In the most troubled of times, God raises up saints as exemplars and intercessors, and Frances of Rome is no exception. Born into privilege in 1384 into a Europe already ravaged by the Black Death, which peaked from 1347 to 1351, Frances lived through tumultuous times, with Rome ravaged by the effects of the ‘Great Western Schism’, which had begun in 1378, with eventually three rival claimants to the papacy, none of them providing a particularly edifying example. Frances wanted to give her life to God, but was ordered at the age of twelve – as per custom back then – to marry, and was given to the wealthy Lorenzo di Ponziani, the commander of the papal troops. The marriage proved a happy one, even if Frances’ liberal – one might say excessive from a worldly view – almsgiving and care for the poor caused some consternation, the miraculous replenishing of the supplies alleviated the anxieties of the Ponziani clan.
Frances raised her children well, and cared for her husband until his death, after he was invalided in a battle. Before that, they had agreed to practice continence, and Frances’ charitable and prayer life deepened immeasurably, recounting visions of saints, her guardian angel, purgatory, hell, foretelling both the end of the schism and her own death. She was, as her biography attests, renowned for her patience, humility and obedience. Frances founded a community of pious women, the Benedictine Oblate Congregation of Tor di Specchi, and died on this day in 1440, after a life given to God in an age when so many were scandalized by so many bad examples in the Church.
A lesson for our times, as all the saints are, really.
Italy could use prayers at the present time, as she is currently under the most rigorous lock down in European – perhaps even all of – history, with everything closed, churches, schools, universities. Cafes are still permitted – they forego the Holy Eucharist and the rest of the sacraments, but not their espresso – but patrons must sit one metre apart. Feel free to peruse my words the other day on the effects of fear and our unrestrained imagination. Even if the fear have some basis, here is a description of Saint Frances’ response such in her own time:
Many different diseases were rampant in Rome. Fatal diseases and plagues were everywhere, but the saint ignored the risk of contagion and displayed the deepest kindness towards the poor and the needy. Her empathy would first bring them to atone for their sins. Then she would help them by her eager care, and urge them lovingly to accept their trials, however difficult, from the hand of God. She would encourage them to endure their sufferings for love of Christ, since he had previously endured so much for them.
Trust in God, and I will praise him still. At least open the churches, cara Italia.