The Undying Allure of St. Clare of Assisi

Vatican City, 31 March 2012 (VIS) – Franciscans and Poor Clares throughout the world are currently celebrating the “Clarian Year”, the eighth centenary of the “conversion” and consecration of St. Clare of Assisi (1193-1253) which took place on Palm Sunday 1211 or 1212. For the occasion, Benedict XVI has written a letter to Bishop Domenico Sorrentino of Assisi – Nocera Umbra – Gualdo Tadino, Italy.

The Pope recalls the life story of the founder of the Poor Clares. Following St. Francis’ advice, she attended Palm Sunday Mass dressed in all her finery. She received a palm from the hands of the bishop then, later that night, fled the house of her parents – who had been hoping to marry her to a wealthy man – and went to the Porziuncola where St. Francis and his companions were waiting for her. There Clare renounced the world, Francis cut her hair and she adopted the black veil and rough sandals which became the first habit of the Poor Clares.

Clare’s history “also speaks to our generation, and has a particular fascination for the young”, the Holy Father says. Francis had a good reason for advising Clare to flee her parents’ house at the beginning of Holy Week. “All Christian life, and thus also consecrated life”, he writes, “is the fruit of the Paschal Mystery and of our participation in the death and resurrection of Christ. In the Palm Sunday liturgy pain and glory come together, a theme which will be developed over the following days through the dark night of the Passion up to the ultimate light of Easter. With her choice Clare relived this mystery”.

“At its most profound level, Clare’s ‘conversion’ is a conversion of love. No longer would she have the refined dress of the Assisan aristocracy, but an elegance of soul expressed in praise of God and giving of self. Day by day a fraternity came into being within the confines of the monastery of San Damiano, at the school of the Eucharistic Christ, … a fraternity regulated by love of God and prayer, by concern for others and service. It was in this context of profound faith and great humanity that Clare came to interpret the Franciscan ideal, imploring the ‘privilege’ of poverty and renouncing even the shared possession of material goods, something which left even the Supreme Pontiff perplexed, until in the end he too surrendered to the heroism of her sanctity”.

The Holy Father continues: “How can we not present St. Clare, and St. Francis, to the young people of today? The time dividing us from these two saints has not lessened their allure. Quite the contrary, their contemporary importance is evident in the face of the illusions and delusions which often mark the life of modern youth. Never has a time caused the young to dream so much, with the multiple attractions of a life in which everything seems possible and permissible. And yet, how much dissatisfaction exists, how many times the search for happiness and self-realisation follows paths which lead to artificial paradises such as those of drugs and unbridled sensuality. And the current situation, with the difficulty of finding dignified work and forming a united and happy family, adds further clouds to the horizon.

“Yet”, the Pope adds in conclusion, “there is no lack of young people who, even in our own times, accept the invitation to entrust themselves to Christ and to face the journey of life courageously, responsibly and hopefully, choosing even to leave everything to follow Him and serve their brethren. The story of Clare, with that of Francis, is an invitation to reflect upon the meaning of life and to seek the secret of true joy in God. It is concrete proof that those who accomplish the will of God and trust in Him not only lose nothing, but discover the real treasure which gives meaning to everything”.

Ronald L. Pihokker, M.A. Ed.
Catechetical Office – Archdiocese of Newark
(973) 497-4291