A role model for Lent

Today, 20 Feb 2012, is the memorial day for St Amata of Assisi, one of the early members of the Poor Clares. As we look towards the start of Lent on Wednesday, the life of St Amata gives us ideas about how to live these days of grace and renewal.

Although not a great deal of information about St Amata has survived the centuries between the 13th century and today, yet each scap of information can help us to live this Lenten opportunity with faith and confidence in God’s mercy.

St Amata was the niece of St Clare of Asssi. As most of us know from experience, helping family members come closer to God is much harder than helping anyone else. It was Clare’s intercession for her family and the attractiveness of her life of radical holiness that brought Amata and other women members of her family to join her. In this we can see a pledge from God that if we take Lent seriously, using it to grow in holiness, and offer our Lenten penances for family members, then He will work marvels in their lives.

St Amata was a friend of St Dominic, the founder of the Dominicans. True friends help each other to grow closer to Jesus. Never under estimate the power of a holy friend in your life to help you on your way to God. So this Lent, make some holy friends. Make at least one new friend in heaven by reading a good biography of a Saint and/or praying his/her litany or other prayers seeking his/her intercession. Make at least one new holy friend on earth. As you look around the pews on Sundays there will be someone who stands out as a believer. Get to know him or her. Having someone to talk about spiritual things with is a really big help. They inspire us, they challenge us to be better (without uttering words) and God often speaks to us through ordinary conversation with them.

St Amata had a misspent youth. As such she knows the pain and dedication needed to turn a life around. She knows what it is to be tempted back into old ways. She also knows the great joy of belonging to Jesus and being freed from the sinful patterns in her life. Perhaps our youthful years were not quite as misspent as Amata’s, but we have all done far less good with the lives God has given us than we could have. The grace of God turned her around. The grace of God has the power to turn us around, too, during these 40 holy days of penance. Whenever the going gets tough during Lent, remind yourself of her example and call upon her prayers. Hers was probably an uncomfortable return to the Sacrament of Penance, but it ended in joy. Seek her help to make a really good Lenten confession.

St Amata was miraculously healed through the prayers of St Clare. The good God wants to heal us, too, spiritually and emotionally as well as physically. Even on earth it is hard to get better physically unless you visit some kind of doctor. In the same way it is hard for God to heal us unless we make a commitment to spend more time with Him daily, and to admit to Him all of our worries, cares, problems, weaknesses, addictions, sins and shortcomings. He is waiting to be gracious to you.

Of St Amata we know very little. We know that she persevered in the grace of her conversion, so we know that she can help us persevere in our Lenten practices. Her life reminds us that to be holy we don’t have to be a celebrity. Living out her life in hiddeness before God was pleasing to Him – so pleasing that after seven centuries women religious are still taking her name and being called Sister Amata. For the majority of us, we won’t hit the limelight either, but as long as we take her example and set about pleasing God as our first priority our lives will be luminous in heaven – where it really counts.

St Amata lived out her days as a Poor Clare, in simplicity, silence and great devotion to Jesus truly present in the Blessed Sacrament. Those are three keys to a fruiful Lent. To grow in simplicity we can undertake to make only essential purchases this Lent, and to pass on much of the savings to those in need. To grow in that inner silence so needed to sense God in our lives we can forsake the computer games, give the social media websites a miss for a while and cut down drastically on the number of times we check our emails and voicemail messages a day. To grow in love for the presence of Jesus, we need to take the time to taste and see how good it is to linger in His sacramental presence. Even in a busy life it is possible to find an hour a week to spend with Him, if not all at once, in smaller amounts of time spread over a few days.

Thank you, Lord God, for the depths of Your grace and mercy that acted so powerfully in the life of St Amata. May she intercede for each one of us on our Lenten journeys.

St Amata of Assisi, pray for us