Posted on: 07 August 2021
Author:Sister Joan Kerley
The Spirituality of St. Clare of Assisi
Sister Joan Kerley, FMSJ
In chapter 9, “The Legacy of Clare: Living the Life at Depth” (in Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi) Richard Rohr, OFM quotes Pope Alexander IV at Clare’s (1193-1253) canonization in 1255: “Hidden within, she extended herself abroad… She lived in a small cell and will henceforth be known in the cities of the world.” (p.150) For 42 years St. Clare of Assisi lived religious life in the San Damiano monastery where she promoted Francis’s way of life and his ideal of poverty. Rohr states she was “a woman of strength, message and identity” (p.137) and describes her life as one of “structural humility” – a simple ordinary life where the sisters lived in a closed community, with nowhere to hide from themselves and no one to impress. Through her contemplation of the Crucified Christ, Clare wanted to be transformed into him and then to imitate his love for all creation. We are called to do the same today.
In April we reflected on Clare’s prayer method of prayer, gaze, consider, contemplate, and imitate which comes from her Second Letter of Clare to Agnes of Prague (verses 19-20): “Look upon Him Who became contemptible for you, and follow Him, making yourself contemptible in the world for Him. Your Spouse, though more beautiful than the children of men (Ps.44-3), became, for your salvation, the lowest of men, despised, struck, scourged untold times throughout His whole body, and then died amid the suffering of the Cross. O most noble Queen, gaze upon Him, consider Him, contemplate Him as you desire to imitate Him.”
In Clare of Assisi: A Heart Full of Love Ilia Delio, OSF discusses two implicit themes in Clare’s writings: The Holy Spirit (Chapter 8) and the Eucharist (Chapter 7). Delio believes that Clare’s Christocentric theology is empowered by the Spirit who enables her to be drawn to Christ. She attributes her joy and confidence to Holy Spirit’s action in her life and writes “[Clare] expresses three aspects of the spiritual life that reflect the profound role of the Spirit in her life…joy, freedom and dynamic movement. All three aspects of the Spirit permeate her letters to Agnes.” (p. 97) Clare’s lifelong practice of an ever deepening and maturing contemplative gaze on the crucified Christ, led her to find “a well spring of joy in the Spirit, a joy that arose from accepting the poverty of her humanity, from self-identity, from living a virtuous life, and from a heart full of love that could see and respond to the suffering of another.” (p.98) She embraced the cross’s paradox: from Christ’s agonizing death comes life and joy.
A famous icon depicts Clare holding a monstrance up to ward off the Saracens’ attack. While a lovely image, the truth is the monstrance was not developed until several centuries later! According to the sources, she held the Eucharist in its box from the tabernacle in the convent cloister as the Saracens were invading. There, unable to protect the sisters herself, she prayed, asking God to defend them. A voice replied: “I will always defend you.” The Saracens left without harming them or the city. Thus we see Clare’s utter dependence on and faith in God.
Clare’s contemplation led to service, including washing the feet of her sisters. Delio writes: “The lives of Francis and Clare show us that to live a Eucharistic life is to respond to God in the generosity of love… A Eucharistic life is a life of contemplation and transformation... It is, in the language of Clare, following the footprints of Christ and becoming a mirror of Christ in one’s life for others to see and follow.” (p.86) Delio continues: “If Eucharist means finding ourselves internally related to every other person, including our enemies, and embracing the other in love, then it is indeed the source of a truly catholic personality and the seed of a new creation, whereby all humanity is bound in a unity of love. “(p. 90)
Let us pray this Blessing Attributed to St. Clare:
I, Clare, a handmaid of Christ, a little plant of our holy Father Francis, a sister and mother of you and the other Poor Sisters, although unworthy, ask our Lord Jesus Christ through His mercy and through the intercession of His most holy Mother Mary, of Blessed Michael the Archangel and all the holy angels of God, and of all His men and women saints, that the heavenly Father give you and confirm for you this most holy blessing in heaven and on earth. On earth, may He increase [His] grace and virtues among His servants and handmaids of His Church Militant. In heaven, may He exalt and glorify you in His Church Triumphant among all His men and women saints. I bless you in my life and after my death as much as I can and more than I can with all the blessings with which the Father of mercies has and will have blessed His sons and daughters in heaven and on earth. Amen. Always be lovers of God and your souls and the souls of your Sisters, and always be eager to observe what you have promised the Lord. May the Lord be with you always and, wherever you are, may you be with Him always. Amen
(From: Francis and Clare the Complete Works by Regis Armstrong and Ignatius Brady, pp.233-234)