hold good even
in the 21st Century? It is not likely that she had
such a static outlook on life; being the woman she
was, she understood clearly that a reform needed
direct and precise injunctions to come off the ground,
but she also understood the paradox that for things
to remain the same some aspects always need changing.
Not for the mindless, pointless sake of change,
not gratuitously – but to bring the same
witness, the same evangel, the same
hope, in no way changed in essence ...
merely in inflection. Perhaps this is what traditionalists
need to understand more adequately, that nothing
can stay the same; that if we do not want to loose
the essence, we must continuously update
the accidentals ... not to the point
that the essence is obscured and no longer recognizable
... but speaks the one and same message, a timeless
message of an unchangeable Gospel, more clearly,
more forcefully, to an increasingly confused and
disoriented and disinherited world.
Mother Colette's unmistaken charismatic inspiration
should give us continual food for thought, her emphasis
on praise, her awareness of the dignity and beauty
of the religious life were scarcely ever mentioned
during those pre-Vatican days. There is a letter
by no less a man than Henry the Eighth, King of
England in the 16th century, petitioning the holy
Father to canonize this noble virgin Colette, known
for her prayer and deep charity.
It is not without reason that she was she the uncrowned
queen of France.
A Poor Clare Colettine Nun
the name of the Lord! Amen.
... Among the other gifts that we have received
and do daily receive from our benefactor, the Father
of Mercies, and for which we must express the deepest
thanks to the glorious Father of Christ, there is
our vocation, for which, all the more by way of
its being more perfect and greater, do we owe the
greatest thanks to him. Therefore the Apostle writes:
“Know your vocation“. The Son of God has been made
for us the Way, which our Blessed Father Francis,
his true lover and imitator, has shown and taught
us by word and example. Therefore, beloved sisters,
we must consider the immense gifts that God has
bestowed on us, especially those that he has seen
fit to work in us through his beloved servant, our
blessed father Francis, not only after our conversion
but also while we were still living among the vanities
of the world.”
an amateur consult a professional writer on how
best to start an essay, every experienced writer
would say, “put your punch line first!” Our Holy
Mother St. Clare, while she had no such mentor to
advise her, did just that. She begins her testament
in the Name of the Lord! With this very short simple
sentence she puts the emphasis where it should be:
on the Lord.
We have to remember that to know the name of a person
is to have to access and influence over this person.
It is an ancient and deeply Semitic concept. Even
in fairy tales we find that knowledge of the name
of the character invests the one who knows with
a certain power over the character.
Mother Clare knew and understood the importance
of a name, and therefore begins her testament calling
on the Name of the Lord! She ends this short exclamation
very emphatically: “Amen”, so be it.
What then follows encapsulates her belief in divine
providence, her outlook on life, its worthwhileness,
its beginning and its ending. She begins by singling
out the one gift among the many other gifts that
we receive and that is the gift of vocation. There
are at the moment two very different views as concerning
the notion of a vocation. The one understands it
as a ministerial occupation, which in plain English
means that it is a job. The other considers a calling
as a direct invitation from God to the religious
life, the married life, the single life.
This latter attitude presupposes that the calling
is a gift, and because it is a gift from our loving
Father, with the gift comes the talent and necessary
attributes to live the call to its fullest. In other
words it is not we who choose, it is Our Father
who points the way and provides us with the means.
She refers to God, therefore, as her greatest benefactor,
the Father of Mercies, the Giver of every good gift.
The One Who gave His very Son, without recall. This
complete confidence in Him Who “gives not as the
world gives”, stands in stark contrast to those
whose understanding of the beneficence of God is
less generous and who subsequently claim to have
lost their vocation. A gift given by God can not
get lost, although it can be neglected, eventually
disdained, and finally thrown away; No! This gift
from God is given for good, and because we cannot
be deprived of it (although we can effectively discard
it) we must express our deepest thanks. The world
gives and takes away. God is not the world. And
certainly the world is not God.
There nevertheless arises the question of what,
precisely, it is that one should be thankful for.
Mother Clare answers this question without hesitation
and in the clearest and most unapologetic terms:
the vocation to Religious life is more perfect and
greater than any other gift that could have been
bestowed upon us. This does not sit well with many
men and women who see God as the great Equalizer,
exercising the magnitude of His favor on all alike
— Cain as well as Abel, Esau as well as Jacob. We
are offended if everyone does not equally enjoy
His favor, His predilection. St. Clare was not.
She grasped through humility what most fail to grasp
Quoting St. Paul, she then admonishes her sisters
to know their vocation.
Having acknowledged God as the source of her vocation
she now moves on to the inspiration that comes to
her from the words and in the example of the Blessed
Francis whom she refers to as God's true lover and
As in the Gospel where Jesus Christ refers to Himself
as the Way, the Truth and the Life, so here the
Son of God is seen as the Way that points to the
Father. Again she mentions the blessed Francis,
her guide and inspiration, who inspired her mind
and instilled in her the great desire to lead the
Gospel life — not only after her conversion, but
while she was still living in her father's house.
When Clare refers to her conversion it leaves us
wondering: “What she was converted from?”, seeing
that even in her father's house, under the guidance
of Ortolana her mother, the women-folk led a life
of dedication and service to the poor and needy.
When St. Clare refers to her conversion she surely
could not have meant a turning away from a sinful
life, for we know from the extremely careful scrutiny
of the Canonization Process that even in her father's
house, dedicating her time and energy to prayers
and works of charity, she did not live anything
tantamount to a dissolute life!
No, something much more subtle is referred to. When
we look at the word conversion, we understand
a turning away from something in preference
to something better. In the case of St. Clare it
undoubtedly meant that she came to understand the
values of her parental home to be good, but not
very good, to be honorable, but not necessarily
in keeping with the Gospel. With an astonishing
maturity of spirit she came to confront herself
with her previous upbringing which stressed honor
and respectability, preferring, instead, the littleness
of her mentor, the blessed Francis, who referred
to himself as the little poor man, and so in like
manner, she became the little plant.
It is a seldom recognized, but very serious problem
in community living that the conversion process
which everyone is called to undergo does not always
result in amended previous habits, nor rehabilitate
long-standing and ingrained ideas. It is one of
the most painful sources of disharmony in the life
of a community: very few people of different backgrounds
have identical values, and very often, identical
moral formations, and therefore ones expectations
of what other people do or not do is very much colored
by ones own criteria. For a successful community
striving to authentically live the Gospel within
the unique charism of any Order, conversion, personal
conversion, on the level of the dynamics of human
relationships is, however difficult, essential to
the viability of community life. We are all called
to say with St. Paul, “Nos autem sensum Christi
habemus” ... “But we have the mind of
fact, almost immediately after his conversion, when
he had neither brothers nor companions, while he
was building the church of San Damiano, where he
was totally visited by divine consolation and impelled
to completely abandon the world , through the great
joy and enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, the holy
man made a prophecy about us that the Lord later
.... For at that time , climbing the wall of that
church, he shouted in French to some poor people
who were standing nearby: “Come and help me in the
work of building the monastery of San Damiano, because
ladies are yet to dwell here who will glorify our
heavenly Father throughout his holy, universal Church
by their celebrated and holy manner of life.”
Having set the framework, now
Mother Clare begins to explain the origin
of the foundation of the Poor Clare Order.
Francis, having recently been converted from a sinful
life, occupied himself by re-building dilapidated
churches. It was a time of great inner upheaval
for him, he had failed in his ambition to become
a Knight, he had spent time in prison as a prisoner
of war in Perugia, and all his far flung dreams
had turned to dust and ashes. After his father had
bailed him out, he returned to Assisi, a sick man
in body and soul.
His recovery was slow, and even after he had regained
his strength, his mind was troubled , and the futility
of his life laid heavy upon him.
It was then, as he was trying to find some meaning
for his existence, that he wandered into an empty
church outside the walls to seek he knew not what!
It was in that church that he heard the Crucified
asking him to rebuild the Church!
In his simplicity, he took it to mean that he was
to rebuild that very church, San Damiano, and obediently
set himself to the task. It was not until much later
that he was asked to rebuild the Mystical Body of
Christ. However his ready obedience bore rich fruit.
Not only he, but the Poor Ladies that were to follow
him, found a place and a purpose in life. It was
here that he decided to abandon the world, it was
here that he was overflowing with divine consolation.
It is interesting to note that Mother Clare ascribes
all this to the joy and enlightenment of the Holy
Spirit. In fact, the Spirit of the Lord and his
holy inspiration play a large part in her writing
and in that of the Blessed Francis.
Clare then goes on to explain that under divine
inspiration, Francis prophesied to some bystanders
that poor Ladies were to dwell there, glorifying
their heavenly Father by their celebrated and holy
manner of life. The Holy Manner of life was to be
based on the Gospel life, and it was to be lived
throughout his holy, universal Church. This leaves
us with the question why Mother Clare specifically
mentions the Church in this context? We must keep
in mind that at this point in history the Church
was beset by heresies, in fact, Assisi itself was
divided and it said that heretics numbered more
members than the Church!
It is clearly Clare's intent to put herself, and
her daughters, deeply within the bosom of Holy Mother
Church, which stood resolutely against the heresies
“We can consider in this, therefore,
the abundant kindness of God to us. Because of his
mercy and love, he saw fit to speak these words
through his St. about our vocation and choice through
his St.. And our most blessed Father prophesied
not only for us, but also for those who would come
to this same holy vocation to which the Lord has
Mother Clare again returns to the
subject of vocations, seeing it as the outpouring
of abundant kindness on the part of God. There is
no mention made of sacrificing one's life in a meaningless
and dull routine of duty. On the contrary, it is
a sign of His mercy and love that He offers this
invitation to follow in His Son's footsteps, and
again she points out that He chose Francis and gave
him prophetic words about her vocation, making Francis
the channel of grace through which his invitation
So it comes about as the Blessed Francis had prophesied,
that here, in San Damiano, ladies would live to
glorify their heavenly Father – not only Clare and
her own sisters but also those who would come in
years to follow to that same holy vocation to which
the Lord had called her.
It is obvious from the way that Clare mentions St.
Francis that she always considered him her Father
in Christ, referring to him as our Most Blessed
father, albeit that age-wise she was only 12 years
his junior. There is manifest a deep gratitude on
her part as to the role he played in her life, we
must also recognize that Francis only verbalized
what had laid hidden in her own heart for some very
There is a truth expressed in psychology that one
cannot elicit what is not basically within a person,
however dormant. No person and no circumstance can
evoke anything in any of us that is not already
deeply hidden within. This is a truly daunting thought,
as we are often prone to blame circumstances or
people for our reactions and negativity.
Here we find a truly inspiring example of spiritual
friendship, which is one of the most misunderstood
realties in the spiritual life. St Aelred of Riveaux
once wrote a treatise on spiritual friendship, where
he points out that the God given way to perfection
is best achieved by the mutual inspiration and support
of two journeying together. There holds good the
much neglected axiom from the Book of Genesis, “It
is not good for man to be alone“, and as the country
folk say, there are three in God, there is only
The notion of being “alone with God“ is much misunderstood.
God is the prime source of our love and therefore
it is in the sharing of this love and in the response
to it that we come to the full understanding of
union with God. The very notion itself of “union”
implies, of necessity, an entering of at least two
into a “being one”. What is more, did not Our Blessed
Lord say, “Where two or more are gathered, there
am I in their midst”? (St. Matthew 18.20)
“We can consider in this , therefore,
the abundant kindness of God to us. Because of his
mercy and love, he saw fit to speak these words
through his St. about our vocation and choice through
his St.. And our most blessed Father prophesied
not only for us, but also for those who would come
to this same holy vocation to which the Lord has
Again Clare refers to her vocation
as a proof of the abundant kindness of God. Clare
is fully aware that her vocation is a sign of special
favour to which we need to respond with the deepest
gratitude. Why? Because to be invited is to be privileged,
as the rich young man was in the gospel, to leave
the vanities of the world behind. This assures us,
not only a place in heaven, but the hundredfold,
here on earth ... and with persecutions to boot!
The medieval man clearly understood that however
sinful he might have been, this life on earth is
no more that the prelude to life everlasting with
God and his Saints in heaven. Not for a moment did
he loose sight of this basic fact. One of the most
besetting problems of our time is not the fact of
sinfulness, but the lack of faith, without which
not only the Ten Commandments, and every aspect
of Christ's teaching becomes incomprehensible, but
as a result the moral law of the Church that is
based upon them. Every medieval cathedral, bears
witness that medieval man upheld and clearly understood
this eschatological view.
In Francis, Mother Clare saw a prophetic outpouring
under the inspiration of God the Almighty. Never
did she doubt for one moment that her vocation was
anything but the treasure in the field, which she
had found, and for which she relinquished everything.
At no point did she attempt a learned treatise on
the indwelling of the Blessed Trinity, but by her
intuitive knowledge she knew, understood, grasped
... lived ... the reality that theology only verges
Looking into the future she realises that Francis
spoke not only for her and her sisters, there and
then, but for all who were to follow, in the here
and now! As long as the Gospel is being proclaimed
there will also be those who, led by divine inspiration,
will find the passion to follow it.
“With what eagerness and fervour
of mind and body, therefore, must we keep the commandments
of our God and Father, so that, with the help of
the Lord, we may return to him an increase of his
Mother Clare continues to explain
that the nature of loving God consists in keeping
the Commandments, and she is anxious to explain
that the commandments must be kept with eagerness
and fervour of mind and body. Indeed this is a tall
order, to keep the commandments as a duty in order
to stay on the right side of God is easily within
our comprehension but to obey with eagerness presupposes
a different interpretation of our keeping the commandments
as a proof of love.
We are reminded of the Shema, in Deuteronomy
6, where we are told that we must love the Lord
our God with all our heart and soul, and our neighbour
as ourselves. The Psalmist tells us that the law
of the Lord is perfect, it refreshes
Indeed, how many people would interpret that keeping
the law, rather than being burdensome and onerous,
is refreshing ? This understanding, rooted
in one of the most ancient and fundamental precepts
of living life authentically with God goes a long
way toward explaining the present polarization that
we now painfully experience within the Church.
To those for whom loving God is the sole purpose
of existence there is no doubt that doing the Holy
Will of God is the summit of all happiness. However,
those who seek the things of the world, the fulfillment
of their own will, the satisfaction of their own
desires and happiness here on earth will always
struggle against, find themselves in contention
with, this Divine current that runs deeply through
both Testaments, and whose source is God Himself.
It is unfortunate that this orientation to other-worldliness
has been, wittingly or nor, misinterpreted as denoting
a summary rejection of legitimate values and pleasures.
This skewered assessment of life in God could not
be further from the truth. *Happy* the man who keeps
his eyes on God and believes that the daisies under
his feet were planted there by God, for him to rejoice
Only in this way can we return to the Lord an increase
of His talent. Those of us who have already entered
holy religion may well remember in retrospection
how severely we were rebuked for wasting our talents.
Here, Mother Clare encourages us to use our talent
in the service of God.
What greater, what more benevolent and loving a
Master could we possibly serve with all our strength
of mind and body, than the most sublime of all masters,
Our Loving Father. This service which consists in
loving God for His sake is surely the most fulfilling
form of life that we can conceive. Is there a greater?
The Blessed Francis was asked in a dream by Our
Lord what master he would wish to serve. His answer
was, the highest of all! Whereupon he was made to
understand that there is no higher, no greater service
that that of serving Our Lord and Master, Jesus
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