THE LEGEND OF SAINT CLARE
While Saint Francis was called to live a life of apostolic ministry in the world, Saint Clare was called to live a life of quiet stability in a convent. While Francis traveled widely to preach the Gospel, Clare’s witness never went far beyond the gates of her cloister. While it may seem that their lives had little in common, Francis and Clare shared perhaps the greatest thing of all — prayer. In particular, these two friends share a deep devotion to the Poor Christ, who suffered and died on the Cross for us and for the salvation of the world. In this seventh episode of the Legend of Saint Clare, updated here for contemporary readers and listeners, Thomas of Celano (1185-1260) recounts how Clare and her sisters, through God’s grace and mercy, prayed away grave threats to their own lives and to the lives of the good people of Assisi.
The Legend of Saint Clare
Episode 7 – Prayer
Saint Clare spent much of her time in prayer and praising God. Her heart was full of love for Jesus and her spirit soared above all earthly things. She was gentle and inclined to tears. After the sisters prayed the Divine Office together, most of them retired to the dormitory to rest on their pallets, but Clare often remained alone in the church. She knelt before the altar and meditated on the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the holy death that redeemed the world. Overcome by the sufferings of Christ, Clare wept bitter tears. She meditated on the Passion as though she, too, stood beside the Blessed Mother and Mary Magdalene.
While Clare was consumed by prayer, the devil often approached and beat her about the head, so that blood gushed from her ears, mouth, and nose. But the evil one could never force Clare to abandon her prayers. One time, while Clare was praying and weeping over the Passion of Christ, the devil appeared as an ugly child and said to her: “Why do you weep so much? You will soon be blind because of it.” Clare answered: “No one who has God can ever be blind.” Hearing these words, the demon vanished. That same night, another demon appeared. Seeking to conquer Clare’s will to pray, it said: “Why do you weep so much? Your brain will soon fail, decay, leak from your nose, and ruin your face.” Clare answered back: “In spite of you, I will remain steadfast in prayer. I will continue to weep over the Passion of the Lord. And by the grace of God, my Creator, neither my brain nor my face will suffer.”
When Clare rose from prayer, she spoke words that filled the hearts of her sisters with the warmth of God’s love. The sisters marveled at the sweetness of every word. Clare passed almost every night in prayer. She was never idle, praising God always and abounding in acts of charity. On Saturday nights, she swept out the church. At the hour of Matins, she lit the lamps and rang the bells. She roused her sisters and summoned them to praise God and give thanks to his Holy Name.
During the reign of the Emperor Frederick (sic), great wars were raged in the world and God’s Church was persecuted, especially there in the Spoleto Valley. The emperor’s Saracen mercenaries burned towns and villages, destroyed farms and vineyards, and either arrested or murdered men, women, and children alike. The threat from these evil doers spread throughout the land. So Christians hid themselves and few remained.
One day, this vile army drew close to Assisi. With rage and violence, they broke through the convent gate and forced their way into the cloister. At the sight of the soldiers, the sisters were seized by fear and retreated to the dormitory where Clare was lying sick in bed. Through tears, they told her about the soldiers. Clare consoled them. She encouraged them to have faith in Jesus. She told them to be unafraid. Clare asked the sisters to bring her the silver vessel encased in ivory that contained the Body of Christ. She rose from her sick bed, took the Holy Eucharist, and went out to confront the wicked ones. Clare prayed aloud before them: “O Lord, I beg that we poor servants, who you have placed under your care, may not be taken away or fall into the hands of this cruel horde of pagans and infidels! O Lord, protect my sisters because without you, I am unable to save them at this bitter hour!”
From within the pyx that she held most reverently, Clare heard a voice like that of a small child: “I will always keep you in my care.” Saint Clare said in reply: “Dear Lord, may it also please you to deliver the City of Assisi and its people, who help us and provide for us out of love for you.” The voice answered back: “They will suffer hardships, but in the end, my grace will deliver them and set them free.” Hearing these words, Clare comforted the sisters and called them to praise God for his mercy and protection. And so they did. At this same moment, as God willed it, the enemy turned and fled. Saint Clare then begged her sisters to keep silent about the voice until after she passed from this life.
On another occasion, a tyrant called Vitale came from afar to lay siege against Assisi. Vitale was a captain in the emperor’s army. He was a proud and wicked man, mighty in battle and eager for glory. His troops surrounded the city. They swore to remain until the city surrendered. Afraid and isolated, Assisi considered a surrender. When Saint Clare heard about this possibility, she gathered her sisters together and said: “Dear daughters and sisters, our city is in great danger. Its citizens provide for our needs, generously offering their alms. As they do unto us, so we must do unto them. To show that we are grateful, we must remove our veils, sprinkle ashes upon our heads, kneel in prayer, and beg the Lord to save our city.” Straightaway, the sisters did as Clare commanded. In God’s mercy, their prayers were heard. At sunrise the next morning, the army departed and never returned.
It is no great miracle that the prayers of Saint Clare prevailed against wicked men, because by virtue of her holy name, even the hosts of hell were conquered and put to flight. A woman from Perugia once came and thanked Clare. She was tormented by five demons, but they left her at last, crying out in retreat: “We cannot remain here because the holiness of Saint Clare of Assisi is so great in these parts that we are forced to flee! And wherever the perfume of her virtue is found, we will be defeated again and again with great shame!”
Pope Gregory IX (1170-1241) also held Saint Clare in high esteem. He often experienced the consolation of her prayers. While he was a cardinal, Clare predicted that he would become pope. As both Cardinal Priest and Vicar of Christ, whenever he was sorrowful, perplexed, or afflicted by temptation, Gregory wrote to Clare, asked for prayers, and invariably discerned their benefit.
From these legends and by God’s grace, we learn about Saint Clare of Assisi and the power of prayer in our suffering 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 Francis of Assisi, pray for us! Saint Clare 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 7 – Prayer. 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 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 (see link 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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In Memory of Reverend John J. Feeney