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!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Crises of Faith

I had been at a loss as to what my posts should focus on next, until a friend of mine had kindly e-mailed to me an article on Mother Teresa this afternoon. Since I’ve had such a penchant for contemplative spirituality, I honestly never took the time to understand the spiritual factors that drive service-oriented religious persons. Partly due to both awe and ignorance, I always assumed that God gives a special kind of grace to those people so that their service to others is never deterred by feelings of spiritual dryness or emptiness. My misconceptions were certainly shattered after I read this thorough article on Mother Teresa’s lifelong spiritual struggles. Mother Teresa’s courage and perseverance in the face of stark spiritual depression only reconfirms the holiness of her life.

The testament of Mother Teresa’s struggles reassured me that spiritual dryness happens to very holy people. Many accounts of Saints’ lives completely ignore the spiritual emptiness that they might have experienced. Take the recent movie Therese, for example; it’s a very good movie, but it largely overlooks the depression that St. Therese went through during the last several years of her life. Because spiritual dryness of the saints is often overlooked, there is a tendency for us to blame ourselves when we begin to have such feelings. Nonetheless, it is important to understand that saints like Mother Teresa and many other holy people through the ages have experienced a complete lack of faith and a feeling that God was not working in their lives. Nonetheless, their perseverance and blind trust in God in spite of such doubts, fears, and depression helped them to grow in holiness.

As dark as the topic might be, it’s definitely helpful to hear accounts of how saints coped with their spiritual struggles. Hence, I will try to make several posts on the subject.

In the meantime, please read the article on Mother Teresa!

Saturday, August 11, 2007


PAX ET BONUM!!! HAPPY FEAST OF THE SERAPHIC MOTHER, EVERYONE!!!!!! It doesn’t seem that long ago since I made last year’s St. Clare Day post, since much has happened over the past year. I’ve gone through a number of personal trials over the last year, but I am more convinced than ever that Holy Mother Clare is one of the most powerful heavenly intercessors. The example of her holy life has helped me to realize the importance of putting childlike trust in God during times of trial.

Specifically, Clare understood that prayer was the best way of coping with difficulties. I used to be rather skeptical of prayer, especially during the times when I didn’t have the energy or patience to pray. However, one of her daughters, a Poor Clare nun, once advised me to follow the example of Holy Mother Clare by persevering in prayer, even when I didn’t feel like doing so. In fact, Clare’s life teaches us that it’s especially vital that we pray during the times when it seems as if our prayers would be in vain. It was through St. Clare’s intercession that I gradually found the patience and perseverance to pray daily….and it soon became the foundation of my life. Thus, on this wonderful feast day, I hope that St. Clare intercedes in all of your lives!

In closing, I’d like to leave you with an excerpt from a letter written by St. Clare followed by a prayer for Holy Mother Clare’s intercession:

“Place your mind before the mirror of eternity!Place your soul in the brilliance of glory!And transform your entire being into the imageof the Godhead Itself through contemplation”

“O wondrous blessed clarity of Clare! In life she shone to a few; after death she shines on the whole world!On earth she was a clear light, now in heaven she is a brilliant sun.O how great the vehemence of the brilliance of this clarity!On earth this light was indeed kept within cloistered walls, yet shone abroad it’s shining rays;It was confined within a convent cell, yet spread itself through the whole world.”


Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Chiara Countdown: Litany of St. Clare

Litany of St. Clare

Lord, have mercy

Christ, have mercy

Lord, have mercy
Christ, hear us;

Christ, graciously hear us.
God, the Father of Heaven; have mercy on us!
God, the son, Redeemer of the world,have mercy on us!
God, the Holy Spirit, have mercy on us!
Holy Trinity, one God, have mercy on us!
Holy Mary, Queen of Virgins,

R:..pray for us

St. Clare chosen of Christ...R..
St. Clare, lover of chastity...R
St. Clare, vessel of holiness...R
St. Clare, prayerful daughter of St. Francis...R
St. Clare, morning light...R
St. Clare, Mother and Foundress of the Poor Clares…R
St. Clare, humble follower of Christ…R
St. Clare, faithful imitator of St. Francis…R
St. Clare, humble servant of the servants of Christ…R
St. Clare, brilliant light of holiness…R
St. Clare, wonderful helper in need...R
St. Clare, full of joy…R
St. Clare, poor with the poor…R
St. Clare rich in merit and grace…R
St. Clare, loving spouse of the Crucified…R
St. Clare, seraphic adorer of the Blessed Sacrament…R
St. Clare, mighty protector of Assisi…R
St. Clare, mirror of patience in suffering…R
St. Clare, comforter of the ill and infirm…R

Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world....have mercy on us
Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world....graciously hear us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world.....have mercy on us
Pray for us , St. Clare....that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

O God, who inspired St. Clare of Assisi to shine her light on the Gospel and live a life of uncompromising fidelity, grant that through her merits and intercession, we may walk in the path of righteousness in this life so as to enjoy the life that will never end.

We ask this through Christ our Lord....AMEN

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Chiara Countdown: The Tavola of St. Clare

After doing so many posts on St. Clare, I can't believe that I haven't made a post about the Tavola yet! The Tavola is probably the most famous icon of Holy Mother Clare:

The tavola is the work of the Saint Clare Master and dates to the thirteenth century. It is a portrait of Saint Clare and the eight insets along the sides depict the most important events in the life of the saint. The tavola should be viewed starting from the bottom left.

Here, we can see Bishop Guido as he hands an olive branch to Saint Clare. This is followed, in order, by the scenes showing Saint Clare being taken in by the friars at the Porziuncola, her taking of the veil and her father's attempt to force her to abandon her intention of taking her vows. On the right is Agnes, who is being held back from following her sister Clare, the scene in which a cross appears on a loaf of bread before the Pope's eyes, the saint on her deathbed and her funeral, which was attended by the Pope.

The Poor Clares of Ty Man Duw have a wonderful explanation and reflection of the Tavola of St. Clare. Instead of reproducing the reflection for you on my blog, here is the link to the Poor Clares' website.

The Tavola indeed proves that a picture is worth a thousand words!

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Chiara Countdown: Clare's Life

Look into this mirror.....

What do you see when you look into the mirror? Clare saw the reflection of Christ. Her name means clear, unshadowed light. .....When her mother, Ortulana, was pregnant, she went to pray before the crucifix and heard a voice say, "You will bear a bright light." Clare was that child, born around 1193 in Assisi, in Umbria - a name which means, Shadowland. If you visit Assisi today, you will find the Basilica of St Francis on a spur jutting out at the edge of the town. But Clare's Church is in the heart of Assisi.
.....She belonged to a noble family. Her father was a crusader knight. Her mother, who was a devout woman, had been on pilgrimage to Rome, Jerusalem and St Michael's at Monte Gargano, quite a feat for a woman in that time. Clare had two younger sisters, Catherine, [known later as Agnes], and Beatrix. Her family supported the interests of the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry II, against the Holy See, and as a result of this, she found herself in 1199 a refugee with the rest of her family, in Perugia. An amnesty permitted her to return in 1202.
.....She received the education of a Lombard gentlewoman, and though in later life she was fond of describing herself as "your worthless handmaid," she wrote it in unmistakably elegant Latin.

.....She was about 12 years old when Francis, a son of that merchant class which had once driven her family out, suffered his bewildering conversion.

.....Clare in her Testament, tells us herself that before Francis had as much as one brother, sang out prophetically in French whilst rebuilding St Damians:

"Come and help me in the work of building the monastery of San Damiano, because ladies are yet to dwell here who will glorify our heavenly Father throughout his holy, universal Church by their celebrated and holy manner of life."

.....We know that via her kinswoman Bona, she sent food for the brothers who later worked there. Clare's cousin Rufino, regarded by Francis as a saint, was amongst the first friars, and it may have been from him that Francis learned of Clare. But Assisi was a small place; a young woman refusing to marry, refraining form staring out of windows, and spending her time in prayer and good works, is a light on a hill top that cannot be hidden.

Walk in the light.

....Francis sought to "capture this noble prize from the world". They met on several occasions - in secret, naturally. On Palm Sunday of 1212, Clare went to Church attired in her best clothes, but when the time came for the distribution of the palms, she did not go forward. Perhaps that was the prearranged signal, perhaps at that moment she was paralysed with fear. Certainly, she understood the meaning of the palm. It is the symbol of martyrdom. .....That night she fought her way through a pile of heavy pillars and discarded lumber to a little used door in her Palazzo. Some have thought it to have been that door by which the dead alone were carried out, and which, because of superstition, was left otherwise unused.

.....In the darkness she ran down the hill to St Mary of the Angels. There, Francis and the brothers waited, with lighted torches; Clare's hair was cut off and she received the poor habit of the lesser brothers, held at the waist by a knotted cord. Then they took her to San Paolo in Bascia, the nearest house of Benedictine women, to have the right of sanctuary. Clare was going to need it. The following morning, her relatives came hotfoot. They tried persuasion, threats, and every means to get her back, "they employed, violent force, poisonous advice and flattering promises," [Legend of St Clare, 9]..

...Holding delicately to the altar cloth with one hand, she pulled off her head covering and revealed her shorn hair. This palpable argument silenced the opposition. They fell back and left her to it.

.....When the fuss had died down, Francis took Clare to San Angelo in Panzo, a Beguinage. Here she was joined by her fifteen year old sister, Agnes. And, since there was, no protecting right of sanctuary there, her uncle, the head of her family, tried to drag Agnes away. But Glare's prayers prevailed. .

....Then Francis, hastily summoned, gave Agnes the habit took them to San Damiano 's.

Building in faith.

....Clare had faith. She had given away her heritage and, though she only had a few companions, she approached the Holy Father, Innocent III, to grant her an extraordinary privilege; the Privilege of Holy Poverty; the moral and canonical right not to be forced to own property. The Pope, more usually inundated with the opposite sort of request, was so stunned that he assented. "We confirm with our apostolic authority, as you requested, your proposal of most high poverty, granting you by the authority of this letter that no one can compel you to receive possessions.".

....In 1226 Francis died, and Thomas of Celano, in his first life of St Francis, attributes this lament to Clare and her sisters:.....O Father of the Poor, .....O lover of poverty, .....when we are tempted who will make us strong? .....You who every temptation knew, .....and well knew how to overcome -.....who will comfort us when we are tried? .....You were our helper in times of distress .....O most bitter going forth, .....O most feared farewell, .....O most dreaded death

........One may wonder what there was to weep over. Clare had organised herself from the first; within a year of her leaving the world, Francis was all set to go to the Holy Land. Francis had been of little practical use to Clare. He had been of little practical use to anyone. Practicality was not his forte. Francis was the wing of the Spirit on which they had all flown. It is hard to find yourself a bird with a broken wing.

The Map of History.

....The community around Clare grew steadily. The early sources of our Franciscan history make life in the 13th Century sound like a garden of birds and troubadours. In reality it was a bloody battlefield in which the armies of the Emperor waged a semi-continuous war with the forces of the Pope. Assisi was on everyone's marching route. They lived in constant fear, too , of "Tartars, Saracens and other enemies of God and of Holy Church", [testimony of Sr Fiippa. 18. Acts of Ganonisation] The heirs of Gengiz Khan were sweeping over Europe from the east, and the princes of Arabia rising up from the south. Spain and Portugal were at this time, Moorish conquests. The Crusades had failed, a fact few were willing to admit. And the last thing the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II wished to do was to wage a holy war.

.....It was an apocalyptic time in which to live. Innocent III, the visionary creator of the "Modern Papacy," was trying to rid the Church of secular intervention and reform the clergy. At the IV Lateran Council he saw himself as the scribe in Ezekiel's Vision, marking the saved with the sign of the Tau, a sign which St Francis appears to have used as his autograph, and which has become a symbol of our order......And in the midst of this stands Clare, vowing poverty in a deliberately chosen life of enclosure - a profound paradox.

.....The dissensions which now rent the Franciscan Brothers had begun before Francis had died. It was Clare who was now the focus of Francis' first companions. Leo and Angelo called her "Our Abbess", and the breviary from which Francis had prayed was lodged with the sisters at San Damiano as a symbol of the middle course which in actuality, their Father had chosen. Francis had not wanted to own storehouses, or advise princes, or ride horses, but also, he had possessed a breviary, prayed the Divine Office and been willing to let men like St Anthony, teach the brothers.

.....The order was divided between some who virtually wanted to own universities, and others, who thought that even the Pope, was not allowed to define poverty.

Lady Poverty.....Clare, frail in health, possessing no weapons but prayer, and perpetually enclosed, stood in the middle, in utter fidelity to Lady Poverty.

.....She had her own trials. The order's first Cardinal Protector became Pope in 1227. He loved Clare. In 1220, after celebrating Holy Week with the sisters, he wrote:

"My very dear sister in Christ! From the very hour, when the necessity of returning here, separated me from your holy conversation and tore me away from that joy of heavenly treasure, such a bitterness of heart, such an abundance of tears and such an immensity of sorrow have overcome me.... I entrust my soul to you and commend my spirit to you, as Jesus on the cross commended his spirit to the Father..."

.....But he also felt it was his duty to look after her. .....He afflicted her with the Rule of St Benedict, an excellent institution the objectives of which could not even be said to run parallel to those of the Franciscan way. Above all it saw poverty in a wholly different light. It was also very rigid; poverty is a freeing gift and the poor must adapt themselves to what God gives to them; only the rich can order their days as they please.

.....Houses of the sisters had sprung up in many of the places where the brother Friars had preached. Some of those to hear the good news were already Benedictine women religious. Not all of these had contact with San Damiano 's.

.....Clare's sister Agnes was sent to Monticelli, and, apparently, to several other houses in Italy as a herald of poverty. Clare is also known to have sent sisters to Prague and to Spain. Prague was the home of the most distinguished convert to Lady Poverty: St Agnes, a Bohemian princess who had rejected the hand of the Emperor Frederick II in order to follow her vocation. .....Before and after the death of Pope Gregory IX, both Agnes and Glare separately entreated the Holy See for a more authentic rule of life. They were not successful. .....Eventually, around 1250, Clare began to write her own rule. She was the first [and only, strangely enough] woman to do so. It was presented to Pope Innocent IV as Clare neared her death. The Holy Father was in Perugia, and bringing an entourage of Cardinals, he came to visit Clare. When she begged him for absolution from her sins, he said with tears, 'Would that I had as little need of absolution, as you!".....Back in Perugia, Innocent signed the confirmation of Clare's rule and a friar, in haste, brought it to her. She kissed the papal seal many times. .....Brothers Angelo, Leo and Juniper were among those at her bedside......Clare spoke to her soul, saying,
"Go without anxiety, for you have a good escort for your journey. Go, for he who created you has made you holy. And, always protecting you as a mother her child, he has loved you with a tender love. May you be blessed, 0 Lord, you who have created my soul!"

She died on the 10th August, 1253.

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