Thursday, August 11, 2011

August 11 - St. Clare of Assisi, Poor, Devoted, Obligated

Clare of Assisi was a noblewoman of some renown and considerable affluence. Her position and birth guaranteed that she would never be in want or ever have a desire unsatisfied. She lived in a position that was envied by most, if not nearly all, of her contemporaries. One evening, she went to hear the new preacher who had arrived in town. Francis was returning to Assisi where he had started and offering Lenten services. This recent founder of a new religious order of willfully impoverished priests was preaching about his new order and the Gospel of his Lord Jesus Christ when Clare happened to overhear it.Her heart was warmed and she found that he seemed to be speaking directly to her. Indeed, she began to wonder if there might be more to life than things and status.

Later, as she attended a Palm Sunday service she
watched the Bishop as he processed down the aisle handing palms to the eager parishioners. They surged forward grasping for a palm hoping to be a blessed spiritual experience. Clare remained where she was and watched. The bishop noticed her and pushed through the crowd to hand one to her, specifically.Evidently, Clare took this as a final confirmation of God's calling in her life. She left her family that night and fled to where Francis was. At her request, he cut her hair, gave her a rough brown robe to wear, and helped her start a journey of devotion to the Gospel and love. As she laid aside her expensive clothes and donned a rough brown robe with a rope for a belt, she continued the process that started with her first profession--the redemption of her heart, mind, soul, and body.

Clare became the founder of an order of women much like Francis' Order of Friars Minor. They depended upon the alms of the people and established, even, a vow of corporate poverty--meaning that
even the order, itself, would be impoverished and not just its members. This was not typical for the majority of monastic orders--Benedictine in nature--but was the vow of Francis' order. Since Clare looked to Francis as a spiritual father, she took this vow for herself and her order, as well. Her connection to Francis was significant and even included her taking care of him as he died. Clare took care of Francis as she had taken care of so many others--with the compassion and mercy that she hoped she would offer Jesus himself. For Clare, there was no distinction between the poor and the powerful. She had left that world behind and, instead, had become a part of a Kingdom where the last were first, Jesus was among sinners and outcasts, and life-worth-living was only found through death.

Many would endeavor to release some of the restriction that Clare placed upon herself and her order (who would become known--after her death--as the "Poor Clares").
They hoped to rescind the vow of corporate poverty and provide for the needs of the women by providing corporate possessions since they viewed an order of cloistered women in abject poverty as impractical. Clare resisted this change because she understood the vow she and her compatriots had made as important and formative. They had cast away everything so they might find the Kingdom. They had died to self so that they might find life and they had no interest in anything less. Pope Gregory IX suspected that Clare was afraid to change because she would be violating a vow she had made and, therefore, sinning. He offered to absolve her of the sin. She responded: "Holy Father, I crave for absolution from my sins, but not from the obligation of following Jesus Christ." The vow of poverty was upheld at Clare's insistence.

For Clare, a life that lacked devotion and obligation was of no value. She turned away from the life of privilege that her Count father and Countess mother had provided her because she understood is as saccharine sweet indulgence. She yearned for life more abundant and deeply lived than what the world could offer. In her devotion--in her much sought obligation--she found the Kingdom. In finding the Kingdom, she was transformed into an instrument of mercy, grace, peace, and love in the world. Her life, and the life of her order, impacted many in their pursuit of the narrow way of self-sacrifice and love that is the Kingdom of God.

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