THE LEGEND OF SAINT CLARE
Located about one mile from the City of Assisi, the convent of Sant’Angelo di Panzo was built during the tenth century over the ruins of a Roman village. Its convent church was dedicated to Saint Michael the Archangel, who is venerated as both patron and protector of the Roman Catholic Church. It seems fitting that Saint Clare of Assisi, who helped Saint Francis rebuild and reform the Church, found her first home here after taking the vows of religious life. In this second episode of The Legend of Saint Clare, updated for contemporary listeners, Thomas of Celano recounts Clare’s stunning departure from the world; her renunciation of society’s expectations; and finally, her arrival at the small convent where she began her life of prayer and poverty.
The Legend of Saint Clare
Episode 2: Vows
So that the dust of sin would neither darken nor dirty Clare’s heart, Saint Francis set out to deliver her from a world of gloom and lead her to embrace the religious life. As Palm Sunday approached, the holy maiden met Saint Francis and asked him for advice about how to follow in his footsteps. With great fervor, Francis planned the next phase of Clare’s conversion. He encouraged her to attend Palm Sunday Mass and receive palms with her family and friends. He then invited her to the little church of Saint Mary of the Angels, where should would be received into the religious life. In this way, Francis desired that the joy of Palm Sunday would converted into sorrow for the Passion of Christ.
On that Palm Sunday, Clare dressed in her finest garments and gathered with the other women. They went to church for Mass and to receive a palm from the hands of their bishop. When the rest of the congregation came forward to receive their palms, Clare alone remained in place, unable to follow her companions to the altar. When the bishop saw her, some way off and away from the rest, he was inspired by God and descended from his throne. He approached Clare with paternal tenderness, placed the palm in her hand, and blessed her. Despite this special attention, Clare was not overcome by pride or vanity. Instead, she humbled her heart before God and vowed to carry out her holy purpose.
That night, bidden by Saint Francis, Clare and a trusted companion left the family home, but not by an ordinary door. They went instead to a secret door, hoping that they would find it unlocked; but it was locked and barred and they could not open it. So, Clare prayed to God for guidance. Upon concluding these prayers, she pressed against the locked door with a renewed fervor of spirit. By God’s grace, the door opened, so that Clare and her friend could pass through it and make the journey to Saint Mary of the Angels.
Clare found Francis and his companions. They were praying that nothing would keep her from her holy desire and resolution. Clare entered the little church. Many candles were burning. The friars were singing hymns and prayers with such devotion that the church seemed more like a place in heaven than a place on earth. Clare removed her jewels and rich clothing. She put on a garment of sackcloth. With her whole heart and mind, she renounced all pomp and vanity. She passed from the darkness of Babylon, from the confusion of this miserable world, and she entered into the heavenly Jerusalem, into the holy service of God.
With his own hands, Francis cut and tonsured her hair. He girded her with a knotted cord. He placed upon her head a white veil which was covered by a black veil of thick cloth. It was a most moving sight to see. This delicate young woman, with her angelic face, was just eighteen years old. Clare was now dressed in coarse clothing. She was now shrouded by a thick veil.
Saint Francis insisted that Clare should take the habit and be tonsured here at Saint Mary of the Angels. This was where the rule of the Order of Friars Minor was founded in honor of the Virgin Mary. So, Francis desired that the rule of Saint Clare should make its start from this same place to the honor and glory of the Blessed Mother. Clare vowed to God and to the Blessed Mother in the hands of Saint Francis to observe poverty, chastity, obedience, and perpetual seclusion. With these vows, Francis said to her: “If you observe this rule, I promise you Jesus Christ as your bridegroom and the glories of eternal life.” The poor friars then accompanied Clare to a nearby convent named after Saint Paul, where they entrusted her to the sisters. Francis told Clare to stay there until God decided otherwise. Clare thus remained at the Monastery of Saint Paul, but her friend returned home to Assisi. The whole countryside soon knew about Clare.
Clare’s family was shocked. They were determined to keep her from spending her life in a cloister. In haste, they banded together and rushed to the convent. They decided to kidnap her if they failed to convince her to come home. By God’s grace, they failed to persuade her. So, they hid their anger with fair and crafty words. They flattered Clare. They told her how much they loved her. They promised her lavish gifts if she would give up her vocation. They believed that it was a great shame and dishonor that a daughter of their house, so rich and beautiful, should live in such a poor place. Such a thing had never happened to any of their noble and powerful ancestors. None of them, man or woman, had ever been reduced to such poverty.
To help them understand, Clare approached the altar of the poor chapel. She rested one hand upon the altar cloth. With the other hand, she removed the two veils, the white one and the black one, and she showed them her shaved head. She said that no earthly power could keep her from God’s service. The more her family railed against her, the more her heart was consoled and converted to virtue. God’s love gave her strength to endure their wrath which lasted for many days. The family was not able to shake her determination or move her by either threats or flatteries. At last, seeing that they had failed, the family pressed her no more. In their grief and disappointment, they left the convent without another word.
After some length of days, Francis returned. He escorted Clare to another convent called Sant’Angelo di Panzo which was located on the slope of Mount Subasio. In this new place, Clare was able to rest her mind and devote her whole heart to prayer and contemplation.
A Prayer to Saint Clare of Assisi
O Saint Clare, Spouse of Christ,
teach us to be totally open
and responsive to the Holy Spirit
and its work in our lives.
We ask this in the name of Jesus,
the Poor Crucified One. Amen.
Glory to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen. Saint Francis of Assisi, pray for us! Saint Clare of Assisi, pray for us! Servant of God, Thomas of Celano, pray for us! Our Lady of the Angels, pray for us!
Legend of Saint Clare Podcasts
About the Presenter
Cliff Garvey is a co-founder of the Assisi Project. He is a graduate of the University of Southern Maine, Saint John Seminary College, and the Catholic University of America. Cliff is a writer, spiritual director, retreat leader, and university lecturer. He also serves as Associate Minister of the Catholic Community of Gloucester & Rockport in Massachusetts where his ministry focuses on adult faith formation. Thank you for listening to The Legend of Saint Clare, Episode 2: Vows. The Assisi Project Podcast is produced by the Assisi Project, Inc. For more information about the Assisi Project: A Fellowship of Franciscans in Spirit and our programs and ministries for adults of all ages and backgrounds, please contact Cliff at firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright 2022. All rights reserved. May the Lord give you peace!
Art Credit: Saint Clare of Assisi | Copyright Nicknickko Dreamstime.com
Founded in 2007, the Assisi Project is a Fellowship of Franciscans in Spirit with friends and followers throughout the world. We are dedicated to helping Christian believers of all ages more faithfully live the Gospel of Christ in the spirit of Saint Francis and Saint Clare of Assisi. The Assisi Project is a non-profit, tax exempt charitable organization. All are welcome to support our ministry via PayPal or AmazonSmile (see links below); or by sending a tax-deductible donation to the Assisi Project, Post Office Box 3158, Gloucester, Massachusetts 01931-3158. For more information about the Assisi Project, please contact Cliff Garvey at email@example.com. May the Lord give you peace!
This Week’s Homepage
Dedicated to All Living Poor Clares