Aug 11, 2010

St. Clare - a hidden spring

“The Hidden spring of Franciscan Spirituality,” was a description offered for this extraordinary disciple of St. Francis of Assisi, St. Clare (1193-1253). At her birth, her Mother felt that her daughter would be “enlightened” by God and so her name is defined as “light.” This August 11th is the anniversary of her death in Assisi, Italy. Founder of a group of “poor ladies,” now known as the Poor Clares, Clare’s story is similar to Francis’ own.

Born of a noble family, Clare was moved at the age of 18 after hearing Francis, who was never a priest but a Deacon, preach a series of sermons during Lent. So touched was she that, like Francis himself, she sought to renounce all wealth and privilege and follow a life of evangelical poverty. During the night of Palm Sunday (March 28 around 1211) Clare escaped from her family home and quickly made her way to the plain below the town of Assisi. There at the “little portion,” as Francis called it, the Porziuncola, (a small chapel which became a sort of command central for Francis and his followers), Francis and his brothers accepted Clare, cut her hair short, and gave her a simple habit. From that time forward, the rest became history and the female expression of Franciscan spirituality and life style of strict poverty and trust of God in all things was established.

Clare’s life was marked by miraculous events. Olive oil jars were miraculously filled after she blessed them. Once, a heavy door came off its hinges and fell upon Clare. The sisters in panic rushed to lift it off her. Instead of finding her crushed, she was not harmed and said it felt like no more than a blanket. The sick were cured when she made the sign of the cross. When she prayed in deep meditation a rainbow aura surrounded her. One Christmas night she saw the Mass in the Basilica of St. Francis, who was buried there about a mile from San Damiano, where she was cloistered with her sisters about a mile away. That vision of the Mass was so clear that she could name the friars who were present. So, she has been proclaimed, among other patronages, the patroness of television! I think, considering much content on TV these days, that Clare has quite a job ahead of her.

This amazing woman long outlived Francis by about 40 years where she remained cloistered in the very humble surroundings with her sisters in Assisi, Italy. But, many establishments of Poor Clare Nuns sprung up throughout Europe during her time and continue to this day. She is famously depicted holding a monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament because of her bold courage in turning away an invading horde as they began an attack on both the Convent and the town of Assisi.

If you’ve ever been to Assisi, the memory is indelible for the spirit of both Francis and Clare still live upon that stunning medieval hilltop town.

What can Clare teach us today? The Responsorial Psalm today offers the following verse: “The glory of the Lord is higher than the skies!” Taken from Psalm 113, that image alone may depict the spirit of Clare and certainly that of her inspiration, Francis. In all of creation, Clare found the presence of God and like Francis her life and that of her Order, voluntarily renounce possessions. While over the last 800 years various modifications have been made to such austerity, the spirituality breathes the trust and praise of God.

As we live today in a very different culture than 12th century Italy, we may find ourselves somewhat more skeptical on the value of a simple life or fall into the temptation of making Clare overly romantic and sentimental. But, she is a living icon and as all saints, an extreme example of the Gospel call. She was a spiritual mystic. But, her life is no less important for our lives.

What about all the stuff I own? Am I living beyond my means and trying to create a false sense of wealth? Am I angry when I can’t have something I think I really want or can I be content with what I have? How do I use my money and for what reason? Do I try to constantly compete with those around me? Such questions strike me as possible applications in light of this shining light in the Church.

St. Clare,
holy light of the Church,
pray for us who doubt the Lord’s care at times.
Teach us to love, to trust,
and to live according to the challenge of the Gospel
in a world of abundance.