Chiara Offreduccio was born in the Umbria region of Italy in the late twelfth century. After being deeply stirred by a sermon from St. Francis of Assisi when she was in her teens, she committed herself to the Catholic religion. Obsessed, she spurned her family and moved away from them to devote herself to her newfound ways of thinking. She first went to the Portiuncula outside Assisi, where St. Francis lived with his followers. There, she demonstrably renounced all that she was by destroying her fine clothes and replacing them with rags and letting St. Francis cut off her hair. St. Francis assigned her a nun’s role in a convent near Bastia, where her family and friends eventually found her. They pleaded with her to rejoin them back at their home, but she vehemently resisted, claiming that her calling was beyond that which she once knew. She told them that the more that they asked for her to return, the stronger her will to stay with her new circle would become.
That was the beginning of a lifetime of dedication to her religion. She made it clear in every way possible. She lived in extreme austerity, because she believed that this was the way to stay free and protected from worldly temptations and human weakness. She maintained that deprivations brought her closer to the divine. Led by her example, the nuns in her convents wore simple clothing and went without sandals on their feet. They slept on the floor and would go days without proper food. Offreduccio exhorted them to not speak unless absolutely necessary, in order to remain free from the sins of the tongue and to keep their minds clear for their faith and worship. These women lived on whatever daily provisions they could gather from charities because Offreduccio, through commands from St. Francis, taught them that neither individuals nor communities within his order should have any possessions.
Her adherence to this lifestyle left her sick much of her adult life. Still, she persisted and remained faithful to her beliefs and the instructions from the church’s superiors. The strength of her religion bolstered by the imagination and mastery of the Catholic heralds left an everlasting impact on the church. Legend has it that even though she was bedridden with illness, she saved San Damiano, a church in Assisi, from attacks by Emperor Frederick II’s soldiers. She instructed someone to carry her to the infidels’ point of entry, where she knelt in prayer to ask for divine intervention. She heard a young child’s voice give her assurances that protection from the intruders would be granted. The story ends when this spectacle spooked the attackers and caused them to make a hasty headlong retreat. Thus, the church and its occupants were spared the Emperor’s brutality. It is also said that one Christmas Eve, while once again sick in bed, her prayers brought her a vision of the church service on her bedroom wall. Her good works and such stories as these carried her to Sainthood. In 1255, two years after her death, Chiara Offreduccio was canonized by the Catholics as St. Clare of Assisi.
In 1958, St. Clare was named the Patron Saint of Television. While many Americans had taken the leap with the new technology by then, they often had to exercise great patience to enjoy it. Fussy tubes, poor reception and screen resolution made TV a pastime for only the most curious and determined. With St. Clare’s perfected knack for obtaining clear visual images, she was just what the world needed, especially as the first color TV sets were being developed.
But I think we should expect more from the anointed ones, St. Clare included. This as necessary today as ever. With TV programming mostly consisting of either pure trash, asinine drivel or incessant consumer messaging, we need St. Clare to step it up. The cable news shows are always fertile ground for inanity and are chock-full of supreme examples of disregard for good and honest reporting. Time and again, they continue to abuse their power by creating stories that distract their viewers from the important and underlying issues that they could instead inform us about. Last week’s dustup on the boob tube was a perfect case in point, when a highly paid celebrity news anchor and her “panel” earnestly discussed the race of two prominent figures of the holiday season – Jesus and Santa Claus.
Really, I’ve not made this up; for those of you who have been spared this so far and want to see it for yourself, watch the video below. It’s pretty nutty. With an opportunity to tell their viewers about real issues (take your pick – underperforming economy, poverty, consolidation of economic and political power, Syria, Iran, Ukraine…) any time that they spend on this silliness is indefensible. This woman’s dreams about a White Christmas are not important. Her desire that everyone have the same image of Santa Claus and Jesus as hers is not a worthy topic for a national news program. Her wise expert guests can help her make sense of all this and discuss with sincerity replacing the myth of Santa Claus with the fairy tale of a gift-giving penguin, but that’s more appropriate for their discussion over after-work drinks, not on a news station viewed by millions of people. Don’t you think?
Still, I know better. This is what we can expect from these people. And that’s why we need more from St. Clare. Maybe she slipped away on her Christmas vacation early this year. Or maybe, she just wasn’t cut out for the job to begin with. Her specialty was getting a good picture after all, not programming and reporting. Chet Huntley and David Brinkley just did not need the oversight and direction these specious actors need. They are impostors filling precious space. It’s time to get the Patron Saint of TV focused on the task at hand, so we can put our TV news programs back where they belong. I know, this is not going to happen. Call it childish longing for a Christmas miracle.