1384 – 1440
Optional Memorial: Liturgical Color: White
Today’s saint, born into a wealthy noble family in the Eternal City, at a young age was married to a man from a similarly privileged family. St. Frances earnestly sought to do the will of God in serving her husband, her children, and her home while also attempting to live a high level of holiness modeled on the life of a nun. She had, in fact, desired to enter religious life from a young age. She seemed to struggle with an internal conflict between her married state and the religious state to which she had originally felt called. This was not a choice between a good and a bad option. It was a natural tension in the soul of a holy woman who saw two paths open before her, both of which led to God. Once her husband died and her children were grown, St. Frances did live the ordered life of a religious, albeit outside of a convent.
The divine pull that St. Frances felt in the direction of two unique callings was not unusual. The Church has other female saints who were wives and mothers before they entered religious life once their husbands died and their children were of age. The spiritual theology of the Church in the twentieth century, ratified by the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, now offers a vision of holiness which, however, resolves much of this internal tension in trying to discern a vocation. The primary calling of all Christians is imparted through Baptism, fortified in Confirmation, and nourished in reception of Holy Communion. These Sacraments are sufficient armor to fit one for holiness in any and all circumstances. The married life and its natural domestic concerns is, then, as much a theater for holiness as a convent’s cloister.
The Church wants all Catholics to understand daily life as its own drama in doing, or rejecting, God’s will. It is not that one is distracted with the details of work, family, domestic chores, and children while the real action takes place in the parish, the monastery, the retreat center or the convent. The real action is at home, in the domestic church. It is at home where Christians spend most of their time, raise their children, engage with their spouses, and accomplish the multitude of details that make life happen. Home and work are not spheres of life. They are life. And it simply is not true that the will of God lies outside of life itself. To say that holiness is for everyone is to say that all of creation is a forum to pursue it, and that no vocation limits the opportunity to fulfill God’s will.
St. Frances of Rome was a model wife and mother for forty years. She also fasted, prayed, had supernatural visions, and was generous with the poor. Her charity towards the destitute was not the modern charity of making charitable donations. She did the work, not someone else. She herself made personal contact with the homeless, the hungry, and beggars. Her sterling example of piety and service led her to found a group of like minded women who lived in the world but who bound themselves to a life of prayer and service. The group was later recognized as an Order in the Church under the title of the Oblates of St. Frances of Rome.
St. Frances of Rome was generous in all things and had a vibrant mystical spirituality. She fulfilled her duties according to her state in life, and helped similarly high placed women avoid lives of frivolity. As wife, mother, and later Oblate, she stretched herself to the limit in seeking and doing God’s will, precisely as that will was transmitted to her by the Church she loved with such fervor.
St. Frances of Rome, through your intercession aid all wives and mothers to live lives of generous service to their families. Help them to see their service to the domestic church as the fulfillment of God’s will in creating, and fortifying, that cradle of holiness and culture the Church so needs.
From Butler’s Lives of the Saints:
FRANCES was born at Rome in 1384. Her parents were, of high rank. They overruled her desire to become a nun, and at twelve years of age married her to Rorenzo Ponziano, a Roman noble. During the forty years or their married life they never had a disagreement. While spending her days in retirement and prayer, she attended promptly to every household duty, saying, “A married woman must leave God at the altar to find Him in her domestic cares;” and she once found the verse of a psalm in which she had been four times thus interrupted completed for her in letters of gold. Her ordinary food was dry bread. Secretly she would exchange with beggars good food for their hard crusts; her drink was water, and her cup a human skull. During the invasion of Rome, in 1413, Ponziano was banished, his estates confiscated, his house destroyed, and his eldest son taken as a hostage. Prances saw in these losses only the finger of God, and blessed His holy name. When peace was restored Ponziano recovered his estate, and Frances founded the Oblates. After her husband’s death, barefoot and with a cord about her neck she begged admission to the community, and was soon elected Superioress. She lived always in the presence of God, and amongst many visions was given constant sight of her angel guardian, who shed such brightness around him that the Saint could read her midnight Office by this light alone. He shielded her in the hour of temptation, and directed her in every good act. But when she was betrayed into some defect, he faded from her sight; and when some light words were spoken before her, he covered his face in shame. She died on the day she had foretold, March 9, 1440.
Reflection.—God has appointed an angel to guard each one of us, to whose warnings we are bound to attend. Let us listen to his voice here, and we shall see him hereafter when he leads us before the throne of God.
Lives of the Saints, by Alban Butler, Benziger Bros. ed.