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!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Chiara Countdown: "The Vocation of St. Clare of Assisi"

The following reflection is written by Fr. David Temple, O.F.M., and is taken off of the Poor Clare’s website at http://www.poor-clares.org/. :

Saint Clare of Assisi was a bright light in the thirteenth century. Co-worker with Saint Francis in bringing to birth the fresh, strong movement that would make the Gospel come alive with a new vigor.
Born to noble patrimony in Assisi, Italy, in 1194, Clare Favarone di Offreduccio was reared in a family that had seven knights, “all powerful and noble,” as the medieval chronicle said it. They lived from vast land holdings and were a force in the feudal economic and power structure of the times. When they rode out in splendor the people moved to the side to watch the knights who shone brilliantly in their day. All of this was good for Clare, but it was not good enough.
There were many bright lights in the family of Clare, but Clare was the brightest of all. Nor did she shine alone. There was Francis of Assisi and together they have dazzled centuries. Clare was twelve years younger than Francis Bernardone when he took to the streets with his richly clad friends, to fill the every balacony with echoes of their laughter and song.. If perchance she saw the zestful leader of the youth of Assisi, she would have glimpsed at him with the eyes of a little girl fascinated by all the glamor, but on guard because of all the noise.
When Francis in a bold movement of surrender to the Gospel made his public renunciation in Assisi, Clare would perhaps have heard the report. In her young years she did not see much of Francis, not only because of the dividing force of social barriers, but also because of the concrete factor of distance, because during much of the time her family was in the neighboring town of Perugia to which they fled because of social strife in Assisi.
It is not easy to say just who Francis was: merchant’s son, troubadour of sorts, military dreamer, cloth seller, ambitious young man with dreams of adventure. In the young years of his life he was tied tightly to the earth because he liked the bright things of the world and because he had dreams of being a knight. His father also had a whole career of business and selling laid out for Francis, his son. But Francis broke out on a great spiritual adventure. Clare saw all this and shared the great spiritual quest. When she heard the voice of Francis, she mind quickened to better things.
Francis, as all said, had gone far. Francis, some said, had gone too far. In Assisi, families with sons who were about to chart their life course held their breath lest their young men look up and say: “Behold the perilous path,” — and then follow it! Families with daughters who were coming to years of choice were less apprehensive, because surely no girl would think of such things. One did!
Yes, Clare, daughter of Favarone, and born to good estate, was reared in the gentle arts of the women folk of the nobility. There were likely ways before her, and well-thought plans for the future! There were no fears that Clare would follow any but the well-trod path until, at the age of eighteen, she heard Francis speak as he gave the Lenten course in the cathedral of San Rufino. She understood well what the Gospel life meant, and she knew in her heart what she would do.
When, in determination to follow the new calling, she left her father’s house all the doors were locked. But Clare would not be locked out of the dream she had glimpsed in Francis, and broke one door open, and she continued opening doors all her life. Clare struck out by leaving her father’s house after midnight on Palm Sunday, 1212. She went in a bridal dress so that she might be surrendered to the Lord and because she was intent on a spiritual espousal. To her and to Francis it seemed clear that for complete self-surrender to the Gospel life a total dedication to God in a place apart would be the most effective step. Thus she would be absolutely committed to God in prayer and in sacrifice. Francis felt that his part was to be the best man for Christ, the groom who could draw such a bride in a mighty attraction. All this happened very quietly but in absolute truth as Francis led her apart and finally settled her at the little church of San Damiano.
Clare’s going forth was startlingly quick to all who heard and saw. When Clare turned totally to God, she fixed her resolve completely on the Gospel life. Ever since she took her first little steps as a child turning to God, she had been eager in following the way of Jesus. But now the pace became quick, and the way in which she gave herself was complete.
The manner in which Clare dedicated herself was surprising to many. The way of her self-giving was complete. She not only went apart from the world, she also shut the door after herself. The result was not only a seclusion, it was a total occupation with God. She prayed through the day, and the hours of prayer were interlaced through the night. She was totally absorbed with the never-ending praise of God. For her it was never routine because it was always exciting.
She had a way of being total, and this was the strong stamp on the way in which she gave herself to Christ. As she looked forward to life’s processes and purposes, she could see nothing brighter than the prospect of giving herself totally to the praise of God. Her project of praise was absolute: in a bare place, and at the mid-hours of the night, and through the hours of the day, she wished to be totally turned toward God. Her praise was clean and complete. Poverty was for Clare the best position from which to send forth praise. Then there was nothing that could get in the way of it.
Prayer became the very heart of living for Saint Clare. With prayer she joined a great desire to work. Work was a true part of the Gospel life for her. It was the fulfilling of the call to the totality of her human person, and she responded not only with her heart but also with her hands. There were hours of work that supported the praise. Hard work. And the prayer supported the labor. Clare and her companions worked with their hands, even as they kept vigil with their hearts. They lived in complete poverty, totally dependent on the providence of God. They slept on the floor in the attic of the church.
Some were surprised when Clare began to turn to God in total prayer and in complete surrender. Her family was shocked. But soon the whole Church was lifted up by the trueness and the rightness of the one who could continue with full face and with all of her heart intent on God.
Saint Clare had absolute confidence that God would do anything for her. The “anything” came to a point when the Sisters had no food for their community. Saint Clare blessed the half loaf, and it fed all. The “anything” came to the fore again when the Saracens were attacking the monastery of San Damiano and were swarming toward the door. Clare placed herself at the door with the Blessed Sacrament. Because of the promise that the Lord would do “anything,” the Saracens fled.
The flower of the young woman­hood of Assisi came to join Clare. Soon they were spreading out in choirs of praise through the whole Church. These singers of the praise of God were totally turned to Him, and they were completely committed to Christ. They were attracted by the total turning to God as they saw it in Clare. They were fascinated by the truth of what was there before their eyes. They wanted to give themselves absolutely to the Absolute. When they first heard of the life it seemed to them to be a bare thing, hard and yielding only the sort of spark that comes from a sharp blow on flint. But when they approached close, they came to know that the fire was the fruit of love. They understood that, if they loved enough, they could do it all — and be very happy.
The income of the first Poor Clares was the generosity of the faithful. The Sisters were sure it would never run out. This assurance has continued through all the centuries. From the very first, the name of the Poor Ladies, as they were first called, began to spread throughout the whole Christian world. Three Popes came to visit Clare. The whole Papal Curia was present for her last days and for her burial in August l253. At her canonization two years later, the Church declared that it understood that the name Clare signifies “bright” and that this has significance for the whole people of God in which she was indeed “light.”
The strains of the song of Clare and her companions began to sound and to resound more and more through the whole of Christendom. Prayer and work and praise and high spiritual joy were transmitted to Christians everywhere. These went into the song, and the dedication of the singers spread through Italy and on into Spain, and throughout France and into Ireland and all the lands about. The song and the march in total dedication and in joy carried through the centuries.
Saint Clare of Assisi was a saint who lived in the thirteenth century. Saint Clare is a saint who lives today. There are eighteen thousand Sisters who follow in the way of Saint Clare in our day. The ideal of Saint Clare is preserved today by the Poor Clares who follow in her footsteps. They live in continual praise and in sacrifice. They are a light to all the people of God in our day. Their continuing spirit of sacrifice sustains all the faith­ful. Their prayer helps to support the whole Church.
So, the life of Saint Clare lives on in this day. It draws its vitality from the roots of faith. It flourishes in prayer. It keeps the praise of God sounding and resounding. It gives freely, and it is nourished by sacrifice. It never leaves off stretching and reaching with the desire of Saint Francis and the eagerness of Saint Clare.
Some observers, standing in very shallow water, ventured to observe that this high-minded and spirited life would not flourish in the twentieth century. As it turned out, the twentieth century needed it most. When the modern Church met in the sessions of Vatican II, the work-a-day and practical planners, who were peering in from the outside, guessed that the contemplative ideal would be plucked, and the dream of Saint Clare would be shot through with shafts of twentieth century light. But Vatican II was serious about the Church, and the contemplative ideal was canonized. The Poor Clares and all those dedicated to a life of full commitment were charged to go on and to continue forward so that enclosure was not a forbidding wall but a rampart behind which beat the heart of the Church.
So the consecrated life goes on. The enclosure walls of the Poor Clares are intact. The prayer of praise continues to lift up the day and to bless the night. The daughters of Saint Clare press on in praise as they know very well what they are about. The name of Saint Clare is still “bright,” and those who come from warm homes and fair jobs and from bright prospects are intent upon the full turning to God. They are not afraid that they are doing too much. They are concerned lest they do too little.
If the daughters of Saint Clare are asked whether all this is not over­demanding, they answer quickly that none of it is too much if your heart is big enough.

by Rev. Father David Temple, O.F.M.


Blogger Kelly Joyce Neff said...

Thank you for this, Chiara. It is sublime.

10:07 PM  

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