Something that is very difficult for some of us who live in the U.S.A. to comprehend is the choice made by saints to live in abject poverty for the sake of holiness and the desire for God. I’m thinking of this today because it is the feast of St. Clare, disciple of Francis of Assisi and the first woman to write a rule for religious women that was approved by the Roman Catholic Church. Clare lived from 1194 to 1253 and was just 15 years old when she was captivated by the spirit of Francis and 18 when she left home by night to join the band of friars who had given up everything to search for a life totally immersed in God.
Clare’s life was far from the romanticized image of her relationship with Francis. She hardly saw him at all and never left her convent at San Damiano. She and the women who followed her begged their food and lived a spartan life, composed of discipline and self-denial. While it is true that life was very different eight centuries ago in Europe, one still wonders how it would be possible – especially for a young person of an upper-class family – to be so totally captivated and dedicated for the entirety of her earthly life to an ideal of total denial. Clearly, Clare was an intelligent young woman who certainly knew what she was choosing. The proof is in the living out of the ensuing four decades where Clare shone as a beacon to those who would see the light as she did and be consumed by the great love of God.
How might we contextualize such desire and dedication in our own time and culture?