Tag Archives: St. Clare of Assisi

Saints and the spirit of the poor

Blessed are the poor in spirit, theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

When I tried to think of holy men and women who exemplified poverty of spirit and even actually poverty, I found myself overwhelmed by the vast majority of saints who exemplified this virtue. But today I want to mention two holy women and a man.


Today is the feast of Saint Martin de Porres, a Dominican lay-brother who lived in Lima, Perú. Born of a Spanish nobleman and a freed black woman, he was disinherited by his father. Trained as a barber and a surgeon, he entered the Dominicans. There he served in the most humble task but soon his gifts of healing were recognized. But he also cared for the poor and sick outside the Dominican friary. He would bring them to his cell and care for them. But his superior ordered him to stop this practice. When Martin continued caring for the poor in his cell and was reprimanded, he responded: “Forgive my mistake, and please be kind enough to instruct me. I did not know that the precept of obedience took precedence over that of charity.”

He was truly, as his contemporaries noted, a “father of the poor.”

The second saint I thought of was Saint Clare of Assisi. Though she was from a rich family, she followed Christ, in the footsteps of Saint Francis, much to the consternation of her family. She was soon followed by other women who lived together by the church of San Damiano outside Assisi. These “Poor Ladies” sought to live in poverty – by the works of their hands and begging. They did not want to take up the practice of benefices and property that many convents of nuns had. She fought for this all her life and only shortly before death did she received confirmation from the pope for the Privilege of Poverty.

She not only advocated poverty but lived it. When the sisters came back from begging, she would wash their feet.


The third exemplar of poverty is not yet officially canonized, though Pope Francis spoke highly of her before the US Congress when he visited the US. Dorothy Day started out living a radical and bohemian life, but a life committed to justice. After her conversion, she sought to find a way to live out her faith and her commitment to the poor. After meeting Peter Maurin, they formed the Catholic Worker, first of all starting out with a newspaper. Later, they welcomed the poor. Catholic Worker houses of hospitality still dot the US landscape, serving the poor and marginalized in many ways.

Meditating on the lives of these three holy people of God, we may be able to discover how we ourselves may be called to live out the beatitude of the poor in spirit.

Treading lightly

Do not depart from your course….
Let no dust gather on your feet.
Letter of St. Clare of Assisi to St. Agnes of Prague

Today the Franciscans remember a thirteenth century Poor Clare nun who lived many years in a convent in Bohemia. Agnes was born to a noble family but refused marriage – even from the Emperor – to devote herself to God.

St. Clare considered St. Agnes her spiritual daughter and wrote some beautiful letters to her. A part of one of these is used in today’s Vigils in the Franciscan Liturgy of the Hours.

With swift pace, light tread, and unswerving fidelity
proceed safely with joy and gladness
along the way that leads to salvation.

How do we tread lightly?

I’ve not run for several years, but in Ames I would occasionally run around a field on the Iowa State University campus near where the Towers used to be.

When I ran I didn’t feel as if I were marching along with a heavy step. I guess that sometimes I felt as if I were gliding along, over the earth.

Of course, I had no baggage with me – just a key to the house in my pocket.

Does treading lightly mean living with little, at least with few things to burden me, to weigh me down?

Does treading lightly mean that I do not get too settled and let myself move on – when God calls?

Does treading lightly mean keeping my eyes on the prize – the Reign of God – and letting myself me led there by God’s love?

Lord, help me tread lightly and run swiftly – in your love and by your grace, as I walk the way.