Introduction to Clare of Assisi: Early Documents - 22 

robes..." Although many male authors before her had taken the mirror as a starting point of their reflections on the spiritual life, no one had developed it as speculatively and practically as Clare. She gives us her insight into a way of prayer that flows naturally into everyday life.

Clare's continuous pursuit of a prayer centered on Christ, then, enables us to appreciate her devotion to the practice of poverty. It was the genius of Francis, Clare realized more than most, to see that a life without anything of one's own, sine proprio, frees us to enter into the mystery of God and His kingdom. "O blessed poverty," she proclaims in her first letter to Agnes of Prague, "who bestows eternal riches on those who love and embrace her! O holy poverty, to those who possess and desire you God promises the kingdom of heaven and offers, indeed, eternal glory and blessed life." But more than seeing poverty as a means or an aid to deepening the life of prayer, Clare sees it as flowing naturally from that contemplative gazing upon the mystery of Christ, ". . . the God Who was placed poor in the crib, lived poor in the world, and remained naked on the cross." To gaze upon that Mirror, Christ, is to embrace His state of being without anything of His own. "O God-centered poverty," she writes "whom the Lord Jesus Christ, Who ruled and now rules heaven and earth, Who spoke and things were made, condescended to embrace before all else!"

When we look at the writings of Clare, we see how her Testament stands out in revealing her love of poverty and, at the same time, her desire to preserve it as the foundation of the life of the Poor Ladies. In addition to underscoring Christ as the primary inspiration for poverty, Clare repeatedly points to Francis as guiding her and her sisters in understanding its meaning. "... I have always been most zealous and solicitous to observe and to have the others observe," she admits in the Testament, "the holy poverty that we have promised to the Lord and our most holy father Francis." Clare's ecclesial sense places this Gospel intuition, brought into focus by the teachings of Francis, firmly within the life of the Church. She describes her endeavor to obtain papal protection for living this poverty and proceeds to beg the Church to help her preserve it. In reading these lines, the words of the Crucified Christ heard by Francis in San Damiano come to mind: "Francis, repair my house which, as you see, is falling to ruin." Did Clare perceive that the "mandate of San Damiano" had been passed to her and her sisters or that the Poor Ladies were, in fact, called to be faithful reminders of Francis's response? Beyond the reflections of Thomas of Celano whose biographies of Saint Francis clearly suggest these points, we have only to look at Clare's Testament to recognize how clearly she understood the role of poverty in the life and mission of the Church.

What is so startling, however, is the severity of Clare's poverty. In her Form of Life and Testament Clare echoes the teachings of Francis especially




Clare of Assisi: Early Documents, p. 22