September 15th 2010 Extracts from the Holy Father’s Catechesis
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
One of the best loved Saints is without a doubt St Clare of Assisi who lived in the 13th century and was a contemporary of St Francis. Her testimony shows us how indebted the Church is to courageous women, full of faith like her, who can give a crucial impetus to the Church’s renewal.
Born in 1193, Clare belonged to a wealthy aristocratic family. She renounced her noble status and wealth to live in humility and poverty, adopting the lifestyle that Francis of Assisi recommended. Clare, with a daring act inspired by her deep desire to follow Christ and her admiration for Francis, at the age of 18 left her family home and, in the company of a friend, made her way in secret to the Friars Minor at the little Church of the Portiuncula. It was the evening of Palm Sunday 1211.
While his companions lit torches, Francis cut off Clare’s hair and she put on a rough penitential habit. From that moment she had become the virgin bride of Christ, humble and poor, and she consecrated herself totally to him.
Like Clare and her companions, down through history innumerable women have been fascinated by love for Christ which, with the beauty of his Divine Person, fills their hearts. And the entire Church, through the mystical nuptial vocation of consecrated virgins, appears what she will be for ever: the pure and beautiful Bride of Christ.
Especially at the beginning of her religious experience, Francis of Assisi was not only a teacher to Clare whose teachings she was to follow but also a brotherly friend. The friendship between these two Saints is very beautiful and important. Indeed, when two pure souls on fire with the same love for God meet, they find in their friendship with each other a powerful incentive to advance on the path of perfection.
Friendship is one of the noblest and loftiest human sentiments which divine Grace purifies and transfigures.
Clare settled with her first companions at the Church of San Damiano where the Friars Minor had organized a small convent for them. She lived in this Monastery for more than forty years, until her death in 1253.
A first-hand description has come down to us of how these women lived in those years at the beginning of the Franciscan movement. It is the account of Jacques de Vitry, a Flemish Bishop: “… The women live together in various homes not far from the city. They receive nothing but live on the work of their own hands.” Jacques de Vitry had perceptively noticed a characteristic trait of Franciscan spirituality about which Clare was deeply sensitive: the radicalism of poverty associated with total trust in Divine Providence.
Clare was the first woman in the Church’s history who composed a written Rule, submitted for the Pope’s approval, to ensure the preservation of Francis of Assisi’s charism in all the communities of women – large numbers of which were already springing up in her time- that wished to draw inspiration from the example of Francis and Clare.
In the Convent of San Damiano, Clare practised heroically the virtues that should distinguish every Christian: humility, a spirit of piety and penitence and charity. She wanted to serve the sick sisters herself and joyfully subjected herself to the most menial tasks. In fact, charity overcomes all resistance and whoever loves, joyfully performs every sacrifice.
Her faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist was so great that twice a miracle happened. Simply by showing to them the Most Blessed Sacrament distanced the Saracen mercenaries, who were on the point of attacking the convent of San Damiano and pillaging the city of Assisi.
In the Bull of Canonization of St. Clare [we read]: “Truly this light was kept hidden in the cloistered life; and outside them shone with gleaming rays; Clare in fact lay hidden, but her life was revealed to all. Clare was silent, but her fame was shouted out”.
And this is exactly how it was, dear friends: those who change the world for the better are holy , they transform it permanently, instilling in it the energies that only love inspired by the Gospel can elicit. The Saints are humanity’s great benefactors!
Grateful to God who gives us Saints who speak to our hearts and offer us an example of Christian life to imitate, I would like to end with the same words of Blessing that St. Clare composed for her Sisters and which the Poor Clares, who play a precious role in the Church with their prayer and with their work, still preserve today with great devotion. These are words in which the full tenderness of her spiritual motherhood emerges:
“I give you my blessing now while living, and after my death,
in as far as I may: nay, even more than I may,
I call down on you all the blessings
that the Father of Mercies has bestowed and continues to bestow
on his spiritual sons and daughters both in Heaven and on earth,
and with which a spiritual father and mother
have blessed and will bless their spiritual sons and daughters.