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Virgin, Founder of the Poor Clares (entered heaven this day in 1253)
I can see from your note that excitement is not your only feeling as you get ready to begin your first year at college. My dear niece, God has been so good to you up until now, you can be sure that his goodness will follow you even to the ends of the earth, let alone across the State border. I am fully confident that you will have an immensely fruitful college career – both for yourself and for those who have the good fortune of being there with you. I would only give one, little piece of advice (which uncles are allowed to do, you know, especially when they are imprisoned in cramped, corporate office space): make Christ in the Eucharist your reference point. The next four years will be full of surprises, challenges, joys, failures, and successes. Share every one of them with Jesus in the Tabernacle and they will become prisms of his grace, jewels adorning your soul; live them alone and they will be as fleeting and inconsequential as fireworks.
Your namesake (happy saint’s day, by the way) learned this secret more thoroughly than most. You remember her story. Inspired by the preaching of St Francis of Assisi, she gradually discerned a call to wed herself to Christ through making religious vows. When she was only 18, she secretly escaped from her house (and the engagement that her parents had arranged for her) and took the Franciscan habit (that coarse, plain-colored tunic you may have seen here and there). Francis himself cut off her luxurious hair, and sent her for the time being to a Benedictine convent. As you can imagine, her family and the entire town were up in arms and protested energetically. But nothing could deter her; she explained that Christ had called her to serve him and nothing could make her take another husband.
Eventually, her younger sister joined her (which prompted another wave of family and city protests), and Francis put them in charge of the first convent of the “Poor Ladies” next to the church of San Damiano on the outskirts of Assisi. Their absolute poverty and unmitigated austerities (the bishop had to order her to eat something every day, because her fasts were so extreme) freed their hearts for prayer and contemplation. Clare was repeatedly seen to rejoin the community after times of prayer with her face visibly shining. Only her love for the Eucharist exceeded her love for poverty and sacrifice. Once, when an army of Saracen mercenaries was preparing to plunder the city, starting with the convent of San Damiano, Clare’s prayer proved too much for them. Sick and confined to bed, she had herself, mattress and all, carried out to the top of the convent wall, and she had the Eucharist in its precious container (called a pyx) placed on the wall beside her. There, in the sight of the rapacious enemies, she prostrated herself and prayed aloud to the Lord to protect her spiritual daughters from all violence. The frightened nuns were astounded when terror spread through the ranks of the infidels and they fled madly away, though no enemy could be seen to pursue them. It is no wonder that this difficult rule of life attracted many followers, and before she died, many Poor Clare convents had sprung up throughout Europe.
You probably won’t have to face bloodthirsty Saracens on campus, but you will certainly have to face other things. Stay close to St Clare, and even closer to our Lord in the Eucharist, and you will advance quickly along the path of true joy.
Count on my prayers, Uncle Eddy