August 11th is the Feast of St. Clare of Assisi – in many ways considered a “second founder” of the Franciscan orders of men and women because of the influence her life, example, and spirituality have upon the religious orders of men and women that carry the name “Franciscan.” In honor of these celebrations, let us look at The Legend of St. Clare (1255) in which we read of Clare’s decision to follow Francis’ way of life.
“The Solemnity of the Day of Palms was at hand when the young girl went with a fervent heart to the man of God, asking [him] about her conversion and how it should be carried out. The father Francis told her that on the day of the feast, she should go, dressed and adorned, together with the crowd of people, to [receive] a palm, and, on the following night, leaving the camp she should turn her worldly joy into mourning the Lord’s passion.
“Therefore, when Sunday came, the young girl, thoroughly radiant with festive splendor among the crowd of women, entered the Church with the others. Then something occurred that was a fitting omen: as the others were going [to receive] the palms, while Clare remained immobile in her place out of shyness, the Bishop, coming down the steps, came to her and placed a palm in her hands. On that night, preparing to obey the command of the Saint, she embarked upon her long desired flight with a virtuous companion. Since she was not content to leave by way of the usual door, marveling at her strength, she broke open with her own hands that other door that is customarily blocked by wood and stone.
“And so she ran to Saint Mary of the Portiuncula [chapel], leaving behind her home, city, and relatives. There the brothers, who were observing sacred vigils before the little altar of God, receiving the virgin Clare with torches. There, immediately after rejecting the filth of Babylon, she gave the world “a bill of divorce.” There, her hair shorn by the hands of the brothers, she put aside every kind of her fine dress…
“After she received the insignia of holy penance before the altar of the blessed Virgin and, as if before the throne of this Virgin, the humble servant was married to Christ, Saint Francis immediately led her to the church of San Paolo to remain there until the Most High would provide another place.” (Legend of St Clare IV:7-8)
Granted, the account is written for dramatic effect, but what began eight hundred years ago in the tiny medieval town of Assisi — the flight of a young noble woman from her family and comfortable life to follow the evangelical model of life demonstrated by Francis of Assisi — changed the course of history for centuries to come. I imagine she had no idea what she was in for, she had no idea what would become of her life, but she was open to the Spirit’s prompting in her heart, and she followed that call into living in this world in a way that was most fit for her.
Perhaps it was that deeper prompting that led her to act boldly in prayer and trust. In the face of an attack of a Saracen force upon the convent, St. Clare had the Blessed Sacrament placed on the walls of the convent when it faced attack. “Does it please you, O God, to deliver into the hands of these beasts the defenseless children I have nourished with your love? I beseech you, dear Lord, protect these whom I am now unable to protect.” To her sisters she said, “Don’t be afraid. Trust in Jesus.” The Saracens fled. I do not think the young Clare imagined a life in which she faced an invading army.
I don’t imagine St. Clare imagined television or that one day she would be the patron saint of television – and many people are surprised by that. The reason is that in the later years of Clare’s life, when she was unable to arise from the sick bed and attend Mass, she was able to “view” the Mass being celebrated in a vision displayed on the wall of her small room.
Contemporary accounts glow with admiration of her life in the convent of San Damiano in Assisi. She served the sick, waited on tables, and washed the feet of the begging nuns. She came from prayer, it was said, with her face so shining it dazzled those about her. She suffered serious illness for the last 27 years of her life. Her influence was such that popes, cardinals, and bishops often came to consult her as she never left the walls of San Damiano.
There is much more to the life of St. Clare, but one cannot help but be impressed by the audacious act to respond to the call of God in her life.
May we discern that voice of God deep in our hearts that calls each of us to live as we were intended by God to live. We might not know what that looks like, or where it will lead us, but if we are open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and strive to follow in the footprints of Christ as Clare of Assisi did centuries ago, we might be surprised by where we go, and how our lives will be changed.