Wednesday, August 11, 1999
First Reading: Deuteronomy 34: 1-12
Psalms: Psalm 66: 1-3, 5, 8, 16-17
Gospel Reading: Matthew 18: 15-20
FEAST OF SAINT CLARE, VIRGIN AND RELIGIOUS FOUNDER
So impressed was Saint Clare of Assisi by the Lenten sermon of Saint Francis of Assisi that she fled her wealthy home at the age of 18. Rather than submitting to her parents' wishes to be married to an influential nobleman, she submitted to Christ and on Palm Sunday in 1212 received the habit from Francis at the Portiuncula. Because Francis had no convent, Clare became a Benedictine nun at St. Paul in Bastia. Her life of edification and example convinced her own sister Agnes and mother to join her in the convent. This catapulted into more aristocratic women joining and soon Francis decided to build a house next to the church at San Damiano where he appointed Clare in 1215 the Mother Superior, a position she held for forty years. Thus the Order of the Poor Clares were founded, though they were at first called "The Poor Ladies of San Damiano." At Francis' request, Pope Gregory IX drew up the first Rule for Clare and her fellow sisters in 1228. The nuns were so intent on practicing an austere life that Francis several times had to step in and reprimand them for being too severe on themselves. Yet Clare insisted on the strict vow of poverty and sought out Pope Innocent IV to receive from him assurance that this vow would be upheld and respected by the Church which his namesake Pope Innocent III and successor Gregory IX had assured. She did this knowing full well the temptations of receiving property and gifts from noble families who sought to bestow their wealth on the Church by lavishing the clergy and religious with gifts in return for favors. Clare wanted this vow to be pure and free from any tainting. Some of the popes rescinded this vow and many of the orders as well as some of those under Francis opted for modification of the rule which relaxed the vow of poverty. Clare would have none of it and she drew up a stricter rule in the spirit of Francis' rule guaranteeing absolute poverty for the Order. Throughout her life Clare sought from the supreme pontiffs the privilege of not receiving any privileges except the grace of God. This dedication to shunning everything of the world to embrace God and His Will paid off in dividends as vocations multiplied a hundredfold while the other orders suffered in recruiting. It was an omen of what has happened today in the religious orders. Those who have stuck by the strict rule their founders established have flourished while those who have slacked off, turning their back on the traditions of their orders, are closing their doors for lack of vocations and inspiration. Clare's dedication and persistence was an inspiration to priests, bishops and even popes during her lifetime. They sought her out for consultation and often offered generous remuneration for her time, but always she refused. Clare grieved greatly at the death of Francis but realized God had much more work for her to finish before He called her home to be with the humble founder of the Franciscans. Clare always had a deep and abiding love for Jesus, especially in the Most Blessed Sacrament and, in 1241 when the Emperor Frederick II threatened at the walls of Assisi, she confidently climbed to the top of the fortress and there held aloft the Eucharist within the Monstrance. She is often depicted in this manner. In the same miraculous way Pope Leo the Great had stopped Attila the Hun at the gates of Rome, Clare's heartfelt prayers were answered and Frederick retreated. Twelve years later, on August 11, 1253 Clare closed her eyes in Assisi for the final time. It was time to join Francis in Heaven. Less than two years after her death Pope Alexander IV canonized this holy foundress of the Poor Clare nuns.