When I became pregnant with my youngest, I immediately honed in on the name “Chiara.” At the time, I will admit, it had nothing to do with the most famous Chiara, St. Clare of Assisi, or, as they say in Italy, Santa Chiara di Assisi, whose feast day is today.
No, my fascination with this beautiful name started in college, when I was on a trip to China and spent three weeks traveling with a young woman named Chiara, who was part of our university group. The name struck me as the most beautiful name I’d ever heard, but that may have had something to do with my being named Mary, which, as they sing in the old-time classic, “there is something there that sounds so square.” Chiara (the name, not the person) was about as opposite of “square” as I could imagine.
For more than twenty years, the name Chiara lingered in the back of my brain. I never really considered it when I was pregnant with Olivia. Not sure why not. But when I became pregnant just about six years ago, this name was my clear favorite. I loved the sound of it. I loved the fact that it reflected my Italian heritage. (Although we did at one point consider its Gaelic cousin, “Ciara,” which also means Clare but is pronounced KEER-ah, as opposed to key-AR-ah.)
So Chiara Elizabeth was born on July 21, and her Italian name seems perfectly suited to her. Of all my children, she is the one that will settle down with a stuffed artichoke and pull the leaves through her little white teeth as if she’s been doing it for a lifetime in Naples, hometown of her great-grandpa. She will go to a deli and request provolone and dried Italian sausage for lunch when the others are getting standard turkey sandwiches. She will scarf down fried calmari and pesto with sausage any chance she gets. (Note that she’s rolling out pizza dough in the photo above.) So the name was definitely a good call.
Surprisingly enough, however, this name has led me further along my own spiritual journey. Knowing my daughter shared a name with St. Clare of Assisi made me want to explore this holy woman in more depth. I’d always been a fan of Francis, her spiritual mentor and friend, but Clare was a spiritual footnote for me.
As my own Chiara has grown over the past five years, so has my love of Santa Chiara. Her courage, her faith, her strength were remarkable, especially in light of the fact that she did what she did as a woman in medieval times. Next month, when I finally get to Italy, I’m hoping to find a way to get to Assisi for one day, so I can walk in the footsteps of Francis and Clare. And then some day I’ll take Chiara back to do the same.
Today, when I opened my “Word of God Everyday” daily email, it included a quote from St. Clare: “Look into that mirror daily, always study your face in it, so that within and without you may adorn yourself with all manner of virtue.”
I liked the quote, which was connected to an Old Testament verse about the Son being a reflection of God’s glory. But something about the quote from Clare didn’t sit right with me as it was. It was incomplete and could be confusing to those of us in the modern world. It almost sounded as though Clare were suggesting that we look into an actual mirror and study our own faces. So I searched for it and found the full quote from a letter she wrote to Blessed Agnes of Prague.
Happy indeed is she who is granted a place at the divine banquet, for she may cling with her inmost heart to him whose beauty eternally awes the blessed hosts of heaven; to him whose love inspires love, whose contemplation refreshes, whose generosity satisfies, whose gentleness delights, whose memory shines sweetly as the dawn; to him whose fragrance revives the dead, and whose glorious vision will bless all the citizens of that heavenly Jerusalem, for he is the splendor of eternal glory, the brightness of eternal light, and the mirror without cloud.
Queen and bride of Jesus Christ, look into that mirror daily and study well your reflection, that you may adorn yourself, mind and body, with an enveloping garment of every virtue…In this mirror blessed poverty, holy humility and ineffable love are also reflected. With the grace of God the whole mirror will be your source of contemplation.
Jesus is the mirror — a mirror “without cloud.” And we are meant to reflect him to the world. That’s why I love St. Clare. Happy feast day to my baby Chiara.