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Frances of Rome

The story of Frances is the story of someone who must have been convinced for most of her life that she had completely lost her way. Frances was the daughter of wealthy parents and she was engaged to be married to Lorenzo, the son of another rich family, from a very young age. By the time she was eleven, Frances already had a deep Christian faith. She was convinced that God was calling her to a monastic life of prayer. She was very unhappy about her engagement and asked God to release her, but when her confessor asked her ‘Are you crying because you want to do God’s will, or because you want God to do your will?’ she decided to accept her obligations and at 13 she married Lorenzo. The young couple lived with his family. Frances was expected to join in their busy social life, leaving her very little time to pray or study.

Eventually Frances became exhausted and very ill. She had a vision of St Alexis, who ran away from his family rather than be forced to marry, and was not recognised by them when he returned many years later as a beggar. This echoed her own feeling that the family did not recognise who she truly was. Frances felt Alexis offered her a choice – to die and be with God or to live and fulfil the obligations she had taken on as a wife. She chose to live the life that she had accepted when she married.

Frances’ sister in law, Vanozza, also lived with the family. Frances had assumed Vanozza was happy with the lifestyle of a rich wife, but after her illness discovered that Vanozza also longed to dedicate her life to God. Vanozza and Frances became each others’ spiritual supporters. Within the family, they formed a small Christian community of two. While keeping up the round of social activities their positions demanded, they also went to Mass together and visited prisoners, helped the sick and even set up a small chapel. When Lorenzo’s mother died, Frances took responsibility for running the large household while bringing up her children Battista, Giovanni Evangelista and Agnes. Life seemed to be taking her even further away from her ideal of a life spent in contemplation of God.

After severe flooding, Frances gave away surplus corn, oil and wine from the family’s stores. Her father in law was so outraged by this that he took the keys away from her and sold their excess corn to stop her giving it away. However, the corn and wine were miraculously replenished and from that time both Lorenzo and his father were converted to Christianity. Although the family were well off, life was hard. The plague took the life of Frances and Lorenzo’s son Evangelista. Civil war broke out between supporters of three rivals for the Pope’s throne and their other son, Battista, was taken as a hostage. Lorenzo went away to fight.

Frances had a vision in a dream of her dead son Evangelista, who told her that her daughter Agnes would also die but that an archangel would be given to her as her guardian angel and would be visible to her until her own death. This happened as the vision told her it would. The angel shed a bright light so that she could read her prayers even in the night time. He also gave her good advice, once telling her to moderate her tendency to severe penances and fasting because God did not intend her spirit to ruin her flesh.

Frances started a lay order for women attached to the Benedictines, living in the community to serve the poor, and bought a house for widowed members to live in. Lorenzo and Battista returned at the end of the civil war, but Lorenzo was physically and mentally broken by his experiences and needed nursing until his death. When Frances herself was widowed she went to live in the community house as the Superior. At the age of 52 she finally fulfilled the calling to monasticism she had felt as a young girl.

Frances’ story tells us quite a lot about our own walk with God. It reminds us that God will send us support in many forms. Frances had a guardian angel in a supernatural form but she also had a loyal and supportive husband and a sister in Christ with whom she was able to practice her faith in the middle of the demands of her family duties. The angel’s reminder to her to moderate her harsh regime reminds us that our relationship with God should not be about suffering but about service. And it also tells us that God’s sense of timing is not the same as ours! It took Frances over thirty years to fulfil her early sense of calling, but along the way she served God and others in many unexpected ways. Frances’ story reassures us that if we believe God has a plan for our lives, we should not be afraid to trust him to work out the details.

Image courtesy of lusi on sxc,hu


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