Day 33: St. Clare of Assisi

Born Chiara Offreduccio, St. Clare (1194-1253) was one of the first followers of St. Francis of Assisi. Her father, Favorino Sciffi, was a wealthy representative of an ancient Roman family, owning a palace in Assisi and a castle on the slope of Mount Subasio. Her mother, Ortolana, also belonged to a noble family and was a very devout woman who had taken pilgrimages to as far as the Holy Land. (Ortolona also later joined the monastic order started by St. Clare).

As a child, Clare was devoted to prayer. As was the custom of the times, it is assumed that she was to be married but, at 18 years of age, she first heard Francis preaching a Lenten service, and her life was changed. She asked Francis to help her live in the manner of the Gospel and on Palm Sunday of that year, she left her father’s house and proceeds to meet Francis. She had her hair cut and exchanged her rich gown for a plain robe and veil.

Saint_Clare_of_AssisiFrancis placed Clare in a convent of Benedictine nuns. When her father attempted to force her to return home, she clung to the alter, professing that she would have no other husband but Jesus Christ. Clare then went to a more remote Benedictine monastery (soon joined by her sister) and remained there until a dwelling was built for them next to the church of San Damiano near Assisi. This became the center of Clare’s new order, at first known as “Order of Poor Ladies of San Damiano”, now known as the Order of St. Clare. During her lifetime, this order remained devoutly committed to a life of poverty, work and prayer, while also promoting the growth of Francis’s order, as she viewed him as a spiritual father figure. She often had to resist the orders of popes and church leaders attempting to impose rules on her order that might water down the radical commitment to corporate poverty. It is said that she also thwarted an impending plunder by the army of Frederick II in 1224 by going out to meet them with the Blessed Sacrament on her hands, causing the army to mysteriously flee the city.

Clare died at the age of 59 and was canonized three years later.  For today, take a moment to reflect on her words about love: “We become what we love and who we love shapes what we become. If we love things, we become a thing. If we love nothing, we become nothing. Imitation is not a literal mimicking of Christ, rather it means becoming the image of the beloved, an image disclosed through transformation. This means we are to become vessels of God’s compassionate love for others.”

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Day 17: The Sultan and The Saint

St. Francis of Assisi is well-known for inspiring millions of people over nearly a millenium, but it was his meeting with Muslim sultan al-Malik al-Kamil during the Crusades that showed the promise of radical non-violence as well as the challenges. Appalled by the brutality of the Crusades, Francis crossed the battle lines to meet with sultan al-Kamil. Francis sought to preach the gospel to the sultan even if it meant martyrdom. Instead, Francis received welcome and hospitality. Impressed by Francis’ courage and sincerity, Kamil invited him to stay for a week of conversation. Francis was impressed by the devotion of the Muslims he met, including their call to prayer and use of prayer beads (some say these led to the use of the Angelus and rosary). Neither converted the other, but they gained respect and learned from each other and parted as friends. Francis then tried to persuade Cardinal Pelagious Galvani to make peace with the sultan, but to no avail. On the other hand, Sultan al-Kamil was ready for peace. He provided humane treatment to the defeated Crusaders, in stark contrast to the atrocities committed by the Crusaders when they initially captured Damietta, and eventually succeeded in making a peace agreement with Frederick II in 1229.

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For today, take a minute to reflect on these two quotes:

“Lord, make me an instrument of thy Peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love.” – attributed to St. Francis

“Who could doubt that such goodness, friendship and charity come from God? Men whose parents, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, had died in agony at our hands, whose lands we took, whom we drove naked from their homes, revived us with their own food when we were dying of hunger and showered us with kindness even when we were in their power.” – Oliverus Scholastica, referencing the treatment he received after being defeated and captured by Malik’s forces.