Don’t wish that your kids were little saints

When the Rector’s away, Isaac Eagle will play … \

There are times, I’d venture to guess, when all mothers and fathers wished their children were little saints. However, be careful what you wish for. You might not like the result.

Case studies indicate that saintly teenagers can be even more difficult than the very much less than saintly variety.

St. Clare—a close friend of St Francis of Assisi and whose feast we celebrated on August 12th—is a case in point. Clare, who lived in the 13th century, was a terrible trial to her blue–blooded father, a member of the Offreducia family, one of the noblest in Italy.

Her father had his first hint that saintliness might be a less than desirable trait in a child when Clare was 12. She refused to do her duty and marry the scion of another noble house. Then, six years later, at the age of 18, Clare ran away from home after hearing St Francis preach a Lenten sermon.

She followed St Francis to the town of Pontiuncula, renounced all her possessions, and demanded to become a nun. St Francis shrewdly shuffled off the problem by putting her in the charge of the Benedictine nuns at St Paul’s Convent in Bastia.

Her family eventually caught up with her and tried, with a mixture of persuasion, cajoling, and threats, to make her return home—all to no avail. Ultimately, she moved to the town of Sant’ Angelo di Pazo, where she was joined by Agnes, her younger sister, who also became a nun.

Having lost one daughter to the church, her father was determined not to lose another. He dispatched a dozen armed retainers to bring Agnes home by main force. However, he reckoned without the strong-minded Clare.

The men eventually returned empty handed, explaining that Clare’s prayers made Agnes so heavy they couldn’t shift her. Poppa Offreducia’s response to their account of Agnes’ miraculous weight gain is not recorded.

It seems that, at this point, Clare’s father decided to cut his losses and give up the struggle. But if he hoped this might hold his family together, he was sadly mistaken.

After his death, Clare’s mother and another sister, Beatrice, joined her in her convent. What’s more, they took with them a number of ladies from the wealthy Ubaldini family in Florence.

In 1215, St Francis gave Clare a house next to the church of St Damiano in Assisi, and she became abbess of the first community of nuns living under the Franciscan rule.

Pope Innocent III granted her a special dispensation of absolute poverty. This enabled the community to renounce all possessions—including buildings and land—and to live solely on the proceeds of begging. It was a state of poverty and austerity unique among nuns of the day.

Clare lived the rest of her life in contemplation at Assisi, where she became famous for her holiness and wisdom. After St Francis’ death in 1226, she became a friend and counselor to many influential church leaders.

Twice she saved Assisi from the marauding armies of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. Apparently, the sight of St Clare on the city wall, holding up the Blessed Sacrament, was enough to strike fear into the hearts of Frederick’s battle-hardened of warriors.

My purpose in writing about Clare—who died in 1255 and was canonized [declared a saint] two years later—is not to denigrate sainthood and saintliness. Perish the thought! The example of great and holy leaders like St Clare has been an inspiration to generation upon generation of Christians.

Even so, as the case of St. Clare demonstrates, saints are often very difficult to live with—in large part because they challenge us to submit to God’s will rather than our own.

Wishing one’s kids were saintly is mistaking saintliness for perpetual, instant, and unquestioning obedience. You can almost certainly get that from a robot. You just might get it from your dog. But you certainly won’t get it from a saint, an eagle, or any red-blooded American kid, for that matter. ISAAC EAGLE

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