Saint Frances of Rome, Religious – Readings

Commentary on: Proverbs 31:10-13,19-20,30-31; Matthew 22:34-40

The Gospel passage for the Memorial Mass 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 presented, 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 at all 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:

He is God not of the dead but of the living. (Matt 22:32)

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:

Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?

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, the first from Deuteronomy:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Deut 6:5)

The second is from Leviticus:

…you shall love your neighbor as yourself… (Lev 19:18)

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 to 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 woman of strength who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.
The heart of her husband trusts in her…

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. Still, she took care of him.

And the second:

She puts her hands to the distaff,
and her hands hold the spindle.
She opens her hand to the poor
and reaches out her hands to the needy.

As already mentioned, Francis herself worked hard, and was outstanding in her care of the poor and the sick.

Finally, she is praised for what really matters: 

Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Give her a share in the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the city gates.

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.

For what will I be most remembered?

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