Dec 02 2009

Clare of Assisi – When you have loved

Published by at 10:18 am under Poetry

When You have loved, You shall be chaste
by Clare of Assisi

English version by Regis J. Armstrong, OFM CAP & Ignatius C. Brady, OFM

When You have loved, You shall be chaste; when You have touched, You shall become pure; when You have accepted, You shall be a virgin.
Whose power is stronger,
Whose generosity is more abundant,
Whose appearance more beautiful,
Whose love more tender,
Whose courtesy more gracious.
In Whose embrace You are already caught up;
Who has adorned Your breast with precious stones
      and has placed priceless pearls in Your ears
      and has surrounded You with sparkling gems
      as though blossoms of springtime
      and placed on Your head a golden crown
      as a sign of Your holiness.

— from Francis and Clare: The Complete Works: The Classics of Western Spirituality, Translated by Regis J. Armstrong, OFM CAP / Translated by Ignatius C. Brady, OFM


/ Photo by ahisgett /

When we really read this poem, we discover that it has a sort of monastic, spiritualized eroticism to it.

Notice the repeated counterpoint of the first line:

When You have loved <-> You shall be chaste
when You have touched <-> You shall become pure
when You have accepted <-> You shall be a virgin

When God is the Beloved, ideas of celibacy and sexual purity are turned on their head. Virginity is attained by the very act of yielding to the Divine embrace.

I also especially like the line, “In Whose embrace You are already caught up…” In the normal consciousness, we tend to think that we are bereft of God’s embrace and must desperately seek it out. St. Clare is saying, no, we are, in fact, already enwrapped in that embrace. The only effort necessary is to truly recognize it.

Those final phrases, being adorned by God with “precious stones” and “sparkling gems.” That suggests to me how spiritual awakening not only reveals our own inner light, but also how the world around us glimmers. All of existence, inner and outer, is revealed to be secretly shining: a thousand colors, ten thousand facets, all reflecting a single light.

Clare of Assisi, Clare of Assisi poetry, Christian poetry Clare of Assisi

Italy (1193? – 1254) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

The story of St. Clare is closely linked with St. Francis of Assisi. Clare was twelve years younger than Francis and, like him, was raised in Assisi in a wealthy family. Clare was the third of five children. Because of age differences and coming from different ends of town, Clare probably did not know the young, profligate Francis before his conversion. Doubtless, though, she heard of the spectacle of how Francis renounced his family and wealth and his subsequent wanderings through the countryside helping the sick and the poor.

At the age of 15, arrangements were made for Clare to marry, but she refused. When she was 18, Clare heard Francis give a series of sermons during the Lent season. On Palm Sunday, late at night, Clare snuck out of her family house and, outside the walls of Assisi, met with Francis and his followers. She put on a simple habit and Francis personally cut off her hair as a symbol of her renunciation.

Francis arranged for Clare to stay at a local Benedictine convent, since it would not have seemed proper for her to stay with Francis and his fellow monks. A few days later, Clare’s family discovered where she was staying and tried to drag her from the convent. Only when she revealed her cropped hair did they relent and give up claim on her.

In this story of escapes and secret meetings, there are elements of a chaste and spiritual love affair, much like the ideals of courtly love found in Francis’s beloved Troubadour songs. But the relationship between Clare and Francis should not be so overly simplified. Clare saw in Francis someone who could lead her to espousal with Christ.

Clare founded a women’s community at San Damiano embodying the Franciscan ideal of radical poverty. Other women soon joined, including Clare’s sister and, eventually, Clare’s own mother. But, whereas Francis encouraged the Franciscan brothers to move through the world, witnessing and engaging in the lives of the sick and the laboring class, Clare’s community of women led lives of enclosure, contemplation, and mutual support.

Church authorities had already begun to oppose Francis’s insistence on absolute poverty for his followers. Those in his favor saw this approach as impractical, while the wealthier prelates resented the implied criticism of their excesses, a criticism which paralleled some of the other mystical poverty movements of the time that had been judged to be heretical. But for a group of enclosed women to follow vows of strict poverty was almost unthinkable. Clare spent much of her life defending the right of the “Poor Ladies” (now called the Poor Clares) to maintain their obedience to poverty.

Francis often turned to Clare for advice and inspiration. When Francis was torn between a life of prayer and one of preaching, it was Clare who advised him to speak, saying, “God did not call you for yourself alone.” The Canticle of Brother Sun, Francis’s masterpiece of poetry, was composed while he was encamped outside of Clare’s convent of San Damiano. When Francis was afflicted with the stigmata, Clare made him slippers to protect his bleeding feet.

Clare lived twenty-seven years beyond the death of Francis. During most of those remaining years she was apparently ill with a mysterious sickness that kept her bedridden, though she remained a strong-minded and determined woman throughout that period.

Despite her position of abbess, she was true to the humble Franciscan ideal by serving the sick, waiting table, and washing the feet of the begging nuns. She came from prayer, it was said, with her face so shining it dazzled those about her. In spite of her ongoing struggles with Church authorities — or perhaps because of them — popes, cardinals and bishops often came to consult her.

Clare was declared a saint sixty years after her death.

Go calmly in peace,
for you will have a good escort,
because He who created you
has sent you the Holy Spirit
and has always guarded you
as a mother does her child
who loves her.

– St. Clare of Assisi

More poetry by Clare of Assisi

6 responses so far

6 Responses to “Clare of Assisi – When you have loved”

  1. maryann moonon 02 Dec 2009 at 12:57 pm

    Dear Ivan, This poem gives us all shivers of some other
    grace-filled reality. It simply astonishes! It takes us to
    an altogether different state of consciousness from that which we ordinarily inhabit. Wow, I can understand how
    Francis went to her for inspiration! I can see why she
    had problems with church officials. And that some of them even realized they had a lot to learn from her.

    I am delighted to hear your wife is healing well. I must
    say I don’t actually like pieces of metal used by doctors
    for breaks such as she had. I have a piece of metal in
    my left knee. I wish I didn’t have. I suppose I chose to experience that whether I like it or not

    Hope your Thanksgiving was the best ever. maryann

  2. barsilion 02 Dec 2009 at 7:07 pm

    Beautiful! ……….and there are those who become ‘physically chaste’ after running into a descended Master and finally shedding worldly (earthly) desires.

    My main reason for commenting today dearest Ivan is to give my best regards for your wife…and as far as bionic, beware!

    luv always to you and yours,

    barsili

  3. Beryl Singleton Bissellon 03 Dec 2009 at 6:01 am

    What a lovely translation of one of St. Clare’s letters. Clare’s life so inspired me as a young girl that I became a Poor Clare, and lived in the observance of her rule for 15 years until my abbess sent me home to care for my ailing father. Clare was the most amazing, strong-minded, yet incredibly loving woman. I treasure the determination that kept her alive until she received the Pope’s approval of her rule. She died holding it in her hands. If I am correct, hers was the first rule approved for religious women.

    I am still smiling about your comment on your wife’s surgery “She now claims that she is the bionic woman… but I already knew she had super powers!”

  4. Karenon 03 Dec 2009 at 9:48 pm

    DEAREST IVAN….YOU HAVE HAD A YEAR THAT WOULD
    HAVE TESTED JOB.

    WE HAVE HERE, TOO, AND HAVE FOUND THAT A SENSE OF
    PERSPECTIVE ABOUT WHO WE ARE, AND AN OVERLAY OF
    HUMOR, NO MATTER HOW BLACK (HOW BLACK IS BLACK)?
    ALONG WITH GOOD HOME MADE SOUP AND WATCHING
    THE CATS ROMP LIFTS THE VEIL.

    SOON IT ALL BECOMES THE SAME, DOESN’T IT? JUST
    A LITTLE LESS UNCOMFORTABLE AND IN YOUR WAY…
    LIKE I CAN’T WAIT TO GET MY CAST OFF NEXT WEEK, BUT
    I HAVE ALREADY HAD IT OFF BEFORE IT WENT ON, AND I
    JUST WENT ON…?

    MOST GRATEFUL REGARDS AND CHEERS TO A HERO.

    KAREN K

  5. Trinityon 05 Dec 2009 at 11:44 pm

    Hi there!

    Not only do I appreciate the care with which you select the poems, but also the thoughtful and detailed commentary that you add to them. I’ve found that it definitely adds perspective and depth to the poems, particularly in cases where I’m not familiar with the author. I also find the commentary helpful when it points out certain patterns in the words, or explains certain cultural or spiritual references.

    I’m not the sort who *needs* to have everything spoon-fed to me, but neither am I ashamed to admit my ignorance. You have done a wonderful job helping me to learn more about my world, my history and myself. For this great blessing I humbly thank you.

    As to current events, I am glad to hear that your wife is recovering well from her surgery. I pray that she (and you) will be well enough to thoroughly enjoy your winter holiday season together. Blessed be!

    With Much Love and Respect, :-)

    –Trinity

  6. Suttyon 16 Nov 2012 at 8:07 pm

    i like that you converted it to black and white. I would have done the same thing too!!! :) St. Francis of Assissi, he was the potarn saint of the school where i went for my elementary days and college days. These reminds me of good memories. TFS!!!