In the thirteenth century, St. Clare of Assisi left her family to join St. Francis’s movement. Being a cloistered nun, she was not allowed to leave her enclosure at San Damiano, just below the town of Assisi. She did, however, write letters. One woman to whom she wrote was St. Agnes of Prague.

St. Agnes was a Bohemian princess who had declined an engagement to Emperor Frederick II because she wanted to dedicate her life to God. In 1233, she built a hospital, a monastery for women and a convent for the friars who would serve as its chaplains. She received papal approval for her monastery and requested sisters who followed the form of life of the Poor Sisters of San Damiano. With Gregory IX’s approval, St. Clare sent Agnes five sisters from Trent.

On June 11, 1234, at the age of twenty-three, Agnes entered the Monastery of the Most Holy Redeemer. Seven bishops officiated and Agnes’s brother, King Wenceslas I, and the queen were present for the event.

Agnes, like Clare, wanted to live a life of poverty. Since women’s communities were cloistered, they normally needed some type of outside support – a concept that both Clare and Agnes rejected. In 1253, as Clare lay dying, Pope Innocent IV approved a Franciscan Rule for women with the privilege of poverty at its core.

Earlier that year Clare wrote a letter of encouragement to Agnes. In it, she spoke about the cross hanging in the church of San Damiano. This was the cross that Francis’s biographer, Thomas of Celano, tells us spoke to Francis, saying “Rebuild my church.”

In that letter, Clare told Agnes to see the cross as a mirror. On this Good Friday, it is good to consider Clare’s advice to Agnes.

Look into this mirror every day,
O queen, spouse of Jesus Christ,
and continually examine your face in it,
so that in this way you may adorn yourself completely,
inwardly and outwardly,
clothed and covered in multicolored apparel,
adorned in the same manner
with flowers and garments made of all the virtues as is proper,
dearest daughter and spouse of the most high King.

Moreover, in this mirror shine blessed poverty,
holy humility, and charity beyond words,
as you will be able,
with God’s grace,
to contemplate throughout the entire mirror…

Indeed, ponder the final days of this mirrored one,
contemplate the ineffable love
with which he was willing to suffer on the tree of the cross
and to die there a kind of death
that is more shameful than any other.
That mirror suspended upon the wood of the cross
from there kept urging those passing by
of what must be considered, saying:

O all you who pass by this way,
look and see if there is any suffering like my suffering.

In response, let us with one voice and in one spirit
answer him who is crying out and lamenting:
I will remember this over and over
and my soul will sink within me.
Therefore, seeing this,
O queen of the heavenly King,
you must burn ever more strongly
with the fervor of charity!

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Jim McIntosh

Director, US Franciscans Communications at US Franciscans
A former missionary to Perú and Bolivia, I am now working half-time at a parish in New Jersey and half-time as webmaster for US Franciscans.
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