ST. CLARE OF ASSISI AND WHOLE WHEAT BREAD
Simone Martini, 1320, Basilica of San Francesco, Assisi
St. Clare (Chiara Offreduccio) was born into nobility on July 16, 1194, in Assisi, Italy. She turned from that life to give herself to Jesus Christ and became the Mother Superior of the Franciscan Sisterhood of the Poor Ladies. After her death on August 11, 1253, the pope changed the name to the Order of Saint Clare. She is honored in the Roman Catholic, Anglican (including Episcopal), and Lutheran Churches. She is the patron saint of embroiderers and her feast day is August 11.
It’s impossible to write about St. Clare without also writing about St. Francis of Assisi. In continuing the history of Young St. Francis, we meet St. Clare who was a cousin of one of Francis’s first followers and dearest friends.
After Francis publicly renounced his father’s name and inheritance declaring himself a son only of our Father who art in Heaven. He spent two years as a solitary penitent, caring for the lepers with great joy, and repairing churches in the countryside surrounding Assisi. He provided for himself as a day laborer, preferring that to relying on alms. He prayed often with the utmost reverence to Jesus on the Cross whose sacrifice is served at the Communion rail. And then one day:
The Lord gave me some brothers. — Testament, St. Francis of Assisi
One day in 1208, Bernard of Quintavalle, perhaps a former friend of Francis’s, arrived at San Damiano because he was interested in Francis’s life. After a long talk, he gave away all his possessions and joined Francis. At the same time, a poor man from Assisi named Peter also arrived and asked to follow Francis.
Francis had no idea what to do with these men, so he took them to his family’s parish church, San Nicolo di Piazza, to talk to the priest. It should be noted that his obedience and respect for priests came from their caring for the body and blood of Christ and sharing it in the form of bread and wine. In fact, his later writings contain more references to the divine gift of the Eucharist than to the pursuit of poverty.
In seeking direction, they asked the priest to perform a sortes biblicae, a not-really sanctioned Church practice but common with the laity. It was the opening of a book of gospels at random to find the verse that reveals God’s will. The three verses the priest opened to were:
Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven: then come, follow me. — Mark 10:21
Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money—not even an extra tunic. — Luke 9:3
If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. — Luke 9:23
And so together with Francis, the men began to followed Jesus Christ. Francis attracted more followers. Then upon the advice of Bishop Guido, he traveled to Rome with some of them to ask permission of the pope to base their new order on those three gospel passages. The pope granted his permission and gave them an extra assignment to “preach penitence.” Their order would eventually be known as the Franciscan Order of Friar Minors (lesser brothers).
Meanwhile, Clare led a life filled with prayer and good works for the poor along with her sisters and mother. She weaved, embroidered, and listened as her friends talked about love and future husbands chosen by fathers.
Clare’s father arranged a marriage for her with a young man from a politically strong family. The alliance would provide the protection they’d need to keep the family safe during times when battles over land were frequent. At 15, the expected age of marriage, Clare refused to marry. Not because she didn’t like the young man, but because she believed her path somehow led to Jesus.
For the next three years, her father talked, threatened, talked some more, and waited for Clare to change her mind. Clare fed the poor, embroidered, watched her friends marry, shared their joy in their new babies, and prayed for direction.
Clare most likely heard about Francis from her cousin, Bernard, and wanted to meet him to discuss her spiritual path. Without her parent’s awareness, she was chaperoned by Lady Bona Di Guelfuccio for several meetings with Francis.
Like the many brothers who had gathered around Francis, she wanted to join him in following Jesus. She and Francis spoke at length about her path. The reality was that a woman could not join the Friars Minors, as their life of roaming, day laboring, and sometimes begging was too dangerous. Clare understood this to be true. They prayed together, and it’s said they were surrounded by a Holy light during their prayers. Clare returned home and prayed some more.
Clare wanted to give herself to Jesus by taking holy vows, but she didn’t want to be a part of a rich convent. Like Francis and the Friars Minor, she wanted to rely only on God. She also wanted to care for the brothers, lepers, and those in need. One day it came to her that her place was at home in the house of the Lord. Like a mother, she’d stay at home waiting for her sons to return.
She met with Francis again, and he agreed with her vision and arranged for her to live at the rebuilt church of San Damiano. At this point, his home base was the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, a church belonging to the nearby Benedictine Monastery. They had given it to Francis for his Order and in support of his good works.
At the Palm Sunday service Clare attended at San Rufino with her family, Bishop Guido handed her a palm branch himself possibly indicating his approval of their plan.
On the chosen night, Clare slipped out of her home through an underused service door primarily in place for the removal of corpses. The symbolism of dying to her old life was probably just as necessary for her as it was to remain unseen during her escape. Her sister Pacifica escorted her to Francis where Clare ceremonially removed her fancy outer garment and replaced it with a simple frock. She took holy vows of marriage to Jesus Christ. Francis cut her hair as he did for the Friars Minor.
She was then escorted to a Benediction convent to remain briefly for her protection. Her family found her there and tried to remove her by force. But her short hair and words convinced her family that Clare’s return home to an arranged marriage would never happen.
When she entered her new home at San Damiano, she was joined by her sister, St. Agnes. Then just as Francis attracted brothers, Clare attracted more sisters who devoted themselves to Jesus. They weaved and embroidered items to sell for the benefit of the poor, begged for their daily bread, and cared for the lepers and others in need.
For about a year, Francis helped Clare create rules for her order and gain permissions from the Church.
Clare’s love for Jesus developed into a mother’s love for her son. Her gratitude to God the Father for the gift of the Baby Jesus, made her the mother and caretaker of all — her sisters, the poor, the sick, the brothers, and Francis. He was the head of her Order until she agreed at age 21 to become the Mother Superior, and she cared for him in his final illness. Interestingly, the contact between them during the in between years was limited, as if their mutual esteem could be silent because it was so trusted.
After his death, she remained the abbess or Mother Superior of the Poor Ladies and fought for their right to a life of sacrificial love for Jesus. The pope appreciated her spiritual gifts and wanted to make her life and the life of her followers easier. She refused. In fact, she followed a Lenten fast for the rest of her life, breaking it only on feast days or when she was very ill.
And she was ill for most of her remaining 27 years. But she was a joyful mother, always ready to care for those in need. She especially cared for her sisters in Christ and embraced them with her words and joyful spirit. At age 59, when she lay dying, she looked up at all the sad and loving faces surrounding her bedside and said:
Go forth in peace, for you have followed the good road. Go forth without fear, for He that created you has sanctified you, has always protected you, and loves you as a mother. Blessed be Thou, O God, for having created me. — Beyond Legend
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Oh God, whose blessed Son became poor that we through his poverty might be rich: Deliver us from an inordinate love of this world, that we, inspired by the devotion of your servant Clare, may serve you with singleness of heart, and attain to the riches of the age to come; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. — Collect, Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints
It could be said St. Clare was more practical-minded than St. Francis because she was a woman. There. I’ve said it.
Young Francis gave away his family’s bread to the poor. Bread of the nobility was baked with expensive white flour and usually served along with a hearty meal. It was not nutritious enough for the poor who had nothing else to eat.
St. Clare and her sisters, used their needlework earnings to purchase everyday, economical ingredients such as whole grain flour to cook for the poor and ill who depended on them. Also, local peasants provided simply farm cooking as alms for the sisters to hand out as well.
St. Clare provided a substantial whole wheat bread to her sisters, the poor, and to the priest for the Communion Table in the Church of San Damiano.
In honor of Saint Clare, the loving parent, bake this bread and share it widely.
WHOLE WHEAT BREAD
1 package dry active yeast (not “Quick,” “Rapid Rise,” or “Pizza”)
½ cup water heated to 100 or 105 degrees F (check with candy thermometer)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 ½ cups bread flour, lightly packed and leveled
1 ½ cups whole wheat flour, lightly packed and leveled
¼ cup brown sugar
1 ½ teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup room temperature water
¼ cup bread flour
½ tablespoon olive oil
Heat water in pot on stove until temperature reaches between 100 to 105 degrees F. Pour ½ cup into liquid measuring cup. Add yeast. Stir. Immediately, add sugar. Stir and wait 10 minutes to proof the yeast.
Place bread flour, whole wheat flour, brown sugar, and salt into a large bowl and whisk with fork.
After 10 minutes, foam should have developed on top indicating that the yeast is proofed or alive. Add olive oil and water. Stir.
Slowly add to dry ingredients in bowl. Using clean hands, mix gradually until all the liquid is absorbed.
Wash and dry hands. Sprinkle flour onto a clean, flat surface and on the sticky ball of dough. Knead (squish, mash, push, pull) the dough for 7 minutes. If hands get too sticky, “wash” them with more flour.
Place dough in a large glass or oven-safe bowl coated with olive oil. Roll dough ball around until it’s coated with olive oil. Cover bowl with a damp towel.
Heat oven to “warm,” or 200 degrees F, place bowl in oven, then TURN OVEN OFF. Proof until dough has doubled in size, about 1 ½ hours.
Once the dough has risen, “wash” hands in olive oil then punch dough down to remove the air. Form dough into a large, one-inch thick disk. Or you can divide the dough into smaller disks, as desired. For example, I provide a 1/2 and two 1/4 size loaves to my church for our three services. Place on parchment paper-covered cookie sheet. With a sharp knife or razor blade, score a cross into loaf or loaves.
Place in oven to proof to double size again. About 1 hour.
Without removing bread, turn oven on to 350 degrees F. Bake for about 12 to 16 minutes until just golden. (Oven temperatures vary.) The goal is for a solid but slightly underdone loaf to avoid the development of a crust which can make the bread too crumbly to serve at Communion.
Cool on a wire rack.
Share at the Communion Table or while communing with family and friends over dinner.
Optional: Offer to provide this soft, non-crumbly bread for use at Communion during youth, healing, or Saturday evening services.
(Originally posted on 3/9/2016 to Saints and Recipes on Blogger.)