Updated: Apr 15, 2020
It was the first day of Holy Week, Palm Sunday, in the year 1212 that Chiara Offreducio acted decisively on her vocational inspiration – leaving the comfort of her family home with all of its wealth, security and predictability to begin her simple Gospel life behind the wall of the cloister. Therefore, I can’t help but think of Palm Sunday as a kind of a minor feast day of Saint Clare. In honor of this minor feast, here are some considerations on her life
for our times.
St. Clare in Quarantine
Thirteenth century saints, especially cloistered nuns, may seem unrelatable. Saints closer to us in time may more easily capture our attention and devotion. We can look at actual photographs of them, there is usually a whole lot more information about them, and the circumstances of their lives are simply closer to our own experience. As our lives have been subjected to radical, unforeseen alterations in these last weeks, suddenly new light is cast on the cloister and specifically on Saint Clare.
42 years of self-imposed quarantine is only one reason that Chiara Offreducio, Saint Clare of Assisi, is a saint for precisely this present crisis.
The life of a nun is a quarantine of sorts: restricted movement, small quarters, working from home, and extremely limited contact with others. One might even say that they invented social distancing. Plus, nuns are known for rather stringent cleaning norms.
Not going out, nuns learn how to go in. Quarantine could be a call to make the journey within more readily and more deeply.
St. Clare Stricken with Illness
Not only was Saint Clare self-quarantined in the convent of San Damiano by choice, but she was also sick for 28 years of her life and often bed-ridden, not by choice. She knew from experience what the sick feel when it seems your body is working against and not for you. She would have experienced the feeling of helplessness that accompanies sickness and she must have battled both the discouragement and the self-pity that lurk around the beds of the sick. And alongside those tempters there is always pride which can come in the form of resistance to being cared for, being served, by another. And then there is always the threat of fear. No doubt there was fear for her too.
Becoming a saint requires overcoming, not so much through will-power and human striving, but through ever deepened surrender, acceptance and dependence on the One Who has already overcome, the One Who has faced the tempter and has overcome him. Saint Clare illuminates this path for us. She was a sick person who didn’t get better, but she became a saint.
“Suffer with Him,” she wrote, “and you will reign with Him.”
St. Clare the Caregiver
Saint Clare was also a caregiver. When others fell ill she “greedily” took the most distasteful chores surrounding their care: cleaning wounds, disinfecting sleeping mats and changing bandages. The testimonies for her canonization constitute a kind of litany of charity for the sick. Charity is a word that will be synonymous with this crisis when the history of the coronavirus pandemic is written, I hope. We are experiencing a worldwide, constant opportunity for charity, the same charity that Our Father teaches us, charity that is like the sun who shines its warm rays on all alike.
St. Clare the Warrior
The experience of military invasion must be left to my imagination, having never lived through one, but Saint Clare went through it more than once, and because of her rock-solid trust in God, she thwarted the enemy. Our invaders are not mercenary brutes bent on rape and pillage but microscopic villains who need not scale monastery walls because they travel into places unbidden by their own unseen paths. Different though they be, invaders are put to flight by the same fail-proof method: rock-solid trust in God. In our case, besides the virus, the invader is fear and fear is the favored tool of our ancient enemy, the devil. He is put to flight by faith. Now is a time for unflinching faith.
St. Clare the Healer
After her death and even during life, Clare was and is known for possessing the gift of healing. In addition to nursing the sick, she very often healed the sick. By sisters, friars, and towns people alike, Clare was sought out for healing and those who asked, received. She was simple in her methods, with her characteristic rock-solid trust in God, she made the sign of the cross over the sick person and they were cured.
After she died, sick people still sought her intercession, at least for a time, and I hope still do. In one early account, a blind man had some kind of an inner vision in which a beautiful lady asked him, “Why do you not come to me to be cured?” When the man put it together that the lady matched the description of Chiara Offreducio, he set out for her tomb to pray for a healing, which he immediately received.
St. Clare as Inspiration for us
In one of the particularly terrifying invasions the sisters lived through, St. Clare heard Jesus say to her from the Eucharist with the voice of a child, “I will always take care of you.” The words were audible and the two sisters who were holding the frail and ailing Clare upright heard them too. Chiara heard and believed; like another handmaid of the Lord, let us follow suit. Let us repeat the words of Jesus to one another, and to others “He will always take care of us.” Let us pray for a rock-solid faith to repel the enemy and the fear he stirs up; let us radiate charity toward all and hope for a future filled with light.
O God, You Who filled the heart of St. Clare with love for the mysteries of the Cross
and caused her to rejoice to share in the sufferings of Christ,
grant that through her example and prayers all who suffer in mind, heart or body
may find serenity in suffering, faith in time of trial, hope in your healing mercy
and be given a share in the everlasting light and love of your heavenly kingdom.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Mother Clare, CFR