On the night of Palm Sunday in the year 1212, a young woman from a wealthy family left her family, her possessions, her social position and nearly everything she had known to serve the lepers and the outcasts, the poorest of the poor, in the marshland below the walled city of Assisi, Italy.
This year the Franciscan family celebrates the 800th anniversary of St. Clare’s consecration in the little church of Santa Maria degli Angeli. Francis received her, cut her hair to symbolize her entrance into the order of penitents, and then made sure that she had a safe place to stay.
Before that happened, however, Clare had to take the step of leaving her home, alone. Francis and his companions were waiting for her outside the city. Soon her mother, her sister Agnes and one of her cousins would join her. Her biographers tell us that the bishop of Assisi came down from the altar at Mass on that Sunday and handed her a palm branch. They believe that he was letting her know that her plan could go ahead.
I’ve walked the route that scholars believe she would have taken: beginning at the piazza of the Cathedral of San Rufino, walking through the busy streets filled with revelers, going further from the lights and the noise, walking through the arched city gate and gazing down the hill into darkness.
I’ve also left nearly everything behind more than once in my life to take a new job, to make a new home, to grow in ways that I haven’t been able to imagine until I’ve taken the first step. This is the journey of faith.
In the year 1212, Palm Sunday fell on March 18. This year it’s April 1. It’s the beginning of the holiest week in our liturgical calendar. Each year our journey is different. But each year it’s also the same. We follow Christ not only to the cross, but through it to resurrection. And every time we do it, the first step is always the hardest.