St. Clare – Disciple and Prayer Warrior

Poor Clares of Chesterfield, N.J. Features

Who was St. Clare of Assisi and what does she have to teach us today? In anticipation of the feast of St. Clare, several Poor Clares from the monastery in Chesterfield, N.J., shared as a collaborative project their thoughts on the extraordinary young woman from Assisi.

Why did I agree to write a reflection on St. Clare?

When I think about St. Clare, my mind ricochets from the story of her life as told by witnesses during the process of canonization, to the wisdom she shared with her sisters – her Testament, Form of Life, and letters to St. Agnes of Prague – to the romanticized portrayals of the Lady Clare and St. Francis from the hagiography of the Legends to the hagiography of Hollywood.

Seriously – what novel thoughts or profound insights could a woman with barely seven years of experience as a Poor Clare nun have? Should I do a scholarly analysis of one of her writings? No, that won’t work. With no fluency in either Latin or medieval Italian, I could hardly pretend to uncover some heretofore hidden meaning in one of Clare’s letters or in her Testament (after suspending scholarly quibbling over the authenticity of said Testament).

Ah, perhaps a poetic paean to her virtues? Hardly. I could be accused – and justly convicted – of being an emotional Italian with a pasta addiction, but never of being poetic, save for a few silly limericks written in my not-totally-misspent youth.

What about something with a theme, like “Clare: a Feminist for the Ages”? Well, yes and no.

Yes, when Clare stepped out of the back door of her family’s home in Assisi, she broke out of the social mold of her day that viewed women as bargaining chips (if the woman was from a wealthy or noble family) or cheap labor (if she was not). However, her goal was not the liberation of womankind through the establishment of a new religious order of cloistered contemplative nuns.

Well, then. Forget about novel thoughts, profound insights, and thought-provoking analyses. Here is what comes to mind when reflecting on our mother, St. Clare.

Clare the Disciple
First and foremost, Clare was a disciple – a disciple of Jesus, a disciple of St. Francis of Assisi. Not in the sense of someone drawn in by the spell of a charismatic leader, but in the sense of one who listened to the words of scripture and recognized those words in the lives and actions of Jesus and Francis. Clare listened to the words of the Gospel. She absorbed those words into her very being. From the time she was a young girl living as a refugee in Perugia, she helped feed the poor and hungry. She lived those words.

She didn’t start off with a written plan, an outline, a strategy. She simply acted, although not impulsively. She had already trained herself to let go of everything she might have feared to lose. (My apologies to Yoda for the paraphrase.) On that Palm Sunday, she discerned a signal in receiving the palm from Bishop Guido of Assisi. She trusted that the God whose words she heard in Scripture would guide her. Her Martha side trusted her Mary, and her Mary side sustained her Martha.

And so she established a community of women from all walks of life, some related by blood or marriage, but all related as sisters in Christ. The women worked and prayed. They were both do-ers and be-ers. The energy of their lives and works radiated beyond Assisi, giving birth to other communities in other places. Clare’s lived vision was so powerful that it has persevered through time.

Members of the Poor Clare community based in Chesterfield. (Photo courtesy of Sr. Etta Patton, OSC)

Gratitude, Worship, Model
Three concepts, found in the words of Clare’s Testament, offer a practical summary of the ideals that shaped her life and vision: Gratitude, worship, model.

Gratitude – “We must express our deepest thanks to our glorious God …” for our vocation, our purpose, our talents – “… the immense gifts that God has bestowed on us.” God comes first; we owe God everything.

Worship – We are to praise, worship and bless our God, to recognize the source of all we have and are.

Model – Our lives must express our faith, make the Gospel message visible to our brothers and sisters, and to the world. How? By our “holy manner of living.” By doing, not saying. With actions, not just talk. By serving, not waiting to be served. By living humbly, faithfully, and authentically, not ostentatiously and disingenuously.

Let’s conclude with some of the words that come to me when I think of Clare: Committed to relationships, including family, friends, community, St. Francis and his brothers. Clare was intelligent, insightful, savvy, and persistent. Long-suffering. Kind, compassionate, generous and thoughtful. Hardworking and devoted. Wily and wise. Strong. A healer, mother, sister, friend, and daughter. A refugee and lady. A prayer warrior. Brave. A defender of her people. A spiritual advisor. A champion of St. Francis’ dream for his brothers. A mentor. Determined and tough, gentle and joyful. Deeply spiritual. Practical. Sensible. Stubborn.

She simply wanted to “live the holy Gospel” – to live in this world as if it were the kingdom of God.

The kind of disciple I pray we all can be.

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