Some 800 years ago, during the night of March 19, 1221, the day after Palm Sunday, Clare of Assisi, all dressed up, ran away from home to join the group of Francis of Assisi in the little chapel of La Porciuncula, that still stands today. Las Clarisas all over the world, and the entire Franciscan family, celebrate this date in commemoration of the founding of the Order of Saint Clare, which has spread worldwide.
Clare, together with Francis –we must never separate them, because they promised each other, out of a pure love, that they «would never again be separated», according to the beautiful legend of the time – are among the most luminous figures of Christendom. It is good to remember this during the month of March, which is dedicated to women. Because of Clare, there are millions of Clares and Mary Clares in the world. She, from the noble Assisi Favarone family, and he, son of a wealthy and influential merchant of fabrics, the Bernardone.
At 16, she wanted to meet the already famous Francis, who was in his 30s. Bona, her intimate friend, said under oath in the canonization papers, that between 1210 and 1212 Clare «went many times to talk secretly with Francis, secretly, so as to not be seen by her relatives and to avoid scandals.» From those two years of meetings was born a great fascination for each other. As one of her best researchers, Swiss Anton Rotzetter, comments in his book, Clare of Assisi, the First Franciscan Woman, (Clara de Asís: la primera mujer franciscana, Vozes, 1994): «Eros in its most proper and profound sense was born in them, because without Eros nothing of value exists, not science, nor art, nor religion. Eros is the fascination that propels a human being towards another, and liberates them from the prison of the self.» (p. 63). That Eros caused them to love and care for each other, but in a spiritual transfiguration that kept them from closing in on themselves. Francis affectionately called her, «my Little Plant.»
Together, Clare and Francis cultivated three passions throughout their lives: a passion for the poor Jesus, a passion for the poor, and a passion for one another. In that order. They planned Clare’s flight to join the group that wanted to live the Gospel, purely and simply.
In its creativity, daring, and beauty, that scene rivals the best love scenes of great novels or films. How could such a wealthy and beautiful young woman run away from home, to join a group very much like today’s «hippies»? Because this is how we can portray Francis’ initial movement. It was a group of wealthy young people given to parties and serenades, who resolved to undertake the option of total divestment and rigorous poverty, following the example of Jesus, the poor. They did not want to give charity to the poor, but to live with the poor and be as the poor. And they did it with a great jovial spirit, without criticizing the opulent Church of the popes.
That night of March 19th, Clare, secretly, ran away from home and reached La Porciuncula. Under flickering lights, Francis and his companions festively received her. And as a sign of her incorporation to the group, Francis cut her blond hair. Then, Clare put on the clothes of the poor, lacking color, more a sack than a dress. After the joy and many prayers she was accompanied to the Benedictine convent, 4 kilometers from Assisi. Sixteen days later, Ines, her youngest sister, also ran away and joined Clare. The Favarone family even attempted to take their daughters back violently; Clare held tight from the mantel of the altar, showed her shaved head and kept them from taking her away. She demonstrated the same boldness when Pope Innocence III did not want to approve the vow of absolute poverty. She fought so hard that the Pope finally consented. This is how the Order of the Clares was born.
Her body, intact after 800 years, shows once again that love is stronger than death.