The article below appeared originally in the summer 2010 issue of Be A Franciscan newsletter, the quarterly publication of the Franciscan Vocation Ministry. The feast of St. Clare, Francis’ “sister light,” is commemorated on Aug. 11.
Clare of Assisi was born of nobility in the town of Assisi in 1193 and grew up with the privileges of wealth. When only 18 years old, she ran away from home and joined St. Francis in his new way of living the Gospel call to religious life. As a woman, she couldn’t follow the itinerant Francis and his brothers, but she decided to live the radical form of poverty. In the monastery of San Damiano, she refused to accept for herself and her sisters any form of property that would prevent her from depending on the Providence of God.
From the very beginning, Clare attracted many young women to follow her in a radical way of monastic life. Her heart was offered to God, whom she loved completely, confident in his love for her. She was always reminding her sisters to “Love him totally, who gave himself totally for your love.” The sisters of the monastery of San Damiano were called “The Ladies of Christ.”
Co-founder of the Franciscan movement with St. Francis, Clare of Assisi is the feminine expression of the ideals of Francis. Her principles are the expression of a genuine feminine approach to the Gospel. Clare often called herself “pianticella,” or “little plant of the most blessed Francis.” Francis was her inspiration, mentor and model. Her pursuit of St. Francis’ ideal of most high poverty made her understand that all is gift from God.
Eloi Le Clerc, a French Franciscan scholar, wrote, “In the fullest meaning of the word, Clare was truly Francis’ ‘sister light,’ not only by her advice and prayers, but also by the transparent beauty of her life and her whole being. When everything seemed to be crashing down around Francis, she was the living example of fidelity to his primitive ideal, to pure Gospel simplicity. She lived in God’s time, like the stars, ‘clear, lovely and beautiful.’ Without many words, she made Francis understand that peace of heart was the highest form of poverty, the peace that comes from total surrender of self to God.”
Clare became known throughout Italy as a woman of profound wisdom. Long before she was formally canonized, Clare had already become a saint in the hearts of the people of Italy and Europe.
— Sr. Liliane, a native of Lebanon, is a Franciscan Missionary of Mary. She has served in a variety of roles — teaching, leadership and formation — in many locations including the Middle East, France, Morocco, Rome, Egypt and the United States. The image above was painted by Sr. Maria van Galen, FMM, of Palm Island, Australia.