St. Francis of Assisi - lover of all creation




Clare's Lesson

Excerpt from To Live as Francis Lived: A Guide for Secular Franciscans,
by
Leonard Foley, O.F.M., Jovian Weigel, O.F.M., and Patti Normile, S.F.O.

    To consider Franciscan life without reflecting on Clare of Assisi is like having a one-sided coin, a song without music, a rainbow without sunshine. Clare was young and in love with life when she witnessed Francis' fervor in following Christ. She might have blushed when she saw Francis, several years her senior, relinquish all he had, even the clothes from his back, to his father, Pietro Bernardone. Perhaps she knew from that moment that she and Francis were spiritual brother and sister because in returning to his earthly father everything he had given him, Francis acknowledged that God in heaven was now his only Father. Francis and Clare were lovers also, though not in the usual way the world views lovers, but a man and woman who loved God with their whole hearts and souls and in that love enveloped each other.

    What does Clare teach us about following Jesus? She teaches us to follow Francis, who followed Jesus so perfectly and so literally in pursuit of poverty, desiring nothing more than the Lord. Clare teaches us that we can be committed faithful followers of Francis and of Jesus while doing it in our own unique way in accord with our circumstances in life.

    Both Clare and Francis sacrificed all attachment to material possessions in their search for the Christian life they were called to follow. Francis' journey took him to distant places in his world. He walked hundreds of miles around the peninsula now called Italy. He ventured to the land of the sultan of Damietta. In contrast Clare journeyed the short distance from her father's home to the little Church of Saint Mary of the Angels, which Francis dubbed the Portiuncula or "Little Portion." There she was received by the brothers. After a brief stay with Benedictine nuns, she was to spend the remainder of her life in the convent of San Damiano, the little chapel where the Lord had spoken to Francis from the crucifix saying, "Go and rebuild my Church."

    Clare was to have a permanent home. Francis had special places he visited but if he were alive today, we might say he had no permanent mailing address. Francis met and preached to unknown numbers of people—on the dusty roads, in city squares, in churches and chapels around the countryside, in foreign tents. Clare spread God's love through prayer which attracted followers to her Franciscan way of life. Her prayers brought healings. She wrote letters to those in foreign lands encouraging them in their Franciscan journeys. But she stayed close to home at San Damiano. Two dramatically different lifestyles followed the same goal: loving God with all their heart and soul and mind and strength.

    Few of us are called to give away everything we possess. In many cases, that might actually be an ungodly thing to do because we have responsibilities for others—spouses, children, aging parents—that God entrusts to us. God has given us special gifts to use for his purposes—as workers in the marketplace, friends in the community, healers of the brokenhearted, lovers of the downtrodden.

    We won't shed our clothes on our village square in exchange for a ragged tunic with rope belt as Francis did. We won't have our hair shorn as a sign of humility in imitation of Clare. But we can devote our lives to following Jesus in the way of Francis and Clare in ways adapted to the time in which we live. The challenge of Francis and Clare is to discover that way and to persevere on its path in our own times in our own ways.


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