Pope Proposes St. Clare as Model for Today's Youth

Writes Message to the Bishops of Assisi for Claretian Year

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VATICAN CITY, APRIL 2, 2012 (Zenit.org).- On the occasion of the Claretian Year, Pope Benedict XVI sent a special message to Bishop Domenico Sorrentino of Assisi, Nocera Umbria and Gualdo Tadino, to celebrate the first female disciple of Saint Francis.

Saint Clare’s monastic consecration happened in all probability in 1211 or 1212: hence it is the 8th centenary of the event, for which the Diocese of Assisi has declared a Jubilee Year. The choice of Clare, in certain ways, completes “in a feminine way,” the “grace that a few years earlier the community of Assisi attained with the conversion of the son of Pietro di Bernardone,” wrote the Pope in his message for the Claretian Year.

Again today the Claretian Order, having “become a robust tree, in the fruitful silence of the cloisters, continues to spread the good seed of the Gospel and to serve the cause of the Kingdom of God.”

Clare’s and Francis’ charism “speaks also to our generation, and has a fascination especially for young people,” added Benedict XVI, referring to the 27th World Youth Day being celebrated on Palm Sunday.

It is no coincidence that the Holy Father’s letter was published precisely at the beginning of Holy Week: in fact, the story of Chiara’s (Clare’s) conversion “revolves around the liturgical feast of Palm Sunday,” explained the Pope. It was precisely on the Vigil of this Solemnity that Clare went to Francis to share her choice with him.

The Legenda Sanctae Clarae virginis, quoted by the Holy Father, states that, for Palm Sunday the Saint of Assisi ordered his disciple to go “elegant and adorned” in the midst of the crowd of the people, to then go out of the city the next day, converting “worldly joy into the mourning of Passion Sunday.”

It was thus that, while the other faithful rushed to receive their palm, Chiara “out of modesty, stayed still and then the bishop, coming down the steps reached her and put the first palm in her hands.”

Francis’ new life divided Assisi, between those who harshly criticized Bernardone’s son and those, instead, who admired him. Among the latter was, in fact, Clare, an adolescent of a noble family who, having met the Saint, “allowed herself to be overwhelmed by his ardor for Christ.”

Francis taught his disciple “contempt for the world,” showing her that “hope in this world is arid and bears disappointment,” and transmitted to her “the sweet union of Christ.”

According to Saint Clare’s Testament, it was Francis himself who received the prophecy of the vocation of his first spiritual daughter: the Crucifix spoke to him in the church of San Damiano, announcing that “that place would be inhabited by women who would glorify God with their holy tenor of life.”

Clare was quite a beautiful girl. However, the Poverello of Assisi “showed her a higher beauty, which is not measured with the mirror of vanity, but is developed in a life of genuine love, in the footsteps of the crucified Christ. God is the true beauty!,” continued Benedict XVI.

After Chiara cut her hair to begin her life of a penitent, the ire of her father and other relatives began. However, her mother Ortolana and two of her sisters followed her in her monastic choice. Constrained to flee from home during the night of Pam Sunday and Holy Monday, Chiara went to the refuge that Francis had prepared for her: attempts were made to dissuade her, but the young girl remained firm in her decision.

The Pope then stressed that Saint Clare’s vocation would not have been possible without the blessing of Bishop Guido, with the symbolic gesture of handing her the palm. The event of Francis and Clare, explained Benedict XVI, “shows a particular ecclesial feature.”

In their story, “an enlightened pastor met two children of the Church who entrusted themselves to his discernment. Institution and charism interacted wonderfully, to the point that love and obedience of the Church remain an integral part of Franciscan-Claretian spirituality.

Hence, Saint Clare’s monastic life is profoundly linked to Assisi and it was precisely her prayer and that of her Sisters that saved the city from “violence and devastation” in some difficult circumstances.

Chiara’s, explained the Pope, is the “conversion of love” of a young woman who gives up the “fine clothes of the nobility of Assisi” but keeps “the elegance of a soul that spends itself in praise of God and in giving itself.”

The Saint of Assisi, no less than her mentor and patron of Italy, is the champion of the “privilege” of poverty, which “left the Supreme Pontiff perplexed for a long time, who in the end smiled on the heroism of her holiness.”

Francis’ and Chiara’s example is proposed “to the attention of today’s young people,” wrote Benedict XVI. The Medieval context of their earthly event “has not diminish their fascination,” even at this time when illusions and disappointments abound, “with the thousands attractions of a life in which everything seems possible and licit.”

In fact, examples are not lacking also today of young people who “who take up the invitation to entrust themselves to Christ and to face with courage, responsibility and hope the journey of life, also making the choice of leaving everything to follow him in total service to Him and to brothers,” wrote the Pontiff, before imparting the Apostolic Blessing upon the whole diocese of Assisi, “with a particular thought for the daughters of Saint Clare of the Proto-monastery.”

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On ZENIT’s Web page:

A translation of the full text of the Pope’s letter: http://www.zenit.org/article-34557?l=english

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