THE LEGEND OF SAINT CLARE
The church and cloister of San Damiano near Assisi is one of the most sacred places in all the world. In its austere simplicity, it still speaks of the life and ministry of Saint Francis and the shining example of Saint Clare, his most faithful friend and follower. In this fourth episode of The Legend of Saint Clare, updated for contemporary readers, Thomas of Celano tells us about the cloister at San Damiano and the harvest of souls that was earned for God by Clare’s lifetime of devotion and good works.
The Legend of Saint Clare
Episode 4 – Harvest
Neither Clare nor Francis believed that the convent of Sant’Angelo di Panzo was the most suitable location for a life of prayer. So Francis arranged for Clare to live at San Damiano, the blessed place where he prayed at the foot of the crucifix and heard the voice of the Lord say three times: “Go! Rebuild my Church which as you can see is falling into ruins!”
In this holy place, Saint Clare settle her heart and mind, heedless to its discomfort and poverty. Here she remained with her spouse, Jesus. Here was the nest where she hatched the silver doves that flew into eternal life. Here she founded the Order of Poor Ladies. Here was the cloister where she sowed a harvest of good works and holiness by a life of prayer, penance, and fasting; a life of discipline and vigils. Here Clare was victorious over all temptations of the devil, over all temptations of the flesh, and over all temptations of the world. Here she subdued her desires for more than forty years and attracted many women into her order.
It is impossible to count all of the people that Clare brought to Christ through the perfume of her virtue. These souls are beyond number, like the stars of heaven and the sands of the sea. The sweet fragrance of her holy name spread around the whole world. From both near and far, widows came to her and drew close. Unmarried virgins came to her and left the world to live with her. Married women came to her for advice and counsel. Some of these women resolved to live in chastity with the support of their husbands. They were inspired by their love for God and by the virtue of Saint Clare.
Noble and high-born women left their wealth, their palaces, and their many possessions. They came to live with her in chastity, fasting, prayer, discipline, and adoration. Queens, duchesses, and royal widows surrendered their jewels, their trinkets, and their worldly vanities. They surrendered their wills to Saint Clare and embraced the religious life.
The fame of her holiness was greater in distant lands beyond the seas than in the city and country where she was born and lived. Even the unbaptized, hearing of her holiness, longed for her and loved her as a gift from heaven. Many, many people aspired to conform their lives to Clare’s super human life which was perfect in all virtue. Mothers urged their daughters to enter the convent. Daughters encouraged their mothers to do the same. Aunts brought their nieces. Good friends and companions brought each other to her. Even during Clare’s lifetime, there was no city or kingdom without a convent established according to her rule and way of life.
Those who entered the Order of Saint Clare to keep poverty, chastity, and obedience were more numerous than bees in springtime who sipped honey from flowers. It seemed like an old prophecy had been fulfilled: “The daughters of God who are chaste will be more than those who have husbands.” So that this abundant spring should not be confined to Assisi, God was pleased to magnify it throughout the whole world. Like a river that overflows its banks and its waters spread out on every side, so it was with Saint Clare, a holy one, a bright star shining in the Church of God.
Although cloistered and shut away from the world, her example was like a trumpet blast. All who heard it, followed it, even those of the highest rank. All who heard it wanted to come close to Saint Clare through humility, poverty, and good works. She was a pure font of the spiritual life!
Clare’s fame spread like the sun that rises in the east and shines over the whole earth. There was no door or window where her light did not enter. There was no country or realm, no city or castle, no village or hamlet where her light did not penetrate the hearts of those who knew of her love. Those who could not leave the world for the cloister followed her example with love and devotion in their secular lives. Holy Mother Church was adorned and beautified by her holiness.
Well done, these noble queens, mighty baronesses, countesses and duchesses, and other gentle women! By following the example of Saint Clare, they traded their luxury rooms for cells of holy simplicity. They made beds of withered leaves, branches, and stones. They encircled themselves with instruments of penance to be more like her in virtue.
Saint Clare was both the beginning and foundation of her holy order. She was the keystone in the fabric of holy humility. She promised to God, to the Blessed Mother, and to the Holy Father Francis that she would keep obedience with her whole heart. To this promise she was ever faithful.
Even though she was as young as the other sisters in the convent, they desired that she should serve as their superior. Saint Francis blessed this holy wish. But Clare, in all humility, refused to be the superior because she longed to serve and obey others, rather than be served and obeyed herself. Finally, Clare accepted the will of Saint Francis and her sisters. She bowed her head in holy obedience, consented to serve as abbess, and promised to care for her sisters in things both temporal and eternal.
In the exercise of her holy office, Clare was never proud. She did not lord over the sisters as a superior. She was always humble. Although she was set above the rest, she held herself in no esteem. She was always ready to serve. She wore the most plain and simple habit. And she was eager to do the lowest of chores or to share in doing such work.
Clare would often hold the basin so the other sisters could wash their hands. She served their meals. She never gave an instruction that she was unwilling to follow herself. Clare nursed the sick. She washed their sores. She swept the infirmary. She sat up all night with those in need of care. She never turned away from any sick person, no matter how loathsome their illness. Her spirit lived with God and she worked by his grace!
When the sisters returned from some errand, Clare washed and kissed their feet. One time, after washing the feet of a sister, she bent down to kiss them, but the sister was ashamed that Clare would humble herself in this way. The sister withdrew one of her feet and actually kicked Clare in the face! The sister wept bitterly , threw herself upon the ground, and begged for mercy. Saint Clare lifted her up, gently consoled her, and kissed her foot upon its sole, whereas before she would have kissed just the top!
In the next episode of The Legend of Saint Clare, we learn about a miracle related to the saint’s vow of poverty. Until then, we bless God and praise his holy name: 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
- Episode 1 – Beginnings
- Episode 2 – Vows
- Episode 3 – Sisters
- Episode 4 – Harvest
- Episode 5 – Miracle
- Episode 6 – Mortification
- More Coming Soon!
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 4 – Harvest of Souls. 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!
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