Saint Clare of Assisi, first woman follower of Saint Francis of Assisi and first Franciscan woman saint, was born in 1194 in the noble family of Favarone at Assisi in central Italy. Her name, Clara in Latin and Chiara in Italian, means clear, shining or bright. One day, just before Clare’s birth, her mother was praying before the crucifix in the monastery of Assisi for her child about to be born when she heard a voice telling her, “Have no fear, woman, you will hear your child safely, and she will be a torch to give a clear light to the world.”
At the age of 15 Clare was deeply impressed by the preaching of Saint Francis and wanted to follow him. Having no provision for any woman member in his Order, Francis kept her in suspense for three years. Then, on Palm Sunday, 18 March 1212, she went to Francis and begged him to admit her into his Order. Seeing her earnestness and determination, he agreed. As suggested by Francis, that night she, with her cousin Filippa, escaped from home by the door reserved for taking bodies of dead members out, and went to the church of Saint Mary of the Angels at Portiuncula which Francis had rebuilt. There, in front of the altar, she renounced her costly clothes and beautiful hair, and received from him the Franciscan monastic habit, and into his hands made vow of absolute poverty and dedicated herself to following the poor and humble Christ. The thirty-year old Francis who had no money, no means and no canonical authority accepted spiritual and material responsibility for her. Clare was temporarily accomodated at the neighboring Benectine convent. Clare’s father and relatives protested angrily, but she did not change her mind. Soon she was followed by her younger sister Agnes who too is a saint . Clare had won complete victory over her own egoism and the craving for earthly possessions. Having chosen a life of radical poverty and obtained from the Pope the privilege of not possessing anything, she, together with Francis, founded the second Franciscan Order, the poor Clares.
Soon she moved to another Benedictine convent, but was unable to carry on under the Benedictine Rule. Francis then made over to her the church and convent of San Damiano. There she was joined by her mother Blessed Ortolana, her younger sister Beatrice and her aunt Bianca, and several other women. Interestingly Clara thus became the superior of her own mother, aunty and sisters, and they lived docilely under her guidance. In 1215 Francis appointed her abbess. For thirty-nine years Clare lived in the enclosure of that convent. All her life she never crossed the boundaries of Assisi where she lived in rigorous austerity, spending her time in prayer, penance and contemplation. God worked many miracles in answer to her prayers.
In the year 1240 an army of Saracens who were in the service of Emperor Frederick II drew near Assisi. They rushed upon the little convent of San Damiano that lay outside the city and had already sealed the walls of the monastery. In mortal fear the sisters had recourse to their mother, who was ill in bed. Clare, carrying the pyx containing the Most Blessed Sacrament, had herself carried to a convent window. There she pleaded fervently with the Lord of heaven in the words of the Psalmist: “Do not deliver the soul of thy dove to the wild beasts; do not forget the life of thy poor for ever” (Psalm 74:19 RSV), “and shield thy servants whom thou hast redeemed with thy precious blood.” A mysterious voice coming from the Host said: “I shall always watch over you.” Immediately panic seized the besiegers. A ray of brilliant light which emanated from the Blessed Sacrament had dazzled them. They fell down from the walls and fled from the place. The convent was saved and the town of Assisi was spared.
After suffering from a serious illness for thirty years, Clare felt that her end was drawing nigh. After she had received the last sacraments, she and one of her sisters beheld the Queen of Virgins coming with a large escort to meet her, the spouse of Jesus Christ. On August 11, 1253, she entered into the joys of eternity, and on the following day her body was buried. Pope Alexander IV canonized her already in the year 1255. She was chosen as the universal patroness of television in 1958.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, in Your mercy You led Saint Clare to the love of poverty. Help us, by her intercession, to follow Christ in poverty of spirit, so that, in the Kingdom of Heaven, we may see You in Your glory. We pray this in the most precious name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Jakarta, 11 August 2018
A Christian Pilgrim