Today is the day on which we remember and celebrate St. Clare of Assisi, Founder of the Poor Clares.
God of peace, who in the poverty of the blessed Clare gave us a clear light to shine in the darkness of this world: give us grace so to follow in her footsteps that we may, at the last, rejoice with her in your eternal glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
THE LIFE OF ST. CLARE FROM THE ANGLICAN BREVIARY
The virgin Clare hath the following life-story, according to the traditions handed down amongst the Franciscans. She was the eldest daughter of the Count of Sasso-Rosso, and was born in 1194, at the family palace in Assisi, where she lived until she was eighteen. At which time she determined to follow her fellow-townsman, Francis of Assisi, in the way of poverty. And thereby she showed herself to be the true daughter of her father, who was known for his courage and firmness; for, perceiving that she could not win parental consent to become a nun, at a time when a rich marriage was being arranged for her, she secretly gave to the poor all that she possessed, and at night dug her way through a walled-up doorway, which same was never opened save to carry forth to burial some member of the family that had died. When her father discovered how she had thus signified the forsaking of wealth, and its privileges, in order to die
to the world, he was determined to bend her to his own will. Meanwhile she had gone to the Church of the Little Portion, which was used by the Franciscan friars at Assisi; and there, in the middle of the same night, Francis clothed her in the habit of his Order, and cut her hair, after which he placed her with some Benedictine nuns nearby, for training in her high vocation. Thither her father came as soon as he learned where she was, thinking to carry her home by force. But Clare took refuge in the chapel and, clinging to the altar, dared him to separate her therefrom. When he saw her firmness, he appealed to her filial piety, whereat she uncovered her shorn head, to show that she had become irrevocably the bride of Christ. Which courage he did but admire in his daughter, and even permitted another daughter, Agnes, to join her; and after his death their mother Ortolana, also joined her. As soon as possible Francis established Clare, and those who sought a similar vocation, at Saint Damian’s, which was one of the churches he had restored with his own hands. There Clare ruled as abbess until her death, nearly forty years later. And forth from Saint Damian’s went many nuns whom Clare had trained, to establish the life of the Poor Clares, as they are now called, throughout the world. Their Order is devoted to prayer and reparation, offered to God on behalf of the world, and in particular to devotion to the holy Eucharist, which is the chief sign on earth of God’s love for us. The wisdom and firmness which Clare ever showed, during difficulties which are well nigh beyond belief, in establishing her Order, prove her to have been one of God’s most valiant women. Many wonders were told of her, but the most noteworthy was on the occasion of an invasion of that region by a band of Saracen soldiers who were intent on despoiling the convent, and ravishing the nuns. Clare had no protection against them except her faith. Hence she took the Most Holy from the altar, saying: Have no fear, my daughter; trust in Jesus. And leading her sisters, she marched out through the enclosure door, with the Sacrament as her weapon, as if to attack the Saracens therewith. Who were so amazed by the evident and strange courage of these dedicated women, that they turned and fled. For the last twenty-seven years of her life, she suffered a sore illness, yet never slacked in her devotion or cheerfulness. Great men came from far to learn of God from her; and as she was dying, it was she who offered encouragement to those round about her. Whence she departed in joy to be ever with her true Spouse, namely, in 1253, on the morrow of Saint Lawrence’s Day, being the sixtieth year of her age, and the forty-second of her religious profession. But after her canonization, in 1255, her feast was fixed for burial. And her grey-clad virgin body may still be seen at her shrine in Assisi, where many pilgrims come to venerate her who conquered by the blessed Sacrament. Her feast is now celebrated by the Church on 11th August, the day of her birthday in Heaven.
A READING FROM THE LAST LETTER OF CLARE TO BLESSED AGNES OF PRAGUE, WRITTEN IN 1253 SHORTLY BEFORE CLARE’S DEATH
If I have not writtent o you as often as your soul and mine wel desire and long for, do not wonder or think that the fire of love for you glows less sweetly in the heart of yoru mother. no, this is the difficulty: the lack of messengers and the obvious dangers of the roads. Now, however, as I write to your love, I rejoice and exult with you in the joy of the Spirit, O bride of Christ, because since you have totally abandoned the vanities of this world, like another most holy virgin, Saint Agnes, you have been marvellously espoused to the spotless Lamb who takes away the sins of the world.
Happy indeed is she to whom it is given to share this banquet, to cling with all her heart to him whose beauty all the havenly hosts admire unceasingly, whose love inflames our love, whose comtemplation is our refreshment, whose graciousness is our joy, whose gentless fills us to overflowing, whose remembrance brings a gentle light, whose frangrance will revive the dead, whose glorious vision will be the happiness of all the citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem.
Inasmuch as this vision in the splendour of eternal glory, the brilliance of eternal light and the mirror without blemish, look upon that mirror each day, O queen and spouse of Jesus Christ; and continually study your face in it so that you may adorn youself within and without with beautiful robes, and cover yourself with the flowers and garments of all the virtues as becomes the daughter and most chaste bride of the Most High King. Indeed, blessed poverty, holy humility, and ineffable charity are reflected in that mirror as, by the grace of God, you can contemplate them throughout the entire mirror.
Look at the parameters of the mirror, that is the poverty of him who was placed in a manger and wrapped in swaddling clothes. O marvellous humility! O astonishing poverty! The King of the angels, the Lord of heaven and earth, is laid in a manger! Then, look at the surface of the mirror, dwell on the holy humility, the blessed poverty, the untold labours and burdens which he endured for the redemption of the world. Then, in the depths of this same mirror, contemplate the ineffable charity which led him to suffer on the wood and to die thereon the most shameful kind of death.
Therefore that mirror, suspended on the wood of the cross, urged those who passed by to reflect, saying, ‘All you who pass by the way, look and see if there is any suffering like my suffering!’ Let us answer his cry with one voice and spirit for he said, ‘Remembering this over and over leaves my soul downcast within me.’ In this way, O queen of our heavenly King, let yourself be inflamed more strongly with the fevour of charity.
And as you contemplate further his ineffable delights, his eternal riches and honours, and sigh for them in the great desire and love of your heart, may you cry out in the words of Solomon: ‘Draw me after you! We will run in the fragrance of your perfumes, O heavenly spouse! I will run and not tire, until you bring me into the wine-cellar, until your left hand is under my head and your right hand will embrace me happily, and you kiss me with the happiest kiss of your mouth.’
In this contemplation may you remember our poor mother, knowing that I have inscribed the happy memory of our indelibly on the tablets of my heart, holding you dearer than all the others.