By Lisa Rosenlund,
Saint Brendan Parish Manager
Each week, we summarize a specific style, form, or approach to prayer, using the highly-acclaimed book by Robert J. Wicks, Prayer in the Catholic Tradition: A Handbook of Practical Approaches (Franciscan Media 2006). In this article, you’ll learn more about prayer in the Clarian tradition.
Primarily due to the romanticization of the relationship between Saint Clare and Saint Francis in the 1972 film, Brother Sun, Sister Moon, and others like it, Saint Clare’s independent contribution to the Franciscan tradition is often overlooked.
Clare of Assisi was the first woman to join Francis’ community. Unlike Francis, whose family (though wealthy) were common, Clare came from a family of nobility and high social standing. At seventeen, she heard Francis preach and was captivated by his message. Against the wishes of her family, she asked to be admitted to his newly formed group of followers.
Clare viewed Francis (twelve years older) as her spiritual father and, according to Wicks, was fond of describing herself as his plantacula (“little plant”). However, she was more than a disciple. Modern scholars view her as a “true cofounder and long-influential shaper of the [Franciscan] tradition.”
After Saint Francis’ death, Clare carried the torch and, according to Franciscan scholar William Short, was “at the core of the tradition as it [was] being handed over to the next generation.” She was at the center of the early companions of Saint Francis. Three of the first followers were at her bedside when she died almost thirty years after Francis, the only time the three were in the same place at the same time after Francis’ death. Clare lived for forty years with her sisters at the church of San Damiano, then the site of a leper colony, which contained the crucifix that instructed Saint Francis to “rebuild the church.”
United as they were in their shared Franciscan values of love for Jesus and the Gospel life, the two saints differed not only in age, gender and social status, but also in the manner in which they expressed their beliefs. Both embraced poverty, however, rather than traveling from place to place. Clare chose a cloistered, contemplative life.
Clare’s style of prayer reflected her noble birth and used visualization and relational imagery. She often used royal images such as “precious stones, priceless pearls, sparkling gems, and a golden crown of holiness.” Saint Clare viewed herself and her sisters as having been joined in marriage to Jesus Christ. She refers to him as “the most royal and noble of grooms, a spouse whose beauty far surpasses all others.”
In contrast to Saint Francis, Clare followed a specific pattern of contemplation: gaze, consider, contemplate and desire to imitate. She used more intimate visual language such as gazing in a mirror, as opposed to aural language like “hearing God’s call.” Indeed, notes Franciscan theologian, Timothy Johnson: “[Clare’s] preference for visual language underlines her conviction that Christ will be continually and intimately present . . . if she envisions him daily as spouse and mirror.”
Likewise, following Saint Clare’s simple four-step guide to prayer can help us develop a more intimate relationship with God.
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