Saint Frances of Rome
Wife, mother and Saint (1384-1440)
The Great Western Schism began and the Church needed a Saint, someone willing to live and die, if necessary, for the Church. In 1384, Jesus was to raise up such a Saint. A little girl, Frances, was born in Rome, of the nobility. This Schism was to cause Frances and her family much pain. She never lived to see unity within the Church.
When Frances was only eleven years old, her desire was to become a Nun. Her parents, meaning well, arranged a suitable marriage with someone of her class. She gave in to her parents and was married at thirteen.
She had many children. Although she was very fervent in her prayer life, when her husband or her children called out to her, she put it all aside and tended to their needs, always faithful to her vocation as a wife and mother. Like St. Teresa of Avila, who found God "among the pots and pans", she could and did find God in her household duties, whether doing housework, cooking or wiping her children's runny noses. She never judged how she was best serving the Lord. She just said an ongoing "yes"!
In 1411, Saint Frances' son Evangelista became critically ill from the plague that had swept the region. He was barely nine years old. Before he died, he smiled up to his mother and said, "Behold the Angels who have come to take me to Heaven! Mother, I will remember you!"
One year after Evangelista died, as St. Frances was praying in the Oratory of her palace in Rome, a brilliant light cut through the dawn, flooding the room. As she adjusted her eyes, she could see her son Evangelista in the light. He was wearing the same clothes he had been wearing when they had laid him to rest. His features were unchanged except to be more radiant and breathtakingly beautiful.
He was accompanied by what appeared to be another boy. Although this boy outshone her son in looks and stature, she had eyes only for her boy. Evangelista held out his outstretched arms to his mother. He told his mother he had come to console her, that he was in Heaven and happy. Like St. Paul and many of the saints, Evangelista said Heaven was beyond any description he could make.
"My companion is an Archangel," he said, "and I occupy a place with him among the Angels of the Second Choir of the first Hierarchy." Evangelista was careful to add, his Angel occupied a place higher than his; but that God, in His generosity, had sent His Angel to her, to be her comfort in her long hard, sad journey on earth. He told her she would be able to see the Angel with her own eyes. As she tried to hold on to him, Evangelista said, he had to leave, but whenever she looked at the Angel, she would be reminded of him and she would be comforted.
Before departing, he paused for a moment; he looked at her. His eyes became sad. He said he had another reason for coming to her. He told her, his sister Agnes would soon be joining him in Heaven. But, he reassured her, this Angel, whom the Lord had sent to Frances, would be her companion for the next twenty-three years.
The vision lasted an hour. Her son left, and true to his word, there was the Angel, arms crossed over his chest, standing in front of her. She fell down on her knees and thanked God for this precious gift. She then begged the Angel to protect her from the onslaughts of the fallen angels who filled her with doubts of all kinds, to help her handle the difficult moments in her life, and to guide her in perfecting herself so that one day, she would be with her God and her son in Paradise.
Soon after, Agnes' health began to deteriorate, and a year later, at sixteen years old, she was dead. The grieving mother's only consolation was the Angel beside her. No one but she could see him. And when she committed a sin, she no longer could, until she was repentant and confessed her transgressions.
Frances could not look directly at him; he was so brilliant he was blinding. She had to keep her eyes fastened on the aura encompassing his body. Those times when she was either deep in prayer, or under attack by the devil, or when she mentioned the Angel to her confessor, the Angel would allow Frances to look straight at him. She said he resembled a boy of about nine years old. His eyes twinkled and danced as he looked at her. He had the kindest, most loving expression on his face. His hair was like fine golden yarn. It reached down his neck and shoulders. The light from his hair enabled Frances to read her Office at night.
The Angel seemed to have his power in his hair. Whenever the devil tried to attack Frances, the Angel shook his hair effortlessly and a little disdainfully and the devil trembled and fled. Through the Angel, she could see into men's hearts, and discern when the devil was in charge of the soul before her, or God. The Angel walked always before her, to the right of her and to the left of her, over her and beneath her, always there to protect her.
Frances' husband's love and admiration grew greater, as he grew older. One day, knowing how very much she had wanted to be a Nun, he told her he would release her from her wifely duties, if she would remain under his roof. Frances fulfilled her dream; she formed a community of women living in the world, without religious vows, who would consecrate themselves to God and to the care of the poor and the sick. It was not until her husband died and was laid to rest between their two children, Evangelista and Agnes, did Frances join her community.
On the day she joined the community that she had founded, the Oblates of Mary, she had a vision of our Lord. He was seated on a high throne, surrounded by myriads of Angels worshiping Him. When the Angelic Choir of the Powers came before the Lord, He pointed to one of the highest of their Order and assigned him to take the place of the Archangel who had been St. Frances' companion these last twenty-three years. This Angel was more beautiful than the other and possessed even more power to fight the devil. By his presence alone, he was able to chase the fallen angels from St. Frances. This Angel who remained with St. Frances for the next four years, brought her three golden palms; they represented the three virtues he would stress over and over again in Frances: that of charity, firmness and prudence.
It was March the 9th, 1440. Everyone had been around her bed for seven days. It was obvious, she was dying. Night had settled on the room. Before they could light a candle, suddenly a bright light lit up her face. "The Angel has finished his task. He beckons me to follow him." And with this, she died. All the faithful whose lives she had so powerfully touched, and those seeking miraculous cures, filed into the palace. They became so numerous, she had to be moved to the church of Santa Maria Nuova. As news of miracles spread throughout Rome and then Italy, the church could barely contain all who came in thanksgiving and in petition. She was laid to rest in the chapel of the church reserved for her community.
Her community, the Oblates of Mary are still in existence and still wear the clothes of the noble ladies of Saint Frances' time.
In 1608, Frances was recognized by the Church and raised officially to the Communion of Saints. The church where she is buried was renamed Santa Francesca Romana.
Neither one of the two Angels who were her companions for the last twenty-seven years of her life was her Guardian Angel. As St. Thomas Aquinas said, when someone is chosen to lead or to direct others in the way of holiness, he or she is given additional Angels of a higher Choir. And so, it was with Saint Frances. Imagine the Angels, Pope John Paul II has to help him, in the tremendous task he has.