By Lenora Grimaud

There are many facets of the Charism of St. Clare. Her charism is more like a diamond with many fine points. Clare was true to her name, which means “light.” She had far reaching vision, reaching way into the future, giving her a global view of life. She was a prophet, one who goes ahead to “prepare the way of the Lord.” She was a woman who brought about change and moved people along into the future. She was the first woman who wrote her own “rule;” opening the way for women to come into their own and setting them free from many of the restrictions of the past. Today, this charism could be expressed in a way that would lead her Sisters toward change and pave the way for the future. Clare was futuristic and would prepare women for the next millennium. She was a woman of reform and renewal. She was also a woman who never lost sight of the “beginning.” She says in one of her letters: “But because one thing alone is necessary (Lk.10:42), I bear witness to that one thing and encourage you, for love of Him to Whom you have offered yourself as a holy and pleasing sacrifice (Rm. 12:1), that, like another Rachel (Gen. 29:16), you always remember your resolution and be conscious of how you began.”

Another important aspect of her charism was her understanding of “equality.” She “confronted the pope with the image of woman as equal” (Joan Chittister). Her concept of equality was not only for woman, but also for the poor and the outcast. She was opposed to all “class systems.” She was always for “equal rights.” However, Clare’s love of equality was harmoniously balanced by her gifts of reverence of authority; servanthood; and human relationships—community. These four aspects of her charism were wonderfully integrated and balanced so as not to produce schism or heresy. Clare had no problem with authority, recognizing its divine origin and necessity. Her image of authority and leadership was “servanthood.” She saw those in authority as being called to be servants to all those under their authority. Yet, she did not judge those in authority, but chose the model of servant leader for herself and her Sisters. This is what she taught; this is what she lived. She did not have her own agenda, but was there to do the will of God; to do what was the good of all; to put the needs, wants, and desires of others before her own—as long as it was for the common good and not contrary to it. She did not demand respect, honor, praise, or submission from others; she enabled it by earning it.

Clare’s concept of equality is much different than many people might think. Her intention was not to diminish the reverential treatment we give to nobility and authority. Her concept of equality, tempered by her reverence for authority, and call to servanthood was to treat everyone as equal to those in authority or nobility; to treat everyone as a V.I.P., and make herself their servant. This is the image and example she passed on to her Sisters. She would not want to treat a Bishop as a commoner or with less reverence, but to treat everyone as though they were a Bishop, including the poor man who comes to the door begging for food. This is the real meaning of Phil. 2:3-8. “Always consider the other person to be better than yourself, so that nobody thinks of his own interests first but everybody thinks of other people’s interests instead.”

Clare had a special charism for “relationships,” seeing all creation in relationship with God. She honored all types of relationships, possessing unique insights into the nature of human relationships. She was mother, daughter, sister, and friend. She had to have been very “family” oriented because her own sisters and mother followed in her footsteps and joined her Order. She made a place for all. She also honored the relationships of father, brother, son, and spouse. In spite of her feminist bent, she longed to unite the masculine and the feminine. She would have preferred to live with the friars as her brothers, fathers, and sons, but it was not possible in her day. Her charism, today, may lead to the formation of a mixed community of religious men and women, and, perhaps, lay people, as well. It may lead to the formation of a community of women over 50, who choose to live a life that is more “distinctly” apostolic—contemplative; a community that is not involved in full-time ministry for remuneration, but relies more heavily on benefactors and divine providence. These are additional forms of community life, to the already existing Orders, that the charism of St. Francis and St. Clare could embrace. Clare was always striving to remove distinctions that separated people. Her desire was that all might be free to love and serve God; free to be their unique and authentic self before God and man.

St. Clare saw herself as a “Handmaid of the Lord, and a handmaid to the handmaids.” She was completely abandoned to the will of God and to his divine providence. She made herself a servant of all. She was also a woman of great courage and perseverance, proved by her standing up to the Saracens, and persevering to the end in order to get her Rule approved. She died the day after the Pope approved her Rule. The importance of her Rule wasn’t the Rule, itself, but that it freed the sisters from being bound by the existing Rule for Religious, at that time. It gave them the “Privilege of Poverty.”

These charisms flowed out of her relationship with Jesus Christ. This was the foundation of her life. She was a true contemplative. Her concept of contemplation wasn’t so much prayer, but relationship with Christ—“to gaze upon the Lord;” to be still and listen. Her real “cloister” was her heart—a place in her heart where she could be alone with Jesus; a place of solitude and intimacy with the Lord. The external “Cloister” became a replica of the “cloister” of her heart. She experienced the Lord in relationship as Lord, brother, Father, friend, and spouse.

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