The 13th century was rather like the 21st : there was a rat-race going on.
The lucky ones were finding new ways of making money and spending it lavishly. the unlucky ones fell by the wayside… Lepers especially were regarded as non-persons. To be a celebrity was the thing that mattered to most people, and it mattered a great deal to the most popular man-about-town in Assisi until God taught him in a series of different ways that all this show was empty and meaningless. Only God Himself was worthy of his undivided love and devotion.
This pampered son of an indulgent and wealthy merchant was the man we now know as Saint Francis of Assisi. Within a few years his life was completely turned around. A new world opened up to him when he befriended a leper. His ambitions were shattered when he experienced the bitterness of capture and imprisonment instead of the glorious knighthood which had been the focus of his ambitious dreams. He finally threw off the shackles of wealth when he renounced his fortune, returning to his father even the flashy clothes he was wearing.
He became a free man. In owning nothing, he had a new relationship with everything. Everything in Creation was his brother and his sister, and all shared the same Heavenly Father…
Others soon came to share his ideals. In this unconventional spirit they quietly set in motion a renewal of attitudes in the Church, which had been sucked into the prevailing worldliness of society.
In the same Italian town of Assisi lived Clare, eleven years younger than Francis, who was deeply touched by his ideals and his example. Her family was determined that their beautiful and sought-after daughter should make a brilliant marriage in order to maintain or even improve their social standing. Status was everything and Clare was a distinct asset.
But Clare had other ideas. She got rid of her inheritance in favour of the poor. Her spirit of religious devotion was acceptable to everyone, but her attachment to Francis’ idea of total poverty most certainly was not. If she was to follow him literally there was nothing else for it but to stage a dramatic escape by night.
By this time, Francis had earned the respect and support of the Church authorities, so in double-quick time she was consecrated to God and her irate family could not lay hands on her. Before long other women, many from noble families, joined her in her determined effort to live a life detached from the extravagant worldliness of their society, a life of prayer in a community where everyone shared in the household chores – a revolutionary concept for people of their social standing and a humiliation for their families. This new movement had heard afresh Our Lord’s call to leave everything and follow Him. The Gospel came vividly to life in all its radicalism.
From Clare and those early companions a movement has been passed down through the centuries which we Poor Clare nuns have inherited and strive, though very unworthily, to exemplify.