Tomorrow is the feast day of St. Clare of Assisi - one of my all-time favorite saints. There is a lot to learn from looking at her life, but the thing that stands out to me is what she said on the night when she left the riches of her family and followed St. Francis’ example. While this event is glossed over in most of her biographies with something like: “On that very night she ran away to go follow Francis. When she got there he cut her hair and dressed her in a black tunic and a thick black veil.”
What an account like that makes me wonder about straight-away is what was said by Francis and Clare on such a sacred occasion. It seems highly unlikely that an event like this would have taken place without something precious also being put into words. As it happens, we do get a first glimpse in the account shared by Prof. Corrêa de Oliveira, the prominent Brazilian politician and intellectual, who describes it as follows: “Francis asked her what she wanted, and she answered: ‘I want the God of the Manger and of Calvary. I desire no other treasure or inheritance.’”
This lets us intuit what was on Clare’s mind, but it is only in the following words of Chiara Lubich, the Italian leader and founder of the Focolare Movement, that the full depth of Clare’s frame of mind emerges, when she says:
“I remember when my first companions and I made the choice of God as the Ideal of our lives, while ideals came crashing down all around us [during the Second World War], and I was very impressed by this saint, whose life I knew. Aged eighteen, she encountered St. Francis, and his teachings about poverty, and became captivated by them. So, she too wanted to follow this new way indicated by the Holy Spirit.Not only does Chiara Lubich elaborate on how to read Clare’s answer in its radicalness and totality, but she highlights parallels with her own experience, over 700 years later, during the Second World War. The wholeheartedness of both Clare’s and Chiara’s yeses to God is in fact a universal feature of the call many feel, to give their lives to God. It comes with a demand for everything: no holds barred.
I remember the strong impression made on me by her answer to St. Francis’s question: ‘My little daughter, what do you desire?’ And she responded: ‘God.’ How marvelous! It is not like she said: ‘To follow you, Francis; poverty; to give myself to God.’ No. ‘My little daughter, what do you desire?’ ‘God.’
[…] It is the answer that we too have given at the beginning, when all ideals collapsed around us and we felt inside that one Ideal did not collapse: God. It was not the result of human reasoning, it was an inspiration, an impulse from the Holy Spirit, a thrust inside us.
We have chosen God.
But, it was not as a result of my reasoning, or that of my first companions.
I’d just like to draw your attention to the fantastic series of lithographs by Arthur Boyd on the life of St. Francis, from which I took the above image. Also, many thanks to NP and PM for helping me with translating the quote by Chiara Lubich from Italian (all errors are mine though :).