A Message from Fr Nick 41

St Clare – a saint at Christmas

            Many of us will remember the little set of prayers called “divine praises” which featured in the rite of Benediction when we were growing up. The praises end with a final summary: “Blessed be God in his angels and in his saints”. All manifestations of holiness, goodness and joy have their source and true location in God.

But the family of saints is lively and varied in the way it reflects God’s presence. Saints are our brothers and sisters, who once shared many aspects of our own life and who pray for us still. Over time, they have become associated with a wide range of specialist skills… St Anthony, for example, once had a precious book of psalms stolen. It was “lost” to him and he prayed for its return. When the thief experienced a change of heart and returned the book, Anthony came to be regarded as a special saint for finding lost things.

St Jude has become famous as the patron saint of “hopeless cases” or “lost causes”. This seems to have happened because people confused him with his namesake, Judas Iscariot, and so he was rarely, if ever, invoked by believers. Now, rescued from that unfortunate misunderstanding, he has acquired a unique kind of popularity.

Some saints are patrons of countries and even of continents; Cecilia is the saint of musicians; Luke is the saint of doctors; St Nicholas is the patron of merchants, sailors, pawn-brokers, children – and thieves. Certain connections are obvious (though not I hope the last one), but at other times the link is far from obvious. St Clare, for example, lived in the thirteenth century and is designated patron saint of television. Why on earth should that be so?

It came about because of something that happened on Christmas Eve 1252, the last Christmas Clare passed on earth. She was sick and remained lying in the dormitory of her convent as the other sisters went down to the church of St Francis to recite matins before midnight Mass. As they left her, Clare found her disappointment giving way to a deep feeling of peace. She began to meditate on the Christmas mystery.

Suddenly a song reached her from the distant church, and the place where she lay seemed to be ablaze with light. Lying still, she heard the organ playing and the friars singing, and saw the church filled with candles. As she watched, the celebrant ascended the altar steps and began midnight Mass.

It seems a curiously fitting image for this particular Christmas, when many of us will not be able to physically attend Christmas mass. As we take advantage of the option of live-streaming, and pray for an end to the pandemic, we can remember St Clare and her “tele-visual” experience. And we can ask her to help us too, in our very different times, to a deeper meditation on the Christmas mystery, as we celebrate once more the joy and wonder of our Saviour’s birth.