St Frances of Rome (Optional memorial)

Commentary on St Frances of Rome:

Frances (Francesca) was born in 1384 of well-off parents in Rome, Italy. At the age of 11, although she wished to be a nun, her parents made her marry Lorenzo Ponziano, a commander of the papal troops. During the ongoing wars between popes and anti-popes, Lorenzo was on the side of the former.

Although the marriage had been arranged by the parents, it proved a happy one and lasted 40 years. This was partly because Lorenzo admired his wife and her sister, Vannozza, and partly because he was away at war so much of the time.  We know of three children: Battista who carried on the family name; Evangelista, a very gifted child who died in 1411, and Agnes, who died in 1413, both victims of the plague.

Frances was outstanding for taking care of the poor and the sick.  She converted part of the family estate into a hospital.  She became widely known among the poor by the nickname “la Ceccolella”.  She won many rich ladies away from a frivolous life to join her in her work.

On the 15 August 1425 she founded the Oblates of Mary, a lay congregation of women, attached to the White Benedictine monastery of Santa Maria Nuova. Later, they would become the Benedictine Oblate Congregation of Tor di Specchi which was approved by Pope Eugene IV  on 4 July 1433.   The members led the life of religious but were not enclosed nor did they take religious vows.  They spent their time in prayer and good works.  On the death of her husband Frances became the superior of the group.  They are now known as the Oblates of St Frances of Rome.

With her husband’s consent Frances practised celibacy and lived a life of deep contemplation.  She had the gift of miracles and ecstasy. She was noted for her humility and detachment from material things, her obedience and her patience, especially during various family hardships – her husband’s long absences, the captivity of her son Battista in war, the death of her children and the loss of family property.  The city of Rome was largely in ruins and even wolves wandered the streets scavenging.

Eventually, Lorenzo would return, wounded, to his wife’s nursing care and died in 1436.Four years later, she died on 9 March 1440 and was buried in the Sta Maria Nova Church.She was canonised by Pope Paul V on 9 May 1608.  In 1925 Pope Pius XI made her patron of car drivers, because of a legend that an angel used to light the road in front of her when she travelled.  She will be remembered as one of the great mystics of the fifteenth century



Readings:  Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31; Matthew 22:35-40

Today’s Gospel passage from Matthew comes immediately after a scene between Jesus and the Sadducees who put what they thought was an unanswerable problem to Jesus.  The question concerned a woman whose husband died without producing a son.  By Jewish law, the widow was expected to marry a brother to produce an heir for the dead brother.  In the hypothesis, there were seven brothers whom the widow married one after the other without any of them producing a child. The unanswerable question: In the next life, which of the brothers is the woman’s husband?  It was no problem for the Sadducees who did not believe in an after life but Jesus did have such a belief, so what answer would he give?  Jesus replied briefly by saying that, one, there would be no marriage in the next life anyway and two, that part of the Scriptures in which the Sadducees believed speaks of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and, as Jesus says, God is a God not of the dead, the no longer existing, but of the living.

Following this encounter, some Pharisees who did not like the Sadducees or their beliefs were delighted with how Jesus dealt with them.  They then brought forward a problem of their own.  One of them, who was an expert in the interpretation of the Mosaic Law, asked Jesus: “Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”  Apparently, it was a much discussed question.  There were more than 600 laws and they obviously were not equal in gravity.  But which was the most central?  Jesus replied by citing two passage from the Law, one from Deuteronomy (6:5) – ‘Love God with all your heart…’ and the other from Leviticus (19:18) – ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’.  Was this the answer they were expecting?  And were there two laws here and not just one?

In fact, it is very clear from the rest of the Gospel that there is indeed only one commandment here.  Love of God cannot be separated from love of neighbour.  The only way genuinely to express our deep love of God is through the love and service of every person we encounter.

Frances of Rome observed this commandment in a very high degree.  Although belonging to a privileged class, she was noted for her outstanding care of the poor and sick.

The First Reading is from the very end of the Book of Proverbs.  It describes a wife of outstanding character and the qualities which mark her out.   Just three short passages from the whole section are included in our reading.

“A wife of noble character who can find?  She is worth far more than rubies.  Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing.”  In fact, Frances did take great care of her husband although he was often away for long periods on the battlefield and, when he finally came home, a sick man, she took care of him.

“She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.”  As already mentioned, Francis was outstanding in her care of the poor and the sick.

Finally, she is praised for what really matters.  “Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised; give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.”

Frances was likely a charming person and we have no mention of her physical attractiveness but it is her service of the Lord in the poor and sick for which she is remembered and honoured.

What will I be most remembered for?




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