THE LEGEND OF SAINT CLARE
Saint Clare and her sisters took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. For Franciscans, poverty is not just about simple living. Poverty is about embracing the reality that we are creatures of the Most High God; and that we are dependent on God for all things and in every way. Poverty is also about imitating the Poor Christ. It is about living a Gospel life. It is about following in the footsteps of Jesus, who was born poor in a manger and died poor on a cross.
Saint Clare took the vow of poverty very seriously. She sought to become a mirror image of the Crucified Christ whom she loved above all else. She practiced humility. She denied herself every luxury. She checked every desire and passion. And she mortified herself. In a spiritual context, to mortify oneself is to live a life of penance and austerity. It is to chasten, discipline, and subdue our longing for comfort and consolation through the pleasures of the world. It is to punish oneself in order to unite oneself with the sufferings of the poor and with the sufferings of the Crucified Christ.
In this sixth episode of The Legend of Saint Clare, updated for contemporary listeners, Thomas of Celano recounts how Clare and her sisters mortified the flesh in exchange for the solace of the spirit. For us, it will sound harsh, but for Saint Clare, it was the way of holiness. It was the way of salvation. It was the way of the Gospel. It was the way of Jesus.
The Legend of Saint Clare
Episode 6 – Mortification
Perhaps it would be better to keep silent about how Saint Clare mortified her flesh because it may seem impossible to understand. Her tunic was made of harsh, coarse cloth. Her cloak was poor and thin. It covered her, but it offered no warmth. Clare always walked about barefoot — even through the snow, even during the coldest winter. She also fasted. She was not alone in these acts of penance. All of her sisters lived the same way. But Clare is unique because she also mortified her delicate flesh by wearing a hair shirt made from the skin of a wild boar. She somehow obtained the boar’s hide before its bristles had been burned away. She wore the rough side next to her bare skin. Just imagine how it must have irritated her tender flesh.
Clare also wore a cilice made of horse hair. This penitential garter was not woven into cloth. Instead, it was knotted like a cord. The knots pierced the skin so that it sometime bled both day and night. A sister once asked if she could wear the boar’s hair shirt, to see if she could bear such a penance. But when she felt the piercing knots, she made haste to remove it. And the cilice, which the sister wore with great difficulty for three days, was also returned to Clare who then wore it always.
Saint Clare slept on bare ground, on a bundle of dried leaves. Her pillow was a stone or a block of oak wood. Such disciplines caused her to become seriously ill. So Saint Francis sent word that Clare should sleep on a simple mattress with a pillow filled with straw. But Clare continued to fast. She ate so little food that it was impossible for her to maintain good health and strength. She ate only bread and water during the Season of Lent and during Saint Martin’s Lent, which begins on All Saint’s Day and lasts until Christmas.
On Sunday mornings, though, out of reverence for the Holy Eucharist, Clare drank from the sacred cup. And throughout the year, Clare would not eat or drink on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. After she practiced these harsh penances for a long time, she became very sick and could not recover. So Saint Francis and the Bishop of Assisi commanded her to eat an ounce and a half of bread every day. But the more Saint Clare mortified herself, the more she increased in divine love, in fervor of spirit, and in cheerfulness of heart.
Clare was always kind and happy. She showed the world that her penance was not difficult, but rather, by God’s grace, brought spiritual comfort and joy. And as she mortified her body, so she kept her mind free and unsullied by the world. 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 Clare of Assisi, pray for us! Saint Francis of Assisi, 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
- Episode 7 – Prayer
- 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 6 – Mortification. 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 Garvey 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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Dedicated to All Who Seek to Imitate the Poor Christ