Francis of Assisi 1182 - 1226
Many great saints have left us discourses of their journey to God. Francis of Assisi, however, speaks to us by his life much more than by his writings, and his wholehearted, enthusiastic practicality is a challenge to us today as we search for meaning and fulfillment in our way to God. He asked his Brothers to preach the Gospel and “use words if necessary”.
Francis did not live in a monastery, but among ordinary men and women, and in that world, he sought and found his God. The search was often through dark ways and demanded often radical changes of direction, but he sought and found his God through an incarnational approach—God was his loving Father, and all he had was a gift; Christ was his Brother, and the Spirit of that love lived in him. So his approach was Trinitarian, not static. Again, Francis was practical—the Crib, the Cross, and the Eucharist were his way to God, and finally his relationship to the Triune God led to an intimacy and familiarity with all wonders of creation, so that he could address them as Brother/Sister—all were members of the one family.
So Francis did not speak about spirituality so much as he lived his prayer—as an early biographer, Thomas of Celano said, “He became prayer,” and in the intimacy of his relationship with God he would have his followers join him. “Hold back nothing of yourself for yourself, so that He who gives Himself totally to you may receive you totally.”
St. Clare of Assisi (1193–1253)
Until recently, much of what we knew about St. Clare was portrayed in light of her fidelity to St. Francis. Her accomplishments were described in terms of how closely she stayed within his language, model, and spirit. Yet, it is important to note that she outlived Francis by some 27 years.
Unlike Francis, she did not experience a dramatic conversion. The witnesses in the Process for her Canonization frequently refer to her holiness while she was young.
Clare was filled with joy at the thought that she had received an invitation to follow in the footprints of Jesus.
She saw this in light of her baptismal call to live the Gospel. In her Testament, she asks her sisters to always remember with a spirit of thanksgiving the wondrous gift given to them in their vocation. She saw herself and her sisters as women called to reflect to each other, and to those who knew their way of life, the self-emptying, merciful love of Jesus.
Clare, like Francis, looked at life with wonder and awe. She experienced God’s tender love and mercy in prayer, in relationships with others, and in service.
Shortly before her death, she wrote a letter to St. Agnes of Prague, encouraging her to cling to Jesus “with every fibre of her heart.” She wrote that the results would be “excitement, refreshment, fulfilment and delight” (4th Letter to Agnes).
Clare was filled with a “joy that no one could take from her”!