Louise de Marillac and Vincent de Paul. Paula and Jerome. Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross. It’s not unusual for women saints to have had non-romantic ministry or spiritual instruction relationships with men also honored by the Church. But many would agree the best known of such partnerships is that of Clare and Francis of Assisi. Clare was just eighteen when she heard Francis preaching his message of poverty and simplicity. Her parents named her Clare (Chiara), based on comfort the Holy Spirit provided during her mother’s difficult labor. The legend is that her mother would give birth to “a light that will … shine brilliantly in the world.” That light caught fire when Clare was eighteen and heard Francis preach during Lent. It put the young noblewoman’s life on an entirely different course than she (and, certainly, her parents) might have expected.
Not long after that first interaction, Clare, wearing her best clothes on Palm Sunday, ran away from home to become one of Francis’s first followers. Intrigue followed, with Francis sending her to two different Benedictine monasteries until he honored her wish to have a small place built next to his church at San Damiano. Clare’s sister Agnes and other women joined the community shortly thereafter and when Clare was twenty-one, Francis named her abbess of what would become known as the Poor Clares. It was a position she would hold for forty years.
The women’s lives of poverty were striking similar to that of the men: no meat, no property, no shoes, and silence most of the time. They seldom if ever left the monastery; indeed, while Clare interacted with many leaders of the day, those interactions almost always came via letter or by the other party visiting her. That did not prevent her from speaking boldly in the Lord’s name even at great potential peril: In 1224, when the Holy Roman Emperor’s forces threatened Assisi, it was Clare to the rescue. Depending on the source, either she marched out to meet the troops, the Blessed Sacrament in hand, or caused the Eucharist to be displayed where they could see it. In any event, Assisi was left unharmed.
Clare’s work went on for nearly thirty years after Francis’ death in 1226. Fittingly, each of them was canonized just two years after earthly life ended.
Place your mind before the mirror of eternity! Place your soul in the brilliance of glory! Place your heart in the figure of the divine substance! And transform your entire being into the image of the Godhead itself through contemplation. (Saint Clare of Assisi)
Can you identify defining moments on your faith journey? Journal about them and how they continue to inform your development today.
The 41 years of Clare’s religious life are scenarios of sanctity: an indomitable resolve to lead the simple, literal gospel life as Francis taught her; courageous resistance to the ever-present pressure to dilute the ideal; a passion for poverty and humility; an ardent life of prayer; and a generous concern for her sisters.
Watch a short video on Saint Clare here.