How do you see yourself?
Personal image has grown to such importance in life that it seems almost essential to how we function. Individuals strive to conform to a manufactured ideal created by themselves or imposed by society. Youth are encouraged by media to change their physical bodies to match a fantastical and made up caricature of beauty and desirability. God willing we have not capitulated to such a narrowing of ourselves. And yet most of us, on a daily basis, consider our appearance before going out to work or recreate or jump on the Zoom conference. At the least we take a glance in the mirror, fix our hair, trim our beards, put on makeup and any number of other preparations to make ourselves presentable to the outside world.
How many minutes or even hours do we spend in front of the mirror of self-conceit? How much time do we spend polishing our online profile to ensure a positive impression of “me”? All that time spent and how much time do we invest gazing on the mirror of the soul?
This was the fundamental concern of St. Clare, the spiritual compatriot of St. Francis of Assisi. Clare, by all accounts, was an exceptionally beautiful young woman and yet in her late teens she gave her whole heart to a different kind of beauty, committing her life to one desire; devotion to Jesus Christ. Clare shaved her head and defied the wishes of all her male relations who insisted that she marry a noble to match her own high status in the aristocracy. She would not give way to anyone but the Bridegroom and from her devotion sprang the remarkable image of the cross as the mirror of our soul.
“Place your mind before the mirror of eternity!” Clare wrote to her disciple, Agnes of Prague. Clare had no time for worldly vanities. Clare would gaze for hours upon the upturned face of Christ upon the San Damiano Crucifix. This was the mirror of eternity which she spoke of, the model of perfect poverty, chastity, obedience, and humility, with his face turned to God. Clare knew that if we do not conform our lives to the perfections of Christ which mirror the divine attributes of God the Father then we cannot bring the truth of the Gospel into the world. Daily, we must reflect on our souls image and its likeness to the one who formed it in beauty and perfection.
In our relationship with God we must unflinchingly look at our lives and consider what we really value and then ask: do our actions reflect our highest goods and aspirations? If, after consideration we find that most of our time is spent on the opinions of others and the trivialities of society then it is time to question if that is truly our life’s purpose, or rather if it is not more essential to be attentive to the impression our soul makes upon the subtle mirror of life.
On the cross Jesus becomes the man of perfect joy. He has renounced all worldly concern and given his life in holy obedience to the Father. He has no attachment to worldly treasure and is stripped of all possession. But in this poverty he shows us perfect freedom. He has abandoned all earthly pleasure for the great pleasure of victory over sin and death. This man, the son of God, is our mirror of perfection. The challenge of St. Clare is to follow his way, the way of the cross, in every manner we can.
Will joy be found in the shallow concerns, preoccupations, and obsessions of the world or in the hard and unfailing promises of the cross of Jesus Christ? For what does the world offer us for conformity to its desires, only enslavement. Bondage to a transient, perishing affection. The world promises that it will love us so long as we hold to the image it has devised for us. Contrast this to what is found in the mirror of the cross. There, as we gaze on the face of Christ, we see a love which gives all for our sake and for our highest good. What can you call this if not love. St. Clare proclaims, “Indeed, blessed poverty, holy humility, and inexpressible charity are reflected in that mirror.” Inexpressible charity, inexpressible love, this is what we are each called to see when we gaze into the mirror.