THE LEGEND OF SAINT CLARE
Nearly eight centuries after they passed from this life, the two sisters lie under the same roof in Assisi, where they await the glory of the last day. Countless pilgrims pass by the incorrupt remains of Saint Clare, but her sister, Saint Agnes, is often overlooked. Her relics rest in a small chapel within the Basilica of Saint Clare. The Chapel of Saint Agnes is a place of silence, a refuge of prayer, and the site of many miracles. Clare and Agnes were the first women to leave the world in order to become followers of Francis Bernadone, the Poor Man of Assisi. In this third episode of The Legend of Saint Clare, updated for contemporary readers, Thomas of Celano tells the story of two sisters who lived the Gospel, shared God’s love, and helped Saint Francis rebuild the Church.
The Legend of Saint Clare
Episode 3: Sisters
After her conversion, Saint Clare remained for fifteen days at the Convent of Sant’Angelo di Panzo. Each day, Clare was visited by Agnes, her dearest friend and younger sister by three years. With great care and diligence, Clare taught Agnes how to love God, encouraged her to leave the world, and prayed for her religious vocation. God heard Clare’s prayers and touched the heart of her sister. Because of this, Agnes could not sleep because she was so eager to be with Clare and remain with her at the convent in God’s service.
When morning broke, Agnes went to the convent and said: “My sister, I have come with the firm intention to never return home, but to die here with you in the service of our God.” When Saint Clare heard these words, she embraced Agnes with joy and said: “Blessed be our Lord Jesus Christ, who has enlightened your heart and has granted what was prayed for! My sister, you are blessed because you have learned how to discern God’s will!”
Clare took Agnes by the hand, led her to the altar, and entrusted her into the Lord’s care. Clare then began to instruct her sister in the practices of the religious life. She urged her to be strong and unwavering in her vocation. She urged her not to be swayed by either the threats or fair words of their family members. As God gave Clare the grace, so Clare taught Agnes. For Clare was sure that their kinsfolk would come, rage against Agnes, and attack her. But Clare was comforted that as God had helped her, so he would help Agnes overcome all opposition.
When their family heard the news that Agnes had taken the veil like her sister, their anger knew no bounds. The most angry of all was Uncle Monaldo. The family rushed to the convent. They knew that they could not convince Clare, but they hoped that they could scare her into surrendering Agnes into their hands. They arrived with armed guards. Seeking to hide their true purpose, they entered the convent peacefully. Fearing Clare’s strength and commitment, they first sought to persuade Agnes. They said: “Why have you done this? Come home with us!” Agnes replied: “I will never leave Jesus. I will never leave my sister.”
In response, the armed guards attacked Agnes. They kicked her, beat her, and dragged her from the convent. Knowing that she could not prevail against such violent force, Agnes cried out in a loud voice: “Sister Clare, help me! Save me from being torn away from my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!” Seeing that she could not save her sister with human hands, Clare turned to the Lord in prayer.
Meanwhile, the persecutors behaved like ravenous wolves. They dragged Agnes by her hair across the fields, over the hills, and through a tangle of thorns and briars. Torn from her head, the holy maiden’s hair was scattered across the ground. As Agnes resisted, they beat her without mercy until her tender face was bruised and bloodied. At last, stunned by their blows, Agnes fell to the ground as if dead. Her cruel relatives then tried to lift her up and carry her off. But God never abandons those who trust him and serve him with a pure heart. So the Lord blessed Agnes with such strength and weight that they were unable to raise her from the ground.
Attracted by the commotion, many of the local people arrived and tried to help lift her up. But the more they tried, the less they could move her. Jeering at Agnes, they said: “This girl must have eaten lead to make her so heavy!” They stood around her out of breath and exhausted. By this time, Uncle Monaldo was filled with rage. He struck Agnes across the face, but God punished him with a fierce and sudden pain that shot through his arm and left it withered and useless. Monaldo cried out: “I am dying!” Accursed and losing strength, the others tried again to lift Agnes and carry her away, but their efforts were in vain. They still could not move her.
During this time, Clare continued to pray. She begged God to help her sister and she felt confident that Agnes would be saved. Clare then left the convent and went in search of her sister. The way was revealed by the hair that was torn from her sister’s head and by the blood that flowed from her wounds. When Saint Clare found Agnes, who appeared to be dead upon the ground, she raised her voice and called out to the wicked ones: “You are all wretched men! Do you not fear the wrath of God? Do you think you can win a struggle against him? Even if you came with an army of a thousand soldiers, you could never move her!” Hearing these words, the family and the guards were seized with fright. They finally slunk away and left the sisters in peace.
Saint Clare took Agnes by the hand and said to her: “Arise, my sister, arise! Jesus is on our side! Let us go and serve the Lord!” At these words, Agnes stood up as if no evil had befallen her. They returned to the convent. And they praised and thanked God for all of his mercies. When Saint Francis heard about what Agnes had suffered and that she had returned to the convent, he thanked the Most High God. Accompanied by other friars, Francis visited the sisters. He instructed Agnes in the rule of life, gave her the habit of a nun, tonsured what was left of her hair, and veiled her like Clare. God would work many miracles through the blessed Agnes, but first, there is much more to come in the legend of Saint Clare.
A Prayer by Saint Agnes of Assisi
O Lord, I come to you in prayer
to find the food and life of my soul.
As I hope in you,
inspire within me a confident faith
to approach your holy sanctuary.
help me to grow closer to you,
so that my whole soul may do homage
to the greatness of your divine life:
so that my heart with its most tender affections,
may acknowledge and embrace
your infinite love. 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! Saint Agnes 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 3: Sisters. 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 email@example.com. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. May the Lord give you peace!
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