Saint Clare of Assisi
By Alicia the Postulant
This is the story of St. Clare of Assisi, called by God to a life of the highest love and sanctity. Inspired by the evangelical life and words of St. Francis of Assisi, she left all to become “the Queen and Spouse of Jesus Christ”, and to become a great saint and example for countless souls as the Foundress of the Poor Clares.
St. Clare was born in 1193 into a noble family of Assisi, Italy, the eldest of four daughters. Two of her sisters and her mother later followed her to the convent. Her mother, Ortolana, was a very exemplary Catholic wife and mother. She taught her daughters, by word and example, their holy Faith and all the Christian virtues. It is said that children become what they see and Clare learned to pray with her mother. She learned about God by absorbing the truths of the Catholic Faith and she came to know Him personally by conversing with Him in prayer. The more she prayed, “the more she was able to begin placing Christ both within and without in the first place.” She also began to imitate her mother’s compassion and generosity for the poor. She often made the sacrifice of depriving herself of the most tasty delicacies to send them secretly to the most needy. Gradually though, her charity and goodness became known and even as a young adolescent, she began to aquire a reputation for sanctity.
In 1206, when Clare was thirteen, a young man of Assisi named Francis had a radical conversion. By his preaching and holy way of life he was changing the spiritual lives of many. St. Francis had heard of St. Clare’s reputation, and he wanted to “win her for his Lord.” St. Clare for some time, had desired to give her life to God alone, but she did not know how. When she heard the preaching of St. Francis and the reports of the life of evangelical poverty and penance he and his followers were living, she longed to follow Christ as they were doing. She was able to arrange to meet with St. Francis, accompanied by a close friend. She opened her soul to him, asking to be guided. “The Father Francis encouraged her to despise the world, showing her how dry the hope of the world was and how deceptive its’ beauty. He whispered in her ears of a sweet espousal with Christ, persuading her to preserve the pearl of her virginal purity for that blessed Spouse Whom Love made man.” It was not long before St. Clare’s generous and willing heart was convinced of her vocation. St Francis advised her to go to Holy Mass dressed like a queen on Palm Sunday, a day so full of significance for her plan. She, like Jesus, was giving up all she had and her own life too, for the love of God and the salvation of souls.
Knowing that her family would bitterly oppose her vocation, St. Clare had told them nothing of her intentions. In fact they were planning a promising future for her, assuring her of a comfortable and honorable life. It was obvious that Clare would be an ideal treasure for any young nobleman for her wisdom and goodness, but also for her great beauty and her wealth. It was a great shock to them, therefore, when St. Clare secretly took flight from home the night of Palm Sunday. With one close friend, she ran to the chapel of St. Mary of the Angels, where St. Francis and his friars were awaiting her. In a simple but significant ceremony, St. Clare knelt before the altar of Our Lady, and was transformed from a rich and attractive young heiress into the virgin Spouse of Jesus Crucified. Her beautiful hair was cut short by St. Francis, her splendid clothes laid aside, and she was vested in the poor, coarse habit of the friars with a black veil to cover her head. Naturally, her family was greatly upset and tried every means to bring her home. But St. Clare told them firmly that never for anything whatever, would she take back what she had decided to do.
Soon many women, encouraged by St. Clare’s daring love, chose to renounce the comfort and security of the world to belong to God alone. They came to embrace, under St. Clare’s direction, a life of “supreme,total and exclusive love in its radical poverty, continuous penance, most profound humility, unlimited charity, ardent and incessant prayer.” She taught them to love holy poverty, to desire nothing but God alone, because she knew that the pearl of great price could be had only by leaving everything under heaven. She practiced extremely rigorous penance joyfully, because of her loving desire to be united with Jesus Crucified to save all souls. She imitated the humility of Jesus, sincerely considering herself the “useless and unworthy servant” of all her Sisters and serving them with maternal love and joy. Her great charity was entirely maternal, shown by her loving attention to every spiritual and temporal need of others. In her unceasing prayer, St. Clare sought with all her heart and soul to be united with her Divine Spouse by her adoring contemplation of His sacred Humanity, of His Passion, and His Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament.
In all she did, St. Clare copied faithfully the Blessed Mother of God, so that her Sisters testified unanimously that they could find no one to compare with St. Clare other than Our Lady. In fact, on her deathbed, Our Lady came to visit St. Clare, and, even physically, Her Face and St. Clare’s could not be distinguished from each other. St. Clare teaches us how to love God above all things, to have the courage to discover and do what will please God, without compromising out of human respect or our own comfort, and to pray, above all, because that is how St. Clare found the grace to become a Saint.