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St Clare of Assisi

“It Is Not Good for Man to Be Alone”:

Clare and Francis

Then the Lord God said: It is not good for man to be alone; let us make him a helper like himself. [Gn 2:18] And in this way Eve was created. God has repeated these words from time to time during the course of history. One day God said: It is not good for Francis to be alone; let us make him a helper like himself. And in this way Clare was created. Clare truly was a helper “like himself” for Francis, having the same nature, of the same mettle as he, in the truest sense a “twin soul.”

Antoine de Saint Exupéry has written “to love does not mean to look at each other, but to look together in the same direction.” Clare and Francis certainly did not spend their lives looking at each other. There was not all that much communication between them, almost only those words pre- served for us in the sources. There was an amazing reserve between them, so much so that his brothers sometimes lovingly reproached Francis for being too hard on Clare. According to the Little Flowers, it was at their insistence that he agreed to eat with her and the sisters, at that famous picnic which ended in a spiritual conflagration, visible for miles!

Instead of looking at each other, Clare and Francis looked in the same direction. And we know what this “direction” became for them: it became Jesus, poor, humble, crucified. Clare and Francis were like two eyes that, unless they are crossed—which these were not—always look in the same direction. Two eyes are not simply two eyes, that is the one eye and then a copy. Nor is anything in these two reminiscent to having only one eye, meaning that one is being kept in reserve or in order to change the wear.

Madonna Child Francis Clare by Cima de Congeliano 1510

Two eyes fix their gaze on an object from slightly different angles and this gives depth to the gaze, this is what throws the object looked at into relief and thus allows it to be enveloped by the gaze or the glance.

This is what Clare and Francis did. They looked at the same God, the same Lord Jesus, the same Crucified, the same Eucharist, but from the angles of, and with the gifts and sensitivities of, a man and of a woman. Together they did far more than two Francis’s or two Clare’s could have done. Here is the mystery of that complementarity that Scripture throws into high relief when it says: God created man in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them [Gn 1:27]. Together they form the perfect likeness of God. Together they form a perfect likeness of the God of the Bible to Whom belongs unity and diversity, Who is one and three, in a unity of love not of number. In this way Francis and Clare are the image of the whole Christ, who is the Bridegroom and the Bride, united in forming “a great mystery” [Eph 5:32]

We know only too well how far this rapport between man and woman has been diminished today, reduced almost entirely — at least in drama and publicity — to a rapport of the body, not of the spirit. Francis and Clare, like other luminous couples in the history of Christian holiness, Benedict and Scholastica, Francis of Sales and Jane Francis de Chantal constituted a summons to something other in which nature is not destroyed but crowned by grace.

Even within the Church we have much to learn. In the history of the Church, the ordinary rapport between masculine and feminine has almost always been configured around dependence and submission on the part of women’s congregations to the corresponding men’s Orders. Clare and Francis say more to us about complementarity and collaboration than about submission. Together men and women must become, for the world, a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem in which God will be all in all.

We could document with any number of examples, the way in which Clare and Francis truly looked in the same direction. I would like to underline one of these examples: the love they both had for the Eucharist. In his writings, Francis speaks most often about the Eucharist, even more than about poverty. For him, the Eucharist is not only a mystery, a sacrament, it is a living person: it is Christ completely given into the hands of a man, fragile and defenceless, just as he was in Bethlehem. From this come his tender feelings for everything to do with the Sacrament of the altar, and his preoccupation with the dignity and cleanliness of the church and sacred vessels.

For Clare, the monstrance of the Eucharist is her sign in iconography. She heard a voice “like a child” coming from the ciborium and assuring her: “I will protect you always!”

This is an essential aspect of the cloistered life: kneeling to hold the world before the Most High, and the Most High before the world, lifting him up, so to speak, and brandishing him from the walls of the city. Assisi was saved from the Saracens, not by the soldiers but by Clare who met them with the monstrance in her hand.

Pope John Paul II wanted a small cloistered monastery within the walls of the Vatican, in order to have this “spiritual” help close beside him, and the first community which he called to bring this to birth was a community of the daughters of Saint Clare.

This responsibility rests on them too. They need a “concentration,” a renunciation. Too much gazing on the world turns the gaze aside from Him. Too much rapport “outside”—even though it be done with the best of intentions—disturbs the rapport with Him.

And now, with incredible presumption, I am going to imagine that I am Francis himself who sends Clare and her sisters his child-like and stupendous “canticle-testament”:

“Listen, little poor ones
called by the Lord,
who have come together
from many parts and provinces…
Do not look at the life without,
for that of the Spirit is better.”

Raniero Cantalamessa OFM Cap

All above text by Raniero Cantalamessa OFM Cap – from the introductory pages of Clare of Assisi
Early Documents : The Lady – Pages 9 – 12

Elizabeth is a member of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. She has had an interest in Franciscan Spirituality for over 20 years.