Thursday, August 24
A Patroness for the New Evangelization?
Servant of God Claire de Castelbajac
During the same French explorations in which I discovered the Communaute Saint Martin, I also ran across, from the website of one of their parishes, a new Servant of God, Claire de Castelbajac, who I think may prove to be a perfect patroness for the new evangelization. Indeed, her story has a certain "St. Therese meets the 60's" character to it that I think can prove instructive and inspiring to us all, especially young people. Here is the story of a girl who never saw her 22nd birthday, and the remarkable spirituality she has bequeathed to us.
Claire was born into a Catholic family, and in her youth she had several of the "precocious saint" kinds of stories that one finds in the earlier sections of Story of a Soul. Most of these revolved around her First Communion, both excitement to receive it and later regret that it happened at so early an age.
As she grew into adolescence, Claire was very disturbed by the currents swirling around her in the Church. In her frustration, she decided to form a choir. This spirit is carried on today by the Chorale Claire de Castelbajac.
The trenchant part of the story for us really begins when Claire goes off to school in Rome, to study art restoration. There, she was disturbed and tempted by the excesses of late '60's and early '70's youth culture, which of course are still with us today:
I really need your prayers... the more I get to know people, the more it depresses me. I thought Art for Art's sake and Beauty for Beauty's sake, and therefore the sense of the gratuitousness of things, gave people a profundity and something more... Apparently, except for two or three snobs, everyone is interested in what they are doing, and even passionate about it, but after that, plop! The only thing that interests them is pleasure in all its forms. So that depresses me and disgusts me a little. I can't judge them, but all the people I talk to, except for two, are like that. They all more or less live with a «partner»... So I am disappointed... All the boys chase me! Damn it! I don't wear miniskirts... And I even sprinkle with coldness and nastiness those I must avoid. And the more I sprinkle, the more they continue... But what I'm afraid of right now is me, because I am going to tell you everything. I am not encouraged at all by good people, like I was in Toulouse. So sometimes, when I see the people around me, I think to myself that it wouldn't be so bad to be like them... Then I pray, I pray, to have the courage, I could even say sometimes the heroism, to resist, to not have any «boyfriend» (ed. the original Italian word is "gabazzo" - if anyone familiar with the Roman dialect could clarify the implications of this, it would be helpful) before marriage...»
As it turned out, however, Claire could not entirely resist these currents:
My view of things is changing—what will satisfy the thirst for life I have?... Yesterday we went out to the seaside. It was fabulous! All by ourselves to play the fool till the middle of the night... We were so passionately full of life, of independence, of total freedom and the intoxicating feeling of being outside of civilization.»
Rarely do we find in the lives of the saints such poignant examples of frail humanity, even within a life of attempting to live out the faith. Yet Claire was able to repent and turn her life around, after some setbacks:
«I realize the level of vanity and sheer egoism I fell to, under the deceptive name of emancipation...»
This passage is quite reminiscent of some of the things that our late and current Holy Fathers have said about the danger of modern freedom as license, and Claire fought this strugle as we all do. Eventually, she took up work helping to restore the frescoes at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi. Shortly after, however, she became gravely ill. As she neared death of meningo-encephalitis in 1975 at the age of 21, Claire wrote of preparation for death:
«Do you really think that the ever-growing closeness of death is frightening? I think it isn't. We shouldn't fear death. Death is just the passage from one life—that is just a test, in fact—of joys and little misfortunes... to complete Happiness, in perpetual View of Him Who has given us everything. Death frightening? No, it shouldn't be—but rather, hoped and waited for (so prepared for...)
This is profound wisdom, especially at so young an age. My favorite quote of Claire's, however, has to be this passage:
Being a saint means loving the ordinary things of life for God, with God and with His divine grace and strength.
I always thought it was acceptance and not love. This changes everything and is brilliant. That must be where God's joy comes from. Acceptance is a rather neutral feeling, even thought it is better than submissiveness.
But when it comes down to it, love is the only feeling good enough for God. You don't just accept a kiss from your parents, you love the kiss because it comes from your parents.
- to accept is just like saying well, I just got a nasty blow, might as well see the good side and offer it up to God ;
- to resign oneself is like saying this blow annoys me but in any case there is nothing to do about it but to give it up to God.
- to make it an act of love is to say God was good enough to send me this blow so that I can offer it to Him with all my heart for his glory.
Nevertheless, it takes a thick coat of holiness to turn everything into an act of love. »
(17 October 1972, journal entry)
What, then, is the significance of Claire de Castelbajac? I think that she can provide for us a perfect patroness for the new evangelization, precisely in that she suffered so personally from the breakdown in the Church and the culture that necessitated this evangelization. Significantly, she also died in the same year, 1975, that Pope Paul VI issued Evangelii Nuntiandi, a document constantly cited by John Paul II as the founding document for the new evangelization. She suffered, experienced temptation, and returned, and also left us journals of profound spiritual writing. Let us pray that Claire may help us to live and to preach the Gospel, and that perhaps someday she may be raised to the altars as a saint for our times.
A biographical sketch
Resource page including quotes (some links on this page aren't working as of this writing)