Why after you?
Elizabeth joined the Community of St. Francis in 1955 after university and a few years working in a hospital laboratory. She made Life Vows in 1960, before CSF moved to Somerset and having lived in most of the houses for a time, now lives in Plaistow.
I believe firmly that the initiative for our lives is with God who leaves us to respond or not. At fourteen I suddenly knew that God had a claim on my life and whatever it was I would have to try it. My Christian upbringing in middle-of-the-way Church of England did not prepare me for a religious order and like St. Francis, I had neither desire nor intention to join one.
A mission to my parish roused my curiosity and I went home for a weekend, surprised by the friars I met. Further contacts came, I began to read about Francis, and joined the Third Order. Life was open before me; I could only pray, “Tell me what You want me to do and I’ll do it!”
In the end it was as though I had no choice, and after brief visits, I joined CSF. The Community was small and elderly, but simply and utterly Franciscan. I somehow knew that if I was faithful, God would do great things. He did. CSF changed and grew, especially after the move to Somerset.
Several things about Francis have always remained in my mind as hallmarks: Francis wanted, quite simply, to be like Jesus, who was ’obedient unto death’ God calls us to the best in us and fulfils our deepest longings. Francis had no blueprint. Obedience cannot be just to heavy authority, nor to a plethora of regulations, but to the responsible following of the gospel and to what we understand of God’s will through constant listening to others and to God.
Then too, Francis loved all people and all things, calling each ‘brother’ or ’sister’. Life in community cannot be easy, and to love others with the love of God doesn’t come naturally. But Francis also respected others and often asked their advice. Clare, too, shared with her Sisters in decision-making, allowing others to be themselves. This kind of group living gives freedom in God and openness in the group; and so assists good relationships.
Further, Francis was both temperamental and emotional, with what has been called ‘the gift of tears’. In spite of the many occasions for grief in his life, he never ceased to praise God, as in his beautiful Canticle of the Creatures. That kind of deep joy and contentment is friendly and contagious. The world needs it.
Francis left few writings and more about obedience than of poverty, but demonstrated it in his life-style and service of lepers. He called his followers ‘lesser brethren’, refuting status and wealth. Though we are not able to live as he did, there are many ways to express poverty. I particularly value the life and prayer of our Poor Clare Sisters or any work we may do with the disadvantaged and marginalised and their carers.