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.
Francis 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.”