Most Holy and Most Beloved Child



The Rule of St. Clare is the fruit of forty years of enclosed, contemplative, community living. In its brief pages, we can hear the voice of St. Clare the discerning legislator and St. Clare the wise religious formator. We meet St. Clare the abbess and St. Clare the mother, St. Clare the teacher and even St. Clare the Franciscan historian. But there are places in her Rule where these voices are dimmed, and one is privileged to catch a whisper of the “essential" St. Clare - St. Clare the Mystic, St. Clare the passionate lover of the Poor Christ.

The end of the second chapter of her Rule is one of these places. After setting out guidelines for receiving new members into her community and outlining the plan for their formation, the Lady Clare declares: For the love of THE MOST HOLY AND MOST BELOVED CHILD, wrapped in such poor little swaddling clothes and laid in a manger, and of His most holy Mother, I direct, pray and exhort my Sisters that they be always clothed in the garments of the lowly.

This, decidedly, is not the way founders of orders usually give directives concerning the garb their followers are to wear. Yet this lyrical expression of an otherwise pragmatic instruction gives us a deep insight not only into St. Clare's understanding of the significance of the religious habit, but also into her relationship with the Lord who made Himself poor for our sake.

It is said that only two thoughts occupied the mind of St. Francis - the humility of the Incarnation and the charity of the Passion. It is just as true to say that these were the two thoughts that filled the mind and prayer of St. Clare. If she admonishes her Sisters to see even the garments they wear as an expression of love for and identification with JESUS. THE MOST HOLY AND MOST BELOVED CHILD, she likewise invites them to see their garments as a port of entry into the mystery of Christ's self-emptying.

In the mind of St. Clare, to be always clothed in the garments of the lowly applies not only to the outward form of one's dress, but even more to one's interior raiment. Adorn yourself within and without with beautiful robes and cover yourself with the flowers and garments of all virtues, St. Clare wrote to St. Agnes of Prague.

In JESUS, THE MOST HOLY AND MOST BELOVED CHILD, the Seraphic Mother saw what happened when God took on the lowly garb of human flesh. He who is THE MOST HOLY AND MOST BELOVED Son of God the Father descended to earth on a pilgrimage of love and redemption. The more St. Clare contemplated this mystery, the more she was filled with wonder and tenderness, love and adoration. This coming of Jesus among us was no longer simply an event confined to the Christmas season.

The mystery of the Incarnation is meant to touch and transform every part of every day of a Christian's life. And great things happened when St. Clare allowed it to touch and transform her life. She did not even notice, wrote Pope John Paul II, that through her contemplation and transformation, her womb as a poor virgin attached to the poor Christ had become a cradle of the Son of God.

St. Clare invites us to join her by the Crib of the Lord, to behold with her this MOST HOLY AND MOST BELOVED CHILD wrapped in such poor little swaddling clothes. May we know with her what the heart of Christmas really is -- and bring that Good News to everyone we meet!


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