St Clare of Assisi - Our Patron Saint
St Clare’s mother broke with convention by giving her the unusual name of Clare. The name "Clare" means light.
St Clare lived at a time of great social change when the feudal system was declining and the new urban classes were coming into existence. St. Francis addressed the issue that the Church was still locked into the feudal, monastic world by leading a group of followers who brought the human Jesus to the urban poor.
In the year 1212 Clare of Assisi, then a girl of 17 or 18 responded to the urging of the Spirit and to the preaching of St. Francis by choosing to follow his radical Gospel way of life.
Noblewomen born during the Middle Ages were allowed few choices about their life. Even though the law permitted them to inherit land, they were expected to marry well and expand the family wealth. Some noblewomen escaped these arranged marriages by joining a religious order, their dowries gaining them admittance into a monastery and an assurance of lifelong security. Clare of Assisi broke with convention; she walked away from both marriage and the traditional monastic life.
Under God's guidance, Clare made her own choices and created a new path. She refused to keep her inheritance of land, for she wanted to live unencumbered. She crossed social boundaries and gave to the lower class what she received from her family. In this act of dis-inheritance, Clare opened a new path for women.
She renounced her privileged position in the nobility, for she believed that having more than she needed denied food and basic necessities to poor people.
She refused to follow the old monastic way, for it spoke to her of wealth and security. Because Clare was not afraid to say no, she was able to be an agent of change in a rigidly stratified, oppressive social system. Clare embraced poverty, humility and charity as companions for her spiritual journey.
One of her sayings was "PRAISE GOD BY YOUR LIFE" especially in the little services you can do for those you live and work with. At the age of 21, Clare agreed to accept the role of abbess, but she never used the term. Until she died, at about sixty years of age, she lived among her sisters as one who served. The sisters who lived with her said that she never asked them to do anything she would not do herself. Clare exhorted her sisters to live as examples and mirrors of God, especially for those with whom they lived.
Clare attended to, honoured, and acted upon her inner experience. She refused to be defined by culture or the church in traditional roles for women. She held fast to her inner truth despite constant misunderstandings and setbacks.
Clare believed in what she did, and she wanted to preserve this new way for women to lead consecrated lives in the church. Against Francis' wishes, she also refused to adopt one of the rules already in existence for religious life. She became the first woman to incorporate her experience, and that of her sisters, into the formulation of a rule.
Clare was a woman of great courage and tenacity. This tenacity enabled her to wait forty years for her Rule, finally obtained on her deathbed and this, in spite of the interdict of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) against the composition of new rules!
Clare of Assisi persisted so that her spiritual descendants could live as she had lived, in the spirit of the Gospels. What she really wanted to adopt and she fought long and hard to get approval from the Pope to do so, was the privilege of poverty - a detachment from material goods that was total. Throughout these years, there is not a trace of revolt or bitterness, but rather a tender and patient waiting.
Among medieval feminine figures, Clare's personality is unique. She is the first woman in Church history to write a Rule for other women (which is still being followed today) - all other Rules for women had been written by men. For this she needed initiative, courage, tenacity, as well as, life experience and a sense of balance.
She introduced a democratic element into the functioning of her community: every sister was given the right to vote and to contribute to community decisions. St Clare is a woman who has much to teach about the skills of living together.
After Francis' death, she was the expert on his vision as well - all came to consult her. She was one of only four women whose writings from the early 13th Century have survived.
During her life people referred to Clare as someone who shone like a radiant star, was a flame of love and the essence of kindness.
Links to some Websites about St Clare and the Poor Clares
- Catholic Online: Saints Also try: St Clare of Assisi
- The Franciscan Experience since 1182, The Life of St Clare
- Catholic Encyclopaedia: The Life of St Clare