On August 11th we will celebrate the feast of St. Clare of Assisi, co-foundress the Order of Poor Clares and co-patroness of our diocese of San José. Even though our county is named after St. Clare, many people do not know about her life.
Clare was born on July 16, 1194 into a wealthy aristocratic family in Assisi. She enjoyed all the comforts that being a member of a wealthy family affords. Clare’s mother, Ortolana, came from a pious family. She educated all her children in the faith. As the oldest child of three girls, Clare was expected to carry on the family’s business and legacy. But God, who had set Clare apart before she was even born, had a different plan for her life. (cf. Jer. 1:5) Although Clare seemed to have it all – beauty, wealth, prestige—she lacked inner peace and felt like something was missing in her life. Seeing many homeless and poor people in Assisi and the surrounding towns left her perplexed.
One Lent, when Clare was about 17, a man name Francis, who was the son of a very wealthy cloth merchant in Assisi and who had renounced all the wealth of his family, came to preach in the church of San Giorgio in Assisi. It was not the first time that these two great
future saints had crossed paths. In fact, some assert that while growing up, Clare was famous for attending parties held for the wealthy young people of Assisi. And she might have met Francis for the first time at one of those parties before his conversion.
Hearing Francis preach had a huge impact on the course of Clare’s life. Through the preaching of now converted Francis, God kindle the great desire that He had put in Clare’s heart. She subsequently met with Francis in secret and begged him to help her answer the call she had received from God, the call to live a simple and holy life, free from all attachments. Clare would become the first female follower of Francis. She renounced her family’s wealth and social standing to follow the path that the Lord had set for her. She got rid of her opulent clothes and jewels and embraced poverty. Francis cut off her hair, and then escorted her to a nearby Benedictine convent. Clare was joined later by her younger sister Agnes.
Not long after that, Francis gave Clare and the other women—fugitives from the world who had followed her example—the first church he had restored, San Damiano, where he had received his own calling. That was the beginning of the Order of Poor Ladies also known as the Poor Clares. St. Clare was made superior at San Damiano against her will; and she continued to serve as superior for nearly forty years until her death, in 1253. She oversaw the foundation of monasteries of Poor Clares far and wide throughout Europe. God even gave St. Clare the grace to be joined by her younger sister Beatrix, her mother Ortolana, and her faithful Aunt Bianca into the order. As of today, the Order of the Poor Clares has branches in nearly 900 monasteries across five continents.
One question I asked myself as I was reading about St. Clare’s life is: what prompted the rich, young, and beautiful Clare to discover and embrace her vocation?
First, I think seeing how joyful, peaceful, and authentic St. Francis and his followers were, challenged St. Clare to think about her own life. She was amazed that St. Francis, a beggar, was filled with more joy and peace than the most learned, wealthy, and successful men in Assisi who were always worrying about something.
Next, I also suspect that St. Francis might have shared with Clare, his conversion story, his calling, what God had done in his life. Faith comes from what is heard. St. Clare responded to what she heard. The seed of holiness had been planted in her heart.
By virtue of our baptism, the same seed of holiness has been planted in our hearts as well. Like St. Clare, may we respond to the Gospel message inviting us to holiness, to a simplicity of life, to acts of charity. And like St. Francis, may we live authentic Christian lives, may we be joyful disciples of Christ, and may we get into the habit of sharing our conversion stories and testimonies with others. If we do so, the local Church here in the Valley of Santa Clara will be more vibrant and alive, and the whole Santa Clara County will be transformed.
For more information about the life of St. Clare please go to: https://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04004a.htm
St. Clare, pray for us!