March 9, 2019: ST. FRANCES OF ROME
March 9, 2019: ST. FRANCES OF ROME, WIDOW
[Foundress of the Collatines]
“She hath opened her mouth to wisdom, and the law of clemency is on her tongue. She hath looked well to the paths of her house, and hath not eaten her bread idle. Her children rose up, and called her blessed: her husband, and he praised
her. Many daughters have gathered together riches: thou hast surpassed them all.”
(Prov, xxxi. 26-29)
O God, who, among other privileges of thy grace, didst honor blessed Frances, thy handmaid, with the familiar company of an angel; grant, we beseech thee, by her prayers, that we may be admitted into the company of the Angels. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.
The period intervening between the Purification of our Blessed Lady and Ash-Wednesday (when it occurs at its latest date), gives us thirty-six days; and these offer us a Feast of every order of Saint. The Apostles have given us St. Matthias, and St. Peter's Chair at Antioch; the Martyrs have sent us, from their countless choir, Simeon, Blase, Valentine, Faustinus and Jovita, Perpetua and Felicitas, and the Forty Soldiers of Sebaste, whose Feast is kept to-morrow; the holy Pontiffs have been represented by Andrew Corsini, and Peter Damian, who, together with Thomas of Aquin, is one of the Doctors of the Church; the Confessors have produced Romuald of Camaldoli, John of Matha, John of God, and the angelic prince Casimir; the Virgins have gladdened us with the presence of Agatha, Dorothy, Apollonia, and Scholastica, three wreathed with the red roses of martyrdom, and the fourth with her fair lilies of the enclosed garden (Cant, iv. 12) of her Spouse; and lastly, we have had a Penitent-Saint, Margarite of Cortona. The state of Christian marriage is the only one that has not yet deputed a Saint during this season which is the least rich in Feasts of the whole year. The deficiency is supplied to-day, by the admirable Frances of Rome.
Having, for forty years, led a most saintly life in the married state, upon which she entered when but twelve years of age, Frances retired from the world, where she had endured every sort of tribulation. But she had given her heart to her God long before she withdrew to the Cloister. Her whole life had been spent in the exercise of the highest Christian perfection, and she had ever received from our Lord the sublimest spiritual favours. Her amiable disposition had won for her the love and admiration of her husband and children: the rich venerated her as their model, the poor respected her as their devoted benefactress and mother.
God recompensed her angelic virtues, by these two special graces: the almost uninterrupted sight of her Guardian Angel, and the receiving most sublime revelations. But there is one trait of her life, which is particularly striking, and reminds us forcibly of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, and of St. Jane Frances Chantal:—her austere practices of penance. Such an innocent, and yet such a mortified life, is full of instruction for us. How can we think of murmuring against the obligation of mortification, when we find a saint like this practising it during her whole life? True, we are not bound to imitate her in the manner of her penance; but penance we must do, if we would confidently approach that God, who readily pardons the sinner when he repents, but whose justice requires atonement and satisfaction.
The Church thus describes the life, virtues, and miracles of St. Frances.
Frances, a noble lady of Rome, led a most virtuous life, even in her earliest years. She despised all childish amusements, and worldly pleasures, her only delight being solitude and prayer. When eleven years old, she resolved on consecrating her virginity to God, and seeking admission into a Monastery. But she humbly yielded to the wishes of her parents, and married a young and rich nobleman, by name Lorenzo Ponziani. As far as it was possible, she observed, in the married state, the austerities of the most perfect life to which she had aspired. She carefully shunned theatrical entertainments, banquets, and other such amusements. Her dress was of serge, and extremely plain. Whatever time remained after she had fulfilled her domestic duties was spent in prayer and works of charity. But her zeal was mainly exercised in endeavouring to persuade the ladies of Rome, to shun the world, and vanity in dress. It was with a view to this that she founded, during her husband's life, the House of Oblates of the Congregation of Monte-Oliveto, under the Rule of St. Benedict. She bore her husband's banishment, the loss of all her goods, and the trouble which befel her whole family, not only with heroic patience, but was frequently heard to give thanks, saying with holy Job: “The Lord hath given, and the Lord hath taken away: blessed be the name of the Lord!”
At the death of her husband, she fled to the aforesaid House of Oblates, and there, barefooted, with a rope tied round her neck, and prostrate on the ground, she humbly, and with many tears, begged admission. Her petition being granted, she, though mother of the whole community, gloried in calling herself everyone's servant, and a worthless woman, and a vessel of dishonour. She evinced the contempt she had for herself by her conduct, as well as by her expressions. Thus, when returning from a vineyard in the suburbs, she would go through the city, sometimes carrying faggots on her head, sometimes driving an ass laden with them. She looked after, and bestowed abundant alms upon the poor. She visited the sick in the hospitals, and consoled them, not only with corporal food, but with spiritual advice. She was untiring in her endeavours to bring her body into subjection, by watchings, fasting, wearing a hair shirt and an iron girdle, and by frequent disciplines. Her food, which she took but once in the day, consisted of herbs and pulse, and her only drink was water. But she would somewhat relent in these corporal austerities, as often as she was requested to do so by her confessor, whom she obeyed with the utmost exactitude.
Her contemplation of the divine mysteries, and especially of the Passion, was made with such intense fervour and abundance of tears, that she seemed as though she would die with grief. Frequently, too, when she was praying, and above all after Holy Communion, she would remain motionless, with her soul fixed on God, and rapt in heavenly contemplation. The enemy of mankind seeing this, endeavoured to frighten her out of so holy a life, by insults and blows; but she feared him not, invariably baffled his attempts, and, by the assistance of her Angel Guardian, whose visible presence was granted to her, she gained a glorious victory. God favoured her with the gift of healing the sick, as also with that of prophecy, whereby she foretold future events, and could read the secrets of hearts. More than once, when she was intent on prayer, either in the bed of a torrent, or during a storm of rain, she was not touched by the water. On one occasion, when all the bread they had was scarcely enough to provide a meal for three of the sisters, she besought our Lord, and he multiplied the bread; so that after fifteen persons had eaten as much as they needed, there was sufficient left to fill a basket. At another time, when the sisters were gathering wood outside the City walls, in the month of January, she amply quenched their thirst by offering them bunches of fresh grapes, which she plucked from a vine, and which she had miraculously obtained. Her virtues and miracles procured for her the greatest veneration from all. Our Lord called her to himself in the fifty-sixth year of her age, and she was canonised by Pope Paul the Fifth.
Another account of St. Frances of Rome
St. Frances was born at Rome in 1384. Her parents, Paul de Buxo and Jacobella Rofredeschi, were both of illustrious families. She imbibed early sentiments of piety, and such was her love of purity from her tender age, that she would not suffer her own father to touch even her hands, unless covered. She had always an aversion to the amusements of children, and loved solitude and prayer. At eleven years of age she desired to enter a monastery, but, in obedience to her parents, was married to a rich young Roman nobleman, named Laurence Ponzani, in 1396. A grievous sickness showed how disagreeable this kind of life was to her inclinations. She joined with it her former spirit; kept herself as retired as she could, shunning feastings and public meetings. All her delight was in prayer, meditation, and visiting churches. Above all, her obedience and condescension to her husband was inimitable, which engaged such a return of affection, that for forty years which they lived together, there never happened the least disagreement; and their whole life was a constant strife and emulation to prevent each other in mutual complaisance and respect. While she was at her prayers or other exercises, if called away by her husband, or the meanest person of her family, she laid all aside to obey without delay, saying: “A married woman must, when called upon, quit her devotions to God at the altar, to find him in her household affairs.” God was pleased to show her the merit of this her obedience; for the authors of her life relate, that being called away four times in beginning the same verse of a psalm in our Lady's office, returning the fifth time, she found that verse written in golden letters. She treated her domestics not as servants, but as brothers and sisters, and future co-heirs in heaven; and studied by all means in her power to induce them seriously to labor for their salvation. Her mortifications were extraordinary, especially when, some years before her husband's death, she was permitted by him to inflict on her body what hardships she pleased. She from that time abstained from wine, fish, and dainty meats, with a total abstinence from flesh, unless in her greatest sicknesses. Her ordinary diet was hard and mouldy bread. She would procure secretly, out of the pouches of the beggars, their dry crusts in exchange for better bread. When she fared the best, she only added to bread a few unsavory herbs without oil, and drank nothing but water, making use of a human skull for her cup. She ate but once a day, and by long abstinence had lost all relish of what she took. Her garments were of coarse serge, and she never wore linen, not even in sickness. Her discipline was armed with rowels and sharp points. She wore continually a hair shirt, and a girdle of horse-hair. An iron girdle had so galled her flesh, that her confessor obliged her to lay it aside. If she inadvertently chanced to offend God in the least, she severely that instant punished the part that had offended; as the tongue, by sharply biting it, &c. Her example was of such edification, that many Roman ladies having renounced a life of idleness, pomp, and softness, joined her in pious exercises, and put themselves under the direction of the Benedictin monks of the congregation of Monte-Oliveto, without leaving the world, making vows, or wearing any particular habit. St. Frances prayed only for children that they might be citizens of heaven, and when she was blessed with them, it was her whole care to make them saints.
It pleased God, for her sanctification, to make trial of her virtue by many afflictions. During the troubles which ensued upon the invasion of Rome by Ladislas, king of Naples, and the great schism under antipope John XXIII at the time of opening the council of Constance, in 1413, her husband, with his brother-in-law Paulucci, was banished Rome, his estate confiscated, his house pulled down, and his eldest son, John Baptist, detained a hostage. Her soul remained calm amidst all those storms: she said with Job: “God hath given, and God hath taken away. I rejoice in these losses, because they are God's will. Whatever he sends I shall continually bless and praise his name for.” The schism being extinguished by the council of Constance, and tranquillity restored at Rome, her husband recovered his dignity and estate. Some time after, moved by the great favors St. Frances received from heaven, and by her eminent virtue, he gave her full leave to live as she pleased; and he himself chose to serve God in a state of continency. He permitted her in his own lifetime to found a monastery of nuns, called Oblates, for the reception of such of her own sex as were disposed to embrace a religious life. The foundation of this house was in 1425. She gave them the rule of St. Benedict, adding some particular constitutions of her own, and put them under the direction of the congregation of the Olivetans. The house being too small for the numbers that fled to this sanctuary from the corruption of the world, she would gladly have removed her community to a larger house; but not finding one suitable, she enlarged it, in 1433, from which year the founding of the Order is dated. It was approved by pope Eugenius IV in 1437. They are called Collatines, perhaps from the quarter of Rome in which they are situated; and Oblates, because they call their profession an oblation, and use in it the word offero, not profiteor. St. Frances could not yet join her new family; but as soon as she had settled her domestic affairs, after the death of her husband, she went barefoot, with a cord about her neck, to the monastery which she had founded, and there, prostrate on the ground, before the religious, her spiritual children, begged to be admitted. She accordingly took the habit on St. Benedict's day, in 1437. She always sought the meanest employments in the house, being fully persuaded she was of all the most contemptible before God; and she labored to appear as mean in the eyes of the world as she was in her own. She continued the same humiliations, and the same universal poverty, though soon after chosen superioress of her congregation. Almighty God bestowed on her humility, extraordinary graces, and supernatural favors, as frequent visions, raptures, and the gift of prophecy. She enjoyed the familiar conversation of her angel-guardian, as her life and the process of her canonization attest. She was extremely affected by meditating on our Saviour's passion, which she had always present to her mind. At mass she was so absorbed in God as to seem immoveable, especially after holy communion: she often fell into ecstasies of love and devotion. She was particularly devout to St. John the Evangelist, and above all to our Lady, under whose singular protection she put her Order. Going out to see her son John Baptist, who was dangerously sick, she fell so ill herself that she could not return to her monastery at night. After having foretold her death, and received the sacraments, she expired on the 9th of March, in the year 1440, and of her age the fifty-sixth. God attested her sanctity by miracles: she was honored among the saints immediately after her death, and solemnly canonized by Paul V in 1608. Her shrine in Rome is most magnificent and rich: and her festival [was] kept as a holyday in the city, with great solemnity. The Oblates make no solemn vows, only a promise of obedience to the mother-president, enjoy pensions, inherit estates, and go abroad with leave. Their abbey in Rome [was] filled with ladies of the first rank.
In a religious life, in which a regular distribution of holy employments and duties takes up the whole day, and leaves no interstices of time for idleness, sloth, or the world, hours pass in these exercises with the rapidity of moments, and moments by fervor of the desires bear the value of years. There is not an instant in which a soul is not employed for God, and studies not with her whole heart to please him. Every step, every thought and desire, is a sacrifice of fidelity, obedience, and love offered to him. Even meals, recreation, and rest, are sanctified by this intention; and from the religious vows and habitual purpose of the soul of consecrating herself entirely to God in time and eternity, every action, as St. Thomas teaches, renews and contains the fervor and merit of this entire consecration, of which it is a part. In a secular life, a person by regularity in the employment of his time, and fervor in devoting himself to God in all his actions and designs, may in some degree enjoy the same happiness and advantage. This St. Frances perfectly practised, even before she renounced the world. She lived forty years with her husband without ever giving him the least occasion of offence; and by the fervor with which she conversed of heaven, she seemed already to have quitted the earth, and to have made paradise her ordinary dwelling.
Taken from: The Liturgical Year – Septuagesima, Edition 1870;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. I, 1903; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume I, 1806.
St. Frances of Rome, pray for us.