Much, perhaps too much, has been said and written about the bond between Saint Francis and Saint Clare, and many clichés have distorted this sublime relationship.
S. John Paul II in an ‘arm’s length’ speech to the Poor Clares of the Protomonastery said: “It is really difficult to separate these two names: Francis and Clare. These two phenomena: Francis and Clare. These two legends: Francis and Clare […] There is something profound in them that cannot be understood except through the criteria of Franciscan, Christian, evangelical spirituality; that cannot be understood through human criteria” (John Paul II, Address to the Poor Clares of Assisi, March 12, 1982).
The first biographer of St. Francis stated: “When the father, from the many demonstrations of the highest perfection that they had already given, that the sisters were ready to bear for Christ every earthly harm and every sacrifice and that they were decided never to deviate from the holy norms received, he firmly promised them and the others, that they would profess poverty in the same form of life, that he would give his help and advice and that of his friars in perpetuity.
As long as he lived, he always scrupulously kept these promises and, close to dying, he commanded with solicitude that they should always continue: for, he said, one and the same spirit brought the brothers and those poor women out of this evil world” [Mem CLV, 204; FF 793].
This witness is of paramount importance, for at least two reasons, as regards the authenticity of the loving care that St. Francis reserved for the ‘poor sisters’ of St. Damian: the first is that St. Clare and her sisters were still alive at the time of the writing of Celan’s work and they would have rejected this declaration had it not been true; the second is that this ‘memory’ is certainly part of the material received by the General Curia by order of General Crescenzo of Iesi, to fill the gaps in the first biography of the poor man of Assisi, which had provoked so much criticism among the friars. Those of St. Francis and St. Clare are not two different vocations, but the same vocation declined to male and female.
One can, therefore, safely affirm that one cannot be ‘Franciscan’ if one is not ‘Clarian’, while respecting the specificity of one’s own charism, kindled by the Spirit. In the history of the Church, this has been repeated several times. Often behind a great saintly man there is a great saintly woman and vice versa.
S. Francis encouraged the sisters to be faithful to their vocation. Witness to this is the exhortation ‘Audite, poverelle’, but especially the writings known as the ‘Forma vitæ’ and the ‘Ultima voluntas’. Saint Clare considered there writings so important that she “set these words in the central chapter of her Rule, recognizing in them not only one of the teachings received from the Saint, but the fundamental nucleus of his charism, which is outlined in the Trinitarian and Marian context of the Gospel of the Annunciation. Saint Francis, in fact, saw the vocation of the Poor Sisters in the light of the Virgin Mary, the humble handmaid of the Lord, who, overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, became the Mother of God. The Lord’s humble handmaid is the prototype of the Church, Virgin, Bride and Mother” (Message of St. John Paul II, for the 750th anniversary of the death of St. Clare, August 9, 2003)”.