Happy Feast Day of Santa Chiara! Saint Clare, who was a dear friend of Saint Francis, was born in Assisi, Italy in 1194. She died in her monastery, San Damiano, on August 11, 1253. This incredible woman founded a religious order, helped the poor, healed the sick, and wrote some of the most alluringly beautiful letters I have ever read.
During our trip to Italy last month, we visited Assisi. It was my sixth time there and one of my favorite visits. I could not believe that I was traveling there on a pilgrimage with my husband and our son! It was an incredible gift and I will forever treasure our precious time there, together as a family.
Each time I visit this holy place and learn more about the life of Saint Francis and Saint Clare, I leave a changed person. Their legacy of sanctity, their love of prayer, their service to the poor, and their beautiful simplicity is so evident in the Basilicas, roads, relics, and people of Assisi. I love to reflect upon how even centuries later, these two people are changing hearts and lives! What a witness!
This pilgrimage to Assisi was different for me in many ways. During pilgrimages in the past, when I was single, I spent most of my time in prayer, attending Masses, and reading and reflecting about God and His Saints. This trip, the first as a wife and mother, was much different! My prayer time was a quick glance towards heaven while chasing Peter, my time at Mass was spent bouncing Peter in the back of the Basilica, and my reading time was pointing to pictures in a little book about trucks. And yet, I have never felt closer to Christ in those moments living out my vocation as mother.
I am still processing and unveiling things in my heart that I experienced during our time in Assisi. A beautiful reality about pilgrimages is that you will see its fruit not just during and immediately after, but truly for the rest of your life. I wanted to share with you three lessons that I have been reflecting on these past few weeks since our return.
Three Lessons I Learned In Assisi
- My prayer life as a wife and mother is different. Prior to our trip I was really struggling with how different my prayer life looked from even two years ago. I often felt daily tinges of guilt, frustration, and failure – feelings that I had regressed from such focused and fruitful prayer time to exhausted, dry, and rushed times of prayer. A conversation in Assisi radically changed my view about this. Towards the end of our time there, Mike and I went to lunch with our friend, Father Rick. I was explaining to him what I was experiencing in my prayer life – how I often felt defeated, distracted, and overwhelmed. He lovingly looked at Peter, who was asleep in Mike’s arms. Then he turned to me and said, “Claire, maybe your prayer now isn’t meant to be hours in the adoration chapel, maybe it is meant to be looking at Christ in Mike and Peter, adoring Him in Mike and Peter.” As he spoke those words, my heart and mind were flooded with peace and profound joy. I immediately saw the hidden beauty of my vocation as wife and mother. I was to serve Christ, to love Christ, to look adoringly at Christ in my husband and son. Time spent with God must be my number one priority as a baptized follower of Jesus, no matter what state of life I am in. That is essential. Yet that time should not be surrounded by guilt, fear, or frustration. God is merciful, loving, and kind. He works with us in every state of life and every vocation. My prayer life has not regressed, it has beautifully evolved. It may be more challenging to set aside time for prayer, yet it is essential that I do. And I know that the rest of my time, the time spent with Mike and Peter can be a prayer, too. When I look lovingly at them, when I serve them through my daily tasks, when I clean up a yogurt splattered floor, when I read a book about trucks – I can offer those moments up to Christ in prayer.
- The Saints are always with me. I have a tradition, that on the morning of our departure from Assisi, I visit my patron, Saint Clare, at her tomb. I always thank her for allowing me to visit, and pray that I am able to return someday. This time, as I prayed in front of her tomb, I began to get sad. I wasn’t sure if it was the last time I would be able to visit Assisi. I know each pilgrimage is such a gift and grace from God, and I truly never know if I will be back again. Then, suddenly, as I prayed I became overjoyed! We are part of the communion of Saints. I could almost hear Saint Clare tell me, “I am with you always. I am with you when you play with Peter. I am with you as you do the dishes. I am with you as you converse with others. I am always with you.” It hit me how incredible the reality of the communion of saints is. That neither time, nor distance, nor space, can separate us from the love of Christ and the love of His Saints in Heaven. They are fighting for us and praying for us. This knowledge overwhelmed my heart with joy. No matter where I am, I know I am never alone. We have a host of Angels and Saints with us, always.
- The call to consecrate my year. This lesson was taught to me the day after our time in Assisi, when we were back in Rome. I was praying in front of the tomb of Pope Saint John Paul the Great, where two years prior, just days before I married Mike, I felt a deep call to consecrate our marriage and family to the Holy Family of Nazareth. We did this with our priest on our wedding day, and continue to together each and every day. This has really transformed our marriage in profound ways. To consecrate means to, “make or declare sacred, to set apart or dedicate to God.” When we consecrate our marriage and family to the Holy Family, we are dedicating and giving everything to them – our life, our family, our hopes, our dreams, our failures, our joys – everything is in their hands. As I prayed in front of this Great Pope’s tomb this time, I felt a call to consecrate this year to Jesus through the intercession, through the prayers and aid, of Pope Saint John Paul the Great and Saint Clare. I am so excited to walk alongside them this year. I do not know what lies ahead, but it brings me such comfort that I have these two great Saints by my side, to call upon and to pray with.