A Woman Ahead of Her Time

ST CLAREIt’s fascinating that many women in the Church are complaining about not having a voice and not having power, yet in the 13th century, Lady Clare Scifi, defied her parents at the age of 18, ran away from home in the middle of the night to meet with Francis and his friars. There, at San Damiano, she consecrated her life to God and became the mother of the Franciscan Order.

Clare was no lightweight. She was the first female religious superior to govern her community without being subordinate to an abbot or a bishop. She and Francis governed independently of each other. Francis and his successors never had a voice legal or advisory over the Clare and her successors.

When Francis returned from the Holy Land, where he had tried to convert the Sultan and his people, he was determined to enter a monastery. He felt that he had failed as a preacher. It was Clare who set him straight. She insisted that he remain in Europe and continue to preach, because Catholics needed to be converted to Christianity more than the Muslims. She understood that the Muslims did not know the Lord through no fault of their own, but Catholics had become tipid and careless in their practice of the faith.

The Pope decided that Franciscan poverty was too severe for women and he gave Clare and her sisters the Rule of St. Benedict to adapt to their Franciscan spirituality. The Rule of St. Benedict allowed the nuns to own property in common, which was anathema to Francis and Clare. Christ revealed to them that they were to own nothing individually or corporately.

For almost forty-years, Clare engaged in a dialogue with the Holy See, until two days before her death at the age of 59, she received the papal bull that granted her and her sisters the privilege of poverty. It’s important to notice here that Clare engaged in dialogue. She did not disobey, nor did she criticize the Holy See or the hierarchy for seeing things differently. The discussion between the young abbess and the Holy See continued, because the Holy See allowed it, not because Clare was belligerent or defiant.

In 1228, Pope Gregory IX arrived in Assisi for the canonization of St. Francis. At a meeting with Mother Clare he informed her that he was absolving her from her obligation to absolute poverty. Mother Clare chuckled and responded, “With all due respect Your Holiness, but I would much rather be absolved from all my sins than from my duty to God.”

Her obedience, honesty and fidelity won her the respect of popes, bishops, friars and the laity. He life of heroic virtue earned her one of the fastest canonizations in the history of the Church. She died August 11, 1253 and was canonized September 26, 1255 by Pope Alexander IV. The Pope insisted that there was no need for an investigation into Clare’s cause or a beatification, because he personally experienced her sanctity while she was alive. Therefore, he believed the many reports of miracles and stories of heroic virtue without investigating a single one.

How can we read the story of Clare and say that women have not had influence in areas of authority in the Church? Today, there are more than 20,000 daughters of St. Clare. Every house is autonomous. They are not governed by males nor by a mother general either. Each house and its daughter houses governs itself. They are bound to the same canons in the law that bind male religious, especially monastic religious.

St. Clare, pray for us that we may see the Church and all people with the clarity that you saw.

Published in: on August 11, 2014 at 1:06 PM  Leave a Comment  

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