Words on the Word

St Clare of Assisi

It is said that Francis and Clare are the most popular saints of the Latin Church. To be popular is not the same as being well known. The image of Francis and Clare is so thickly overlaid with hippified sentiment that, if we’re not careful, they can appear as cartoon figures bounding along through poppy-filled meadows, singing happy songs, on their way to perform some act of kindness to animals. I’m not saying they weren’t attractive. They were. Both had remarkable charisma. Yet at the same time they were steel-willed Gospel revolutionaries. When, one night in 1212, Clare met Francis in stealth at the Porziuncula, had her hair cropped and received a habit like his, she performed a subversive act. She repudiated, in effect, the social order in which she’d been brought up. Her life-long insistence on the ‘privilege of poverty’ shows that she refused to be shackled by aristocratic affluence. Clare, like Francis, was overwhelmed by the greatness of Christ’s work of redemption. She contemplated the Cross and groaned as she reflected how little it is known, how little loved. She saw the world around her self-sufficient, preoccupied with wealth and stuff and status. And she said: Enough! She would know nothing but Christ Crucified. She would proclaim with her life that he alone satisfies the yearning of the human heart. Clare lamented the materialism of thirteenth-century Umbria. What would she make of society today, blind and deaf, it often seems, to anything but the cult of acquisition and comfort? We worry, like she did, that our world is indifferent to the Gospel. But do we who profess it sufficiently display the difference it makes? Do our lives proclaim Christ as real, alive, active, and infinitely lovable? ‘May you always take care’, said St Clare in her testament, ‘to live out what you have promised to the Lord.’ Those are words to take to heart.