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Gazing in Prayer

This past week’s beatification of Mother Maria Lorenza Longo, foundress of the (Franciscan) Capuchin Poor Clares, is an excellent opportunity to engage in some spiritual reflection. Our five Poor Clare sisters have quietly been the hidden, powerful prayer engine of our diocese for the past twenty-one years. Their charism as part of the Diocese of The Little Way is one huge treasure still unfolding.

First, some thoughts about Blessed Mother Maria. Born in the Catalan region of Spain in 1463, Maria Lorenza married John Longo, an official of the Spanish monarchy. Serving as regent to the King, John moved with Maria to Naples on official assignment where John died just one year later. Maria, suffering from a paralyzing disability, found herself in a vulnerable situation. She opened her life to contemplative prayer and turned to work with the neediest and poorest of inner-city Naples, establishing a “Hospital of the Incurables”. She learned to discover the face of Christ in the poor, and in solidarity with them, discovered a new homeland.

"She opened her life to contemplative prayer and turned to work with the neediest and poorest..."

The first Franciscan Capuchin friars were soon welcomed to work with the “Incurables”. Next arrived the Theatines, with St. Cajetan himself leading the community. As Maria’s physical strength began to fail, under the spiritual guidance of St. Cajetan she discerned God’s call to found a community of women dedicated to prayer. She obtained papal approval in 1535 for a new monastery and, as the order took root with thirty-three nuns, Maria quietly passed away, most likely in 1539. She had accomplished the one small step that led to a worldwide movement towards prayer which is now our hidden treasure.

Secondly, let’s look at the prayer itself. The contemplative spirituality of St. Clare of Assisi, which Blessed Maria experienced in her conversion, is fascinating in its focus on engaging the interior faculty of gazing in prayer. The physical experience of gazing is the instinctive response of the newborn infant gazing into the eyes of the mother, child empathically acquiring from mother the loving assurance of confidence in new life. The gaze constitutes a palpable bond of active receptivity, energy shared by both parties. The mother becomes the fountain of empathy, and the child receives, growing in confidence and loving trust.

St. Clare writes to her sisters encouraging them literally to gaze upon Christ in all things, praying through scripture or kneeling before the crucifix: to focus the interior gaze into the eyes of Jesus on the cross. She offers the image of gazing as if into a mirror. “Gaze upon that mirror each day… and continually reflect your face on it.” See yourself as reflected in the mirror of Jesus. Then turn to the poor and suffering, seeing them with His eyes. Jesus will do this for you. As her spiritual brother St. Francis was given the stigmata of the wounds of Jesus, so St. Clare was given His eyes.

"See yourself as reflected in the mirror of Jesus."

The contemplative community of the Capuchin Poor Clares put forth such a service in prayer for the whole church. They witness a path of empathy between Christ and the world. They gaze upon Jesus and turn His gaze to the poor. This powerful engine of prayer prays for our diocese constantly. It has been our rock in facing the sins of the past, moving us forward into our mission and connecting the lost and forsaken to Jesus. Our Poor Clares are not only our hidden treasure, they are also the prophetic sign that the world needs!

In this month of October we celebrate the joyful feast of St. Therese of the Child Jesus in anticipation of two new “little” saints to come: Blessed Maria Lorenza Longo and Blessed Blandina Segal. We give thanks for St. Clare and St. Francis, St. Cajetan and our Theatines, all active, quiet partners of The Diocese of The Little Way. Especially we give thanks for Our Blessed Mother, Our Lady of Guadalupe, from whose loving gaze we first received Jesus and who quietly guides us to Him in all things.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

+Most Reverend Stephen J. Berg

Bishop of Pueblo

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