August 10, 2017

Saint Clare of Assisi, Virgin and Foundress

Saint Clare of Assisi

Memorial - August 11th

As a young girl, Saint Clare, in defiance of her parent’s wishes, escaped from her home one night, intent on meeting up with a group of friars. They conducted her by torch-light to a small chapel where Saint Francis of Assisi gave her a rough brown habit in place of her fine dress. She surrendered her jeweled belt for a knotted rope, which she fastened around her waist. In a final act of devotion, she permitted St. Francis to cut her long hair, in order that she might take the veil.

A beautiful young Italian noblewoman, Clare was so moved by the preaching of Saint Francis of Assisi that she defied every convention of her privileged life to live the Gospel of Christ. One of St. Francis’ first and most ardent followers, she would become the foundress of the group of nuns known as the Second Order of St. Francis, more popularly, the Poor Clares. She did so despite great opposition. Her parents tried everything in their power to dissuade Clare from her vocation, but to no avail. In fact, eventually, two of Clare’s sisters and her widowed mother would follow her into consecrated life, joining the Second Order of St. Francis.

The nuns of the new religious Order were especially dedicated to extreme poverty and prayer. Secluded from the world, they went without shoes, slept on the ground and abstained from meat; subsiding only on the donations they received. The chapel of San Damiano, which St. Francis had repaired in response to God’s summons to “Rebuild my Church” — a command that Francis came to realize transcended the reconstruction of physical buildings — became the Mother House of the Poor Clares. In 1215, at the age of 21, Clare became the abbess of the Order, a position she exercised for the remainder of her life.

The Poor Clares held strictly to their commitment to poverty. When the pope suggested a Rule for the Order, which allowed for the ownership of property in common, St. Clare refused to adopt it. She is reported to have said in response to Pope Gregory IX, “Holy Father, I need to be absolved from my sins, but I do not wish to be absolved from my obligation of following Jesus Christ.”

Prayer was a cornerstone of the Poor Clares charism, of which, St. Clare was a perfect exemplar. Contemporary accounts said that her face virtually glowed when she came from her devotions. It was her prayer and faith that saved the sisters from a potentially brutal attack by the Saracens. Though very sick at the time of the near invasion, Clare brought a monstrance containing the Blessed Sacrament and placed it on the wall of the convent. She then prayed to God to deliver the sisters, and then told them to have complete faith in His will. They did, and the Saracens fled in fear and confusion.

Clare struggled with illness during the last 27 years of her life, but that did not prevent her from living out her passionate and heroic ideals.  She remained close to St. Francis until his death in 1226, although she apparently never left San Damiano, once she entered it.  From there, she exerted a remarkable influence on the cardinals, bishops and popes who sought her consultation and advice.

Saint Clare died peacefully of natural causes on August 11th, 1253. She was canonized two years after her death by Pope Alexander IV. She is the patroness of eye disorders and television among others. O God, who in your mercy led Saint Clare to a love of poverty, grant, through her intercession, that, following Christ in poverty of spirit, we may duly merit to contemplate you one day in the heavenly Kingdom. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns together, with you, and with the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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