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Saint Clare of Assisi
Possibly the only thing the nobility and merchants in Assisi agreed on was the anger that rose up in them when they heard the name of Francis di Bernardone. To their way of thinking, he had disgraced his family, and stolen from his father to give to beggars and lepers. He must surely be crazy. To add to their indignation, many of the sons of the nobility of Assisi kept flocking to Francis, joining him in his insanity. They were spellbound by him. They had left their homes, given their possessions away, and donned the heavy, coarse sack cloth tunic that Francis wore. There were families in Assisi who would have liked to wring Francis’ neck.
Saint Clare of Assisi knew the reaction she would get from her relatives every time she mentioned Francis’ name, but she couldn’t help it. She found him so fascinating! What he had done, and what he was preaching was so contrary to anything she had ever heard before. She had known him over the years. She most likely bumped into him from time to time, lowering her eyes as he passed by. She may have witnessed the public trial Francis’ father had subjected him to, when Francis took off all his clothes, gave them to his father, and proclaimed from that time, God was his father.
Clare had never spoken to Francis. She had to meet him! One day, she chose to go out walking on the very road she knew he would be taking. They met. Francis had known of her since she was a child. Hers was one of the few noble families living in Assisi. Francis could see in Clare that very special quality that Jesus would use some day. When their eyes met, the heavens opened up and the Holy Spirit entered into them. They could not break the fixed look. They gazed into each other’s souls. Finally, Francis spoke to Clare. "You will have to know how to die."
Saint Clare of Assisi looked at him questioningly, and perhaps a little apprehensively. Never taking her eyes off Francis, she pleaded, "What do you mean?"
Francis replied, tenderly, "On the cross with Christ." She still did not understand what he meant, but felt an unexplainable excitement surge through her. His words remained with her. She could not get them out of her mind. She met with him frequently over the next few months, listening in awe as Francis shared the overpowering love he had for Jesus and the Gospel life. He impressed on Clare the dignity and beauty of a girl like her, giving herself over to Jesus as a spotless virgin, to be His bride. His words were like arrows of love from the Lord penetrating her heart, burning her with an insatiable desire for more.
Miracle of the Eucharist of Assisi
She was firm in the face of adversity. The famous incident, which we call the Miracle of the Eucharist of Assisi, took place at San Damiano in 1241, twelve years before Clare died. The catalyst that the Lord used to bring about this miracle was a German prince, Frederick II of Swabia. There is a tradition that Frederick was born in Assisi at the same time as Francis, and was baptized on the same day in the church of San Ruffino. The Pope had treated this Frederickvery well, being sure he was brought up comfortably, affording him every courtesy. The young German repaid his kindness by turning on the Pope and the Church, waging a war against them, and the people of the Umbria. He had visions of an empire that would spread itself from Assisi down to Sicily. To this end, he recruited a band of Saracen mercenaries to be his army. Reinforced by his band of merciless cutthroats, Frederick proceeded to march against Assisi.
The convent of San Damiano stood between the troops of Frederick II and the city of Assisi. The fact that there was a group of virgin nuns in the convent was particularly appealing to the Saracens, who hated Christians, and had a lusty appetite for Caucasian women. They proceeded to attack the Convent. Clare was sick in bed at this time. Her ladies rushed to her, crying, ina state of panic. What would they do? Could she protect them from the attacking soldiers? One of the Sisters ran into the room to report that she had seen soldiers in the fields close to the convent. A general state of alarm broke out.
Clare had two Sisters help her up out of bed. She went totheir little Chapel, and removed a Monstrance containing the Blessed Sacrament. She held it in her hands, pressed her head against it, and prayed to the Lord. She walked to the large open window facing the courtyard below. She spoke to the Lord, and He answered her. She implored, "Protect, Lord, these your servants, that I now, by myself, cannot protect."
A very sweet voice, that of a young child, answered her, "I will take care of you always."
Clare added another prayer. "My Lord, protect also, as it pleases you, this city that by your love supports us."
The reply she received was, "It will have to go through suffering, but it will be defended by my protection."
Strengthened by these words, Clare turned to her Sisters, whowere terrified by the prospects of the attack of the feared Saracens. "I guarantee you, my daughters, that you will not suffer any evil. Only have faith in Christ." She took the monstrance and held it high in the air.
The advancing Saracens froze in their tracks at the courtyard of the Convent. They looked up at Clare, at the Monstrance in her hand. Petrified with fear, as if they could recognize the God Who was there, they turned and ran, fleeing from the convent of San Damiano, leaving Clare and her Sisters in peace. The next day, the people of Assisi were pleased, but astonished that the Saracens had not attacked their city. Survival not conquest, uppermost in their minds, the invaders had left without ever setting foot in the town
Saint Clare of Assisi went to the Church of San Giorgio1 for a Lenten service. Francis spoke that evening. She was inspired by his powerful witnessing of the Gospel life; lifted up by the joy he transmitted in his poverty; and drawn to the Living Jesus so visible through him and his words. There was such a light in his eyes, a fire in his voice. She went to him after the service. She knew she, too, was being called to live the life of the Gospel. She asked him to help her achieve that goal. They planned for her to enter the Community on Palm Sunday.
The next Sunday was Palm Sunday. Clare went with all the young ladies of Assisi to the Palm Sunday services at the Cathedral in Assisi. The Bishop conducted the liturgy. As part of the Mass, after the readings and homily, the Bishop blessed and distributed palms to the faithful. The entire congregation filed up to the altar to receive them. The young unmarried girls of Assisi, of which Clare was a part, were to be last in the procession. They rose from their seats, resplendently outfitted in the latest Spring fashions, and glided up to the altar to receive the palms; all, that is, except Clare. She remained in her seat with her head down. She wasn’t sure what she was doing, or why she was doing it. Her thoughts must have been running amuck; Was she being holy, or shy? She honestly did not know. She just knew that was what she was supposed to do. The Bishop noticed her absence at the altar, as did the whole town. After presenting all the young girls with blessed palms, the Bishop rose, and walked over to where Clare was seated. He blessed her and placed a palm in her hands. Then he returned to the altar to continue the Mass. Saint Clare of Assisi just sat there looking down, her palm branch clutched to her heart. What had happened to her? She had been touched, and would never be the same.
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Saint Clare was truly Saint Francis' partner in Christ. She was the first female member of the Franciscan community. She fought against the whole Franciscan community, including popes, to maintain the original Rule of Saint Francis. After his death, she spent the rest of her life caring for her ladies. She would not even die before her rule for the Poor Clares was approved by the Pope.
Clare is a role model for all women in headship, not exclusively of the Church, but especially of the Church. She may very well have been placed on this earth to be a prototype for Superiors of Religious Communities, male and female, for centuries to come. Clare could easily be the standard bearer for anyone who would lead a community of people, whether it be a Religious Community, as Superior, or a country, as President, Dictator, or King. And her philosophy was not new, or complicated. It was simple. "Love one another as I have loved you."
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Saint Clare of Assisi
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