CLARE OF ASSISI
1193 of an aristocratic family, she ran away from home to follow Francis at
the age of 18 to live a life vowed to Holy Poverty. Eventually, her
sister, Agnes, and her mother, Ortalana, joined her. From the Benedictine
monastery where they first stayed, they moved together to San Damiano where
they came to be known as the Second order of St. Francis or the Poor Clares.
death of St. Francis, Clare had to fight successive Popes who attempted to
relax their way of life. For 30 years, Clare endured a most painful illness.
She died in 1251, leaving behind an example of angelic holiness.
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rendered great services to the Church as holy virgins, holy wives and holy
mothers. . .just like the Blessed Virgin Mary who embodied all three. For
women today to desire to become priests is pure vanity; they will just end
up being problems to the Church.
saints were as resplendent as any of their male counterparts; many were
pillars of the Church without having to become priests. It is one's
holiness, not one's priesthood, that makes one useful in the work of God.
century was the golden age of the Catholic Church. Innocent III, one of the
greater Popes, ruled the Church admirably. The Church bureaucracy had grown;
more money was needed but there was much around. Not even the small town of
Assisi was spared by the growing business class.
might and wealth of the Church, people were looking for Christ. One such
soul was an 18-year-old girl, pretty, rich and talented Clare, who slipped
away from her parents home to shed off all her worldly possessions in
exchange for a gray sackcloth and a life of poverty. Her family's reaction
was stormy. The nuns whom St. Francis convinced to take her in didn't want
transferred Clare to another convent where her younger sister, Agnes, 15
years old, joined her. Understandably, the family caused a greater
disturbance. The nuns did not want any trouble either. Well, Clare was
also happy to leave that convent after seeing the nuns wrangle with the
bishop over some business enterprise.
Francis transferred the two young women to San Damiano, the church he
rebuilt, making it dear to Clare. The accommodations were austere; this was
what attracted the nobility of Assisi. But, being women, they would not be
exposed; they would not beg. They would observe absolute poverty, an idea
the Church of that era, owning half of Europe, found difficult to accept.
held enough land to ensure the privacy of the monastery, to cultivate and to
supply the needs of the sisters.
Francis lived at a time of great cathedrals, feudal wars, crusades and a
time of great commerce. Church officials preferred high living to high
ideals. The pious people were disenchanted; and popular religious movements
were rising. One of these was Francis and his lay movement.
Innocent approved Francis' petition and, in 1215, approved the Poor Ladies
of Clare. Clare asked the privilege of living the poverty of Christ; no one
had ever asked such a request from Rome. Clare was eventually joined by her
widowed mother and youngest sister, Beatrice.
Clare, who was only 21, was named Abbess by Francis. But she lived more like
a servant, washing the feet of the nuns, serving the sisters at meals,
cleaning the commode of sick sisters and pulling blankets over sleeping
Clare practised great austerities, she warned her nuns against them. Her
austerities were an expression of her love for God expressed in a heroic
Francis left for the Holy Land, the friars at home felt Francis' ideal was
no longer livable. They tried to convince Clare of this, too, but Clare
would have none of it.
ailing Francis returned home, he found a "new" watered-down rule
about to be approved. Sadly, he went to Clare and stayed with her for two
months. There, he composed "The Canticle of Brother Sun." He
received the stigmata and was gifted by Clare with a pair of slippers.
remained faithful to absolute poverty despite the best attempts of several
popes to modify the rule. Pope Gregory IX also yielded to Clare's
resoluteness. Two days before she died, her rule of absolute poverty
received official papal approval.
years, Clare lived a hidden life but, occasionally, advised popes and
queens. Together with Francis, she refreshed the Church. Starting as a lay
movement, they greatly influenced the spiritual life of the laity during