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Homily by Bishop Denis on the Feast of St Clare

Feast of St. Clare:                                                                      11.08.20

St. Clare’s Church, Graiguecullen @ 10am


We gather within the extraordinary circumstances of a global pandemic to celebrate St. Clare’s feastday. I am so delighted that so many of you chose to join us by parish webcam this feast day morning.

The usual visit to the Poor Clare Convent to meet the Sisters; the usual Marquee erected for refreshments; the usual meeting of friends who travelled from afar to today’s Mass is not happening this year for obvious reasons.

We must be more conscious than ever of the poverty we are experiencing by not been able to celebrate as complete as we might like, but our poverty is nothing to that of St. Clare and her inspirational friend St. Francis. Our poverty is nothing to those who have lost loved ones to the virulent virus. Our poverty is nothing to those whose economic circumstances have been completely upended because of this pandemic.

And so in the poverty of our brokeness of sin, we pray for God’s love and mercy …


St. John just reminded us to “live in his love[1]. It’s a tall order and the challenge is greater than ever when we feel set upon on all fronts, because of this global pandemic Covid-19. There is that temptation to live in our own love, to live in an isolated, protective world of self, to live thinking only of ourselves. We wear our face coverings to protect ourselves, when in fact their primary purpose is so that we, who may be asymptomatic don’t spread the virus or infection to others.

Let’s further reflect on this concept of living in his love as espoused by the life of St. Clare and her erstwhile companion St. Francis. Clare was born in 1193 at Assisi. Her parents began to talk to her very early of marriage, such conversation afflicted her greatly. From a child she only wanted to serve Christ.

Attracted to the simplicity and poverty of the life of St. Francis, she made contact with him who suggested Palm Sunday as the day when she would leave her family and take on his way of life. That morning she looked more radiant than ever as she accompanied her family to prayer and processions. The following evening she made her escape – 18th March 1212. The Poor Clares date their foundation from that time as Francis placed Clare into a Benedictine community; from that vine several branches grew, including our beautiful community here in Graiguecullen, Carlow which was founded in 1893.

And like my own arrival to Kildare & Leighlin seven years ago from Drogheda; it was also from Drogheda the first Poor Clare’s arrived here. I know the port area well in Drogheda, where two Poor Clare nuns landed in the early hours of April 26th, 1893. Just as Clare herself took early refuge with the Benedictines in Assisi, so too those two Sisters, who were the founders of the Poor Clare’s in Graiguecullen took shelter with the Dominican Community in the Siena Convent in the town.

Mother Seraphine and Mother Angela eventually found their way to Carlow, first stopping off in Tullow to present themselves to Bishop James Lynch. Disappointed by a wealthy merchant benefactor in Drogheda they arrived to the diocese penniless, but the Bishop, a Vincentian himself, understood the many trials and difficulties one must endure, before the vine has a chance to flourish. History tells us he was a rock of strength to the little Poor Clare community from the very beginning.

St. John reminds us the challenge Jesus put before his first disciples, to live on in Him. It’s a very rich concept, reminding us when we gather around the altar it is Christ who gathers us. It is Christ who a tunes us for our mission, for our calling. The Christ who called Clare and Francis before her to abandon their families and follow Him still calls today. And its hard for us to realise that call is still being made.

Latest statistics on religious life tell us that 50% are over the age of 80, 80% are over the age of 70, 1,000 members are under the age of 70 and just 390 are under the age of 60[2]. And that’s religious men and women across this island. Who will continue to keep the religious light on?

The charism of the Poor Clare’s is simplicity, putting Christ first. This all began because of the idealism of an eighteen year old. Let’s not get into the blame game towards her parents Favorino and Ortolana di Offreduccio – they were a wealthy couple who knew no better. In time to come her sister Agnes and her mother joined her community.

This pandemic has introduced poverty into our world that will remain with us. In the months and years to come we will have to live with the challenges. Jobs will be lost. Economies will be rocked. Securities will be shattered.

At 6pm last Friday evening it was announced that in six hours time, three midland counties – Laois, Kildare & Offaly were returning into a phase of restrictive movement and lockdown. It was for them two steps forward, five steps backward. 38 of our 56 parishes are directly impacted. Across six dioceses there are close to 80 parishes involved. A number of those parishes like Graiguecullen have mixed loyalties, where county boundaries disect a parish, but St. Clare’s Church here is clearly within the County Carlow boundary.

The late John Hume buried last week reminded us “the real border is not the line on the map because it would not exist if not for the powerful barriers running through the minds and hearts of people[3]. This virus does not respect borders, it does not respect an arbitrary line on the map that tells us what county we live in, or what postcode we operate in. We could very easily become the Laois’, Offaly’s & Kildare’s of tomorrow by our heedlessness and wrecklessness.

On St. Clare’s feastday we think of those living in direct provision, in need of the dignity of proper accommodation. We think of those working in environments where social distancing is next to impossible. We think of those in Intensive Care Units. We think of those on the medical frontline. We think of those on their knees trying to get their business up and running. And ask ourselves are we living in His love or our own? Is our behaviour impeding the progress of others? Is our response to this pandemic conditioned on our own comforts with scant regard to anyone else’s?

Of course we would all like a holiday, but on this holyday we are reminded how St. Clare embraced poverty. In her own words, writing to her sister Agnes she wrote: “gaze first upon the poverty of Jesus, placed in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes. What marvellous humility! What astounding poverty! The King of angels, Lord of heaven and earth, is laid in a manger[4]. Let us look once again into the manger and see Him who is Love itself.

St. Clare, pray for us.

St. Francis, pray for us.

St. Roch, pray for us.

[1] Jn.15:10

[2] AMRI Annual Report 1st June 2019-1st August 2020, pg. 4

[3] Address to Seanad Eireann 03.03.2004

[4] From the ‘letter of St. Clare to Blessed Agnes of Prague’, Office of Readings for Feastday