Mission Statement for St. Clare of Assisi Parish
As one of the first to gather Christians in California, the community of St. Clare of Assisi Parish seeks to fulfill its heritage by being heralds of the Gospel of Jesus Christ by serving our own parishioners and members of the wider community in charity and justice, by welcoming immigrants and strangers. We are an ethnically diverse community that finds strength in unity, love and peace, and we strive to live these virtues in the present in order to sustain hope for our future.
Prayer and Poverty: The Life of St. Clare
The earth is littered with books of people renowned for their power. Military commanders like General Patton, Alexander the Great, or Sun Tzu dominate our image of the masters in the art of war. Business titans like Donald Trump or the Koch Brothers use their wealth almost exclusively for their personal aggrandizement or a political agenda that ignores or assaults the poor. Our elected officials, mired in political in-fighting and gridlock, serve less the people who vote and more the political interest groups that fund their next election. Such is the way of power, as it is perceived in our world today. And yet, this modern perception of power is hardly new. Such was the world experienced by St. Clare, the patron saint of our parish.
St. Clare, the eldest daughter of a wealthy Count, grew up in a large palace in Assisi. For vacations, her family stayed at their castle on Mount Subasio. Her father envisioned a life of wealth and power for Clare, one enhanced by a politically attractive marriage. In the midst of these familial designs for power, the world in which Clare lived was filled with similar devotion to wealth and corruption. The Church, rather than serving as a beacon of light to those living in darkness, often contributed if not embodied the reality of excess wealth and diminished moral behavior. Thus, Clare’s world seems even more familiar to our own times—and Clare’s counter-cultural powerful witness all the more essential as our community strives to serve Christ and the Church in a manner faithful to the Gospels and St. Clare’s example.
This brief biography, based on the work of Kevin Knight at New Advent Press, attempts to offer significant information about St. Clare and to do so in a way that also guides our vision and values as a parish community striving to bring Christ’s love to the world with the spirit of joy and simplicity embraced by Clare herself. All quotes in the article are taken from Kevin Knight’s article, the full account of which can be found here.
From Habits to Habit
Amidst the wealth and privilege to which she was born on July 16, 1194, Clare stood out throughout her youth for devotion to prayer and mortification, the habit of distancing oneself from the physical pleasures of the world as a means of repentance and aligning one’s heart with the service of Christ in poverty. All Clare’s devotions as a child and young woman came to a moment of clarity at the age of 18 when St. Francis came to her home parish to preach throughout Lent. On Palm Sunday of that year, while the congregation clamored at the altar to receive a palm from the Bishop, Clare sat in her seat in a moment of rapture that was so intense the Bishop noticed and leaving the altar, brought a palm to Clare. That very night, with the help of St. Francis, St. Clare stole away from home and was brought to Benedictine sisters. Along with her sister Agnes and her aunt Bianca, Clare cut her hair, put on a rough tunic, and a thick veil.
Soon after her secret departure from home, Clare’s father went to the Benedictine convent to drag Clare home for the marriage and life he envisioned for his eldest child. He was rebuffed and Clare was moved into a more remote and secure monastery.
The inspiration and connection between St. Francis and St. Clare cannot be underemphasized. Francis’ preaching and manner of living propelled Clare to undertake the dramatic departure from her family and entry into the life of a nun. Yet this inspiration was in no way one-sided. When Francis experienced his greatest trials, he sought the counsel of Clare. Such was the influence of Clare on one of the Church’s most revered saints. And nearing death, Francis went to Clare who built a hut in which Francis wrote his magnificent “Canticle of the Sun.”
Clare and Francis are not known primarily for their friendship with each other, but for their friendships with the poor and those in need. Seeing Christ in the least of their brothers and sisters (and making friends with the poor Christ) defined the work of their lives and the religious orders they founded.
Clare deeply desired the ability to be in the community, serving every day the least of her brothers and sisters. Yet, when the Order of Poor Clares was established, Clare was made Abbess, a role that limited her travel and kept her in the Abbey most of the last 40 years of her life. In this way, Clare surrendered ownership of her life to the will of God for her.
As head of the Order of Poor Clares, Clare challenged the loose rules of poverty allowed her Order. The sisters were originally prevented from holding private property and goods. In meetings with consecutive Popes, Clare insisted on Strict Poverty for her Order, wherein nothing was owned in common and all their needs were provided from begging. Pope Gregory IX offered her this privilege and then Pope Innocent IV made this temporary privilege a permanent element of the life of the Poor Clares.
The Art of Prayerful War
The invading forces of Frederick II were twice thwarted by Clare. The first time, in 1234, as the soldiers were climbing a ladder to storm Clare’s monastery, Claire held high the Ciborium (the vessel containing the venerated host of Christ). The soldiers on the ladders were knocked backward and the rest scampered away in fear. Later on, a larger force was gathering in the fields readying for their assault. Clare brought the sisters together in prayer, after which a storm ensured that drove the troops away and never to return.
In Death as in Life
As her final days approached, Clare was visited by her sister, the future St. Agnes, who sat by Clare’s simple bed. Just as St. Francis had done in his final hours, Clare asked that she be read the Passion of Christ found in the Gospel of John. And so, even in her final days, Clare’s choices reflect absolute devotion to prayer and poverty.
After her death on August 11, 1253, Clare’s body was buried beneath the altar in a Church built in her honor. She was canonized two years later. In 1850, her remains were discovered and her skeleton still intact. The people of Assisi then set up a crypt where Clare is kept and can be visited even now.
Putting the Pieces Together
The ways in which Clare shed the trappings of power and privilege call to us and our community, as we attempt to shed ourselves of the materialism, consumerism, and individualism of our culture—and to repent of our own failings to live in a manner faithful to the Gospels. And so, each stage of Clare’s life invites and challenges us to bear greater witness to the saint for whom our parish is named.
- From Habits to Habit: have we renounced, cooperated, or contributed to the pernicious ways of wealth and power found in our society?
- Defining Friendships: have we made friends with the poor and cultivated friendships in our community with people who hold us faithfully to God’s hopes for our lives?
- Surrendering Ownership: have we surrendered our personal ambition, directing all that we have for the service of others?
- The Art of Prayerful War: in the storms and battles of our lives, have we relied on prayer and the Eucharist to center and guide our lives?
- In Death as in Life: do our lives and does our community consistently reflect the simple and contagious joy of faith?