Beautiful Saint Clare: a True Heroine

She heard a talk by St Francis of Assisi, left all wealth and comfort behind, and slept on the floor of the order of nuns she founded for forty-one years

St Francis and St Clare

St. Clare was born Chiara Offreduccio on July 16, 1194, the eldest child of Favorino Sciffi (the Count of Sasso-Rosso) and his wife, Ortolana. (“Chiara” is the Italian version of “Clare.”) St. Clare’s mother was a very devout woman who taught the faith to her daughters, Clare, Agnes, and Beatrix. When St. Clare was 12, against her will, her parents wanted her to marry a wealthy young man. Yet, when she turned 18, St. Clare heard St. Francis of Assisi preaching and his message overwhelmed her heart with a far greater desire: to dedicate her life solely to the Heavenly Bridegroom.

On Palm Sunday, while her family went to collect their palm branches, St. Clare stayed home so that she could run away to live the life she felt God calling her to. She ran to St. Francis, who cut off her beautiful long hair and gave her a rough brown tunic and black veil to wear. She lived for a short time with a group of Benedictine nuns who kept her away from her father who attempted to kidnap her to bring her back home and marry. Soon, St. Clare’s sister, Agnes, joined her, and they moved close to the Church of San Damiano, which St. Francis had rebuilt. St. Francis guided her as she began her own order of nuns whose mission it was to live simply, growing in holiness and praying for a world in need of God. They lived a very simple and poor life, which attracted other women to join them. They wore no shoes, ate no meat, lived in a poor house, slept on the floor, and kept silent at most times. The lack of possessions and luxuries allowed for them to keep their eyes focused solely on prayer and sacrifice.

For a short time, St. Francis was the director of this new order (which at the time was known as the “Order of San Damiano”). In 1216, St. Clare accepted the role of abbess, which allowed for her to govern the order on her own, without having a priest as the head of the community. Many times in the following years St. Clare had to hold firm to the way of life that her community lived by, as there were many attempts by Church authorities to get her community to live by the Rule of St. Benedict, which St. Clare felt was too relaxed in comparison to how she felt called to live. St. Clare was determined to live in poverty and simplicity, making only God her priority.

During the early years of establishing her order, St. Clare remained good friends with St. Francis, seeing him as a father figure to her. She took care of him during the last years of his life until his death in 1226. After the death of St. Francis, St. Clare continued to work to keep to the strict way of life that she and her sisters lived by – even to the point of disagreeing with the popes who encouraged her to relax her rule. She stated that “They say that we are too poor, but can a heart which possesses the infinite God be truly called poor?” St. Clare’s heart certainly possessed God, and as such she showed her love for her sisters in everything she did. Though she held the title of abbess, St. Clare served her sisters at table, tended them when they were sick, and washed and kissed their sore feet when they returned from begging. She would get up late at night to tuck in the sisters who had kicked their blankets off. She was the first to rise each morning, and would light the candles and ring the bell to call the sisters to choir for prayer. After prayer, she would leave the chapel with her face aglow.

St Clare Stained Glass Window

Besides all her other virtues, she was especially remarkable for her devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. She sometimes remained whole hours immovable before the Tabernacle, and was often seen in ecstacy, so great was her love for the Saviour it concealed. She sought her comfort in Him alone in all her trials, amidst all her persecutions; and how great were the graces she thereby received, the following event will sufficiently illustrate.

The Saracens besieged Assisi and made preparations to scale the walls of the Convent. St. Clare, who was ill at the time, had herself carried to the gates of the convent, where, with the Ciborium, containing the Blessed Sacrament, in her hands, prostrating herself in company with all her religious, she cried aloud: “O Lord, do not give into the hands of the infidels the souls of those who acknowledge and praise Thee. Protect and preserve Thy handmaidens whom Thou hast redeemed with Thy precious blood.” A voice was distinctly heard, saying: “I will protect you always.” The result proved that this was the voice of heaven. The Saracens, seized with a sudden fear, betook themselves to flight, those who had already scaled the walls, became blind, and flung themselves down. Thus were St. Clare and her religious protected and the whole city preserved from utter devastation, by the piety and devotion of the Saint to the Blessed Sacrament. 

Another similar incident occurred in 1244: Emperor Frederick II, who was at war with the pope, entered the Assisi area to attack it. One of the first places he was to stop was at San Damiano, where St. Clare and her sisters were living. As the soldiers were scaling the walls of the convent, St. Clare took the Blessed Sacrament out to the gate, in the sight of the attackers. St. Clare prayed for the protection and safety of her sisters, and again heard the voice of God tell her that they would always be in His care. At this, St. Clare turned to her sisters and told them to trust in Jesus. Suddenly, terror struck the attacking soldiers and they fled in haste, leaving St. Clare and her sisters unharmed.

One Christmas Eve St. Clare was too ill to attend Mass. In bed, she sighed to herself and prayed, “See Lord, I am left alone here with You.” At this, St. Clare received a vision in which she was able to see the Mass as it was taking place, yet from her own room. It is for this reason that many years later, in 1958, Pope Pius XII named her as the patron saint of television, for she had received a “live broadcast” from God.

We must omit many miracles which God wrought through His faithful servant, in order to relate her happy end. She had reached the age of sixty years, during twenty-eight of which she had suffered from various painful maladies, though she had not been confined to her bed, or rather, her bundle of straw. Her patience while suffering was remarkable, and she was never heard to complain of the severity or the duration of her sickness. The contemplation of the Passion of Christ made her own pains easy and even pleasing to her. “How short,” said she one day, “seems the night to me, which I pass in the contemplation of the Lord’s suffering!” At another time, she exclaimed: “How can man complain when he beholds Christ hanging upon the cross and covered with blood!” Having suffered so long and with such noble resignation, she saw at last, that her end was near. She received the Blessed Sacrament, and then exhorted all her daughters not to relax in their zeal to live in poverty and holiness. 

When her confessor conversed with her on the merits of patience, she said: “As long as I have had the grace to serve God in the religious state, no care, no penance, no sickness has seemed hard to me. Oh, how comforting it is to suffer for the love of Christ!” The hour of her death drew near, and she saw a great many white-robed virgins come to meet her, among whom was one who surpassed all the rest in beauty. She followed them and they led her to see the Almighty face to face. Several who had read in the depths of her heart, said that she died more from the fervour of her love for God than from the effects of her sickness.

After years of working to establish her rule as the official Rule by which her sisters would live, on August 9, 1253, the papal bull “Solet annuere” was issued by Pope Innocent IV and confirmed that St. Clare’s rule would be the governing rule of St. Clare’s Order of Poor Ladies. Only two days later, on August 11, St. Clare passed away. The great number of miracles wrought after her death through her intercession, and the heroic virtues which made her so remarkable, induced Pope Alexander IV to canonise St. Clare two years later in August 1255. Construction of the Basilica of St. Clare was completed in 1560 in Assisi, Italy. Her remains were transferred to the basilica and remain there today. In 1263, Pope Urban IV changed the name of her order from the “Order of Poor Ladies” to the “Order of St. Clare,” more commonly known as the “Poor Clares.”

Prayer to St. Clare

O Glorious St. Clare! God has given you the power of working miracles continually, and the favour of answering the prayers of those who invoke your assistance in misfortune, anxiety, and distress. We beseech you, obtain from Jesus through Mary His Blessed Mother, what we beg of you so fervently and hopefully, (mention your petition) if it be for the greater honour and glory of God and for the good of our souls. Amen.

PRACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS.

“How can man complain when he beholds Christ hanging on the cross and covered with blood,” asked St. Clare; and she also said that those nights in which she contemplated the passion of Our Lord, seemed short. During her long and painful maladies, she meditated on all the sufferings which Our Lord endured to save us, and by this means, learned such resignation that she not only had no thought of murmuring against Divine Providence, but also bore her pains with great interior consolation. See your crucified Saviour and think: “What is my suffering compared to that which my Redeemer endured for love of me? My Jesus has suffered with patience, with joy, and even with the desire to suffer still more. Why then should I be impatient and faint-hearted.” With such thoughts you should animate yourself, especially during the night, as it is generally then that pains increase. Remember the night, the bitter night, which your Saviour passed in the house of Caiaphas, maltreated in every possible manner, and pray for grace, to bear the cross laid upon you, with patience and fortitude. Only try it once and you will find great relief. St. Gregory said rightly: “Remembering the sufferings of Christ, we can bear everything patiently, how heavy soever it may be.

*****

[This article has been taken from various sources on Saint Clare]

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