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St Francis and St Clare of Assisi

The spirit behind Francis and Clare’s passionate and singlehearted following of Christ is expressed well in the following:

“Francis and Clare’s founding charism was characterised by: their deep relationship with God-Creator, with the crucified Christ, and with the Spirit; a relationship in freedom and equality, with all the brothers and sisters, without distinction. Clare’s Rule and writings are a powerful witness to her sisterly love and concern for all her sisters, and ‘to build up a bond of unity among them’. Francis’ relationship with creation was truly one of brotherhood and sisterhood, and has marked history.”

“Francis and Clare’s founding charism was characterised by their option for ‘Lady Poverty’ which was expressed in their identification with the poor Christ, and for Francis, with the poor: the marginalised, the outcast in his society, especially the lepers. Their minority stance had social implications, for they moved away from the ‘centre’ to the periphery. Francis, by being inserted among the poor, challenged openly the political, social and economic power structures.

Francis and Clare’s founding charism was characterised by non-violence and peace, which for them was a way of life, and expressed in their relationships. They were peace-givers and peace-makers. Francis’ greeting to all peoples was: “Pace e Bene.” This greeting of peace and goodness was a wish and an invitation. He sincerely wanted all those whom he met to have peace in their hearts and to experience only goodness….It is said of Clare that she reflected peace through all that she said and did in her community at San Damiano.”

(Excerpts from ‘Living Justice – As Artisans of Peace’ Franciscans International publication)

St Clare of Assisi

Clare (1194 – 1253) was from a noble Assisi family and her life would have been carefully mapped out for her. A good marriage to another noble family, would increase the power and wealth of her own. However, Clare had other ideas and going against all the norms of her class and the society of her day she chose a different path for herself.  Her reputation as a young woman with a love for the poor was known throughout Assisi and to St Francis himself. As a young girl she heard Francis preach and was moved to make a radical choice – to leave behind the prestige and wealth of her family, and follow Francis and his brothers in a life lived in voluntary poverty and service, dedicated to Christ and his Gospel. Clare was the first Franciscan woman and lived Francis’ radical ideal of Gospel life in her own unique and authentic way. Others soon joined Clare at San Damiano Monastery in the valley below Assisi. Unlike the Abbesses of great monasteries of that time, Clare’s leadership was marked by profound humility and compassion – washing the feet of her sisters and caring for them in sickness. The effects of her life of contemplation and her intimate relationship with Christ, reached far beyond the walls of the monastery to the wider society and world. In one of several letters written to Agnes of Prague, who also took on the life of the ‘Poor Ladies of Assisi’, Clare wrote of this deep and mystical relationship with Christ;

“Place your mind before the mirror of eternity! Place your soul in the brilliance of glory! Place your heart in the figure of the divine substance! And transform your whole being into the image of the Godhead Itself through contemplation! So that you too may feel what His friends feel as they taste the hidden sweetness which God Himself has reserved from the beginning for those who love Him.”

In her final days Clare gave a blessing to her sisters which ended with these words:“Always be lovers of God and your souls and the souls of your sisters… May the Lord be with you always and, wherever you are, may you be with Him always. Amen.”

 

St Francis of Assisi

St Francis was born in Assisi in about 1182. The son of a wealthy cloth merchant, it seemed that Francis had everything going for him. He was the popular ‘leader’ of the youth of Assisi and led a life of privilege, wealth, parties, dance and song. His dream was to become a ‘Knight’ – off to the crusades to win a war and perhaps a lady’s heart! However, while fighting against the neighbouring town of Perugia Francis was taken prisoner and a year in an horrific prison gave him time to reflect on his life. After trying again to become a knight, Francis had a profound spiritual experience. In the small church of San Damiano in Assisi, as he prayed for guidance in front of an image of the crucified Christ, Francis heard the Lord asking him to ‘Rebuild my Church for it is falling into ruins.’ This was the beginning of an amazing journey for Francis.

After much searching and praying Francis knew he was called to something radically different and he embraced with passion and joy the call of the Crucified Jesus to leave all and follow Him. As a young man Francis had an abhorrence of lepers but after encountering, and embracing a leper on a road outside Assisi, Francis knew with a deep certainty he was to embrace the Gospel life and serve Christ in the most vulnerable and poor.

Towards the end of his life he wrote: “When I was in sin, it seemed too bitter to look on lepers, and the Lord himself led me among them and I showed them mercy.  And when I left them, what had seemed bitter to me was changed into sweetness of mind and body.”

Eventually, others joined Francis, both men and women wanting to live his radical form of Gospel life, some as brothers and others within the context of their married or single lives. At the heart of Francis’ spirituality is right relationships – with God, with all our brothers and sisters, especially the most vulnerable and poor, and with all of creation.

It was written of Francis by St Bonaventure that: “In beautiful things St Francis saw Beauty itself, and through God’s vestiges imprinted on creation, he followed his Beloved everywhere, making from all things a ladder by which he could climb up and embrace Him who is utterly desirable.” Francis is the patron saint of ecology and the environment.
In 1223, while praying on the mountain of La Verna, Francis prayed the following:
“My Lord Jesus Christ, I pray you grant me two graces before I die: the first is that during my life I may feel in my soul and in my body as much as is possible the pain which you, dear Jesus, sustained in the hour of your most bitter passion. The second is that I may feel in my heart, as much as possible, the excessive love with which you, O Son of God, were inflamed with for us.”
(3rd Consideration of the Holy Stigmata from the Little Flowers of St Francis)

God’s response to this prayer was to physically mark Francis with the image of Christ crucified – his hands, feet and side were pierced and bled. We call this the Stigmata. These wounds remained with Francis for the rest of his life. In his Letter to the Whole Order Francis had written: “Hold back nothing of yourself for yourself, so that He who gives Himself totally to you, may receive you totally.” On the mountain of La Verna Francis did indeed hold back nothing of himself, and he became totally one with Christ – his Beloved.

Francis Window Coloured in Frame