An Enlightened Heart

From Clare we learn that it is certainly good to be taken over by divine consolation, but that this is not enough. She describes her greatest experience and discovery as "meeting with the King of Glory."

Today a shift toward a more psychological point of view is prevalent in religious contemplation and this shift also asserts and vindicates faith as the disposition of the soul. What does faith give me? What does it mean to "live by faith?" As justifiable as this line of questioning is, and although it can be done with good reason, the questioning brings us into the level of Christian experience, which would lead to the questions: "Whom shall I meet by faith?"; "For what should I be grateful then?"

We must not only call good what is useful for the soul, but also that which touches the heart, what is perfect in itself and glorious, as is the King of Glory. With that, the soul is really "served." It is also a question of recognition and acceptance. It enables us, with Christ, the King of Glory, to look to the Father from whom all glory springs.

Where does God speak to people? Mystical theology teaches that the divine center or ground of the soul is the existential ground of the human person. Here one confronts the mystery of one's own life. It is the place within oneself where God speaks. The religious vocation, which Clare, at the beginning of her Testament, describes as the favor of "the Father of mercies," has its foundation here in the soul.

In the same Testament, Clare calls the deep ground of her soul, where she finds God, "the heart which has been enlightened" (Testament, v. 24). The heart is also the heart of yearning love. Love is, according to Clare, the yearning for union with God. When we meet God, we experience ourselves, and begin to open up and blossom.

When God enlightens the heart, a light shines forth to the rest of the world, and enables it to reach its divine destination. The enlightened and illuminated person can accept herself and assert herself because she is in touch with her existential ground; even more, she is in touch with God, who supports and illuminates the whole of creation. This is also true when the individual senses fragmentation and discord in her life. Through grace, we are able to shine forth and be healed.

Inner strength and power also grow from an enlightened heart, and this fact was apparent in Clare's dealings with her sisters. The enlightened soul is healthy and strong inwardly. Why? The Poor Clares know with Whom they live. A new togetherness with God develops, and from this, a togetherness with others. The enlightened heart never feels alone, but is lifted up and warmed by the one in whose light it lives, God. Thus, in everything that she does, each sister knows what is shining forth from within her heart.

Clare's contemplation is a very deep state of enlightenment, through which she knows how to live her vocation. It is therefore no surprise that, in accordance with her words about contemplation with a light step, we frequently observe in our encounters with Poor Clare communities an uncomplicated and joyful easiness, which radiates from the soul, showing good will and offering forgiveness. This is truly a life with light step, and upon encountering, it, a spontaneous song of joy arises, "Let us sing to the Lord and praise his Holy Name!"

Again and again, contemplation is born of joy and confidence coming from an enlightened heart. God works from the inner part of our heart, which glories in the Divine Life, outwards. (cf. 1 Cor.3:16). Then the contemplative is given the gift of discovering that in contemplation, I do not look at the face of God first; instead, God is already contemplating my face. In this way I am able and longing to look at the face of God.

Father Herbert Schneider, O.F.M.,

Delegate for the Poor Clare Nuns

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