Who was St. Clare of Assisi and what does she have to teach us today? On the Feast of St Clare (11 August), a Poor Clare shares her thoughts on the extraordinary young woman from Assisi.
Here is what comes to me when I reflect 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.
Gratitude, Worship, Model
Three concepts, found in the words of Clare’s Testament, offer me 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.
I’ll 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.
Sr. Etta Patton, OSC, is a member of the Poor Clare community in Chesterfield, N.J. USA.
Adapted from www.hnp.org