A Right to Be Merry
By Mother Mary Francis, P.C.C.
—A Special Condensed Audio Version Produced by the Institute on Religious Life
Can life really be “merry” inside a Poor Clare cloister? This classic book written by Mother Mary Francis, P.C.C., reveals the challenges, cares and joys of that cloistered life from an “insiders” view.
The poet’s cry, “O world, I cannot hold you close enough!” is the heart’s cry of the enclosed contemplative. No one who has not lived in a cloister can fully understand just how intertwined are the lives of cloistered nuns. Their hearts may be wide as the universe and bottomless as eternity, but the practical details of their living are boxed up into the small area within the enclosure walls.
Cloistered nuns rub souls as well as elbows all their lives, and if they do not step out of themselves to get a true perspective, they can become small-souled and petty and remain immature children all their lives long. But, as Mother Mary Francis points out, they also have “as great a right to be merry as any lady in the world.” Nor is merriment all. “Hidden away from the glare and noise of worldly living,” Mother Mary Francis writes, “we are enclosed in the womb of holy Church. I walk down the cloisters, and my heart moves to a single tune: Lord, it is good, so good to be here!”
In this special condensed audio version prepared by the Institute on Religious Life, the long-time Abbess of the Poor Clares offers a rare glimpse into cloistered, monastic life, and reveals its rich significance and meaning for all time!
A tiny shoot springing out of the tree which Saint Francis had planted in 1212, when he invested Saint. Clare with her gray habit, and called her “the first of my Poor Ladies,” is about to spring forth in Roswell, New Mexico. Saint Clare’s first biographer said it all when he said: “And Clare came to the monastery of San Damiano, and there she put down the anchor of her soul.” As their train pulled out of Chicago, the Poor Clares asked their Holy Mother Saint Clare to pray for them, that their new foundation in Roswell might be filled with the light of her love.
Chapter 2—AS PILGRIMS
The nuns eagerly await their first glimpse of New Mexico, impatient to see their beloved Mother Abbess and the Novice Mistress who went ahead to prepare the big white farmhouse on the outskirts of Roswell, shortly to become a monastery. When the nuns sang the Salve, Regina in thanksgiving over a new Franciscan beginning, the old white building ceased to be a farmhouse and became a monastery. When you come to a mere shell of a monastery, obliged to start from almost nothing, you have unique joys and fall heir to something of the gaiety that characterized Saint Francis and his first friars, Saint Clare and her first daughters.
Chapter 3—WALLS AROUND THE WORLD
Enclosure baffles so many people. Women do not enter cloisters to forget the world, but to remember it always in every smallest sacrifice, every prayer, every penance. The enclosed life is the most ancient form of religious life for women, and will always be the most modern. Because every Poor Clare’s breath and action are directed to the most Holy Trinity, she is more perfectly attuned to the vast hum of creation, to the song of its joy and the groan of its anguish.
Chapter 4—MY LADY POVERTY
Strangely, Franciscan poverty is thought by many to be comprised of dirt, want, and ugliness. Saints Francis and Clare loved poverty because Christ loved it, favored it, and chose it all during His earthly life. To them, it was an avenue to liberty of spirit and freedom of heart. Clare seemed never really to speak of poverty so much as to sing of it: “Cling to this poverty which has made you, my dear daughters, heiresses and queens in the heavenly Kingdom.”
Chapter 5—A LIFE OF PENANCE
Poor Clares recognize it as their great privilege that the Church officially accepts their penitential life and offers it to God in union with the infinite merits of Jesus Christ for her errant and suffering children. The things in Poor Clare life at which many in the world are aghast: the fasts, abstinence, hard beds, night vigils, bare feet, are only peripheral to penance itself. They purify, they straighten the warped wood of our interior, and they are graciously accepted by God in reparation for sins if performed in love with a truly spiritual intention.
Chapter 6—THE DIVINE OFFICE, WORK OF GOD
There is nothing in the life of a Poor Clare which is not regulated, colored, and elevated by the Divine Office. The rite of the day’s Office determines what they have for dinner, how they dress, the kind of work they do, how much they recreate, and it creates an atmosphere of joy or reflective sorrow or eager anticipation throughout the whole monastic building as well as in each nun’s soul. Once understood, a Poor Clare discovers that the Office is her joy and her sorrow, the joy and sorrow of the universe and all men in it.
Chapter 7—OBEDIENT VIRGINS
The consecrated virgin has given her entire future into the hands of God, signed with a changeless seal. The motive of the religious is unique: she wishes to give herself, body and soul, to God. When a Poor Clare vows to live in obedience, her two hands are cradled in the hands of her abbess. Is there anything ignoble about the child who is sure that full security against all dangers is to be had by simply placing its hands in the hands of its mother? And what do they get for such dependence? Nothing short of the certainty of an eternity of happiness.
Chapter 8—BUT MARTHA SERVED
Saint Francis was to preach the word of God in the marketplace, to trudge the roads of the world and set men’s hearts on fire with love. From her cloister, Saint Clare would give unction to his words by her prayer, and strike off from the flint of her sacrifice the fire for his torch. Activity which takes its strength from prayer and which looks to contemplatives to fill up its measure, just as contemplatives look to God’s infantry to satisfy the burning missionary drive in their own hearts, will have God Himself for its eternal monument.
Chapter 9— “WHAT DO THEY DO ALL DAY?”
Poor Clares observe the ancient monastic custom of sleeping fully garbed, which not only simplifies night rising but also endows even their sleep with beauty and significance for Our Lord has warned that we know neither the day nor the hour when death will come. The night Office is a cloistered nun’s greatest privilege and joy, and also her greatest external penance. She will give her hands and her mind to many tasks; but these first hours of the day are sacrosanct for the work which will occupy all of us throughout all eternity.
Chapter 10—MORE OF THE SAME
To a Poor Clare nun, each bell is the articulation of God’s will. No two bells in a monastic day ring the same message. A Poor Clare knows that what the bells tell her to do is, beyond any flickering shadow of a doubt, God’s will for her. As the brightness of the monastic day begins to dwindle into evening, work proceeds apace. No one accomplishes so much with her head or her hands as the one who is nourished by much prayer and fortified by silence.
Chapter 11—IN ALL THINGS, ONE
God seems to exercise His Divine humor when He peoples cloistered monasteries. Apparently, He selects with infinite care the score or so of young women who are most unlike in every possible respect. That a selection like this can grow into a group of consecrated women who love one another to such an extent that they can spend forty or fifty years in the closest kind of living, accepting each other’s foibles of character and temperament with patience and compassion, is part of the mystery of God’s wisdom and His love.
Chapter 12—WILD AND SWEET
What Saints Clare and Francis desired was the closest possible union with God by the closest possible imitation of the God-Man. Nothing, then, could be more logical than to take His Gospel as their form of life. To anyone who thinks that the Gospel cannot be taken quite literally today, we can only borrow Our Lord’s words to the Apostle Andrew: “Come and see!”
To order the complete book published by Ignatius Press, please visit Ignatius.com or call 1-800-651-1531.
Here’s What Others Have To Say About the Book!
“The life of Mother Mary Francis helps us all to understand how God works to make His will known to us and how much joy we find in doing God’s will, even when it involves great sacrifices. In a special way, I hope that young men and women who will come to know Mother Mary Francis through her writings will be inspired to consider honestly and generously God’s call to the religious life.” —Raymond Cardinal Burke
“Mother Mary Francis has such a wonderfully whimsical way of looking at the most ordinary things and events; the reader is enfolded in her charm and warmth.” —Martha, PA
“It really helped me understand the beauty and purpose of cloistered life—and the happiness and fulfillment it brings to those whom God calls to this life.” —Rae Ann, Flint, MI
Mother Mary Francis, P.C.C. (1921-2006) was the abbess of the Poor Clare Monastery in Roswell, New Mexico. She was an accomplished author and writer of thirteen books, seven plays, and numerous poems. During her life Mother helped found four new Poor Clare monasteries, including one in Holland, and led the restoration of two others. She was a strong voice for authentic religious life during the turmoil of the years following Vatican II..