St. Clare – Midnight Flight & Espousal to Christ
The “Door of the Dead” was blocked with many stones beams of wood. This infamous door was only used when the dead body of a family member was removed from the house, never to be seen again. Little did the sleeping family members know, but this night the one in whom so much hope was placed, the one whose beauty was unparalleled, and the one whose future they carefully planned would “die” a noble death.
Clare (whose name means “light”), the prized eighteen year old daughter of the illustrious Offreduccio’s, was to die this night to the world and begin her life anew in Christ. This night would prove to be the night of her Nuptials, and the Bridegroom was perfect in every way. This night she would leave the wealth of the world for the poverty that enriched her soul and a myriad of other souls.
This desire to give herself completely to God began when the Lady Clare saw a strange little man singing and begging for stones so that he might rebuild the Church of San Damiano. He was jeered at, but remained joyful. He was poor, yet seemed so rich. He was in love with Love.
Saint Bonaventure’s description of Saint Francis of Assisi helps to shed light on precisely why even the sight of this little man was enough to inspire a promising young noble lady to abandon a life of ease and pleasure for a life of penance and poverty:
“Aroused by all things to the love of God, Saint Francis rejoiced in all the works of the Lord’s Hands and from these joy-producing manifestations, he rose to their life-giving principle and cause. In beautiful things he saw Beauty Itself and through His vestiges imprinted on creation he followed his Beloved everywhere, making all things a ladder by which he could climb up and embrace Him Who is utterly desirable.”
It was not only the example of Francis that aroused in the Lady Clare the desire to imitate him, but also his words which were so filled with love for God. She heard Brother Francis preach some Lenten sermons and his love for the Passion of Christ lit a flame of love within her own soul. Having heard of her virtue, Francis sought to persuade her of the sweetness of belonging to the Spouse of virgins.
Francis gazed at Clare, for the purity of her soul shone in the light of her eyes. With words that proved to be prophetic, the little man said: “You will have to know how to die.” The girl pondered his words, then replied: “What do you mean?” then came the words that were forever inscribed upon her heart: “On the Cross with Christ.” Thus the seed was planted within the soul of Saint Clare… she who was the Little Plant of the Blessed Father Francis.
So it was that, on that splendid Palm Sunday night, the noble girl removed the barriers of the “Door of the Dead” with knightly strength and bare hands, stone by stone and beam by beam, until at last she reached the bolted door. Her final burst of strength was enough to remove the bolt and the door swung open, free at last. The Lady Clare jumped out of the “Door of the Dead” and thus began the journey that was destined to be a source of light and hope for countless virgins, who left all to seek the Divine Bridegroom.
She, who was later known as the “Footprint of the Blessed Virgin Mary,” ran with light step and swift pace to the Portiuncula, the Chapel of Santa Maria degli Angeli or Saint Mary of the Angles. This tiny Chapel, which was the beloved dwelling of the Friars and held a very special place in the heart of Our Seraphic Father Saint Francis, was so named because once as four pilgrims passed by that spot, they heard the voices of Angels singing the praises of the Mother God and her Son.
At the entrance of this blessed Chapel, two Friars of “Knights of the Lady of Poverty” awaited her with lighted torches. The Lady Clare reverently and elegantly entered the Holy Place, where she found the Friars singing the Divine praises. As she entered, they intoned the “Veni Creator Spiritus”. Indeed the Holy Spirit descended in a powerful way on that most glorious night.
The beauty of Clare’s attire and jewels was overshadowed by the beauty of her heart and soul. She knelt with great piety at the Altar of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of Mercy. The Lady Clare was divested of her earthly gems and jewels, in order to be adorned with the precious ornaments that endure unto Eternity: Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience.
Her plush and extravagant embroidered gown was replaced by a coarse tunic. Around her waist was fastened a rough rope and she was unshod of her find satin shoes. Then the humble Servant of God cut off the platinum locks of hair that adorned the valiant virgin. These locks fell to the floor in such abundance that the ground was covered by what appeared to be spun gold. Finally the long-awaited white Veil of chastity covered her shorn head. Over this was placed the coarse black Veil of penance. Thus her life of conversion was inaugurated; she had set her course to follow in the footprints of the Poor Crucifed. Never looking back, but straining forward towards her Spouse, many others in time would follow her to her heavenly goal.