Behold Him

Part 1

Her Secret

          There is something so attractive about excellence.  Whether it is a well-cooked meal, a well-tended garden, a beautifully crafted piece of wood, or a superbly executed piece of music, the excellence of something well done draws us like a magnet.  Who has not wanted to ask the gourmet cook, the green-thumbed gardener, the master craftsman, the concert pianist: What is your secret?   

            If excellence in temporal things attracts our attention, how much more appealing is excellence in the realm of the spirit?  So beautiful was our Lord at prayer that His disciples were compelled to ask Him: Lord, teach us how to pray!   Admiring the fortitude of the Church’s martyrs, the wisdom of her doctors, the insights of her mystics, the virtues of her saints, are we not moved to ask: What is your secret?  

            The answers will vary.  All of the saints will speak of God’s grace, of the need for effort, determination, perseverance, humility, contrition, love.  But each saint cherishes a particular “secret,” a method, emphasis, virtue or approach which is uniquely personal.

            What is your secret?  We ask this of that great contemplative woman, St. Clare of Assisi , as the Order she founded prepares to celebrate the 800th anniversary of her religious consecration in March 2010.  What is the “secret” which enriched her prayer, enlivened her daily striving, and encouraged her to persevere in times of darkness?

            The Seraphic Mother wrote no treatise on prayer.  She was not a theologian in the formal sense of the word.  Yet in a letter to St. Agnes of Prague , she let slip, so to speak, the “secret” of her contemplative life.  We can presume that this formulation was very precious to St. Clare, because she repeated it in another letter written shortly before her death in August 1253.

            When advising St. Agnes how to fulfill her call to contemplation, St. Clare simply said: BEHOLD HIM! Consider Him! Contemplate Him, desiring to imitate Him!  This is the “secret” of her prayer, so rich and deep, so life-giving and life-transforming.  Hers is not a complicated method or complex technique.  And yet, it takes a lifetime to plumb the depths of Clare’s simple words, to allow them to become in us a true force for prayer and spiritual renewal.  

            In this series we will seek to BEHOLD Christ as did St. Clare, to look at Jesus through the lens of her experience, to allow Clare’s gaze to become our own.  The Latin verb which St. Clare used when inviting us to BEHOLD the Lord is intuere.   It means to look at attentively, to gaze at (even to look right in the face); to pay attention to; to contemplate, to consider; to look at with astonishment or admiration. Very significantly, we find this verb used in the Gospel of our Lord’s encounter with the rich young man: Jesus looked with love at him.   

            To help in this holy “beholding,” we shall use the Face of the Crucified which St. Clare gazed upon during the 42 years of her religious life in the monastery of San Damiano.  If another image of our Lord speaks more to you, use it.  But, take your place alongside St. Clare, lift up your eyes to that blessed Face, BEHOLD HIM with love and admiration, attention and astonishment.  Look towards Him and be radiant (Ps. 34:5) and you will have already begun to share in St. Clare’s “secret.”


And all of us, BEHOLDING
the Lord’s glory with unveiled faces,
are being transformed from glory to glory
into His very image by the Lord who is the Spirit.

-2 Corinthians 3:18


Poor Clare Monastery of Our Lady of Mercy
300 North 60th Street
Belleville , Illinois   62223-3927   U.S.A.