There are saints to be imitated and saints to be admired," says an old and wise proverb. For many reasons the saint whose memory we celebrate today would probably fall into the second category, for she was endowed with extraordinary gifts of grace and practiced radical forms of penance that are the cause of amazement to many. She was also a person, however, filled with great love who could not be content to live by half measures or compromise.
Clare was born in Montefalco, Italy, in 1268, the second daughter of Damiano and Iacopo Vengente. From a very early age she lived an eremitical life with her older sister Giovanna and another young woman in a small dwelling which Damiano had built for them. Clare was a lively and intelligent young girl, but equally prayerful and penitential. The small community of hermits grew, and in 1290 was established as a formal convent of nuns under the Rule of Saint Augustine. Upon the death of Giovanna, Clare at 23 years of age was elected abbess, and became mother, teacher and spiritual director of the convent. A young woman of deep spiritual perception, though with almost no formal education, she was much sought after for advice and counsel from people of all walks of life, and from within the walls of the cloister became a director of many souls. She was deeply devoted to the Passion of Christ and was known to experience periods of ecstasy as she contemplated the mystery of the Cross. For many years she received no consolation in her interior life except that of her own fidelity to prayer and acts of penance. During her final illness she repeated to her sisters that she bore the cross of Christ in her heart. After her death, this was verified when the nuns examined her heart and found in it symbols of the passion of the Lord, formed from cardial muscle. Clare died on August 17, 1308 at the age of 40 and was canonized by Leo XIII in 1881.
The life of Clare of the Cross is a striking reminder that holiness is the work of grace and not of human effort. Nonetheless, cooperation with the work of God is indispensable for spiritual growth, "for He who made us without our willing it, will not save us without our willing it."