Feastday: August 17
"How long I have waited for someone
I could trust with My Cross"
These words were said by our Lord Jesus in a vision to St. Clare of Montefalco.
In the Chapel of the Holy Cross in Montefalco, Italy, there is a fresco depicting Christ, dressed as a poor pilgrim, His Face weary from the weight of the Cross, His Body showing the outward signs of the long, hard journey carrying His Cross. In the foreground we see Clare kneeling, trying to keep Him from going any further, pleading, "Lord, where are You going?"
To which, Christ responds, "I have searched the whole world for a strong place to plant firmly this Cross, and I have not found one."
In the Nuns' Chapel, there is another small fresco. Clare is looking up to Jesus, her hands outstretched touching the Cross, expressing all the years of longing to share Jesus' Cross. Our Lord's Face is no longer gaunt with exhaustion, but beaming with love and joy. His Journey is over. He says to her, "Yes, Clare, here I have found a place for My Cross, at last, someone I could trust with My Cross," and He thrust it in her heart.
This was truly a cross for Clare to carry, which she did for the rest of her life. But more importantly, these words were to be hope in, and understanding of, the crosses we are called to carry in our own lives. Jesus could bear the Cross because He knew and believed in the Love of the Father and His Promise of the Resurrection. Clare adored and carried the Cross of Jesus, confident that she could trust in Him and His Promise to her. I pray our beloved St. Clare will be for you what she has been for us, truth in a world that encourages lies, hope in a world that promotes hopelessness.
Clare confided to her cousin Giovanna seven years later, this Vision which had occurred at the beginning of 1294. The excruciating pain she felt in her entire body, upon receiving the Cross Jesus Himself planted in her heart, remained with her. From that first moment, she was always keenly aware of the Cross she could not only feel but sense with every fiber of her being. He was part of her; her Love, Jesus and she were one in His Cross.
We could not begin to tell you the entire story of St. Clare of Montefalco. We suggest you read our book, Saints and Other Powerful Women in the Church for a more detailed life of St. Clare, but we wanted to share with you some of the highlights of her life, her Passion to share the Cross of Jesus, and the reward Our Lord gave her, which was manifested after her death.
Clare was born to Damiano and Iacopa Vengente in the year 1268. She was one of four children. The eldest, her sister Giovanna, established a hermitage in the year 1271. Giovanna was twenty years old when she and her friend Andreola set out to live a life of prayer and sacrifice in the tiny hermitage her father built for them. In 1274, it was granted approval by the ecclesiastical authorities. Giovanna was then allowed to receive candidates.
The first candidate was her sister Clare, all of six years old. Her holy parents had great devotion to our Lord and His Mother. That and the ongoing, living example of her sister Giovanna and companion Andreola, whom she visited often at the hermitage, surely contributed greatly to Clare's desire to love and serve the Lord through a life of prayer. She was a very alive little girl whom everyone found genuine, perceptive and sensible beyond her years, as well as extremely lovable. From the very beginning, though she was much younger (Giovanna seventeen years her senior), Clare kept up with her two companions, spiritually, prayerfully and penitentially, almost surpassing the mortification practiced by the others. From her earliest childhood years, there had been a burning love inside her for our dear Lord, especially in His Passion. This fire inside her was what gave her the energy and the zeal, her strength to live a life that would be demanding for most, but near impossible for a little girl.
Although she was a saintly little girl, she was a little girl with a very healthy appetite. She was even known to have to fight her craving for some of her mother's homemade dishes. Because of this fondness for certain foods, Clare made a point of strictly observing not only an ongoing, but an increasingly more stringent fast and abstinence during Lent than what was observed by the others in the hermitage.
As no Religious Rule had been established in the hermitage, it is all the more remarkable that Clare faithfully practiced strict obedience to her sister Giovanna, the leader of the group. Once when she broke the rule of silence prescribed to the Community by Giovanna, Clare imposed on herself a penance of standing in a bucket of ice cold water with her arms outstretched high above her head, praying the Lord's Prayer one hundred times.
In 1278, Clare's friend Marina entered the Convent. She was to be followed shortly after, by others, Tommasa, Paola, Illuminata, and Agnese (like our Sr. Agnese of today). This became a problem. Oh what we would do for such problems in our Church today! With more and more girls requesting admittance into their company, it was soon evident they would need a larger hermitage. Giovanna consulted with the members of her Community and other individuals as well, and after prayer and fasting, they decided to move to a hill nearer to the town. Damiano, Giovanna and Clare's father, again set about the building of the new hermitage. He never finished it, however, as the Lord called him Home. It is believed he died in 1280 or 1281. Clare was 12 years old.
On November 22, 1291, Clare's sister Giovanna went to dwell with her Lord and Master, Jesus. People, soon after her death, began calling her Blessed. Many of our Saints before the twelfth century, were proclaimed Saints by popular demand of the townspeople, because of the lives the Saints had lived; and how they had been touched and changed by the Saints' example.
For Clare, the loss of her sister was to cause her pain unlike anything she had ever experienced before. Not even at the death of her father, had Clare cried. Not even when her mother died in Clare's Monastery, did Clare cry. She loved her mother and father very much, but she had not cried. Now she cried for three days and nights. Inconsolable, allowing no one inside of her, she grieved alone, privately. The Nuns were puzzled to see her cry at the death of her sister, as she had not cried for her parents. Concerned and troubled, they approached her asking her the reason for her tears.
She replied, "How is it you do not understand? I weep neither for her (Giovanna) soul or her body, but only for myself. Isn't that who we cry for? Giovanna was to me an example and a mirror of life; everyday she spoke to me of God and of always new and profound and spiritual matters. For this I weep, for nothing else."
The Bishop's representative arrived for the election of a new Abbess. The Nuns unanimously chose Clare. She wept, feeling totally unworthy, and begged them to choose someone else, someone who was holy and wise, claiming she was neither. She had been unsuccessful when she had requested to be allowed to be among the extern sisters during her sister's lifetime, arguing that she was not holy enough to be part of the cloister. Now she was pleading again of her unworthiness, only to have her sister Nuns turn a deaf ear to her objections. She asked the Nuns to present her petition, to the Bishop, stating she was unqualified spiritually and totally lacking the necessary wisdom to be Abbess. To her dismay not only did they refuse, but her brother Francesco, to whom she then turned, refused as well. Her many friends from Spoleto, knowing first-hand her holiness and virtue, also denied her last ditch effort to have her unworthiness brought before the Bishop.
All the Saints teach one important lesson, from the Old Testament to today, God uses who they are to do His Work on earth. I can see this persistence of Clare, being molded for His Design. [Author's note: Whenever we wonder "why us" the answer we get is, "Because I chose you, no other reason. Yes, there are others more worthy, but I have chosen you. Now just say `Yes,' and get on with it!"]
"Call me Clare. I am simply Clare," she would plead. She continued to choose the most menial chores for herself, performing them humbly and joyfully. One Friday, when the chapter of the Community was held to discuss the matters of the Monastery, as a point of instruction (or possibly as an example), Clare knelt in the middle of the room and ordered the Sisters to give her the discipline (Name of the small whip or scourge used by some austere Religious orders in penitential practice as a means of bodily mortification) in memory of the Lord's Passion. Like so many before her, Clare had the over-riding desire to share in our Lord's Passion, praying she could take some of the Stripes of Jesus on herself, offering herself as a soothing balm for His Wounds.
Although she felt unworthy and suffered great inner turmoil, she accepted her responsibilities as Abbess and became Mother, teacher, and Spiritual Director to her charges. She helped them to offer to the Lord their individual wants that these might be molded into the Community's needs, thus forming them into one body, one shared, common life. By balancing prayer with the physical work necessary around the Monastery, the lesson of Martha and Mary in the New Testament, was to bring to this Community a joy, an everlasting love. Sensitive to those who felt called to more prayer, she allowed them to pursue it, but with the provision everyone did manual work! She, like another powerful woman we have written about, our Mother Angelica, personally directed each and every one of her Nuns, carefully, unceasingly, guiding them in their everyday spiritual and corporal needs.
On the evening of August the 15th, 1308, she called the Nuns together and left them her spiritual last will and testament, "I offer my soul and all of you, the death of Lord Jesus Christ. Be blessed by God and by me. And I pray, my daughters, that you behave well and that all the work God has had me do for you be blessed. Be humble, obedient; be such women that God may always be praised through you."
After speaking to all of the weeping Nuns, trying to leave them consoled and strengthened, she asked for the Sacrament of Extreme Unction.
When a Nun is dying, each of the Sisters make a sign of the Cross on her. As they attempted to do so to Clare, she gently but firmly protested over and over again, "Why do you sign me, Sisters? I have the crucified Jesus in my heart."
The evening of August 17th, the day she died, the Nuns opened her heart preparing it to place in a Reliquary. To their amazement, Clare's words came alive; there before them were the marks of Jesus Passion! Cradled inside the softness of her grand heart, was the Perfect Form of Jesus Crucified, even to the Crown of Thorns clearly evidenced on his Head, and the lance Wound in His Precious Side. The Lord had not only planted His Crucified Body within the recesses of her heart, but the painful evidence of some of His Sufferings, the means of flagellation in a form of ligaments or tendons, the whip that was used to scourge our Beloved Lord, with the ends showing the metal balls and the jagged bones used to rip our Lord's Skin from His Bones.
The news of this miracle spread! The following Monday, an old adversary, Fra Pietro di Salomone, made his way to the Vicar of the diocese of Spoleto, Msgr. Berengario. He denounced the Nuns, claiming their findings were willfully misrepresented. On Tuesday Monsignor left for Montefalco. Upon arriving there, he immediately called together theologians, lawyers and doctors. The heart was carefully investigated and they all unanimously concluded that the "marks" were not of an explainable scientific nature or of human understanding, in other words, a phenomena, or as we are so happy to say, God leaving another miracle in our midst. There was not only a document drawn by the Church and affirmed by science, but the civil authorities did their own investigation and issued their findings. The heart of Clare did in fact contain this extraordinary sign and it was not the result of any false doings.
Another phenomena or as we prefer to call it, miraculous sign, was the finding of three stones inside her bladder. When the Nuns further investigated they discovered in the gall bladder three gall stones the size of large hazel nuts perfectly equal in size, color, shape and weight. They were found to weigh all the same, one weighing as much as two, two as three, one as three. The Sisters at the Shrine tell us this sign was left to show the love Clare had for the Blessed Trinity. But we wonder if it was not also, possibly to explain the Blessed Trinity as much as The Triune God can be explained. One Person equal to Each of the Other Two Persons, as well as equal to the Two Combined of the other Persons of the Trinity. In the sign left by the Lord, in the body of St. Clare, the three weighed the same as one, the two as one, the one as two or as three, all equal. Coincidence?
God is speaking to His people. Yes, there is nothing new being said, that is of the Lord, outside of the Sacred Word; but when times are such, when we are getting confused as to what is His Word, He not only raises up Saints, but leaves teachings for all generations to see. Is this His Way of saying, "What you do or say today may, like the water that flows, either satisfy man's thirst for the Living God or contaminate his soul, leading him away for all eternity."
Christopher (Topher) Anderson,MWD