These past few days I have been really fascinated by the life of St. Clare of Assisi. There are so many moments in her life that tell us how courageous she was, often trusting in God through providence, faith in his plan and portraying His light through her life of virtue. She was a model of virtue indeed, showing the people of her time true humility, obedience, firmness, gentleness, and compassion.
[a Light born for Light]
Born a noble woman in a family of knights and wealthy relatives, her family was one of the largest in Assisi and they lived in the upper part of the city. At the time, only the wealthiest lived at the high ends of the city, while the poor lived in the lower city slums and the middle class lived somewhere in between. Born in 1194, she was given the name Clare from a vision that her mother had during pregnancy. As she was praying before the crucified Jesus for a healthy deliver, she heard a voice:
“Do not be afraid woman, for you will give birth in safety to a light which will give light more clearly than light itself.”
Amazed at these words, her mother asked that her daughter be named Clare, which means, light or clarity. At a young age, Clare was taught the basics of faith by her mother, whose name is Ortulana, which means, gardener. A fitting name for a mother who cultivated a beautiful garden that would soon give many fruits for the whole Church in the years to follow.
[Splendor of an Early Saint]
In her early years, Clare was known to have a sincere heart molded by the Spirit interiorly, always giving to the poor and the needy out of the goodness of her soul. She prayed frequently, keeping prayer on her lips always. She began fasting and acts of penance as a means of mortifying the flesh and the “mirrors” of the world. She wore hair-shirts, slept on hard beds, and ate close to nothing during meal times with her family. Many times, she would gather leftovers to give to the poor and pray especially for those living in the slumps at the bottom of her city. When her family asked her to be married, she refused. When Lord Ranieri di Bernando of Assisi proposed to take her hand in marriage, she refused and vowed from then on to entrust her vocation and virginity to God himself.
In her late teenage years, around seventeen, she heard of St. Francis and his zeal for Christ and He also heard of her, mostly because of her care for the sick and giving of alms that she did throughout her life. The two soon-to-be saints would meet with each other secretly for the next year, confiding in each other, encouraging each other, supporting each other, and building that community of faith that was first founded by Jesus in the first Apostles with Mary. Clare would share with Francis her desire to serve Christ by living out the gospel, seeking advice on how to do so.
[the King’s Marriage Proposal]
In a planned event advised by St. Francis, Clare attended the Palm Sunday mass along with all the woman in the city being “beautifully adorned with flowers, in brilliance and with all their finery.” The custom then was to dress for the King’s entrance into the city, they would have done the same with their noble knights during the years of war. As the people began processing through the Church to receive their palms, Clare stood still shy and nervous. When all of a sudden, the Bishop of Assisi makes his way down to her after seeing her face and places in her hands a palm branch. Clare immediately, consoled by the Bishop’s gesture affirmed in her heart by way of peace the desire to serve God with all her mind and heart. This event indicates a few things: The bishop’s permission to flee her home and follow Christ, it affirms that Clare is participating in a spousal relationship with Jesus and recognizing her Honor as a true Bride. The marriage has been set!
[a Happy Marriage]
That night Clare sneaks out of the back door of her family’s home, breaking through a door of wooden beams and an iron rod. She ran two or three miles through the city gates, down the hill of Assisi, and past the lower city slums to the small church, Saint Mary of the Portiuncula. There the brothers along with St. Francis would greet her and after putting aside everything she left in the city of Assisi she is sheared of her golden hair, and left with a tonsured head, a penitential act that is symbolic of entering into the religious life.
“A happy marriage and a happy profession, a chaste embrace, a joyful love, a sweet union, a restless desire, a fervent love! Great is the piety, wonderful is God’s honor through which the devoted soul is wedded to God, the fragile flesh to the Word, the lowly to the Most High, and the trifling to the dear!
[a Model of Love]
Soon after her family found out where she was and rushed down to the church of the Portiuncula with the intention of bringing her back home. Clare immediately grabbed the altar cloths and as her family began pulling her away, she revealed her tonsured head and her family left. She stayed in her place without the slightest thought of being separated from the love and service of God that she had already committed to. Clare loved Jesus Christ so much that it bore fruit and caused many more woman to follow in her steps. She loved the Eucharist with great fervor and her love for Christ began to show in her prayers and love. Then encouraged by St. Francis, Clare would write the new and holy observance of the Poor Ladies, also known today as the Poor Clares.
“O how great is the vibrancy of this light and how intense is the brilliance of its illumination! While this light remained certainly in a hidden enclosure, it emitted sparkling rays outside…Yes, Clare hit, yet her life was come to light. Clare was silent, yet her fame was proclaimed. She was hidden in a cell, but was known in cities.”
On August 9, 1253, two days before her death, she would receive the approved Form of Life issued and signed by Pope Innocent IV
Today, St. Clare is a model of faith, of light in the darkness of night. She’s a model of trust when there is no surety and courage when there is fear! St. Clare, pray for us!