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Catholic Heroes… St. Clare Of Montefalco

August 16, 2018 saints No Comments

By CAROLE BRESLIN

In central Italy about one hundred miles north of Rome, lies the peaceful town looking down on the Clitunno River named Montefalco. It attracts tourists with its wildlife, wineries, and vineyards, and stunning churches. One of the most beautiful churches with its vaulted, painted ceilings, marble pillars, and inspiring altars is the Basilica of St. Clare of Montefalco.
Clare came from a well-to-do family that lived simply, practicing their faith with careful attention to devotion and charitable works. The people of Umbria, where Montefalco is located, were known in that day for their ability to settle disputes rationally without recourse to either violence or litigation.
Her parents, Damiano and Iacopa Vengente, welcomed Clare in 1268. They had three other children who were taught to love prayer and meditation. In 1271 when Clare was only three years old, and her sister, Giovanna, was 20 years, Damiano built a hermitage for his daughters. Giovanna and her dear friend Andreola moved in and dedicated themselves to living a life of prayer and sacrifice.
Three years later, the young women won ecclesiastical approval and were able to receive new candidates into the hermitage. In 1274 at the grand age of only six years old — less than half the age of St. Therese of Lisieux when she joined the Carmelites — Clare joined also. She had already visited Giovanna and Andreola frequently and fully understood the requirements.
Her parents and the two women had served as motivating examples of growing in the love of God and the religious life. When Clare joined the women, they became part of the Third Order of St. Francis and she began wearing the Franciscan habit, though that order had not yet been formally approved by the Church.
Clare was vivacious, perceptive, sincere, and mature beyond her years. Although she was 17 years younger than her sister and her friend, she easily kept up with the standard set by them. She was a girl of deep prayer, spiritual maturity, enduring penance, and amazing mortifications that surpassed the practices of the founders.
She burned with an ever-increasing zeal for our Lord’s Passion and death. This love motivated her to offer her actions for love of her Savior. So outstanding were her sacrifices that it was easy to see that the Lord showered her with special graces to perform them.
Still, her growing body needed nourishment and Clare had a healthy appetite — particularly for her mother’s delicious preparations. Rather than indulging in the feasts, Clare used this opportunity to make great sacrifices for our Lord. Lent became a special time for her knowing the great penance it would be to refrain from such food and making even more stringent fasts than observed by the rest of the women in the hermitage.
The young girl was assiduous in maintaining obedience to her sister in all things, even though the new group had no formal rules. When she was reprimanded for breaking silence, Clare imposed a penance on herself: reciting the Our Father one hundred times as she stood in a bucket of cold water with her arms outstretched.
In 1278 another girl joined them, Mariana, a close friend of Clare. Then four more young women entered the house as well: Tommasa, Paola, Illuminata, and Agnese. This brought about a happy dilemma. With the members increasing so quickly, the hermitage was no longer adequate for them all.
After praying, fasting, and seeking advice, the ladies decided to move their household to a hill closer to the town. Damiano, along with Giovanna, set about planning and construction the new hermitage. However, before it was finished, Damiano died around 1281, so Clare lost her father when she was 13 years old.
In 1290 Giovanna applied to the bishop of Spoleto to establish more formal rules for their house. Thus the bishop established them under the rule of St. Augustine since the Third Order of Franciscans had not yet been approved. At long last Clare could make her vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience as an Augustinian nun.
Giovanna was elected the first abbess and the new monastery was dedicated. When she died on November 22, 1291, Clare was elected to succeed her as abbess. Even though she rejected the honor of the office, she did so as an act of obedience to the bishop of Spoleto.
Three years after her election, Clare made a general Confession before all the nuns on the Feast of the Epiphany 1294. She then fell into an ecstasy which lasted for three weeks. During that time Clare was unable to eat so the nuns sustained her by giving her sugar water.
When the ecstasy finally ended, she related to the nuns that she had seen herself standing before God in judgment. She also saw Jesus dressed as a poor traveler and had a vision of Him crushed by the weight of carrying the cross. During the vision she knelt before Him seeking to know where He was going. “I have looked all over the world for a strong place to plant this cross firmly, and I have not found any,” He replied.
When Clare reached for the cross to help carry it, He told her, “Clare, I have found a place for My Cross here. I have finally found someone to whom I can trust My Cross.” Then He planted it in her heart. For the rest of her life she joyfully endured much pain and suffering from this event.
Yet she continued to lead her nuns as abbess, teacher, spiritual director, and mother; and she continued to grow in holiness, drawing many visitors to the Monastery of the Holy Cross. Her otherworldliness did not hinder her in coping with the worldly issues of managing the convent and maintaining harmony in their daily affairs.
In 1303, she sponsored the building of a church in Montefalco, which also served as a chapel for the sisters. The cornerstone was blessed by the bishop on June 24, and the church was named the Church of the Holy Cross.
Five years later in August 1308, Clare had become so ill that she was completely bedridden. She received Extreme Unction on August 15, then the next day she asked her brother to come and see her. She made her final Confession on August 17, and died on August 18, with her funeral being held the same day.
The nuns who had lost their dear abbess sought to save a relic and had Clare’s heart removed for safekeeping. They were stunned to learn that the perfect form of Jesus Crucified, complete with the marks from the crown of thorns, the nails, and the lance, was inside the heart.
When news of this miracle reached Msgr. Berengario, he sent men of science and civil authorities to investigate the claims. Some of these men looked forward to discounting the occurrence, but after they examined the evidence they, too, were convinced it could not be explained by natural causes.
During the process of Clare’s canonization, the Franciscans argued that she should be canonized as a Franciscan, but she was canonized by Pope Leo XIII as an Augustinian. Her feast is celebrated on August 17.
Dear St. Clare, in whose heart our Lord planted His cross, obtain for us the joy in bearing the cross of Jesus for the love of Him who died for us. Amen.

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(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)

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