Each Monday, I gather with a group of homeless youth in San Francisco who call themselves Otro Vanguard. I join them as a mentor, a pastor and an adult who won’t judge or take advantage of them.
Unfortunately, their stories are not too different from the stories of homeless and abandoned youth (estimated to be between 1.6 and 2.8 million) across the country. It’s hard to find the light in the deep darkness of their all too often broken and battered homes, scarred, addicted bodies or tales of dangerous sexual encounters.
Recently, I found myself sitting in a rocking chair as we shared stories, thinking about what faith stories could inspire the youth to take care of their bodies, live as soberly as possible and to seek the safest options for shelter that are available.
This month, as I celebrate my fifth year as an associate of the Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls, Minn., it occurred to me that St Clare of Assisi is one young runaway whose life can inspire not only homeless youth but perhaps even Lutherans (or Lutheran wannabes) like you!
Clare was born into nobility, but after she heard fellow upper-class-drop-out St. Francis speak on the streets, she ran away, cut her hair and began full-time religious life. Her uncle, a knight, led a group to forcibly bring her back. Clare clung to the altar with a stubborn purpose that out-lasted those with more power.
Her family thought she ran away from them, but she (through her resolve, sense of self and the agitation she felt to follow God, Francis and the Holy Spirit) shows how young people can run toward their calling.
The danger in calling someone a saint is that it is easy to forget that they were human, struggled and were probably a lot more like us than some of the stories created to justify their saintly status.
What would it be like if the youth on the streets — who speak clearly about their need for safe space, jobs, mentoring, the ability to be leaders and to have age-appropriate learning — were given the opportunities Clare had to occupy community spaces and to reimagine how we live together?
What would it be like for us all to take Jesus’ request seriously and find ways to give up ownership of our things for the betterment of all, as Clare did in counterbalance to her land-owning family?
Today, I encourage everyone to take a moment to remember the life and ministry of St. Clare of Assisi.
Think about the things the Spirit is calling you to run away from, so that you can be healthier, less distracted and more faithful. Then commit to the things that the Spirit is calling you to run toward.
And if it did not happen in the last step, imagine what it would take to truly commit your life to living with and responding to all the ways poverty manifests itself in our world, our spirits and our pocket books.
And whether you’ve done all or none of the above, let us all pray the Blessing of Clare:
What you hold, may you always hold.
What you do, may you always do and never abandon.
But with swift pace, light step, and unswerving feet,
so that even your steps stir up no dust,
go forward securely, joyfully, and swiftly,
on the path of prudent happiness,
believing nothing, agreeing with nothing which would
dissuade you from this resolution or
which would place a stumbling block
for you on the way, so that you may offer
your vows to the Most High
in the pursuit of that perfection to which
the Spirit of the Lord has called you.
Megan Rohrer is an ELCA pastor called by five congregations and has been a missionary to the homeless in San Francisco since 2002.