A joyfully Franciscan view of Catholic life, inspired by St. Clare (Santa Chiara) of Assisi!

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Chiara Offreduccio (St. Clare) was born in 1194. It is said that when her mother had Chiara in her womb, an angel appeared to her and said, "your child will be a light that will illuminate the world!" Hence, her mother named the child Chiara, which means "light. As G.K. Chesterton put it, St. Clare was a romantic figure just like Juliet was. However, instead of running away from her family in order to be with an earthly man, Clare gave up everything and ran away from her family for the love of her Savior!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Debunking Myths About St. Clare

You won’t believe how difficult it is to pay attention during these final weeks of my Senior year….thus, I’ve been procrastinating. As part of that procrastination, I’ve been doing “research” for my blog…aka, seeing what random St. Clare tidbits that I can find. Instead of cheering me up like reading about Clare usually does, I must admit that I felt worse after surfing the net- simply because I have come to realize that the Seraphic Mother is so entirely misunderstood!

Myth 1: St. Francis and St. Clare were romantically involved.

First, there is a common myth that St. Francis and St. Clare were romantically involved, physically attracted to one another. For instance, one fellow blogger noted that on this “God or the Girl” show one of the guys who is discerning met up with his ex-girlfriend and said, “well, you can become a nun, and me a priest, like St. Clare of Assisi and St. Francis of Assisi.” I’m not saying that such an attraction would have been sinful, per se, but I am going to say that such claims are completely untrue. What irks me about this “Francis and Clare were romantically involved” myth is that it implies that Clare consecrated herself to religious life in order to follow Francis, not because she wanted to dedicate her life to God.

Thus, I am going to make the argument that it wasn’t Francis that caused Clare to become a nun, but rather the love of her Savior that prompted her to give up everything. St. Francis was simply an instrument in having her dedicate her life to Christ. Honestly, if she wanted to attract Francis in a romantic way, I don’t think that she would have shaved her head like she did. Moreover, had she wanted to attract Francis, she would have requested to become an active sister so that she could have more “access” to him, instead of wanting to be cloistered.

During the period of time when Clare Offreduccio was discerning her religious vocation, he served as her spiritual director- a quite platonic role. To imply that St. Francis was physically attracted to her seems to connote that he had personal motives for encouraging her to join his movement….it might seem to imply that he wanted her for himself, rather than objectively wanting her to become a nun so that God’s divine plan could be fulfilled. Moreover, during those times when they met, she met him in secret in the presence of a chaperone. Honestly, since they were already meeting in secret, a chaperone wasn’t necessary….thus, it must have been Clare’s choice to bring along a companion. If she was romantically attracted to Francis I’m sure that she would want some “alone time” with him. After she became a nun, Francis called her “my little plant,” and “my little daughter,” clearly connoting a fatherly relationship to her. He was, after all, twelve years her senior.

Francis and Clare loved each other, but it seems to be that they loved each other as spiritual brother and sister, or as father and daughter. I think that this whole myth is simply a result of our culture’s pseudo-Freudian view that it is impossible to have a spiritual love for someone that is completely devoid of sexual attraction.

In closing, one only needs to look at the lives of Francis and Clare to realize that the love that they shared was that of a love for God, rather than a romantic love for each other. This little legend sums up that love:

One night, the people of Assisi thought the trees and the church were on fire, and rushed up to extinguish the conflagration. But they found all quiet within, where St. Francis broke bread with St. Clare at one of their rare meetings, and talked of the love of God.

Myth 2: “Clare really would have been an active missionary….it was the “repressive” medeival culture that forced her to become a cloistered contemplative.”

To combat this myth, I would best provide you with the words of the greatest Poor Clare writer of modern times, Mother Mary Francis, of the Poor Clare Colletines in Roswell, New Mexico. The following excerpt is taken from her beautiful book, A Right to Be Merry:

“It is sometimes said that St. Clare was a missionary at heart and became a cloistered contemplative only because that was the sole kind of religious life for women known in her day. This never fails to make her daughters bristle! If St. Francis had wanted his Second Order to be a missionary Order, he was just the man to have made that a fait accompli in no time at all. No one was ever more “original” than the Saint who walked at right angles to everything characteristic in his age. What he founded was a Second Order of enclosed, praying nuns, because that is what he wished to found. St. Clare, on her part, did indeed have a missionary heart. That is why she entered the cloister, to be a missionary to all the world….The enclosed life is the most ancient form of religious life for women, and will always be the most modern.” – Mother Mary Francis, PCC, A Right to Be Merry


Blogger Barb, sfo said...

This was fascinating! I don't know much about St. Clare and am looking forward to learning more.

9:59 AM  
Blogger friar minor said...

Thanks so much for the post; it's always important to combat these falsities. The Acts of Clare's Process for Canonization make here religious vocation clear long before she was inspired by Francis. And her long fought struggle for poverty illustrates your second point.

Thanks, and happy Easter octave!

8:06 AM  

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