Sr Clare and the open hands of the Lord (part 2)

Hit by a divine bolt of lightning and connected to the people of the 21 st century.

Sr Clare was born on 14th November 1982, in Derry, Northern Ireland. She entered the Servant Sisters of the Home of the Mother on 11th August 2001, at the age of 18. She took her first vows on 18th February 2006, taking the religious name of Sr Clare Maria of the Trinity and the Heart of Mary. She took her perpetual vows on 8th September 2010. From the moment of her first vows, she served in the Servant Sisters’ communities in Belmonte, Cuenca (Spain), Jacksonville, Florida (USA), Valencia (Spain), Guayaquil (Ecuador), and Playa Prieta, Manabí (Ecuador). She passed away during the earthquake in Playa Prieta on 16th April 2016, aged 33. 

Having examined in the previous issue a theory of holiness based on the suffering and open hands of the Crucified One, I want in this article to scrutinise whether the holiness of those open and suffering hands is reflected in the life of Sr Clare Crockett. 

To begin such an assessment, let us set off by turning to the moment in Sr Clare’s life when she bent down to kiss the cross. It was only then that the disparity between the Lord’s wounds and Clare Crockett’s hands impressed itself deeply upon her consciousness. 

The gap was indeed glaring. This was the moment when someone who had been blaggarded into going to Spain, and who had spent her time smoking and sunbathing impervious to the spiritual significance all around her, this most unlikely of girls, who could not stay still and seemed to have words always coming out of her mouth, was hit by a divine bolt of lightning. The wounded and empty hands had given everything to her and posed to her their own challenge. 

What was she to do with her own hands so full of excitement and ambition for celebrity? The force of that question would not remain static, it would only grow and gather momentum over the rest of her life. 

Speaking to the young and whole People of God 

On one occasion, when Sister Clare was teaching one of her many classes, she suggested that her pupils just weren’t “getting her”. When she spoke like this, there was more to it than a throwaway line. She indicated that they just were not penetrating what her life and teaching meant. They were missing the point some- how, getting caught in the superficialities and not seeing the big picture. In posing this challenge to her pupils in that one moment, she was speaking to a wider audience. 

She was speaking to the wider audience of the young people of the 21st century, the people of her own city and country, and to the whole People of God. She was warning this wider audience not to miss out on the deeper language of her life. She was telling us that there was more to her story than simply a young woman becoming a nun, at a time when the women of her generation hardly know what a nun is. There’s more to the story than simply a young woman going off on a mission to far flung places and, what is more, the story does not end in the tragedy of an earthquake. 

What is being said is that in this young vibrant life, God himself had inscribed in his own handwriting, a message about his holiness that was written to young people, young people who live exactly as Clare Crockett did before she met the Cross, young people who have surrendered to chronic doubt and who know nothing as definite but ego and desire. 

An ordinary teenager 

The language of God begins in Sr Clare’s young life. A few years ago, her younger sister, Shauna, gave a testimony, and in the testimony, Shauna emphasised the point that her sister, Clare, was just an ordinary teenager. I believe that testimony to be tremendously significant. Clare lived the same life as so many of her contemporaries and therefore her witness is so important. She knows them, she has seen that life from inside, and has shared their trials of life.
Clare had lived a life full of smoking, drinking, partying, messing around and high jinks, and fascinated by the cult of celebrity. This lifestyle was all she knew up until the moment that the cross made an impact. The lifestyle filled her ears, it filled her eyes, it filled her mouth, and it filled her soul. It is a lifestyle that, sadly for some people, will be all they will ever know. And it is not just this present generation that she can speak to, older ones than hers have fallen into the same cul-de-sac. 

Experience of the cross 

She tells them that she thought she was happy. It was only after the cross that she knew that there was any other option. In addition to the experience of the cross, there was that infamous moment when, after a hard night drinking that left her bent over a toilet bowl, throwing up her guts, that she was filled with the sense that the One who had hung upon the cross was looking at her again, profoundly disturbed and distressed by what she was doing to herself. Sitting there being sick, she had to question what sort of happiness terminates in this destination? And if she wasn’t happy then how many more were there in the same position, young people, middle-aged people and older people, who did not know their own dignity, valued nothing of their own integrity, and knew not what life was about. She realised in that lavatory an age-old wisdom: that we resemble the things that we love. When we love great things then we ourselves become great, but if we love trifling things then they will make us as trifling as them- selves. At that toilet bowl, she realised how small her life had become and yet, somehow, she still thought that she was happy. This lifestyle was strangling the very happiness out of her. How many young people and even not so young people labour under the same misapprehension? How many could Sr Clare speak to? 

God would be her everything 

As she woke from her mistakes, she decided because of the cross to become a servant sister, and so leave father, mother, sisters, family, city, country and language. It wasn’t as if these things no longer mattered or that they had lost their value but there was something else, someone else to take their place. God would become her father, her mother, her brother, her sister, her city, her country and her language. God would be to her everything. With such generosity, she could truly speak of herself as a spouse of the crucified Christ. Everything was crucified to her as she started to open her own hands in service.
She did not satisfy herself with becoming a religious sister, she had more gifts to give, she responded to his love as she told herself in the film by trying to give God everyday her one hundred percent, then the next day a little more, and the following a little more again. The cynics amongst us will scoff but, we have only to look at her movie and the book about her life and see that this was not just empty words. Take a good look at the children in the Assumption Catholic School in Jacksonville, Florida, that she taught for their first communion. See the reverence that was exuding from those children and the way that they were concentrated on the Mass, and you have got to realise that that could only have occurred by Clare giving her one hundred percent to that class.
I was a pastor for many years in a parish, and I know just how difficult it is to enthuse children about their faith and to keep them concentrated on the proper object of their first communion. I must confess that I failed utterly at getting the children at the parochial school to concentrate on Him rather than on the money they received or the various forms of apparel that they were about to wear. I would have given my eye teeth to have a nun who gave her one hundred percent to get children to concentrate and to know who it is that comes to them on their first communion day. 

Sr Clare’s apostolate in the hospital 

In one of her films, we see the A.I.D.S. patient, Paco, who was dying in the hospital where Sr Clare was a chap- lain. Paco had, for two decades, been completely cut off from the life of the Church, so one can only imagine the anger and resentment that Sister Clare had to face the first time that she entered his room, and then every time afterwards that she spoke to him of the things of faith. Only God knows the mortifications and pains that it cost her, in order to encourage him and delicately lead him back to the Church and to Christ in the sacraments. 

But because she did it with one hundred percent that patient received his Viaticum, that is his bread for the journey to heaven, and died a son of the Church. 

Giving 100% for the Lord 

Then there was that underachieving class that was thrust upon her when she went to teach in a school in Ecuador. The class was at the bot- tom of the heap and was deeply un- enthused about their studies. But by sheer effort, tenacity, and by her sheer love for them, she drew out of that failing class what was best in them and at the end of the year all the children passed their exams. Right there the one hundred percent is again written large in hard graft and effort. 

School of the Lord sufferings 

I am a friar of the Discalced Carmelite Order and we have had the privilege in our order of having many members recognised as saints. A seemingly consistent characteristic of those saints’ lives was that towards the end of their earthly pilgrimage they were invited to experience in their own bodies the very sufferings that the Lord went through on the cross; some have called it the school of the Lord sufferings. St Therese of Lisieux, St Elizabeth of Trinity and St Teresa of the Andes all experienced this type of suffering. The suffering is a harbinger of a final transformation in holiness. We start to see hallmarks of the same process towards the end of Sister Clare’s life. As you watch the film, it becomes increasingly more apparent that since arriving in Ecuador she is losing weight, her face is pallid, and her eyes are strained. Even the sisters, when speaking of her, start to mention her migraines and about her having to take more rest. On one occasion, I found out from her mother that after Sr Clare died, during her autopsy, they found that she had been bleeding from her brain. This had never been diagnosed during her life, and one can only imagine the pain that she was enduring the whole time. 

“I have written a blank cheque for Him” 

One of the most beautiful moments of the whole Sr Clare story, was that night when, marked by suffering and having just arrived home from the treatment room, Sr Clare was greeted by the children in her school who begged her to play her guitar and sing for them. Her religious superior advised her to go on to bed and take the opportunity for some rest. It would have been expected after a long day in the hospital that she would have beat a hasty retreat, but she refused to take the stairs to bed, and she found the wonderful words, “I have written a blank cheque for Him.” Again, she responds with her one hundred percent and even a lot more here during sickness and pain. And so, she went into the room with all the children and sang for them. She said of the moment that even if she couldn’t sing, she could shout as best as she could for her children but even more for her Lord. He alone saw her sacrifice and must have been gladdened by her complete generosity. She had arrived at empty hands. 

I hope that by this stage we have all come to realise the sad ending of Sister Clare’s earthly life. During a terrible earthquake that reduced the convent and school to dust and rubble, she died surrounded by five children whom she had been teaching to play the guitar. She died with them enfolded in her arms, trying desperately to protect them from the force of the falling masonry. Even in death, Sr Clare was significantly joined to her Crucified Lord. She had once remarked that it would be a beautiful thing to die at the same age as the Lord. And so it was: Sr Clare died at the untimely, but joined up, age of thirty-three. A sign to us all the intricate relationship that had been established between Clare Crockett and Jesus Christ; their lives had become so wedded. 

Christ’s crucified love 

Even the power of that horrendous earthquake could not silence Sr Clare. It could not blank out the language that God had written into her life. The power of that union goes on speaking. It is al- most as if she goes on singing to us, to young people, to the people of Derry and to the whole Church: the message of Christ’s crucified love. He tells us himself, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if anyone serves me, the Father will honour him” (Jn 12:25). Sister Clare, as a bride of Christ, stood firmly and squarely at the foot of the cross, she did not move, and what is more important, she stood there with open hands. 

The open hands of Sr Clare 

I know that I might seem a little biased but, let me tell you a story from the life of Saint Therese of Lisieux. As Therese lay dying from tuberculosis, she heard outside her window, one of the other sisters in her community speak to another, and that sister was conjecturing about what the mother prioress would write into the obituary of Sr Therese, when she died. The sister observed the prioress would be hard put upon to find anything to write for Therese had done “nothing” in her whole life. That too talkative a sister lived for nine years with a person who became blessed, a person who was canonised, a person who was declared a patroness of the missions, and then later a Doctor of the Church. 

There is none so blind as those who choose not to see. There will be many who will deride and mock the idea of an “ordinary” young woman from the Brandywell being canonised, but they can simply join a long queue that stretches from Nazareth, through Lisieux, and to this very day in Derry, Northern Ireland. The open hands of Sr Clare Crockett speak louder than their grumbling. 

Fr Stephen Quinn O.C.D. Carmelite Fathers, Iona Retreat Centre, Derry, Northern Ireland. UK 

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Where does prayer come from? Whether prayer is expressed in words or gestures, it is the whole man who prays. But in naming the source of prayer, Scripture speaks sometimes of the soul or the spirit, but most often of the heart (more than a thousand times). According to Scripture, it is the heart that prays. If our heart is far from God, the words of prayer are in vain.

CCC 2559

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