And this? This is the kingdom she gave up. Technically, little remains of the castle Sasso Rosso where Clare and her sister Agnes would have spent their childhood summers, but they also had a palace here - in Assisi. I dreamt of Italy my entire life. When I first saw the medieval cities-on-a-hill in God's coutnry, I thought I was starring in a Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen movie, that God had waved his wand and said, "Here, you're secretly a Disney princess after all." Ha. I should've known.
Whether or not you've ever met her, the path you're walking on is lit by the glowing lantern of her life. You know those beacons in the Return of the King, those big, blazing bonfires they en-torch before the final battle? That's like who Clare was for me. Meeting her wrecked my heart. Her name means "clarity," and she prepped me for the Holy Spirit like a sweet, thirteenth century window washer.
When you think of the word "good pleasure," most Catholics probably think of the holy awesomeness of Church-sanctioned, married-people sex. That's what crops up even when you Google it: Theology of the Body. The term is actually used in theology in a pretty different way. I ran across it for the first time in one of my favorite hymns, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing. It's an old-school German song with an uplifting sound and the lyrics even contain the word "Ebenezer" (which turns out is actually a cool name for a kid.)
You might not be used to hearing "good pleasure" referred to as God's Holy Will. It is pleasing and prefect but often... confusing. I thought of it when we were recently studying the relationship between Jacob and Esau. Why didn't God just have Jacob born first? Why wasn't Jacob named Israel from the start? Why did he have to "become" Israel by wrestling an angel? In fact, why did Abraham have to be called? Why can't we just be born to do something, and do it? Why did Abraham falter? Why did David falter? Why couldn't they be born obedient? Why did God make humans at all?!
I once wrote a sonnet on bugs in college. I still wish I could be just like an ant - dutiful, unwavering, obedient. Why didn't God make us like the bugs and beasts who act only out of animal instinct?
For his good pleasure. Not for his delight. Not for his entertainment. But out of will, out of generosity, out of holiness which is always to share and to give until we are spent.
Come Thy Fount is inviting God into our heart. Wanting to be "tuned" like a musical instrument to play God's praises. This is a desire to never stop singing for Him, to never stop being forgiven by Him. It's a song of presentation where the heart is being handed over to God to be sealed, taught, trained; a heart that is "prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love." This is the hymn of the unfaithful begging for God's faithfulness.
Unable to follow God's will, perhaps, but blessed with the desire to nonetheless.
Sort of like me before I met Clare, and heard about how she ran away from home when she was 15 and chopped off all her hair to follow the Lord, and St. Francis of Assisi. Who knows where Francis would have been without her. Her little sister Agnes followed her and many more and today, the Poor Clares, and the story of St. Clare, have very much formed Christianity.
Isn't that the human condition? Moved by grace, overwhelmed by mercy, and longing for home? We can either please God, or please the "worldly desires of our flesh." One is content when the other isn't. For a long time the call to religious life made me uncomfortable until I met Clare. After I met her, I knew that poverty was the only way for someone from Ames to know God, and that way was truly very narrow. Before Clare, I never had the guts to visit a religious community and actually consider it. It was like going on dates with someone I knew I'd never marry - until I met her, and heard about how she cut her hair. Everyone in 12th century Italy wanted to be noble and socially comfortable like Clare. But she gave it all away... and people followed her. She found something better. Her heart was tuned to sing God's praise, and no one else's.
Santa volonta means "God's holy will." Volare is the verb to fly. It reminds me of volunteering. God never forced Clare to flee the world to His arms. But he put such a desire in her hair that he might as well have turned her into an obedient cricket. No longer Clare, but St. Clare of Assisi who children learn about in textbooks and weekly religion class. The woman who started a revolution. The young girl who protected her town with a monstrance. A 15 year old, one of the greatest leaders in the history of Western civilization.
So what is God's good pleasure? This.
God's good pleasure is like the burning bush - yes, it burns, it hurts, but not in a way you think - and you are not consumed. You don't turn to ash; you re-blossom, over and over again, you're like a tree that cannot die, cannot be burned anymore. It hurts the way fasting hurts. It's like a stomach ache, a homesickness, but when you honor it - you feel oddly satisfied, sanctified. His Good Pleasure is as fun as the dentist sometimes, but don't you feel better afterwards? I say Clare ruined my life because I caught her peace. I knew I would not have joy until I gave the way she did; I even chopped my hair like her. It was a feeling, a good pleasure, I could not shake. As much as I want to hate her, I can't. So I made her my best friend instead.
Whatever worldly good you've been given, to learn to live without it and no longer seek its approval like a drug, like a rat in a race. When we look at the cross of Jesus, we know that the Holy Will of the Father is not to hoard, control or manipulate. We aren't minions or subjects, we are children in Jesus Christ. I sometimes feel like children are a vanity until I look and see that parents share all they have with their children; they hold nothing back. Only a parent who wants something for themselves from their child's future complains about them.
Secondly, the joy of giving, the joy of being known. To fly, like Clare. That we might know grace. He shares with us - He convicts us so we can experience what it is to give something up to be replaced with something better. To be free of control and responsibility but yet still blessed.
The making of saints is God's good pleasure. It is a process of giving up and giving in, sacrifice and surrender, fear and faith. Abandonment - divorcing from the world. God is like a beautiful KitchenAid mixer with a fold attachment. With every bend, He breaks our will and we become more of Him and less - ever less, so blessedly less - of us.
Poverty is God's good pleasure. Renunciation. This isn't comfort or luxury but hard work, good work, natural work. God's Holy Will for me is to practice poverty more and more.
St. Clare is the patron saint of my vocation and has been since I ran across this prayer. I believe it's written by St. Francis. In the building where Claire is, they hang the original cross of San Damiano. It was once placed in the convent of St. Damien down the hill of Assisi and just outside the city wall, where St. Francis first received the call to rebuild the Church. They provide this prayer for you when you enter the building to revere the cross which ultimately changed the future of Catholicism, and introduced monasticism.
They say the darkest times make the brightest saints. How God wrecked Clare's heart and destroyed her future by all secular accounts is what he desired to do with me, too. This was a counter-cultural grace from God for a world that would one day be too obsessed with keeping up with the Jones' then holding to a standard of grace, a tidal wave that set into motion the resistance of daily duty, forcing the prayerful desire of our hearts into a world of busy little bees. After I met her, I could barely wear mascara. When I was 15, I refused going on a mission trip with my youth group because you couldn't bring a blow dryer. I've used my blow dryer half as much since I met her and - for a curly haired person - that's actually pretty dramatic.
So what's your mascara? What's your blow dryer? What vanity is God's santa volanta asking for, to take it, for you to volunteer as tribute? How is God calling you to trade vanity for poverty?
Only a saint who really loved their God can change the pleasurable worship of our own face into a painful, blessed love of poverty that only seeks His.
Can you imagine where we would be without Clare? God couldn't. He wasn't willing to risk it, so our tiny light of Clare was lit and still burns - despite how it must have hurt Claire when she left her family, when her hair fell to the ground - her heart was too full of a flame that would never be extinguished, a flame that needed to be burn eternally for all of us to see.
A few floors below this cross of San Damiano, Clare is sleeping - but not sleeping at all (I already told you she's just about the worst thing that ever happened to me. How could a dead person do that?) Incorruptible, because of her bold Yes to marry poverty when the rest of the girls her age were marrying rich men. Her pure witness shines through clear glass for everyone who kneel down to meet her.
O alto e glorioso Dio,
illumina le tenebre
del cuore mio.
Dammi una fede retta,
e umiltà profonda.
senno e discernimento
la tua vera
e santa volontà.
Come Thy Fount of