Saint Clare, Virgin – Readings

Commentary on Philippians 3:8-14; Psalm 15; Matthew 19:27-29

The Gospel reading comes from the end of the story about the rich man who approached Jesus and asked what he should do to gain eternal life. Jesus said he should keep the commandments. The man asked which ones he should keep. Jesus then listed a number of the Ten Commandments. Significantly, all those mentioned by Jesus refer to relations with other people; commandments relating to God are not mentioned.

The man said that he had been observing them all since he was young. He then asked if there was anything still lacking. Jesus then told him that, if he wanted to be perfect, he should sell all his possessions, give the money to the poor and then become a disciple of Jesus. On hearing this, the man became downcast “for he had many possessions”. The question one could ask is, did he have possessions or did the possessions have him?

The man had thought perfection consisted in observing certain legal requirements. But Jesus was pointing out that observance of law was not enough. There had to be love and compassion and sharing. His life needed more than keeping commandments; it had to be modelled on the life pattern of Jesus himself.

After this, Jesus then told his disciples how difficult it was for rich people to be part of God’s Kingdom, a Kingdom of truth, of love, of justice, of compassion, of sharing. Their very possessions in a world where there were so many in need was a negation of everything that Jesus, stood for. The disciples were quite shocked on hearing this because, in their book, wealth was something to be sought after and was indeed a sign of God’s blessing.

It is at this point that our reading begins. Peter, beginning to see the light, says to Jesus:

We have given up everything and followed you. What will there be for us?

In other words, we have given away all hope of ever being materially rich. Is there anything else for us to look forward to?

Yes, said Jesus, there is:

Everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my Name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life.

This is not just an empty promise, because when everyone surrenders what they have to the community, everyone benefits. No one has more than they need; no one has too little. And this is the road to eternal life – exactly the thing the rich man was looking for.

Clare, filled with the spirit of Francis, took this text very seriously indeed and lived a life of radical simplicity in community. In doing so, she was enormously enriched as were all her Sisters and many others besides.

In these days of gross inequality, not to say irresponsibility, in our world today it is a message we need to listen to very carefully and take very seriously.

The First Reading, taken from the Letter to the Philippians, complements the teaching of the Gospel. Paul says that to have Christ and his Vision is to have everything:

I consider everything as loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

And he continues:

For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them as so much garbage, that I may gain Christ

To have Christ, to be in Christ, to be with Christ, that is supreme wealth.

And at the conclusion of the passage Paul says:

I for my part do not consider myself to have taken possession. Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.

Clare would certainly have totally identified with this prayer. For her, too, Jesus was everything. With him she had all that she needed. Can we, even in a small way, walk in her footsteps?

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