St. Clare of Montefalco Teaches Joyful Suffering

On August 17, we celebrated the feast day of a saint who teaches us the value of suffering. St. Clare of Montefalco was born to a wealthy Italian family in 1268. She knew from a young age that she wanted to serve Christ as a nun, so at the age of six, she moved into a hermitage with her older sister and lived according to the Third Order of St. Francis (Secular).

She lived there with her sister and other women who had joined them until the group became too large and had to move. When Clare was 22, the women desired a stricter monastic life, so they joined the Augustinian sisters. Around that time, Clare began to experience ecstasies.

It is said that on one such occasion in 1294, she fell into an ecstasy that lasted for several weeks. When she finally came out of it, she told her fellow sisters of a vision she had of Jesus. She said that she saw Jesus as a poor traveler and that He felt weighted down by His cross. Clare said she knelt in front of him and asked where He was going. Jesus responded, “I have looked all over the world for a strong place . . . to plant this cross firmly, and I have not found any.” She then told Him she would help Him carry it. He reportedly said to her, “Clare, I have found a place for My cross here.” And He implanted His cross in her heart.

Clare spent the rest of her life suffering from immense pain in her chest, but she never allowed that pain to keep her from her service to the other nuns. She served joyfully as the abbess, as a spiritual mother, and as their teacher.

Clare’s example of loving servitude to others and of joyful suffering can help us navigate our own crosses and sorrows. We all have crosses to bear; no one is immune from suffering. Whether those crosses entail physical pain, mental anguish, emotional difficulties, or even financial hardships, we can unite those sufferings to Christ’s on the cross as Clare did, we can offer them up to help a soul in purgatory get closer to heaven, or we can offer them up for someone else suffering here on earth. When we give our sufferings to Christ and ask Him to use them to benefit someone else, we pray that that person’s suffering will be alleviated or diminished because of ours. That makes our suffering useful rather than useless—and that should bring us great joy.

This is often a difficult concept for people to understand, as they cannot see any good in suffering. In fact, many say almost accusingly that God would “never allow” something bad to happen if He truly cared about us. But we know that God does not create bad things. We do not suffer because He has forsaken us. We suffer because of the existence of sin. We suffer because we all have free will, and sometimes our poor choices or the poor choices of another person affect us, even in tragic ways.

But when that happens—no matter how we suffer—we have two choices of our own. We can wallow in that pain and close ourselves off from the world, or we can find strength in God’s goodness, understand that He walks with us through these difficulties, and use them to create something good. It is only when we rely on Him that we begin to see how our sufferings not only bring us closer to Him—as they allow us to experience a fraction of what He suffered on the cross and thus give us a small role in the redemption He offered—but they help us derive something good.

In Salvifici Doloris—an apostolic letter on the meaning of Christian suffering—Pope John Paul II explains this concept when he says that “man, discovering through faith the redemptive suffering of Christ, also discovers in it his own sufferings; he rediscovers them, through faith, enriched with a new content and new meaning.”

When we look at our suffering as a gift rather than as a burden, we come to understand why saints like Clare embraced it rather than allowed it to make them bitter or angry. This doesn’t mean that we intentionally inflict suffering on ourselves or that we stop caring about what happens to others; it simply means that we approach suffering with a different mindset. We allow God to use our pain for the good of someone else.

So whether that is the tiniest headache, a broken heart that comes as a result of a lost loved one, or anything in between, give it to our Lord. He will help you bear it.

And let us not forget the words of St. Paul to the Corinthians: “We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.”

God has promised that, no matter what we face here on earth, He will never abandon us. In this, we must have faith. In this, we can find immense joy.

This article first appeared in the Catholic World Report at catholicworldreport.com/2023/08/17/st-clare-of-montefalco-teaches-joyful-suffering.

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About the author

Susan Ciancio

Susan Ciancio is the editor of Celebrate Life Magazine and executive editor for the Culture of Life Studies Program.