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VIGNETTES ON SAINTS




 

ST. CLARE OF ASSISI

 

Born  in 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.

 

After the 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.

 

* * *

 

Women have 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.

 

The women 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.

 

The 13th 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.

 

Amidst the 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 any trouble.

 

So Francis 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. 

 

Again, 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.

 

Clare only held enough land to ensure the privacy of the monastery, to cultivate and to supply the needs of the sisters. 

 

Clare and 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.

 

Pope 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.

 

In 1215, 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 sisters. 

 

Though Clare practised great austerities, she warned her nuns against them. Her austerities were an expression of her love for God expressed in a heroic fashion.

 

When 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.

 

When the 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.

 

Clare 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.

 

For 40 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 that era. 

 

 

 

 

 

(12-29-03)

 

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The Winnowing Fan hopes ..." to do what little it could to solve the evils that beset the church."

                                                                                        - Teresa of Avila

 


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