Companions of Clare
Concept for the Companions of Clare
Concept for the Companions of Clare
Mission Statement: to house a group of Franciscan-spirited seniors whose work
is prayer for the Church in contemplation.
Companions of Clare (COC)
An ongoing series of informational entries
An ongoing series of informational entries
September 21, 2018
We wish to create an experimental community following the Primitive Rule of St. Clare, involving older women in the Beguine tradition. Our focus group will be women over 62 either those who have left religious life and wish to reenter, or those who wish to give the rest of their lives to God. Younger woman may apply and their age will be considered. Originally this concept was meant to fill a personal need. However, very few people stand alone and I have developed this paper as an invitation for others. 1963-1980 were difficult years for religious life. With the Vatican Council, in understanding of religious life, became a source of confusion and mistakes in many communities. Some women religious were able to weather the brewing storm of change and some, like me, lost focus. The equation of focus and vocation became synonymous, and many good women left religious life. I have come to believe vocation is deep and everlasting in one’s soul and have prepared this overview as a hope of rediscovering my own calling and possibly help others rediscover their religious vision.
Acknowledging the growth in understanding of religious life as time went on after the Council and the studies of the life and manner of Francis and Clare, a newly created community is being built accepting older women who would not normally be accepted in religious life due to their age.Seniors, 62 and older, called by God, is our focus group, although no women would be refused due to age.
Wonderful changes came about after the Council, but some valuable practices were set aside in our attempt to conform and understand the principles of the Vatican ll. Our community will be first and foremost a house of prayer for contemplatives. We believe such a house of prayer would nourish the prayer life of the Church and our immediate community in the town and, at the same time, act as an answer to the call for vocations for which the Church earnestly prays.
The vigor and enthusiasm of youth can wane as time goes. As stated, older women, who are called to religious life are stable and feel no need for experimentation.
Our community follows the Rule of Clare of Assisi. This Rule, approved by Pope Innocent IV in 1253 is a proven, acceptable way of life for contemplatives. It is simple and straight forward and is built on the Rule of St. Francis of Assisi who wanted to live a radical following of the Gospel. Our group will understand the need for a contemplative life and will understand how it feeds the Church. Franciscans have always professed a counter-culture but maintaining this has been difficult. Our community will always keep this in our radar, since we believe it lies at the essence of the Francis and Clare’s understanding of the Gospel.
Our research has determined the cutoff age for entrance into existing communities is 50 years of age. We believe the Spirit works in older individuals, as well.
Age brings about wisdom and a realization of the transitory reality of life. Older women, who are called by God to live a radical existence and consecrate their lives in an intense manner, are stable, and have had a wide variety of real life experiences. They are able to make an educated choice to answer God’s call with a “fiat.”
The Evangelical Counsels and our Commitment to Community
Very often life is spent 1/3 collecting treasures; the second 1/3 enjoying them; and the final 1/3 divesting oneself of all the “stuff.” It is in the voluntary divesting of items which helps to purify the soul so it is able to pursue the spiritual. The sacrifice is apparent for older people, but when called by God, many have the courage to answer. We will provide the venue to live out the answer. Our poverty will be understood and practiced as the evangelical counsel dictates.
We will accept widows as well as non-married women. Our consecration is not built on our past but on the desire to live and belong to the Lord Jesus only. Our practice of chastity will be based on the concept of the evangelical counsel knowing that God alone is our soul mate.
Our obedience will be understood and practiced as the evangelical counsel demands. We will have leader who, open to prayer and advice, will help all
understand what is for the common good both spiritually and materially. The leader will have courage, holiness and a strong understanding of our way of life.
None of what we do is a guarantee to holiness, but we believe the externals serve as a reminder of the mysticism to which we aspire. Any rule, practice or work is always first subject to the teachings of the Gospel, particularly charity, compassion and common sense. Our community would reflect these ideals. Our desire to follow the Gospel in a radical way would be an intense study and witness to the Sermon on the Mount.
Sacrifice is an essential part of the contemplative and penitential lifestyle. Candidates who appear unhappy, troubled or not content with their existing life will not be accepted. Entering our community is the act of saying
goodbye to a rich and satisfying lifestyle which cleanses the soul and deepens the journey to holiness. There is no room in the Franciscan spirit of joy for “good riddance to my life”.
Insights given to mature, stable women and the desire to serve God in prayer constitute part of the mystery of vocation. However, with these insights come independence and personal convictions which can be difficult to amalgamate into a cohesive community. Our group will deal with issues of this nature and other senior realities which may occur. The dynamics of community will involve strong women whose every encounter will be tempered with kindness and understanding. This is our commitment when we band together. This is the essence of community living and it is how we choose to witness to the life of the Trinity.
Consideration of the Mystery of Vocation
We will make every effort to support and encourage the vocation mystery in each person who inquires. We know screening potential candidates will be imperative. We also realize the nature of our lifestyle is marginal and not for all. This reality creates a partial, natural screening process. So we see two sides to this community. One is the nurturing of the vocation mystery, the other careful and prayerful discretion in dealing with the fragility of each person’s spirit.
To reiterate: insights given to mature, stable women and the desire to serve God in prayer constitute the mysteries of vocation and tempers our interviews and communications.
Advanced age brings about maturity, which when shared, is a gift and blessing for all. The image of marriage between Jesus and a contemplative is not a chance one. The “perfect fit” for individual and community is also a marriage. This path of living in community, and giving your life completely to community while following the radical interpretation of the Gospel is not an easy one and we can only give the Spirit the task of enlightening us so
few mistakes are made. It can and has been done. We wish to push the limits of age acceptance so older women can partake of this mystical marriage. The work of the Spirit and our prayers for discernment will bring about the union of Christ, community and the applicant. This is the precursor of mysticism. This, indeed is a mystical marriage.
We want to state here we are neither a nursing home nor a retirement community. We are rather a God-centered, Franciscan spirited group whose basic expression and engagement of community is in Liturgy and praying the Divine Office in common. We expect complete understanding and full participation in these activities. We will provide classes in both to assure our members are clear on the teachings and accepted understandings of the Roman Catholic Church.
Sustainability, Income, Work
We will also expect each sister to contribute something in the form of work to be shared by all, whether it be community living duties, or work in the form of an artistic nature.
Most of the towns in rural Maine are poor and strapped for money. The concept of “mendicants” is difficult for the town residents to understand. Yankees are famous for their ingenuity and hard work. They will expect to see some measure of work preformed by the sisters. With that in mind, all sisters will be expected to produce something with their hands.
The sisters will be expected to pool their Social Security for the common good. Pooled resources would alleviate financial concerns. Lady Poverty is of prime importance in the Franciscan way of life. We will make do with what we have.
We have established a simple, one room cabin as a hermitage for anyone who wishes to use it completely separate from our convent. We would supply food but hermit residents would not eat with the sisters. The occupants would be invited to Liturgy and Office. But other than that, no other contact would be allowed. Our hermitage hospitality would be limited and extended stays (up to a week) would be planned out so no interference with our community would occur. No one would be allowed an indefinite stay time.
Acceptance of retired women as a norm would set us apart from existing communities, would justify our request to build this community and fill a real need in the Franciscan Order and the Church, as a whole.
We have been blessed by receiving DVDs and CDs of scripture and other courses taught at seminaries and/ or published and sold on the open market. These tapes are current and will stimulate our minds and spiritual life. Courses will keep us from becoming stagnant in our approach to the teachings of the Church. Over the years we have and will continue to increase the size of our library with classic and new spiritual books. Every opportunity for formation will be afforded our sisters.
Since we are a new, experimental community, details for this formation will be tested, keeping the best, weaning out what doesn’t work. We will ask for assistance from holy men and women as we meet them. This will keep us current.
Prayer and Community
Our principal work and expression of community will be in Liturgy in the Roman Catholic Rite and praying the Divine Office. Other engagements of community would be somewhat limited. Silence, time and personal space are keys to contemplative living. Older, professional women understand this and are content living quiet, private lives. They also know the necessity to honor the space and quiet of others.
External signs of Consecration
Sacramentals are visible signs of grace and have long been accepted by the Church as signs of a mystical marriage within religious life. Our sisters will wear a Franciscan uniform to remind them of the steps they have taken to belong to God. The uniform would be first and foremost a sign one sister to another. It acts as an encouragement to continue to be dedicated women of God. It will also mark us to outsiders indicating we are walking in the specific path of Francis and Clare. There will be little to explain to the laity. The uniform will speak for itself; it will speak for us. Our presence will be a visible witness of God’s grace on this earth. The uniform will also act as a common denominator for our style.
As women living a marginal lifestyle, our property will be a sacred space for us to pray and reflect on the wonders of God.
Our housing is large enough to accommodate as many sisters as God sends. We don’t anticipate an ideal number and we do not want a house so large as to be a constant burden for maintenance.
The convent will have a designated space for visiting family and friends. The chapel will be open to visitors.
The Beguine Aspect
We are using the Beguine format and structure as our model. Holy, independent women who are self-motivate and reliant on their own strength and that of the Spirit are a blessing for the Companions of Clare. Besides the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, our companions will hold sacred the virtues of charity, humility and community living. Following the Rule of Clare mitigated in view of age will secure our attachment to Franciscan family and spirituality.
This is an experimental community. Invitation to become involved is important, but we are subject to God’s work in a person’s soul. Here again the mystery of vocation comes in to play. Anyone interested in being a part of our group will have a chance to investigate.
Numbers of women will not count in this experiment; what will count is the quality of commitment to this marginal, ascetical, consecrated life.
Measure of Success
The measure of success is not the number of bodies who will join us. That is in the hands of God. I firmly believe the Franciscans have a place for any type of experimental group. History has proven this. A special convent for delayed vocations is a valid concept and desperately needed. The challenges are unique, but with prayer and faith, this community will flourish.
Peace and every good!