Perfection of the Holy Gospel


In the sixth chapter of her Rule, St. Clare bequeathed to posterity something very precious -- a fragment of the original Form of Life which St. Francis wrote for her and the first Poor Sisters at the beginning of their evangelical venture.  The passage begins: Since by divine inspiration you have made yourselves daughters and handmaids of the most high sovereign King, the heavenly Father, and have espoused yourselves to the Holy Spirit by choosing to live according to the perfection of the Holy Gospel…

Franciscan scholars are quick to point out that the entire Marian dimension of St. Clare’s spirituality is contained in these words.  Indeed, this passage is a perfect parallel with the antiphon to Our Lady that St. Francis composed for his devotional Office of the Passion.

But there is more.  These words, scholars tell us, also give us the Trinitarian “key” to the Franciscan-Clarian-Christian life of prayer.  On first reading, it is easy enough to see the references to God the Father and God the Holy Spirit.  But where, we may ask, is the reference to God the Son?

To answer that question, we need to recall that for the Seraphic saints the foundation of their lives was to observe the Holy Gospel.   It was not simply a matter of hearing the Gospel (although that is very important, especially within the context of the liturgy).  Nor were St. Francis and St. Clare concerned with merely reading the Gospel.  Neither were they content with only studying the Gospel, at least in an academic sense.  What St. Francis and St. Clare sought was to observe the Gospel, or, to use a phrase dear to the Secular Franciscans of today, to lift the Gospel off the written page and bring it into life.   Because for the Seraphic saints, the Gospel was not primarily something but Someone -- JESUS CHRIST who is Himself the Perfection of the  Holy Gospel.

Thus, to live the perfection of the Holy Gospel is to live Christ.  It is to give Christ flesh by incarnating the Gospel in our daily lives (Lainati).  It is to bring forth Christ in the Church and in the world.  And in order to live Christ, to bring forth Christ, we must know Christ, we must observe Christ, we must BEHOLD HIM as the Perfection of the Holy Gospel.  And, anticipating the conclusion of the Clarian prayer “formula,” we must desire to imitate Him.

St. Clare of Assisi invites everyone to behold Jesus by looking deeply into the Gospel. Why?  Because the whole of Christ’s life was a continual teaching.  His silences, His miracles, His gestures, His prayer, His love for people, His special affection for the little and the poor, His acceptance of the total sacrifice on the Cross for the redemption of the world, and His Resurrection are the actualization of His word and the fulfillment of Revelation. Saint Pope John Paul II This prayerful beholding of our Lord as set down in the holy Gospel enables us not merely to speculate about what Jesus WOULD do (such speculation, alas, often falls victim to a subtle or not so subtle subjectivism) but to actually see what Jesus DID do. 

So fruitful and efficacious is this holy beholding that ever so gradually, if we are faithfully and humbly responsive to its grace, the features of Jesus begin to be imprinted upon our lives.  Is it any wonder then that St. Clare exhorted her Sisters, never let the thought of Him leave your mind?

Let us then BEHOLD HIM who is the Perfection of the Holy Gospel in prayer that is grounded and enriched by His living Word and by His saving example.  This is prayer, as St. Clare well knew, that is truly life-giving and life-changing.


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