Saint Clare worked tirelessly in the Lord’s Work during her 41 years of monastic life. She received from her Divine Spouse great mystical graces. She was favoured with the gift of working miracles.
Newsroom (15/08/2022 12:00 PM, Gaudium Press) Countless authors have gained celebrity by narrating fictional epics, the product of their fertile imagination. None of them, however, would be able to invent the story that Saint Claire left printed in the book of life, unimaginable by the human mind.
Beginning with the way she received the name Clare, which means Resplendent. Shortly before her birth, her pious mother, praying before a crucifix for the good success of her entry into the world, heard a voice saying to her: “Fear not, you will give the world a light which will make its own light clearer. That is why you will call the girl Clare”.
Struggle to follow the Vocation
She was born on July 11, 1193. Her parents were from a noble and chivalrous family, and the owners of great wealth. Since her early childhood, she was admired for her virtues, loved prayer, and despised the goods of this world. A beautiful young woman, with golden hair and pure features, she consecrated her virginity to God very early on, desiring to give herself entirely to the infinite Beauty.
In the flower of her youth, when she was 16, she listened several times to the preaching of a friar whose conversion had moved the entire city of Assisi: Saint Francis. Following the example of Our Lady, Clare meditated in her heart the incisive words of the young preacher and soon understood that she was called to imitate him in the holy life he led. She resolved then to abandon everything to follow that living witness of God.
Her parents, however, had other plans… Adding to her beauty, nobility, wealth, and a kind temperament, this girl had before her all the possibilities of a brilliant and… profitable marriage for the family. So began for her, not the struggle of Saint Joan of Arc on the war fields, but an arduous battle of words and attitudes to convince her parents to accept a decision already made and irrevocable.
Daughter and disciple of St. Francis
On Palm Sunday 1212, the young Clare set out on an adventure so heroic that, if it were not inspired by the Spirit of God, the most audacious of Crusaders would tremble. Eschewing the vigilance of her parents and accompanied by a relative, she went to entrust her vocation to the bishop Guido, and her future to a new father: Saint Francis, who became her spiritual guide.
Before the image of Saint Mary of the Angels, the young girl renounced the world for love of the Child Jesus, laid in a poor manger. She covered herself with a woolen tunic and cinched herself with a rope, in the manner of the Franciscan friars, to whom she gave her luxurious garments. St. Francis himself cut off her golden hair, and she covered her head with a black veil, put on wooden sandals, and pronounced her vows.
Dissatisfied, her father and some relatives tried to dissuade her from following the path she had chosen. But, firm in her decision, she was in no way shaken by their pleas and promises. They then tried to force her out of the convent. She stood at the altar and removed her black veil, showing them her shaven head, a sign of her definitive farewell to the world.
The family’s discontent grew when her sister Ines, by force of Clara’s prayers, joined her in the same ideal of life. A new onslaught of relatives, twelve strong and well-armed men, commanded by Uncle Monaldo, received orders from the father to bring Inês back, even if by violent means. Faced with this demonstration of force, the nuns of Santo Ângelo decided to let the young girl go.
Inês, however, ready for anything, reacted tenaciously to her father’s pretension. Dragged by the hair by one of the guards and brutally beaten, she screamed, asking Clara for help. The Saint prayed, invoking God’s help. Suddenly, the girl’s body becomes heavy and rigid like a compact block of stone. The twelve sturdy men make an effort to drag her away. Furious, her uncle tries to smash her head with his iron gloves, but his arm remains paralyzed in the air. Clara then approaches, takes her half-dead, skinned sister and takes her back to the convent. Perplexed, the agents of paternal arrogance leave.
From then on, the family no longer put obstacles in the way of their daughters’ vocation. The spiritual strength of the frail virgin had tamed the brute force of matter. Years later, another sister, Beatrice, joined them in the Convent of St. Angelo. Finally, Saint Clare had the consolation of seeing her mother and many other ladies of the city enter the path of sanctification opened by her, in the footsteps of Saint Francis.
Founder and Abbess
St. Francis wrote a “Rule of Life” for the nuns, which was summarized in the practice of Evangelical Poverty. And in 1215 he obtained the approval of Pope Innocent III. On that occasion, Clare, by the express order of the Holy Founder, accepted the charge of Abbess. The Order of Poor Clares was founded.
With the death of her father, Clare inherited a great fortune, of which she kept nothing for the convent. She distributed everything to the poor. Pope Gregory IX tried to make her accept some temporal goods for herself and for the convent, arguing that he could, to this end, disconnect her from the vow of poverty. She replied:
– Holy Father, detach me from my sins, but not from the obligation to follow Jesus Christ!
A mais perfeita imagem de São Francisco
One of St. Francis’ most admirable achievements was St. Clare, whose name seemed to project light, and whose simple portrait, stamped on one of the walls of the basilica in Assisi, still moves the visitor today with its mysterious, penetrating, and attractive charm. Just as the Virgin Mary is the most perfect reflection of Jesus Christ, the Foundress of the Poor Clares, in the female way, projects the most perfect image of St. Francis of Assisi.
The admiration of Saint Clare and her daughters for their spiritual Father was immense. She used to say to him: “Do with me as you wish. I am at your command. After I have made to God the sacrifice of my will, I no longer belong to myself!” The historian Joergensen tells us that, “notwithstanding the humility of the Saint, he had to recognize in what a high degree of admiration he was held by Clare and her nuns, and to understand how much of their religious feelings were connected with this veneration toward his person.”
Instrument for the realization of God’s plan
A biographer of St. Clare notes that at that time, when Christianity was beginning to sink into a process of decadence, the world already seemed decrepit and aged. The vision of the Faith was darkening, Christian customs in society were wavering, and the vigor of the great undertakings for the glory of God and the salvation of souls was weakening. The resurgence of the old pagan vices aggravated this decadence.
Christianity tended toward sluggishness, relaxation, loss of a sense of the supernatural, and became intoxicated with the material goods provided by the advance of civilization.
In this context, God intervened, raising up men like Saint Francis and Saint Dominic, true luminaries of the world, masters and guides of the people. With them, a midday glow appeared in a world at sunset. Divine Providence would not leave the weaker sex without help. For this reason, it raised up Saint Clare, kindling in her a very clear light and presenting her as a model to be imitated by women. The results were not long in coming.
Clare’s fame of sanctity quickly spread. Virgins flocked to her from everywhere, wanting, following her example, to consecrate themselves to Christ. Not only this. Taken by admiration for her virginity, already married women felt a strong invitation from grace to live more chastely, according to their state. Noble and illustrious ladies, abandoning vast palaces, built felt a strong invitation from grace to live more chastely, according to their state of life and built monasteries to live in them with great honor, for Christ’s sake.
The charm of purity was revived even in young men, who, by the example of St. Clare and her daughters, began to despise the deceptive pleasures of the flesh and went to seek true happiness in the monasteries of the Franciscan or Dominican friars. That century saw with wonder and amazement a prodigious inversion of concepts. It became common to see mothers offering their daughters to Christ, or daughters dragging their mothers. The sister attracted the sisters; and the aunt attracted the nieces. All with fervent emulation desired to serve Christ, in exchange for a share in that angelic life which Clare made shine in the darkness of the world.
The news of such successes spread throughout the world, winning souls for Christ everywhere. From the monastic cloister, she began to illuminate the whole world. The fame of her virtues invaded the salons of illustrious ladies, reached the palaces of duchesses, and penetrated the chambers of queens. The nobility’s upper crust began to follow in her footsteps. Saint Clare had opened the way to propagate the observance of chastity in the world, giving a new life to the state of virginity.
Joyful and Happy Austerity
The holy Abbess was a living example for her spiritual daughters. She was the first to carry out the rule perfectly. In imitation of St. Francis, these nuns practiced austerities hitherto unknown to the female sex. They wore a rustic cilice made of animal hair, went barefoot, slept on the floor, with an aggressive branch bed and a hard piece of wood as a pillow. They fasted during the vigils of all the feasts of the Church, and spent the whole Lenten season on bread and water. During Advent – November 11 to Christmas Day – they took no food at all on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. And they also submitted to harsh disciplines. In the midst of all these austerities, one could not notice any melancholy or sadness in Santa Clara. On the contrary, her face was always jovial, radiant with happiness, full of enchanting serenity and sweetness, speaking only of happy things.
In imitation of the Redeemer, she washed the feet of the sisters, waited on tables and cared for the sick, especially those who were victims of the most repulsive illnesses. She herself was often ill, but she never stopped working. When she could not get up, she would lie on her bed and embroider vestments for the poor churches.
The daily formation of the Sisters
The holy Foundress formed her spiritual daughters with the pedagogy learned from the Divine Master. First, she showed them how to remove all agitation from their souls so that they could settle only in God’s intimacy. Then, she taught them not to let themselves be carried away by the memories of the social environments they had left behind, in order to live only for Christ. She was careful to point out to them how the insidious devil lays hidden snares for pure and fervent souls, different from the temptations with which he tries to lead worldly people to sin. She wanted all of them to have certain times of manual labor, to escape from the torpor of sloth.
In her convent, the observance of silence and the practice of honesty were perfect. Among these virgins, there was no idle talk, no frivolous or frivolous words. The mistress herself, of few words, summed up the abundance of her mind in brief addresses.
“Go in peace, my soul!”
Saint Clare worked tirelessly in the Lord’s Work during her 41 years of monastic life. She received from her Divine Spouse great mystical graces. She was favored with the gift of working miracles, of which she made ample use for the benefit of countless sick people. The Pope himself – who knew how free is the access of pure virgins to the presence of the Divine Majesty – often went to her, asking for her valuable prayers. And he was always promptly answered.
The rigors of the rule, the toils of many labors, and the life of mortification led her to contract a troublesome illness that she bore with pride during the last 28 years of her life. On her deathbed, she had the great grace of receiving a visit from Pope Innocent IV, accompanied by his cardinals. She gave her luminous soul to God on August 11, 1253, at the age of 60.
Her last conversation was with her own soul: “Go in peace my soul! You have a sure guide who will show you the way: she who created you, sanctified you, loved you, and never ceased to watch over you with the tenderness of a mother who watches over the only son of her love. I thank and bless the Lord because He created my life”. Hearing her speak, a sister asked her:
– “With whom were you talking, my Mother?”
– “With my soul,” answered the saint.
In 1255, less than two years after her death, she was included in the catalog of saints by Pope Alexander IV, because of the evidence of the miracles obtained through her intercession. Since then, she has been a lamp placed on the candelabrum to illuminate all those who dwell in the house of the Lord.