Saint Clare shows us how the path of simplicity can lead to greater love for Christ and intimate communion with him.
By Deacon Frederick Bartels
11 August 2014
We learn from St. Clare both the importance of giving one’s life to Christ as well as the sublime, eternal rewards of doing so. When we leave the fleeting, temporary created objects of the world behind, no longer placing our trust in them or seeing them as inordinately important in our lives, we are freed from the burden of heavy, material chains and thus allowed, by the indwelling Spirit, to more clearly perceive the beautiful and sublime bounty of the Beloved, whose recreative and transformative love is the greatest of all gifts.
Saint Clare was born in the town of Assisi around the year 1193. At the age of eighteen, she was deeply affected by the teaching of St. Francis, who so moved her that she later went to see him directly, and asked him to help her fully live out the gospel life of love for God. Francis encouraged her to leave evanescent, worldly things behind and enter into an ascetic life of simplicity, poverty, and holiness for love of Jesus Christ, and thus was influential in initiating a profound, permanent change in the course of the Saint’s life.
On an evening soon thereafter, Clare resolutely left home and set out through the woods for the chapel of Portiuncula, where St. Francis was to be found living in poverty with a small community of followers. They had been praying ardently before the altar, and greeted Clare affectionately at the door. Francis brought Clare inside before the Blessed Virgin’s altar, sheared off her hair, donned her in a habit of sackcloth, and tied it at the waist with a cord. Francis then took her to the Benedictine convent of St. Paul in order to keep her safe, where Clare was warmly welcomed into the community.
When friends and family members found out what Clare had done, convinced she had made a serious error, they attempted to literally drag her from the convent back to her former way of life. However, Clare would not have it; she resisted with all her strength, gripping the convent altar with such determination and firmness that her clothes were nearly stripped away. Amidst their protests, Clare boldly declared that Christ had himself called her to service and she would have no other spouse.
Clare was later moved by Francis to a small house near the church of St. Damian, which was situated on the outskirts of Assisi, and, at the age of twenty-two, was made superior of the humble, little abode. Clare was soon joined by her mother, her sister who was about fourteen years of age, and several other holy women. They went barefoot, observed abstinence, maintained silence and devoutly engaged in a life of poverty for the sake of following their Savior, who humbled himself even to the point of death on a Roman cross.
While the Saracen army of Frederick II was attacking the valley of Spoleto, a group of heathens advanced on St. Clare’s little convent in order to mount a violent assault against the women living there who were, no doubt, perceived as easy and defenseless prey. However, these holy women were far from defenseless, for they had found favor with God. Jesus Christ was their divine and human protector.
Aware of the power of the Blessed Sacrament, which is the body, blood, soul and divinity of the Risen Lord, St. Clare wisely had it placed in a monstrance, and then situated it above the convent gate facing the enemy. She knelt before the Lord hidden humbly away in the Blessed Sacrament and prayed, “Deliver not to beasts, O Lord, the souls of those who confess to Thee.” She then heard the voice of Christ reply, “My protection will never fail you.” Moments later, the attackers were stricken by panic and took flight. St. Clare’s convent was spared.
Non-Catholic Christians are often at a loss as to why Catholics honor and revere the saints. It is important to understand that the saints in heaven are role models for us in the here and now. They are members of the body of Christ, members of our heavenly family, who clearly show us what it really means to live by the example of their own earthly lives. They lived in a fully human way, hidden in the heart of God, the only truly secure place to abide, where is found the only sure source of true and lasting happiness.
Further, the saints lovingly intercede for us, praying before God on our behalf, that we may be strengthened by grace in order to walk the sure path of human life that is itself the way of Christ.
We learn from St. Clare both the importance of giving one’s life to Christ as well as the rewards of doing so. When we leave the fleeting, temporary created objects of the world behind, no longer placing our trust in them or seeing them as inordinately important in our lives, we are freed from the burden of heavy, material chains and thus allowed, by the indwelling Spirit, to more clearly perceive the beautiful and sublime bounty of the Beloved, who unceasingly calls us away from what is of little importance to what is of the greatest importance.
In freeing ourselves from distracting material and technological burdens, we are enabled to better listen to the Divine and Human whisper of the Savior of humankind, who calls us to join with him in a marriage embrace of love for all of eternity. As we give ourselves over to him, he gives himself over to us all the more, drawing our open and thirsting heart into the safe abode of his Sacred Heart, where we are satisfied and filled with joy, even amidst hardship or suffering.
In this way, we are given the gift of divine peace from Christ, who teaches us how to really live on the world, not ruled by it or chained to it, but freed from it, while yet living as productive, important and unique members of the human community, which brings us a sure and lasting happiness that is beyond the world because it originates not from the created but from the uncreated—from and in and with God.
Consumerism and materialism are, then, seen for what they really are, in all their unsatisfying poverty and emptiness. The gospel life in Christ, on the other hand, is seen in its true and magnificent light, where poverty is actually sublime richness, where simplicity is nothing less than astounding and fulfilling beauty.
St. Clare was canonized by Pope Alexander IV in 1255, at Anagni. She remains for us all as a model of holiness and purity, whose life reflects Christ himself, and whose love was magnified by the divine and human exchange of love between this beautiful virgin and her Beloved Spouse, the Savior of the world.
Photo Credit: The Yorck Project, wikimedia commons.
This article was researched using the Catholic Encyclopedia.
Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel. For more, visit YouTube, iTunes and Google Play.