It's all St. Clare's fault, really.
You see, I used to have long hair. Long, thick, wavy hair. I'd pull it into a ponytail when I was chasing after kids, throw it into a low bun for the office, curl it for special occasions. It served as a built-in scarf in the winter and extra penance in the summer. I would absentmindedly twirl the end of it while I read, which would result in the perfect little ringlet that delighted me to no end.
But then St. Clare came along, and everything changed.
There I was, standing in the crypt of the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, mesmerized by a mural of St. Francis cutting off St. Clare's hair, symbolizing her break with the world as she renounced her riches and earthly beauty and assumed the humble appearance of a follower of il Poverello. And she looked radiant. Full of light and life and joy, a face of beauty and serenity and confidence, turned toward the future brimming with hope.
I want to look like that was the prayer that arose from my heart. Not a minute later, my mom walked down the darkened hallway toward me and whispered, She looks like you.
A year later, I entered the convent.
Now it wasn't about the hair, of course. Jesus drew me to consider religious life in all sorts of ways, dramatic and subtle. But that image of St. Clare has stuck with me most powerfully. It was especially on my mind on my own hair-cutting day, August 2, 2020, which marked the beginning of my time as a novice. I received a habit, a new name, and yes, a haircut. Mother Clare snipped off my heavy ponytail as Cardinal Dolan looked on smilingly. (He later referred to the day's events as "that beauty parlor liturgy." He was forever making us laugh.) And as those cold metal shears worked their way through my long locks, I looked up at Jesus in the monstrance as I knelt before the altar, praying that I looked like my beautiful patron who'd inspired me so. Then we newly minted novices were whisked away, our cropped hair covered with gleaming white veils, never (perhaps) to be uncovered again.
It's hard to explain just how deeply that haircut affected me, but affect me it did, and it still does. It's been five months since I left the convent, and while there have been all sorts of major transitions to undergo, growing out my pixie cut is perhaps one of the most discomforting. I've gratefully received many generous compliments from kind friends and my favorite Aldi cashier and my ever-loving mother, yet still the ache remains: I want my long hair back. Is it true that I can't be beautiful or feminine without it? Of course not. But is it a lie I'm tempted to believe? More than I'd like to admit.
But as I fight that lie and long for the day when I can toss my thick, wavy locks over my shoulders again, I can find solace in that moment I was caught up in St. Clare's beauty, and even in those quiet, hidden, often trying days I spent as Sr. Clara. I was willing to give up everything—from the clothes off my back to my vain attachment to my appearance—for the sake of following Jesus.
Discomfort, vanity, impatience and all—He was worth it.