Friday, August 6, 2010

Clare of Assisi: Radical Pursuit of Christ

The year was 1212 and the young woman Clare was eighteen years old. In Italian her name was Chiara—“light”—and from childhood she had sought the true light of following Christ. Coming from a noble family situated atop the hill of Assisi, Clare had been promised in marriage to the son of nobility—a financially advantageous arrangements for both parties.

Clare, however, did not want to marry. Instead she wanted to dedicate her life to Christ and serve him with every moment of her day. In particular, she wanted to follow Francis’ model of tending the needy and living in community where social distinctions were discarded. Francis’ example of the Evangelical Life had been noticed by people from all strata of society. The poor and lepers received aid—and genuine love—from Francis and the other Little Brothers. Wealthy merchants were challenged to use their growing income to help those in need instead of simply satisfying their own comforts. Nobility likewise saw a model of humility and the willingness to lay down one’s station in life. Like Bernard of Quintavalle, other well-to-do nobles and merchants soon began to join Francis’ little movement.

Because Clare was from the upper class, she would not have had any regular interaction with Francis from the merchant stratus of the town, and she would not have been able to venture down to the marshlands where he and the brothers lived. However, all of Assisi had heard of his work among the lepers. Moreover, Clare had listened to the small, brown-robed friar preach upon a number of occasions as the cathedral of San Rufino.

Clare wanted to live the same kind of lifestyle—and she had a plan. On Palm Sunday of 1212 she and her maid snuck out of her parents’ wealthy home and stole their way down the hill below Assisi to the small chapel of the Portiuncula. There Francis shaved her head as a sign of her commitment to the life of a nun. (See above photo of the mural portraying Francis consecrating Clare.)

Several brothers then whisked the two women away to the Benedictine convent of San Paolo delle Abbadesse. There they would be safe from any family members who might want to retrieve the young noblewoman and force her into marriage.

Such hostile retrieval of women from becoming nuns was not uncommon in the Middle Ages. Especially if an advantageous marriage was already lined up for them, noble families often kept their daughters from pursuing a spiritual life. However, Clare was beyond their grasp at the convent of San Paolo because of the papal protection that it provided. She would spend the next several weeks there in safety.

Cost—and Reward—of Following Christ

Clare understood the cost of following Christ. She was willing to make the radical commitment of placing him before all human relationships. Such a dedication of one’s life is precisely what our Lord said it would take to follow him:

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life” (Mark 10:30, NIV).

As Clare left behind her most cherished treasures, she gave herself fully to Christ. In time, she also received the persecution spoken about in this passage. However, she also received the many blessings that our Lord promised—a new home, many sisters and a wonderful, abundant life in Jesus!

2010 © Glenn E. Myers

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