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St Clare of Assisi

The Church honors the memory of St. Clare of Assisi (1193/94-1253), liturgically, today. She is known as the first woman to join St. Francis and his companions in their new form of living the Gospel in a radical way.

Clare met Francis who impressed upon her the virtue –not just a value– of being a part of what he determined to be a life of penance and “life according to the Holy Gospel”. Called by God, Clare decided to abandon her family and social status, like Francis and his companions, in 1211 or 1212 be a part of the new movement. Her “Franciscan” life first was lived in her family home but later moved to a more fitting environment. It was Francis who taught:

“Since by divine inspiration you have made yourselves daughters and servants of the most High King, the heavenly Father, and have taken the Holy Spirit as your spouse, choosing to live according to the perfection of the Holy Gospel, I resolve and promise for myself and for my brothers always to have the same loving care and special solicitude for you as I have for them.”

As she wrote to St. Agnes of Prague: “If so great and good Lord, then, on coming into the Virgin’s womb, chose to appear despised, needy, and poor in this world, so that people who were in utter poverty and want, suffering hunger for heavenly nourishment, might become rich in him by possessing the kingdom of heaven, then rejoice and be glad! . . What a great and praiseworthy exchange: to leave the things of time for those of eternity, to choose the things of heaven for the goods of earth, to receive the hundred-fold in place of one, and to possess a blessed and eternal life!”

The early sisters of Clare lived simply and prayerfully at the Church of San Damiano for over 40 years, sustained by their own work. The her monastic Rule was finally approved by Pope Innocent IV shortly before her death in 1253. She was canonized two years later in 1255.

 

St Clare of Assisi

St Clare of Assisi relicFrom a letter from Saint Clare of Assisi, virgin, to Saint Agnes of Prague:

Happy indeed is she who is granted a place at the divine banquet, for she may cling with her inmost heart to him whose beauty eternally awes the blessed hosts of heaven; to him whose love inspires love, whose contemplation refreshes, whose generosity satisfies, whose gentleness delights, whose memory shines sweetly as the dawn; to him whose fragrance revives the dead, and whose glorious vision will bless all the citizens of that heavenly Jerusalem. For his is the splendor of eternal glory, the brightness of eternal light, and the mirror without cloud.

Queen and bride of Jesus Christ, look into that mirror daily and study well your reflection, that you may adorn yourself, mind and body, with an enveloping garment of every virtue, and thus find yourself attired in flowers and gowns befitting the daughter and most chaste bride of the king on high. In this mirror blessed poverty, holy humility and ineffable love are also reflected. With the grace of God the whole mirror will be your source of contemplation.

Behold, I say, the birth of this mirror. Behold his poverty even as he was laid in the manger and wrapped in swaddling clothes. What wondrous humility, what marvelous poverty! The King of angels, the Lord of heaven and earth resting in a manger! Look more deeply into the mirror and meditate on his humility, or simply on his poverty. Behold the many labors and sufferings he endured to redeem the human race. Then, in the depths of this very mirror, ponder his unspeakable love which caused him to suffer on the wood of the cross and to endure the most shameful kind of death. The mirror himself, from his position on the cross, warned passersby to weigh carefully this act, as he said: All of you who pass by this way, behold and see if there is any sorrow like mine. Let us answer his cries and lamentations with one voice and one spirit: I will be mindful and remember, and my soul will be consumed within me. In this way, queen of the king of heaven, your love will burn with an ever brighter flame.

Consider also his indescribable delights, his unending riches and honors, and sigh for what is beyond your love and heart’s content as you cry out: Draw me on! We will run after you in the perfume of your ointment, heavenly spouse. Let me run and not faint until you lead me into your wine cellar; your left hand rests under my head, your right arm joyfully embraces me, and you kiss me with the sweet kiss of your lips. As you rest in this state of contemplation, remember your poor mother and know that I have indelibly written your happy memory into my heart, for you are dearer to me than all the others.

Saint Clare of Assisi

St ClareToday, August 11, the Church liturgically honors the memory of Saint Clare of Assisi (1194-1253).

As you know from Church history, Clare was born of a noble family of Assisi, and a serious disciple of Jesus by the time she met the famous Francis. The Franciscan tradition indicates that she had already decided as a young woman to embark on a life of penance when she spoke with Francis in 1212; she joined Francis’s new movement at the Portiuncula.

A witness that attracts

Clare was followed by other women who joined her at the Church of San Damiano. There Clare and her sisters lived simply and prayerfully for over 40 years, supporting themselves by the work of their hands. Religious life was bursting forth with new forms when Clare and Francis founded the Friars and Sisters Minor. It is noted in the tradition that Clare had to fight to maintain her distinctive vision of religious life waiting for her Rule to be approved by the Pope shortly before her death in 1253.

Let’s recall an excerpt of a letter Saint Clare sent to Saint Agnes of Prague: “As you know, i am sure, that the kingdom of heaven is promised by the Lord only to the poor, for the one who loves temporal things loses the fruit of love. . . What a great and laudable exchange: to leave the things of time for those of eternity, to choose the things of heaven for the goods of earth, to receive the hundred-fold in place of one, and to possess a blessed and eternal life!”

Let us pray for the women who follow the Rule of Saint Clare.

Saint Clare of Assisi

“Never forget that the way which leads to heaven is narrow; that the gate leading to life is narrow and low; that there are but few who find it and enter by it; and if there be some who go in and tread the narrow path for some time, there are but very few who persevere therein.”

St. Clare of Assisi

The few who find the narrow gate are those who desire to be in friendship with Jesus. Salvation comes no other way.

Saint Clare of Assisi

More than anything else that can be said of the life of Saint Clare of Assisi it is her example of being at the foot of the life-saving Cross. This icon shows us that the cross means sacrifice and service. An abbess, as an example of what the Lord would do, washes the feet of the disciples.

Saint Clare’s radical example is not easy to follow but I think it ought to be an aspiration. May she show us the path to the Lord. I believe that Clare opens a door of what Christian discipleship means.

Prayers for the Poor Clare nuns.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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