St. Clare had a great devotion to her saviour as "King". In all of her letters to St. Agnes, she makes great use of royal imagery. In part, as Agnes is a royal princess, this not surprising, as she has been brought up in this kind of environment. However, when one looks at things she wrote and said in other places, we can see that her reverence for Christ as King is actually one of the fundamental ways that she approaches God. She particularly sees her role as being that of daughter, spouse and servant of the great King. Each of these roles has a different way of approaching His Divine Majesty. The second letter to Agnes is particularly rich with these images
It is good to revisit this approach to the worship of God, in order to rekindle our own sense of the grandeur and majesty of God in our prayer lives. I think that looking on oneself as a servant of the Lord particularly evokes reverence, because we stand in awe of this great personage. And maybe she uses this type of imagery in her letters to Agnes to counteract the upbringing that Agnes has had, and to emphasize that this way of life is firstly one of loving service.
However, she also has a deep belief in her own dignity and that of her followers, which is obvious with her free use of the title spouse and queen, which one becomes by uniting oneself to the King. And this relationship is one of great intimacy. After giving thanks to God for all the virtues and perfection she sees in Agnes, she says to her;
"This is the perfection which will prompt the King Himself to take you to Himself in the heavenly bridal chamber where He is seated in glory on a starry throne because you have despised the splendours of an earthly kingdom and considered of little value the offers of imperial marriage. Instead, as someone zealous for the holiest poverty, in the spirit of great humility and the most ardent charity, you have held fast to the footprints of Him to Whom you have merited to be joined as a Spouse."
These are wonderful promises indeed. But, because the reality of living in 'holiest poverty', 'great humility' & 'ardent charity' is not easy, she goes on to exhort Agnes in the beautiful passage that follows, to continue on as she has begun, believing firmly in these promises, because their fulfilment is in the next life. And so it is important for Agnes and for us all, to nurture the faith and love that is necessary for perseverance. She says:
"What you hold, may you always hold.
What you do, may you always do and never abandon.
But with swift pace, light step,
and unswerving feet,
so that even your steps stir up no dust,
go forward securely, joyfully and swiftly,
on the path of prudent happiness,
agreeing with nothing
which would dissuade you from this resolution
or which would place a stumbling block for you on the way,
so that you may offer your vows to the Most High
in the pursuit of that perfection
to which the Spirit of the Lord has called you."
In fact, this way of approaching God culminates with the vision at her death. Having commended her soul to go forth in trust, and praising God for having created her, she exclaimed, "Do thou, see the King of Glory as I do?" Having devoted her life to Him, in reverence and awe, He comes to take her home, as the King of glory! This is only fitting, as this is what she has promised will happen to Agnes if she is faithful to this journey with Christ.
Let us pray that the Spirit of the Lord fills our hearts anew with a deep conviction of the Love of Christ our King for each of us personally and of the great dignity of our calling.
(Read the gospel of the Passion - from Luke for the Feast of Christ the King)
St. Clare sees Christ as a glorious King. But somehow, her love for Christ as King is also reflected in the suffering figure of Christ in his passion. Though, to all appearances, he seems to have lost all majesty at this stage, yet, within the passion, she still sees Him as King. It is interesting that for two years of the three-year liturgical cycle, the Gospel given for the Feast of Christ the King, is taken from accounts of the Passion, by the evangelists. It is clear therefore, in the mind of the Church, that Christ's Kingship is depicted in a special way when He is working out our redemption on the cross. As Clare gazes on this suffering figure, she is looking at Him with the heart of a spouse.
In the second letter, she describes with graphic detail the sufferings Christ endured. As she reaches the climax of her description, she says,
"O most noble Queen, gaze upon Him, consider Him, Contemplate Him, as you desire to imitate Him".
She has worked up to a crescendo as she outlines for Agnes all He went through. It is as if she wants Agnes and all of us, to really wake up and see what He has done for us and at what cost. And, although it is actually a letter, it is almost as if she cries out, "He is the King! You are His spouse!
Can you not see what He has gone through for you?
And, if you have even some small appreciation of this, then…
Gaze upon Him…, consider Him…, contemplate Him…
let this lead you to desire to imitate Him."
St. Clare left no treatises on prayer. But this short formula has been seen by many as a synthesis of her prayer. Its very simplicity is disarming and she shows herself to be very contemporary with this method, as it is very similar to what Pope John Paul ll proposed to all the faithful as the way forward for the new millennium. Essentially, prayer is not about methods, but is about a relationship with a person - Jesus Christ. And, simply put, what Clare urges Agnes to do, is to really look at the figure of Christ in the Passion, and enter into that experience with Him, as spouse. To really consider it all with the heart. That Christ is seen by her as a King in the passion, is emphasized by the fact that she calls Agnes "Queen! in the middle of it, and the promise she makes to Agnes for living like this, is outlined in terms of the Kingdom of Heaven.
In reflecting on the way Clare lived her life, Murray Bodo had this to say:
"The Kingdom! It was always the Kingdom and its up building! The discipline of her life, her penance, her poverty - these were heroic because she would be a lady, a spouse of Christ the King. She would do at home the great deeds Francis did upon the road. What they did was hard, but it was a hardness that shone, a hardness that polished the soul. It polished the soul because it was all for the love of Jesus and the building of his Kingdom and the cost was never too high. It was all for Him who had been crucified for them. Clare knew that the life of a lady in this new Kingdom was the daily carrying of the cross, but it was a task that was noble and fine because the wood of her cross was cut from the cross of Jesus, her Lord and King. And if you carried that cross, your life gradually acquired a new dignity. You experienced a new freedom and your step began to lighten."