Learning from Assisi

March 27, 2023

In a world with seemingly endless distractions and modern “conveniences” that make us constantly accessible to friends, our jobs and even strangers there is a danger in romanticizing the faith and practices of those who lived in other times and places which appear to offer an easier path to living simply or intentionally in community with God and others. In particular, we may look at the dessert mothers and fathers, monastic orders of the past or even present and well-known leaders as possessing a unique ability to live counter-culturally, sacrifice or serve in ways that are simply not possible for the “ordinary Christian.” However, if we look closely, we find that although the heritage of Christianity is littered with martyrs and giants, in their histories and testimonies we can find that rather than super-heroes they were men and women who lived extraordinary lives because of their sincerely held faith and commitment to simple principles. Rather than holding up these ancestors of our faith as an unobtainable ideal we can consider carefully their history and ministry and find much to apply today.

Recently, as I examined the life and practices of St Francis and St. Clare this truth was brought home to me. Their commitment to their vows of poverty, chastity and obedience seems almost otherworldly and their impact testifies to the extraordinary nature of their way of life and their pursuit of it. However, without minimizing the unique and profound ways in which both Francis and Clare lived their beliefs and folded in their followers I believe that from their way of life we can learn things to apply to our vastly different world, that Franciscan and Clarian spirituality speak to us today not primarily because of the extreme ways in which they lived their faith but because of the simplicity of their rules and practices which though distinctly counter-cultural then and now are not so out of reach. 

Francis and Clare’s rule, their way of being, embraced two things that those in her day, like ours, spend intense energy and time avoiding – poverty and contemplation. Through them they insisted a communion with God was possible in ways not accessible amid wealth, comfort and activity. Clare and Francis saw poverty as a privilege and contemplation as a way of life. More simply, they believed that the way they and their sisters and brothers lived was what it meant to imitate and be faithful to Jesus Christ.

What could our lives and our world look like if we took up this way of chosen poverty, joyful sacrifice and intentional contemplation? Her way is so counter to what most of us know day to day, year to year, cradle to grave that it feels out of reach. The words of poet Gail White capture the unlikely, yet possible, hope of a world following the way of St. Clare in her poem St. Clare of Assisi whose last stanza reads:

Could it happen again? Parents hope not.

Children should make (and be) good investments,

While faith and fanatics are out of fashion.

But all it takes is a whisper, a change in the wind,

A trick of the light,

For the sleeping coal to flare up

And sons and daughters come running,

Scattering fellowships, law school,

the Army, the arts, their engagements,

brimming with glorious news for their families:

I’m begging! Isn’t it wonderful?”[1]

Being able to call wonderful that which the world despises is a large part of what the spirituality of Clare and Francis of Assisi offers. The freedom they found could never be called easy or cheap. It was the work of their lives and came at great cost, but it was a cost she seems not to have counted in the face of what she saw as a far greater treasure – fellowship with the crucified Christ, standing before his mirror as a mirror herself. In some of Clare’s final words she reveals again her satisfaction with her position and faith in Him who she had given her life to – “Go forth now you have a good escort. The One who created you has provided for you. The One who created you will guard you as a mother does her little child.” Franciscan Priest Richard Rohr offers us a hope to follow the way Clare laid out saying, “she herself serves as a trustworthy escort for those of us who follow after her.”[2]

[1] White, Gail. “St. Clare of Assisi.” First Things (New York, N.Y.), no. 221 (2012): 44.

[2] Rohr, Richard. Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi. Franciscan Media, 2014, 150-151.


CATEGORY: Uncategorized


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *