Romeo and Juliet. Anthony and Cleopatra. When asked what our favorite love story is, we might quickly answer with such classic tales of passionate love affairs. Not many people would associate saints with a story of true love.
St. Francis of Assisi and St. Clare weren’t some religious Romeo and Juliet. Romance and physical attraction did not draw them to one another. The passionate love of God did.
Francis and Clare were born to wealthy families in 12th century Assisi in central Italy. Both lived in comfort until a calling from God changed their lives. Francis was the first to be changed. Through a series of dreams, he knew God was calling him to serve others. He realized he had a choice: live a life of comfort and wealth, or live a life of sacrifice and service to God. He chose the latter, and at the moment of that decision vowed to serve the poor and downtrodden and live a life of freedom in Christ. He dedicated himself to prayer, service, poverty and preaching to anyone who would hear him speak.
Clare was young, innocent and in love with life when she learned that Francis had decided to deny his possessions and leave the riches of youth behind. She sought him out, listened to him speak and learned how all things stirred him to the love of God, how he rejoiced in the beauty of God’s creation and yearned to share that joy and love with all he encountered. Francis taught Clare about real love, and she wanted to do the same for others.
Clare desired to join him in this simple way of life, imitating him not only because of his example but also because of his words that were filled with the love of God. His love of Christ moved her and lit a flame of love deep within her own soul. When she was 18 years old, she decided to do the same thing Francis had done. She left all that was familiar and safe to serve Christ alongside him.
With the help of friends who joined them along the way, they worked together to help anyone they met who was struggling and in despair. Francis and Clare knew the peace and security the poor and needy desired could be found in the unconditional love of God. The answer was in their hearts and souls, and they took every opportunity to share it with the people they encountered in their life.
Years later, nearing the end of his life, Francis was sheltered by Clare in a hut of branches in her church at San Damiano. She was his dearest love on earth and was near him when he passed from this world and met the Love of his life on the other side.
Somewhere along the way, we can forget what real love is. We can get caught up in the idea of love portrayed through movies and songs, and in the midst of it all, we lose sight of the source of all love when we celebrate Feb. 14 every year.
C. S. Lewis once said that we have a constant choice in love. We can choose which love comes first and which love we yield to. Francis and Clare made the choice to set aside human desires and love God with their whole hearts and souls, and in that love they enveloped one another.
Francis and Clare were lovers, though not in the same way lovers are viewed today.
They loved purely, without expectations and without demand. Francis and Clare made their lives a living sacrifice and will forever be united in their selfless love for others and God.
“Love Him totally who gave Himself totally for your love.” —St. Clare of Assisi
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