THE SAINTS OF SUMMER
EPISODE 3 – SAINT CLARE OF ASSISI
By Cliff Garvey
Saint Clare of Assisi lived for fifty-nine years, from 1194 until 1253. She is venerated as the patron saint of good weather, eye diseases, homemakers, knitters, needle workers, and television. Saint Clare is best known, however, as the dearest friend and most faithful follower of Saint Francis of Assisi. She founded the Poor Ladies of San Damiano, the religious order that we now call the Poor Clares. And perhaps more than any other Franciscan, Saint Clare faithfully lived the gospel life of poverty, simplicity, and service that was preached by her friend and spiritual father, the Poor Man of Assisi.
Saint Clare lived most of her life within the protected walls and locked gates of a cloister. At the same time, she was a person of deep faith, great courage, and profound perseverance. When soldiers attacked Assisi, she confronted them with the Blessed Sacrament and they retreated out of fear of the Lord. When a bishop asked her to compromise her vow of poverty and accept gifts of money and property, she refused and said: “I must be absolved from my sins, but not my obligation to follow the Poor Christ.” And when a pope refused to approve her rule of life, she refused to die until the pope relented…and he did.
Just two days after the Holy Father approved her rule, Saint Clare passed peacefully from this life. Just two years later, in 1255, she was canonized by Pope Alexander IV. And just five years after that, her remains were buried in a secret location beneath the high altar of the church built in her memory. Her tomb was hidden from the world for nearly six hundred years. In 1850, when Saint Clare’s tomb was finally found and opened, her clothing was dust, but her flesh and skeleton were uncorrupted by the wreckage of time. By order of the pope himself, her relics were put on display for God’s people to see and venerate.
These days, when pilgrims visit the Basilica of Saint Clare in Assisi, they descend into the crypt by a steep stone staircase. One first feels a certain coolness, then dim lighting, and then at the end of a winding corridor, Clare lies protected behind glass and an iron grille. She rests upon a wood pallet. One sees a tabernacle which contains the Blessed Sacrament. A votive lamp flickers and reminds pilgrims of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ.
Some pilgrims are blessed to experience the odor of sanctity, a sweet smell of holiness which further reminds them that they are truly present to Clare’s incorrupt relics. Some barely stop to consider that what lies before them are the remains of a real saint. Some seem skeptical. Some walk quickly away. Some simply kneel on the stone floor, rest their heads against the bars, and pray with grateful hearts.
These different reactions to Saint Clare’s tomb are nothing new. For almost two hundred years, pilgrims have been conflicted about her incorrupt mortal remains. For decades, pilgrims approached the tomb and saw Clare’s dark, seemingly charred flesh, dressed in the simple habit of the order that she founded. Some people, especially children, were horrified by the sight. Some were reduced to tears of joy because Clare, the faithful friend of Saint Francis of Assisi was uncorrupted by death. These different reactions speak to an enduring truth. Time passes. Times change. But the hearts of human beings remain much the same.
In their book, A Retreat with Francis & Clare of Assisi, Father Murray Bodo and Dr. Susan Saint Sing write that no one should be surprised to find Clare uncorrupted by time and darkened like burned wood. They write: “Her consuming, passionate love of God, a burning too hot for mortal flesh, has left her body charred and blackened.” But today’s pilgrims see a life-like model of the woman who defied her age, followed her best friend, and embarked on a way of life entirely devoted to the Good News of Jesus.
Saint Clare saw herself as a Bride of Christ. She was consumed by love: a chaste love, a fiery and passionate love for Jesus, who lived, died, and rose again for the salvation of souls, for all people, for the whole world. In one of Saint Clare’s famous letters to Agnes of Prague, we can begin to appreciate her all-consuming love for Jesus. Saint Clare writes:
“Contemplate the unspeakable love with which he wished to suffer upon the wood of the cross, and on it to die the most infamous of deaths. So that from the height of the cross, a voice is directed toward those who pass by, so that they may pause to consider: ‘All of you who pass by on this way, stop and judge if there is a sorrow comparable to mine.’ And we will reply to him who calls and cries out, with one voice and one heart: ‘Your memory will never depart from me and my soul will be consumed.’ Finally, Clare writes: “Contemplate then his unspeakable delights, his riches and eternal honors, and shout fervently with all your love and with every desire: ‘Draw me to yourself, O Heavenly Spouse! We will follow you, drawn by the sweetness of your heavenly scent!'”
As we celebrate the Feast of Saint Clare of Assisi (on August 11th), we pray for her powerful intercession and for the intercession of the holy women who followed her through the centuries into the cloister. We pray for the grace to follow Jesus as they did — with faith, courage, and perseverance. We pray for the favor of a fiery love with which to adore God and to serve each other, brothers and sisters all, children of the Most High God. And at last, we turn again to Clare and we beg for her prayers:
O Saint Clare,
ardent lover of Jesus
in the Most Blessed Sacrament,
help us to grow in love
for Christ Jesus, our Redeemer.
With strong faith and unwavering hope,
gather our wounded church,
our suffering world, and all people
into your loving heart
and lift us up to Jesus
with absolute confidence
in his merciful love.
O Saint Clare,
help us to be like you:
peaceful, kind, gentle,
strong, patient, and persevering
in the face of every difficulty.
Trusting in your powerful intercession,
we confidently praise and thank God, our Father,
for every blessing we have received.
Glory, praise, wisdom, and thanksgiving,
honor, power, and might to our God,
forever and ever. 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 Clare of Assisi, pray for us!
Saint Francis of Assisi, pray for us!
Our Lady of the Angels, pray for us!
The Saints of Summer
Episode 1 – Saint Ann: Grandmother to the World
Episode 2 – Saint Mary Magdalene: Apostle for the Rest of Us
Episode 3 – Saint Clare of Assisi: Consumed by Love
Episode 4 – Saint Rose of Viterbo: Living Witness
Episode 5 – Our Lady of Sorrows: Model of Faith
Episode 6 – Coming Soon
About the Author & 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 Saint Clare of Assisi: Consumed by Love. 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: Photo 166892809 by Rinofelino | 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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