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Questions they ask us.

Recently a group of high school girls asked questions about our life. This gave us the idea that a question box could be a feature on our website. More frequently asked questions (and answers) will be added in the future.

What is it like to be a Poor Clare?

Not your ordinary nun
A Poor Clare is not your traditional monastic nun. The Rule of Saint Clare which we live was the first religious rule ever written by a woman. Clare did include basic monastic traditions, such as an ordered life of prayer and community life, but our spirituality is Franciscan.

As far back as the ninth century there were women who made a little headway in instituting a form of monastic life different from the usual structure men observed. Although little is known about them, these women tried to practice a monastic life based upon the feminine temperament. Certain of these early nuns taught that women grow spiritually through loving and caring for others, while men have to channel and temper their strong wills and their physical strength through penance, austerity and obedience. The form of life Clare composed before 1253 seems to echo the spirit found in this stream of contemplative women who preceded her.

Clare was certainly in touch with feminine behavior. She considered the love of Christ and the bond of love among sisters, more important than asceticism - although asceticism is certainly built into a life centered on prayer.
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It's about love
In order to understand the sort of life Poor Clares live we need to first look at the life of other Franciscan religious who preach or teach or care for people directly in any number of ways. For example, Saint Francis and his friars were called to make God visible on earth by spreading the Good News of God's love to the whole world by bringing that love and care to those in need.

Clare and her sisters went the more feminine way of giving themselves to the love of Christ itself and their faith in the power of this love alone. This is our charism as her followers. Our life demands a total gift of oneself to God in the belief that by our union with God we can be a more fruitful means of effecting the spiritual balance of the entire world.

However, the fact that we are not externally engaged in charitable works does not mean we have renounced Christian mission. We forfeit efficiency and immediate service in many areas, but we have a definite mission within the Church; a job defined not by what we do but by what we are. Our apostolate is contained in the way we live - in the dedication demanded by the life itself. Years before we came into existence while Saint Francis was rebuilding the little church of St. Damian, he predicted that one day women would be there who would glorify God by their holy lives.
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Is it true?
"They say once you go through that door your family never sees you again. Is that true?" Sounds like you've been taken in by Hollywood's weird versions of life in a monastery. The custom here is a family visit each month for the first year. Not bad, huh? From then on, visits are something like every three months, with a birthday and Christmas visit thrown in. Furthermore, no one who comes to see you is ever turned away. Bonds with our loved ones tend to become even closer than when we were with them, and our visits are happily anticipated reunions. Nuns need the nurturing love of their families, too.
Could I be a nun?
You'll never know unless you try. And you'll have six years to find out. Some may choose to take it a bit slower, so it could take a little longer than that. It requires discernment both on the part of the sister and the community to decide when a person is ready. A candidate spends a year, or as much as two, on various foundational studies on the Church, the Franciscan Order, and the many aspects of community life, and whatever else the individual person may need.
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After being received as a member of the community and given the habit of the Order she begins her novitiate - two years of preparation for vows. During this special time the new sister focuses on prayerful relationship with Jesus. Studies during this time may center on scripture, spirituality contemplative life and psychology. This description of studies is very general because each person has different needs and classes are adjusted accordingly.
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These years are meant to prepare a woman's heart to make temporary vows for three years, vows which will help her further along the path of becoming more fully human, more totally centered in God as a Poor Clare. Studies may continue with a new focus on theology. These years pass quickly and then comes the beautiful day of her Solemn Profession of vows for life. She never forgets the words prayed over her on that day: "I espouse you to Jesus Christ, Son of the most high God...." The six years preparation seem little compared to the joy of that moment.
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A family of sisters
A Poor Clare's witness lies in Christian community - in sisters who become mirrors of Christ to one another and strengthen one another in every human way. This is the central witness of the Church, and it takes priority in Poor Clare life. Someone once remarked: Do you realize the miracle of grace it is to see a house full of women living together day after day, year after year, in relative peace? We needed that pat on the back; it's not easy. In living, praying, working, struggling and playing together in sisterly unity lies our primary witness to transcendent realities - to the presence of God in our lives - because we couldn't do it otherwise.
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'Tis a gift to be simple
Clares throughout the centuries have found security and joy in their dependence upon the marvelous providence of God that never fails us. Living simply and with few perks means that our needs are few; we don't crave things in order to feel happy. Consequently, we become grateful people, inwardly satisfied with what we have, and more able to find peace and joy in the reality of God's love for us with the passing of each year.
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And then there's the daily grind
As Franciscans - followers of Francis and Clare of Assisi - we live the Gospel according to Christ's example of highest poverty. This means we work with our hands to support ourselves like ordinary laborers. We do as much as we can ourselves but have to depend upon people's generosity to supplement our earnings. It is they who make our contemplative life possible.
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We're here for you
The Order of Saint Clare - our official title - was the first religious Order of nuns to take a vow of enclosure besides the three vows religious make of obedience, poverty and chastity. This added dimension is another distinguishing characteristic of a Poor Clare's life linking us, as it does, to the only people who made such a vow at that time - the anchoresses, holy women who gave their lives to prayer as intercessors for the people.
In order to understand what enclosure means it helps to begin by considering the meaning of the word "enclosure" as it was commonly used centuries ago. Thirteenth century Italian homes had a reception area for guests and a private living area where outsiders did not come. These rooms were called the "enclosure" of the house. To live in an enclosure meant you lived in that part of the house where people outside were not ordinarily allowed.

This helps describe our situation. Public access is limited to certain areas. This is especially necessary because we live on a busy suburban highway. "Papal" enclosure - the kind we have - means our monastery is set apart by the Church for those who feel called to make the contemplation of God their primary occupation. Every day many people come to visit our quiet chapel, talk with the sister at the door, or patronize our gift shop. Our enclosure serves to maintain an atmosphere conducive to prayerfulness and supportive of our Eucharistic adoration.
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Hey, Sister, can I take you to lunch?
Apart from its practical purpose, Clare did not intend that we live enclosure as an ascetical withdrawal as in traditional monasticism. Rather, it's deeper meaning is derived from Clare's contemplation of Christ, expressly in his total self-giving. A Poor Clare's enclosure not only safeguards our way of life; it is our life - our living out of the paschal mystery, the physical death that nourishes spiritual growth.
To live in enclosure requires that we empty ourselves of so many things; it means dying to many sources of joy so that we learn to turn more and more to God and find happiness in the reality of his love for us. Enclosure limits our space, our possibilities of action, and our freedom to travel, and by these very limitations focuses our highest human capacities. That's why we can't accept invitations for a day out; such diversions have a way of escalating. Not that we wouldn't enjoy it, but we have to maintain the focus of our life if it to bear fruit for ourselves and others.
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Explorers of the 4th Dimension!
Whenever the experience of God happens in our lives it's because at that moment we are truly poor, with the kind of inner poverty of spirit that enables us, maybe just for an instant, to see something, or someone, in a new light, a new dimension, beyond the dimensions of length, width, and height we're used to, and beyond the preconceptions of our ego-based judgements. A certain openness and clarity are required to see things as they really are, in their transcendent dimension. All of humanity is called to this kind of poverty. The Poor Clare says "yes".

Scientists are beginning to admit that something spiritual exists, and that a person becomes aware of it as they increase their capacity for transcendence. Physicists call it the existence of a 4th dimension, convinced that everything on earth is merely a shadow of this higher dimension. Perhaps we Clares would have more "neo" appeal if we advertised ourselves as: Explorers of the 4th Dimension! We really are, you know.
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All kidding aside, even in a social sense we become more and more convinced of the value of our life of prayer. It makes us accessible to people in their troubles, in their desire to learn how to pray, and in their struggles to understand God's will in their lives. People repeatedly reinforce our conviction that there's nothing greater we could do for them, or for the world.

Sometimes people will say: "You're always there for us". Then we know our life does extend beyond our doors; our message is getting through.
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Thank you, God
Sometimes I look around our chapel at 5:15 a.m. and take a moment to appreciate the faithful dedication of our sisters, always there and ready to start the day singing the Lord's praises again.

A Poor Clare knows every kind of human pain in one way or another. There are few escapes built into our days. After hours of listening about the disasters that are tearing people apart, while trying to find a way through our own, we are emotionally drained but at the same time healed by the faith of countless people who find strength in our prayerful support.
Night comes all too quickly and we're all so tired. Can't help feeling we haven't made much of a dent in the work that still needs doing. Can't help wondering who our prayer reached that day. And can't help feeling what a gift it is to have a quiet little room with a bed, a bureau and a chair to rest in.

One day a neighbor working around his front yard waved to me from across the street, calling out: "Thank you, sister." I waved back asking: "For what?" He answered: "For your life!"
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We are looking for a few more dedicated women to join us here in Boston. If you would like to know more about us and our "way of life" or would like to be on our mailing list, please contact Sr. Mary Francis, Vocation Directress, by mail, fax, phone or e-mail:
Franciscan Monastery of Saint Clare, 920 Centre Street, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130
+1 617 524-1760 or 7866
+1 617 983 5205