Clare of Assisi (1194 – 1253)
Background and Context
Clare of Assisi was born to a noble family in Assisi in 1194. At the age of seventeen, she gave her life to the Lord in 1211. Francis of Assisi was an influential clerk of God at his time. Many lives were touched by his life, and Clare was also one of them who were converted under the influence of Francis of Assisi.
Quite after her conversion, Clare left her parental home. She received haven from Francis on March 18-19, 1212. The Church of Portiuncula provided her shelter. Clare’s conversion became a channel to bring her sister Agnes to be saved in the Lord. Clare’s mother and her sister, Beatrice also added into number of believers. Later, Clare founded a community called “Poor Clares”. She devoted her life for people living under poverty, simplicity, and service. In 1215 – 16, Clare’s community received grant from Pope Innocent III to take vow of poverty.
She was widely recognized for her holy living and influence. It was believed that her holy devotion to Eucharist also influenced Assisi from assaulting Saracens at that time. However, she became ill and confined to bed until her death, she involved in the community she founded. She struggled for approval of Rule of her community, but the Rule was only approved on August 9, 1253 just two days before her death. Besides, Roman Catholic Church also honored her as a saint after her death.
The major theme of the piece of this spiritual journey is the notion of God-centered poverty but as a spiritual discipline of simplicity. Editors Richard j. Foster and Emilie Griffin present some prose from the Letters to Blessed Agnes of Prague which was written by Clare to her sister Agnes. The letter contains counsels to Agnes about blessing, kingdom of God, holy poverty, God-centered poverty, and the lordship of Jesus Christ. Clare’s community established the notion of God-centered poverty on the foundation of the Scriptures. Such as Jesus himself said that the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head while the foxes and birds have their habits to stay.
The authors emphasize how the Lord chose to come in this world to be despised and lived in need and poverty. Jesus had not any earthly possessions. There was no place for him even when he was born – born in other’s inn. At the meantime, he had no land to bury him after his death. He had authority over heaven and earth, yet he had nothing as a status. The epistle of Paul to Philippians also states that Jesus, being very equal to God, did not consider equality with God. Jesus did not consider his equality with God as something position or status to be grasped. The Scripture also tells us that he became a very nature of servant in human likeness. This portrays the humbleness and simplicity of Jesus. He became poor for us, so that we might be rich through his poverty in the kingdom of God. The Bible also tells us that we should store up our greater treasure in heaven rather than on the earth. Furthermore, the Scripture encourages us to seek the kingdom of God first, and then all things will be added unto us. The Scripture reminds us to look for spiritual treasure that is hidden in the spiritual domain which will help us to live in spiritual simplicity. It reflects the life-style of Jesus back to his earthly ministry.
Another theme is that the spiritual simplicity is not like living under lack of material goods and starving but living a life where heart is detached from the earthly possessions. The authors again quote from the Bible that a person who loves the temporal things on the earth loses the eternal things in heaven. As it is written that no one can serve God and mammon at the same time. God-centered poverty does not necessary mean to live without any material possessions. Conversely, the writers focus on the detachment of heart from earthly possession. The Scripture also says that where the treasure is, our heart will be there. Therefore, man’s heart will be interested more in earthly things than spiritual things.
In addition, the authors also stress with confidence that a man who lives in the worldly splendor cannot rule with Christ in heaven. Jesus also speaks the parallel statement in the gospel of Matthew that “It is easier for camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” Therefore, these Scriptures and idea of the authors convey message to live a simple life which is merely focused on God.
The spiritual discipline of simplicity is a must teaching for this generation and the generations to come. God-centered poverty should be one of the Christian characters in my life. Our high-profile in the university and scholarship in theology are the secondary achievements. They cannot help us to live simple life utterly. They give us only ideas how to live, but we need God-centeredness to live that life. If I have all these above mentioned skills, abilities, and knowledge but do not have the trait of simplicity, I will not be reflecting Jesus from my life.
I had a misconception when I read the sermon on beatitudes at first. I thought that we should be poor in order to be blessed. We should deny the earthly materials to be spiritual but I did not think about the spiritual poverty. Thence, I realized God wanted me to be poor in the spirit. I also came to know that all materials are not evil, but the excess will to achieve more than needed is evil because it is covetousness. The Scripture warns us to refrain from this kind of spiritual lust.
The present church should also teach the God-centered poverty to the congregation. The present world is competitively producing all kinds of gadgets and accessories. These things have indulged people to possess all new products. People are buying and selling these kinds of stuffs without their needs except only to show off their position and status. And our churches are not aloof from the influence of these kinds of products. Therefore, church should fulfill their duty without any delay on delivering message on the spiritual discipline of simplicity. The church should teach the congregations that God-centered poverty is not a deprivation of material good while we are in desperate needs, rather it is the only detachment of our heart from filthy wills of owing more than we need.