Augustinian Heroes of Faith: "Clare of the Cross"
All month long, we have been focusing on six Augustinian heroes of faith. The heroes of our faith are the saints and blesseds that we venerate as role models. Their courageous stories are still relevant even in modern day. One such hero of faith is Saint Clare of Montefalco.
Clare was born in Montefalco, Italy, around 1268, about 24 years after the canonical founding of the Augustinian Order. At a young age, Clare joined her sister Joan, who had joined the Secular Third Order of St. Francis in 1274. Seeking a more monastic life, Joan established a community of cloistered nuns in 1290; Clare followed her sister into this new Augustinian community. This community followed the Rule of Saint Augustine; his Rule is still followed by the Augustinians today.
Joan, the abbess and founder of this Augustinian community of cloistered nuns, died in 1291. When her sister Joan died, the community chose Clare to succeed her sister as the new abbess. At first, Clare refused. Her community kept insisting that Clare would be the best abbess for the community. The Bishop of Spoleto finally intervened and asked Clare to accept the role as the new abbess, to which she finally agreed.
A few years into her role as the superior of her community, she began experiencing great turmoil. She reportedly could find no pleasure in life and pondered if she had been abandoned by God. She eventually had a vision of Jesus. Her vision showed Jesus as a poor traveler, overwhelmed by the weight of the cross He carried. Clare asked Christ, "My Lord, where are Thou going?"
Jesus answered, "I have looked all over the world for a strong place to plant this Cross firmly, and I have not found any." Clare then attempted to help Christ carry His cross, to which He responded:
“Clare, I have found a place for My cross here. I have finally found someone to whom I can trust Mine cross.
As the superior for her religious community, she earned a reputation of leading with love and holiness. She was also reputed for being a woman of great wisdom and knowledge who had faced her own personal turmoil earlier in life. Several troubled people came to Montefalco seeking Clare's guidance: bishops, priests, Augustinian friars (or hermits, as they were recognized in the 13th century), theologians, and illiterate persons. Her counsel was profoundly based on scripture, logic, and great love.
Clare served as her community's abbess until her death on August 17, 1308, probably around the age of 40. At the postmortem examination of her body, it was revealed that her heart contained a representation of the Cross of Jesus and other symbol's of Christ's Passion. Today, it is not uncommon for people to refer to her as "Clare of the Cross."
Clare's remains are at the Augustinian convent in Montefalco, Italy. Clare's cause for sainthood began in 1328, but she was not beatified until 1737. On December 8, 1881, Pope Leo XIII canonized Clare; the Church has celebrated her feast day ever since on August 17.