The church remembers St. Clare of Assisi each year on August 11th, on the day of her death. At St. Francis Lutheran Church, we will remember her in worship on Sunday, August 7th, the Sunday before her feast day.
Why should we remember St. Clare of Assisi (Santa Clara) and what can her story bring to our lives and circumstances? We remember St. Clare, first of all, because her life was closely linked with the life of St. Francis from whom our congregation has taken not only its name but also the inspiration of living the gospel courageously and sincerely. Beyond her connection with St. Francis, the story of St. Clare is well worth remembering for its own sake.
St. Clare (1194 – 1253) was a remarkable woman, who combined deep humility with surprising defiance as she sought to live out the gospel as she understood it. Like Francis, she came from a very wealthy family. At the age of 15, arrangements had been made for Clare to marry, but she refused. At age 18 she ran away from home to embark on a life of poverty and simplicity inspired by the sermons of Francis. From there on she would not allow anything but the Gospels determine her actions, and for that she was willing to defy family, convention, and even cardinals and popes. This was more than 300 years before Martin Luther famously said: “Here I stand, I can do no other.”
Her escape from her family was the beginning of a life-long spiritual partnership between Francis and Clare. Clare eventually established a women’s community at San Damiano, a distance of about a mile and a half from Assisi where Francis had founded a community of men. Under the leadership of Clare, the women at San Damiano embraced a life of radical poverty, simplicity, and seclusion from the world. They went barefoot, slept on the ground, ate no meat and observed almost complete silence. This strict lifestyle met with much opposition, but Clare never stopped defending the right of the “Poor Clares” (as her order came to be known) to live according to their rule. In fact, it was she who wrote the rule for her community, a bold and unusual move at the time.
Francis and Clare often turned to each other for advice and inspiration. They were each other’s life-long defenders and protectors. When Francis was torn between a life of prayer and one of preaching, it was Clare who advised him to preach. The Canticle of Brother Sun, Francis’s masterpiece of poetry, was composed while he camped outside of San Damiano. When Francis was afflicted with the stigmata, Clare made him slippers to protect his bleeding feet.
Despite the self-chosen harshness of her life, Clare is described in many accounts as a happy, cheerful, charming and optimistic woman. She would get up late at night to tuck in her sisters who had kicked off their covers. Like Francis, she saw God in all things – the natural world, the sick and the beggars who came to her. She felt the power of God, the ecstasy of love, and the beauty of silence.
What inspiration can we take from her story? Whenever we experience pressure to conform to the expectations of others, Clare’s single-minded insistence on the Gospel alone can remind us where true fulfillment is found. Whenever we get overwhelmed by the complexities of life, Clare’s embrace of simplicity can inspire us to seek new ways to uncomplicate our life. And whenever we think that we have to do everything by ourselves, Clare and Francis’s spiritual partnership can remind us of the benefits of friendship and community. Thanks be to God for this remarkable woman and the inspiration of her life.
Pastor Bea Chun