Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Spirituality and Miracles of St. Clare of Assisi

August 11 is the memorial of St. Clare, one of my favorite saints. She was the first woman to follow the life of radical poverty practiced by St. Francis of Assisi and is the co-founder of the Poor Clares. Although I am not a Franciscan, I have had Franciscan friends, clergy, and spiritual directors instruct me on the beauty of St. Clare's spirituality. I have also learned a great deal from reading about her over the years. Clare and Francis (2007) is a film which depicts the fascinating story of her dramatic conversion and surrender to the will of God.

St. Clare is the patron saint of television. She is also the patron of eye disorders, embroiderers, good weather, and telephones.

The Contemplative Life

The Lady Clare was born into a noble family in Assisi in 1193 and was admired for her great beauty. When she heard Francis of Assisi preach his Lenten homilies at the Church of San Giorgio, she was captivated by his words. At age eighteen, she heard him say: "When there is poverty with joy, there is inner peace."  She became deeply determined to live out the gospel message in a radical way. On the evening of Palm Sunday, she secretly left her paternal home with her cousin Pacifica, never to return. In the dead of night lit only by torches, Clare met Francis and his friars at the ‘Portiuncola’. There, in the little chapel of ‘Mary of the Angels’, Francis cut her long blond hair and Clare laid aside her fine clothes, clothing herself in a simple dress of sackcloth and a thick veil. She vowed from that moment on to give herself totally to God, her eternal spouse.

Clare was placed by Francis temporarily with the Benedictine nuns until Francis built with his own hands a cloister for her and her community, the Order of Poor Ladies, later known as the Poor Clares. The Poor Ladies lived in seclusion, apart from the world, and supported Francis and his followers through their hidden life of prayer and sacrifice.

At San Damiano, Clare lived an austere life. She slept on a straw mattress, fasted three days a week, never ate meat, often did penance, and awoke in the middle of the night to pray the Divine Office. Year round she wore a coarse habit and went barefoot on stone floors.

In the beginning, most of the young girls who joined her in this life of radical poverty were from the noble families of Assisi and the surrounding area. At first they had no written rule to follow except for a very short rudimentary rule drawn up by Francis. Over the years, prelates tried to draw up a rule for the Poor Ladies based largely on the Rule of St. Benedict, however, Clare would reject these attempts in favor of the ‘privilege of poverty’, wishing to own nothing in this world and depending entirely on the providence of God and the generosity of the people for their livelihood.

St. Clare's advice on contemplation:

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

Miracle Worker

Although she is not normally thought of as a “miracle worker”, through Clare’s persistent prayer, God often intervened on her behalf.

Twice God saved San Damiano through the intercession of St. Clare. In September 1240, hoards of Saracen mercenaries attacked the walls of the monastery on their way to the city. Clare prayed before the Blessed Sacrament and suddenly for no explainable reason the Saracens retreated. A similar situation occurred when the troops of Vitalis d’Aversa attacked Assisi in June of 1241. Again her deep devotion to the Eucharist brought her before the Blessed Sacrament and again the city was spared.

Olive Jars were filled with oil after she blessed them. St. Clare experienced her own "multiplication of the loaves" when on another occasion, she fed 50 sisters and all the Franciscan friars with a single loaf of bread. Once a very heavy door came off its hinges and fell on top of her, but when a number of sisters in a panic rushed to lift it off, instead of finding her crushed, she was not harmed at all and said it felt no heavier than a blanket. The sick were cured when she made the sign of the cross over them. At times when she meditated, the sisters saw a rainbow aura surrounding her.

One Christmas Eve Clare was too ill to rise from her bed to attend Mass at the new Basilica of St. Francis. Although she was more than a mile away she saw Mass on the wall of her dormitory. So clear was the vision that the next day she could name the friars at the celebration. It was for this last miracle that she has been named patroness of television.

Lover of the Eucharist

Clare was "an ardent seraph" before the most Blessed Sacrament -- she looked to the Lord in the Eucharist as her dearest Love. She received Jesus in Holy Communion as often as she was permitted. One day after she had received Holy Communion, the Child Jesus came to visit her. He lay in her arms and covered her with kisses.

In speaking of Eucharistic Adoration, St. Clare said, "Gaze upon Him, consider Him, contemplate Him, as you desire to imitate Him."

And, imitate Him she did. Due to her great zeal and deep devotion for the Holy Eucharist, Clare came to resemble that which she consumed and gazed upon so frequently during her life. Pope Saint John Paul II said of St. Clare: "her whole life was a Eucharist because … from her cloister she raised up a continual ‘thanksgiving' to God in her prayer, praise, supplication, intercession, weeping, offering and sacrifice. She accepted everything from the Father in union with the infinite ‘thanks' of the only begotten Son."

Clare viewed poverty of spirit as essential to spiritual growth. She believed that when we are poor and humble of heart, then we become rich in virtue and discover our true wealth. Conversely, when we are filled with pride, the poorer we become. She thought that we need to imitate Our Lord in our lives by emptying ourselves of our own desires, our ego, and self-conceit and allow Him to fill us His humility, charity, and simplicity.

Her spirituality can be encapsulated in a letter she wrote to her friend, St. Agnes of Prague. In the letter, Clare uses the image of a mirror, asking Agnes to look into that mirror, which is the perfection of every virtue, the image of Jesus Christ himself. Clare says:

“She who is granted to enjoy this sacred union is certainly happy to adhere with the depth of the heart [to Christ], to the one whose beauty all the blessed multitudes of the heavens admire incessantly, whose affection impassions, whose contemplation restores, whose goodness satiates, whose gentleness fills, whose memory shines gently, thanks to whose perfume the dead will return to life and whose glorious vision will make blessed all the citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem. And given that he is the splendor of glory, pure whiteness of the eternal light and spotless mirror, look every day in this mirror, oh queen, bride of Jesus Christ, and scrutinize continually in him his face, so that you will thus be able to adorn yourself completely within and without. ... Shining in this mirror are blessed poverty, holy humility and ineffable charity” (Lettera quarta: FF 2901-2903).

~ copyright Jean M. Heimann August, 2008, Updated August 2016

Powerful Prayer to St. Clare of Assisi (Via The Catholic Company)

O glorious Saint Clare!
God has given you the power of working miracles continually, and the favor of answering the prayers of those who invoke your assistance in misfortune, anxiety, and distress; we beseech you, obtain for us from Jesus, through Mary, His Blessed Mother, what we beg of you so fervently and hopefully, if it be for the greater honor and glory of God and for the good of our souls.
Saint Clare Pray For Us.

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