“And I beg you…to praise the Lord by your very life, to offer the Lord your reasonable service and your sacrifice always seasoned with salt.” —Third Letter to Agnes
Agnes of Prague traveled a journey similar to Clare’s in finding her vocation. Agnes came from a noble family and had married nobility. But when she became aware of St. Francis and his friars, she was captivated. At some point, she and Clare began corresponding. In her four letters to Agnes, St. Clare encouraged her to take on a life of service for others. Eventually, Agnes joined the sisters at a monastery in Prague, where she lived in the spirit of the wisdom St. Clare had given her.
Gaze | Consider | Contemplate | Imitate
There are few writings on Clare, compared to the volumes on Francis, and Clare herself left only a handful of writings. Of what remains we have four letters to Agnes of Prague, a Rule and a Blessing that are authentically Clare’s voice. The authenticity of the letter to Ermentrude of Bruges is questionable. The text known as her Testament was recently argued to be a fifteenth-century forgery produced by a convent in Florence seeking to reform, although the ideas within the text reflect Clare’s thought.
Of these writings, it is the letters to Agnes of Prague that interest us because they contain the essence of Clare’s ideas on the spiritual life. Although there are only four short works (as one friar exclaimed, “what can you say in four short letters?”) they are rich in depth and meaning. I believe these letters contain the heart of Clare’s spirituality which is centered on the Incarnation and transformation in Christ.
Clare’s spirituality does not develop systematically in her letters; rather, it is like a finely stitched pattern on a soft, delicate cloth. One has to read her letters slowly and prayerfully, as she weaves her ideas into the pattern of Christ. Her path to God, however, can be summarized in four short ideas that she describes in her second letter to Agnes:
O most noble Queen,
gaze upon [Him],
as you desire to imitate [Him].
–from Clare of Assisi: A Heart Full of Love
May your words to Agnes of Prague
and your example
serve as an inspiration for us to embrace
and live out our faith on behalf of others.