It is almost impossible to talk about the Poor Clares without first discussing St. Francis, a towering figure in our Catholic tradition.
St. Francis lived in 13th century Assisi, Italy and came from a wealthy family. As a young man, he had dreams of being a victorious knight. However, when he went to war to defend his beloved Assisi, he saw the devastation and horror of battle first hand. As a result, he left the wealth and security of his family and went to work among the lepers of Assisi, a poor and needy group. As he worked among the lepers, St. Francis wrote that he found in himself a “sweetness of body and soul.” Other young men seeing this new spirit in St. Francis joined him in his work.
St. Clare lived in Assisi at the same time as St. Francis. She also came from a wealthy family. She had sympathy for the poor and a strong religious faith. When she heard St. Francis preaching in the streets of Assisi about the new “sweetness” he experienced working among the lepers, she was inspired and wanted to join his ministry.
However, in those early times it was not considered proper for women to roam freely about the city. Her family had chosen a man for her to marry and expected her to obey them, but this was not St. Clare’s wish. She fled her family and sought refuge with St. Francis who received her into his group and helped her to found the “Order of Poor Clares.”
This new community of women dedicated themselves to praying with and for people with needs. They became companions in prayer with many people. St. Clare and the sisters in her newly found order of Poor Clares accepted all things and people as gifts from God. St. Clare welcomed those in need and became known for helping them with physical and emotional healing. In that way the Poor Clare community experienced the same “sweetness of body and soul” that St. Francis had found helping others.
It is important to realize that St. Francis and St. Clare saw the poor and needy as the body of Christ in their midst. By showing care to others, both St. Clare and St. Francis moved beyond what we today might think of as “good works.” When they cared for the poor and those in need, they felt drawn into the body of Christ. They described their work as bringing them a “sweetness of body and soul.”
That was 800 years ago and we still carry on that tradition today. In a world where active service out among the poor is valued, we choose to live fairly separate lives and minister to others mostly by being their Companions in Prayer. In a world where gathering goods is the sign of success, we share what we can with those in need.
As Poor Clares, we experience that “sweetness of body and soul” when we reach out to others in our prayer ministry. We receive over 800 prayer requests a month from those in need. We feel blessed to be able to remind them of God’s steadfast love for us all in sad as well as happy times. We feel blessed to be their “Companions in Prayer.”
The history of St. Clare and St. Francis guides us still and inspires us daily. We believe that peace in the world, God’s peace, begins with each of us, and that we all yearn for that same “sweetness of body and soul” that graced St. Clare and St. Francis in their work. I’m sure that you also have experienced that same sweet grace when you reach out to others in need.