Today, the Church celebrates the Feast of Saint Clare of Assisi. It was Saint Francis of Assisi who saw in Clare something special, extraordinary – a soul who would be a great witness to the Gospel way of life. She is the co-foundress of the Order of Poor Clares.
Pope Gregory IX came to Assisi in 1228 for the purpose of canonizing Francis, but also made a stop at San Damiano to try and convince Clare to ease up on the strictness of her life of poverty. Even if it was a vow that led to such rigidity, Pope Gregory IX was willing to absolve her from it. But Clare resisted and said to the pope: “Holy Father, I crave for absolution of my sins, but I do not wish to be absolved from the obligation of following Jesus Christ.” This impressed the Holy Father and in September of 1228 he granted her the Papal Bull, Privilegium Paupertatis (Privilege of Poverty). Here is that text:
“Gregory Bishop Servant of the Servants of God.
To our beloved daughters in Christ Clare and the other handmaids of Christ dwelling together at the Church of San Damiano in the Diocese of Assisi. Health and Apostolic benediction. It is evident that the desire of consecrating yourselves to God alone has led you to abandon every wish for temporal things. Wherefore, after having sold all your goods and having distributed them among the poor, you propose to have absolutely no possessions, in order to follow in all things the example of Him Who became poor and Who is the way, the truth, and the life. Neither does the want of necessary things deter you from such a proposal, for the left arm of your Celestial Spouse is beneath your head to sustain the infirmity of your body, which, according to the order of charity, you have subjected to the law of the spirit. Finally, He who feeds the birds of the air and Who gives the lilies of the field their raiment and their nourishment, will not leave you in want of clothing or of food until He shall come Himself to minister to you in eternity when, namely, the right Hand of His consolations shall embrace you in the plenitude of the Beatific Vision. Since, therefore, you have asked for it, we confirm by Apostolic favor your resolution of the loftiest poverty and by the authority of these present letters grant that you may not be constrained by anyone to receive possessions. To no one, therefore, be it allowed to infringe upon this page of our concession or to oppose it with rash temerity. But if anyone shall presume to attempt this, be it known to him that he shall incur the wrath of Almighty God and his Blessed Apostles, Peter and Paul.
Given at Perugia on the fifteenth of the Kalends of October in the second year of our Pontificate.”
Since the establishment of Holy Mother Church by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, there has never been a so-called “golden age” of the Church. She has always had her problems and challenges. Perhaps the battle that has always existed is, “the way of Christ versus the way of the world.” Secularization is a huge challenge for today’s Christian. The weaknesses of our nature is prone to surrendering to that which is constantly before us; and in our modern day culture, that is secularism. Saint Clare teaches us by her own example that through the grace of Almighty God, we can live for Christ alone and overcome the enemy of our times.
Clare had a great love for the Blessed Sacrament. In her letter to Blessed Agnes of Prague, Clare writes about how happy it is “to cleave with one’s heart to Him Whose beauty all the heavenly hosts behold forever, Whose love inflames our love.” Clare adds that contemplating Jesus “makes us glow with happiness.” He is “the Mirror without spot.” Then she instructs Agnes and us by urging us to “look into that Mirror daily.” If we are to conquer our weaknesses and live for God, daily prayer, and most especially spending time with the Blessed Sacrament are a must.
In sacred art, Saint Clare is often depicted with a ciborium. This not only exhibits Clare’s love for the Eucharist but also proclaims the story in which soldiers scaled the walls of San Damiano during the night. Clare rose from her bed, went to the chapel and grabbed the ciborium, taking our Eucharistic Lord to an open window. The soldiers had already placed a ladder beneath that window to climb and enter through it. Clare raised the Blessed Sacrament which caused the soldiers on the ladder to fall while the rest ran away. This is the power of that “Mirror” which Clare exhorts us to look into daily.
Sancta Clara, ora pro nobis!