De-Sanitizing the Saints

For some reason, we want to prettify our holy ones, make them antiseptic and perfect: a great dis-service which places them on a distant, unattainable pedestal. (And easily gets us off the hook of becoming like them!) Since St. Clare’s Feast is Aug. 11, let’s look at how it happened to her.

One of the most famous images of Clare was her holding the monstrance high, so that Saracens invading Assisi shrank back in fear and left her monastery alone. It’s true that soldiers did enter her home, San Damiano, but they were European mercenaries hired by Frederick II. The monstrance didn’t exist then—in 1240.

What Clare actually DID, confronting the genuine threat of invasion far outside the city walls where she and her sisters lived unprotected, was take “her usual posture for prayer,” lying prostrate.  It seems the exact opposite to a demonstration of power or strength, and yet it was effective. The invaders retreated, causing no harm.

Her strategy fits perfectly into what Richard Rohr describes in Eager to Love as a topsy-turvy insistence on living without privilege or guarantee. Totally dependent on God, spending 40 years in one small house and garden, she discovered freedom and joy. The process of letting go her ego and learning to mirror God is far more dramatic and transformative than the phony images we use to beef up the saints. So why not focus on the true story?

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