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Ash Wednesday: Looking at Lent through the lens of St. Clare of Assisi

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This mosaic in Assisi, Italy, photographed May 28, 2015, depicts St. Clare of Assisi holding a palm frond, a symbol of her entering religious life. During a Lenten service, St. Clare heard St. Francis preach. She was so moved by his words, she asked him to show her how to live the Gospel more fully. She was only 18, but she left the security of her home, cut off her hair and joined the convent. (CNS photo/Octavio Duran)

Last year’s Lent felt as if it never ended. There was not the usual release and elation of Easter as I watched from my laptop at home, instead of with my church family. Ordinary Time stretched out beyond summer and when Advent began, it felt like Lent all over again.

This Ash Wednesday, I call out to those who have gone before us — to those who are praying for us. I need a guide; someone to journey with through this Lent. This Lent, I call on St. Clare of Assisi to show me the way. I need a sister in Christ to lead me through Lent radically different than in Lents past — to embrace penance, conversion and self-sacrifice as Jesus refines me.

St. Clare was born at the end of the 12th century in Assisi, Italy. She was beautiful and rich. St. Clare could have spent her life on frivolity but chose the life of prayer at a young age. I think about how often I spend my time on silly things like social media or worry when I could be praying, getting to know Jesus better.

During a Lenten service, St. Clare heard St. Francis preach. She was so moved by his words, she asked him to show her how to live the Gospel more fully. She was only 18 but she left the security of her home, cut off her hair and joined the convent.

Each Ash Wednesday, I hear the words: “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.” Each year, I only respond in ways that are convenient and comfortable for me. The image of beautiful St. Clare, her hair shorn, becomes a catalyst for me. What is Jesus asking of me?

(CNS illustration; photo by Eloisa Lopez, Reuters)

St. Clare’s own sister, along with other women, joined her at the convent. These women lived complete and utter dependence on Jesus. They owned nothing. They ate no meat. They lived in silence. Yet their lives were full with work, prayer and joy. Leading these women, St. Clare reminded them that love was the force that stirred them:

“Loving one another with the love of Christ, may you demonstrate without in your deeds the love you have within so that, compelled by such an example, the sisters may always grow in the love of God and mutual charity.”

These women understood Jesus’s love for them. Sacrifice and penance were given joyfully as part of the never-ending circle of love between them and Jesus.

My own sacrifice comes begrudgingly. What if I reframed my penance through the lens of love? Don’t we want to please those we love? Give them gifts or service? I too want to become part of the never-ending embrace of Jesus’ love. St. Clare agrees: “We become what we love and who we love shapes what we become.”

And just when I think St. Clare is too lofty for me, when I think she couldn’t understand what the past year has been like for me and others, I read of the time she was infirm and bedridden. She could not join her sisters for Christmas midnight Mass, so she was miraculously treated to history’s first livestreamed Mass on the wall of her room. Yes, she is the patron saint of television.

Her very name means “light,” and so I ask St. Clare to light our path this Lent.

St. Clare, pray for us.

Pray that our journey finds focus and clarity. That we would be emboldened to choose prayer and a relationship with Jesus rather than frivolity. Pray that as you modeled, we would move out of what is comfortable and take bold changes for Jesus. And that we would understand his love that you knew so clearly.

Gonzalez is a freelance writer. Her website is www.shemaiahgonzalez.com.