St. Clare of Assisi, a beloved saint of New Helfta

My first memorable encounter with Christianity was when I finished writing my art history paper on the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. I was in college then, and I was not a Christian nor did I have any interest in Christianity. Informally, through friends and teachers, I learned stories about St. Francis. This poor brother of all creatures of God got my special attention! I liked him for his unconditional love for everyone and everything that exists, and for his simplicity and poverty. Even though I was born into a wealthy family, God allowed me to live with a poor family who was hired to raise me for 7 years of my early childhood. Being with them, I learned to appreciate and to be content with what Mother Nature has to offer. I learned to enjoy life in simplicity as a free spirit - a child of God. Most of all, I learned to love them for who they were. Praise the Lord! Because of my childhood background, from the beginning, St. Francis was never a stranger to me.

Minh with the Lord on the cross in Merton Hall of Genesee Abbey

My admiration for him continued to grow. After I graduated from college, with Wes and Lynn Kennison's love and encouragement, God brought me to Italy. How blessed I was! Many times I wandered throughout the peaceful town of Assisi during my six-month stay in Italy. I don't recall how many times I stayed and prayed beside the tombs of the beloved St. Francis and St. Clare....

Two years later, I converted and became a Catholic. St. Francis and St. Clare sure had a lot to do with it!

Getting ready for confirmation, I talked to my Spiritual Father about a confirmation name I picked. He said that Francis would not be a right name for a lady like me unless I changed it to Frances! I did not like it! So he suggested the name Clare after St. Clare of Assisi. Without hesitation, "How perfect! Why didn't I think of it? My Vietnamese name means "light" also, and I know St. Francis would be so glad to have known me as his little Mary Clare in Our Blessed Mother's and St. Clare's honor", gladly, I embraced it.

Once I was given the precious grace to accept following Christ, I began to learn more and more about myself, my many failures and weaknesses in the light of faith. I became more aware of my Christian name, of its beauty and its significant role in reminding me of what I am to be for God. And what seems so sweet is Dot Spicka's reminder of the bond between us and the saints whose names we took. "When one is confirmed, she will take the name of a saint, of her own choosing, who best fits her personality, gifts and aspirations"

What so scary (or shall I say miraculous) about this is that I have discovered I too have such strong temperament and determination as St. Clare had. Besides, there have been quite a few significant incidents, which reassured me of her and St. Francis' special care and protection for me. An important example concerning my spiritual journey is that St. Francis and Clare helped bring me to Genesee abbey of the Cistercian Order! Why is it so important? Because the saints themselves were very much influenced by St. Bernard of Clairvaux's spirituality, and St. Bernard is known to be the most holy Cistercian abbot!

On St. Clare's feast of August 11, 2001, after giving his homily which spoke so deeply and personally to the ear of my heart as if the Lord himself spoke to me: "the sheep hear his voice, each by his name he calls his own sheep and leads them out." (John 10:3), Rev. Father handed me a copy as the present for my feast day. And with a gentle but firm voice, (and he meant every word of it) he told me to imitate and learn from her:

"... however undeserving we might know ourselves to be, we are so loved by God that, far from rejecting us, he wills to join us to himself by the most intimate and ardent bonds of love. St. Claire had never proved unfaithful; she realized that it was God's special love that had protected her. However, it was not her innocence that gave her the confidence needed to sustain her in the years of testing in poverty, but her strong faith in the tender love of God... 'I will espouse you to myself forever. I will espouse you to myself in justice and with judgment, in loving kindness and tender love', says the Lord.... "

(another of his edifying homily is on August 11, 2000.)

O dear beloved sister St. Clare, please intercede for us, especially for those who have the strong temperament and determination and the desire to be transformed in spirit and soul for the good of the kingdom.

Please pray also for New Helfta so that like you, in his "loving kindness and tender love", I may be faithful in living my vocation to love and to praise the beloved Bridegroom to whom be honor and glory who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.

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