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Francis and Angela (english)

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Saint Angela’s Franciscan Heritage

Differences and Similarity between Angela and Francis

When you go to Assisi, you notice that everything reminds you of Saint Francis and Saint Clare : the Basilica, the churches, the beautiful nature which made Francis sing aloud in praise and joy. In Desenzano and in Brescia, many places remind us of Angela’s presence there : her birth-place, the Grezze, her parish church in Desenzano, the fields of Machetto and Brudazzo, and in Brescia, most of all, Saint Afra’s. There is a real link between them, in spite of their differences : Francis and Clare lived during the 13th century; Angela, at the end of the 15th and during the first half of the 16th... different periods, different cultures. Still, both Francis and Clare had a great influence on Saint Angela Merici, though she let her own personality shine forth.

DIFFERENT PERIODS

Francis lived during the upheaval of the Middle Ages. Up to then, the medieval world was linked with soil and agriculture. Great and small lords held all the power. Workers were paid for their daily labour not in currency but by the produce of the soil. The thirteenth century, however, saw the rise of urban life. Members of the middle-class and traders succeeded in becoming independent from the emperor and local lords. Currency began to flow. Commercial links between different cities introduced new ideas and even new beliefs.

These factors gave way to a new lack of balance : Power now belonged to the rich, the middle-class, the merchants and bankers, the highly skilled craftsmen. Common folk and plain labourers lived miserably and were subject to economic pressures.

A new controversial doctrine from France, the Albigensian heresay, spread among the people, emphasizing scorn for the Church, for priests in general, for all forms of wealth. Its adherents preached in the "Piazza’s" in local dialect, and reaped great success. Meanwhile, the Church - for this was the time of the Crusades - was becoming more conscious of her spiritual and temporal universalism. Many towns had formerly clustered around the monasteries where the example of the prayerful, hard-working monks educated the people to work and pray. Now, the new cities, independent of the monasteries, were in need of new active forms of evangelisation, other than examples of prayer and service.

Francis belonged to his milieu. On his father’s side, he inherited a sense of practical action and a gift for good organization. For example, when the Lord asked him to "repair his Church in ruins", he immediately thought it was a matter of stones and cement, which he began to gather. When he wanted mystery of Christ’s birth to be taught to the simple people of Greccio, he installed the first Christmas crib with a real donkey and a real ox.

From his mother, he received gifts of simplicity of heart, a poetic grasp of nature, and marked sensitiveness to all forms of beauty. His songs and poems are prayers and belong to the treasures of Italian literature

Francis’ character was likely to go from one extreme to another. Once he was conquered by Jesus Christ, he followed Him without any hesitation, in a faithful, practical way. His whole life was characterized by joyful or painful attempts to reach union with Christ.

His original contribution to his own epoch consisted in the following :
Giving an answer to the need of Church reform by his example of personal humility and evangelical poverty,
Revitalizing the apostolate, by preaching in the vernacular, thus spreading among the people the dynamic strength of the Gospel,
Living in deep union with Christ in His life of service, humility and obedience.

Saint Angela Merici, for her part, lived in particularly difficult times very similar to ours, with their emphasis on purely human values, tendencies regarding self worship, subjective affirmation of personal liberty, search for beauty in art for its own sake, political autonomy, deep moral corruption on a very large scale. At the same time the Renaissance years were full of hardships: wars, plagues, famines, diseases. The heads of state brought turmoil, trying to conquer their neighbours. People in the lower classes had no education and were easily attracted by superstition. The Popes were sometimes unworthy, and bishops, far from their diocese, were living in wealth. Convents were filled with religious utterly devoid of any real vocation, having entered through family pressure. The clergy was poor, had received little formation and often lived with their concubines. Lutheranism was destroying Christian unity. As a matter of fact, Pope Clement VII called Brescia "the most Lutheran of all the cities in Italy". This was the climate in which Angela had to live and found the Company, with much courage and inner strength for reacting against the negative aspects of her own culture.

Hers was also a period of saints, who initiated real reform of the Church many years before the Protestant upheaval. Ever since the fifteenth century, a branch of Franciscans, the Capuchins, also called “Reformed Franciscans” or “Franciscans of the Observance” (...of St Francis’s primitive Rule) were mighty preachers of Gospel values, invited the faithful to prayer, penance, Eucharistic devotion, emphasized the joyful and sorrowful mysteries in the life of Christ. They inspired fervent groups among the laity, preached in vernacular language, devoted themselves to the poor and ill. They were the ones Saint Angela Merici met in Salò, the ones who guided her towards the Franciscan Third Order at the beginning of her adult life.

Within this environment full of contrasts, Saint Angela Merici strikes us with her balanced personality. Her family education gave her a resolute character and practical gifts. The Lord’s grace, ever since she was five or six years old, had given her a deep spiritual life with special love for prayer and particular generosity in leading the life of the poor. Moreover, we know from Bellintani that the reason for which she wanted to enter the Franciscan Third Order was to have better opportunities for prayer, penance, Holy Mass and Confession. She shared with the Capuchins a particular devotion for Christ and His Passion, a deep spirit of prayer, united with availability to all who came to her, a spirit of poverty, humility and penance very near to that of Saint Francis.

Let us stop a moment and ask ourselves, in the light of what Francis and Angela said and lived, how we ourselves give witness to Gospel values, wherever we are, in the midst of the difficulties we encounter. Each one of us has received a special call for bringing to those who surround us more love, more peace, more faith and hope. Do we remember a specific example of responding to that call ? What did we do ? What did we choose ? What did we give up ?

Angela’s specific gifts to the Church were the following :
She founded a group of women inspired by deep Gospel values, "leading a new life" (Couns. 7, 22) through virginity consecrated to Christ, their Spouse. She allowed them to stay where they were, in their own families or those of their employers, though she never made a rule out of it. She claimed complete liberty for them to choose their state in life, gave them a form of government independent of any diocesan or masculine authority, obtained for them a sort of legal recognition. She did not decide on any definite form of apostolate, except that of giving evidence of faith and joyful hope, of peace and union with the other members of the Company
Curiously enough, the direct witnesses of her life never mentioned the foundation of the Company, but her personal example of prayer and penance, and her gift of "preaching to all faith in God" (Nassino). In other words, they were struck by her evangelical style of life, centred on prayer and penance, her way of announcing the Good News of Jesus Christ in a simple and approachable manner.

Furthermore, she strikes us by :
her conviction that her foundation would last until the end of the world,
her rules of submission to the Holy Spirit and of adaptation according to times and places,
her deep sense of spiritual motherhood for all her daughters, those who were present and those who were to come.

You come from many different cultures. What are the positive and negative aspects of your own culture. How have they favoured your faith and your fidelity to the Lord ? How much have you had to react against the negative aspects of your culture ? Can you find some examples in your own life ?

I. FRANCISCAN INFLUENCES ON THE WRITINGS OF SAINT ANGELA

Francis and Angela both left us a Rule and a Testament, but Francis’s Testament is a commentary on his Rule, while Angela gives in hers specific instructions to the lady-governors of the Company of Saint Ursula. She adds "Counsels" for local superiors.
Neither Francis nor Clare, nor Angela had any higher education. Francis and Angela both dictated their Rule, respectively to Brother Leo and to Gabriel Cozzano. In fact, Francis left three Rules, the first one, in 1209, was given orally to the Brothers and approved orally by the Pope. During the next twelve years, they all lived according to that Rule, but no single copy of it was ever kept. However, during the General Chapter of 1221, Francis wrote a new Rule, an inspiring one based on many quotations from the Gospel. Finally a definitive Rule was drawn out in 1223 and approved by Pope Honorius III. This is the one actually observed by all Franciscans now.

The official Franciscan Rule, that of 1223, quotes few texts from the Gospel, whereas Angela’s writings are full of them. In her "Counsels", she never proposes any act or attitude without first mentioning either a phrase or an example of Christ Jesus. Francis’ style is more formal and concise, while Angela’s, is more personal, simple, loving, understanding. In fact, Angela composed her rule and other writings at the end of her life, after a long and rich spiritual experience in motherly love for those she was leading to the Lord. On the other hand, Francis died young, in his thirties, entrusting his ideal of strict poverty to his successors.

Both Francis and Angela were conscious that their presence in the midst of their disciples would be even more efficacious after their death. Both claimed that their Rule came from God. Saint Angela Merici says : "Let us all embrace this holy Rule, which God in his grace has offered us" (R Prol 29). And Francis : Ever since the Lord has entrusted brethren to me, no one has shown me what to do, but the Almighty Himself revealed to me how we should live according to the Holy Gospel (Testament).

How can we understand Angela’ s claim that her Rule was given to her by God, and, on the other hand, the fact that she had obviously used Franciscan documents to find inspiration for her own Rule ?

Both were deeply convinced of the purpose of life, directed towards the joys of heaven despite all the struggles and difficulties we have to undergo in this world. Saint Angela Merici underlines those struggles, together with the necessity of embracing all necessary means to overcome them, of avoiding the snares of the devil until we are given our final reward.

Both consider government as service, service of brothers and sisters, service of the Church. Angela in her Rule establishes a very original form of government, entrusted to 4 "Virgins" or local superiors, four "Lady Governors" and 4 men or "Agents”, each one being responsible for a determined form of action. However, Angela herself had to adapt her own Rule to circumstances, for, five years later, we find in the Testament nine "Lady Governors" instead of four, while the men had not yet been elected !

Prayer life is similar for both : Divine Office for Francis, Office of our Lady for Saint Angela Merici. Those who are not able to read, recite vocal prayers: "Our Father" for the brothers, "Our Father" and "Hail Mary" for Angela’s companions. We may wonder why Francis never mentioned the “Hail Mary”. The reason is simple. Remember that it was Saint Dominic, who also lived during the thirteenth century, who initiated the devotion to the Holy Rosary. Therefore it was not yet generalized during Francis’ times. This was not the case during the sixteenth century. In fact, Angela herself had a big Rosary. The prayer of the “Hail Mary” was therefore well known among her Sisters.

It is interesting to observe that Angela adds a little phrase specifying that those who are able to read the Office teach it to those who cannot do so, thus realizing the teaching of reading to the illiterate much before our times. However, both Francis and Clare decided that those who were unable to read should not try to learn how.

Francis invited his brethren to do manual work and be involved in apostolic activities, whereas Angela did not mention them. Besides, almost all her daughters had a hard life of labour within their own families, or with their employers.

Saint Angela Merici belonged to the Third Order of Saint Francis. She therefore observed during an important part of her life the 1289 Rule, approved by Pope Nicolas IV. There is some similarity between this Rule and Angela’s : the five first chapters follow the same order. You find the same prohibition about going to weddings, balls, jousts and other worldly pleasures. The chapters on prayer and fasting follow a similar pattern. Angela also adds practical rules due to the Renaissance low moral standards : no contacts with women of loose lives, no secret messages and appointments, avoiding gossiping on balconies and under the doorways, walking rapidly in the streets, with eyes lowered and being modestly dressed. Whereas Pope Leo X had decided in 1521 that all members of the Third Order of Saint Frances would have to pronounce vows, Saint Angela Merici substitutes exacting faithfulness to the vows. We do have records, however, of her, as well as some of her Sisters, pronouncing a private vow of chastity.

Finally, we can assert that Saint Angela Merici followed a path of renewal already begun by the Church of her times, the very path preached by the Reformed Franciscans : that is, "leading a new life", witnessing to the Gospel in a corrupted world, showing deep devotion to the Church, despite the weaknesses of many of its members.

Today, the message of the two founders is particularly necessary, that of Francis, so as to come to an authentic evangelical poverty, adapted to our times of unlimited consumerism ; that of Angela, so as to propose the beauty of a life given wholly to Christ, and for always.

This aspect of true love for Christ is strongly emphasized in Saint Clare’s Writings. We shall see in our next talk how much she influenced the life and the writings of Saint Angela.

With his ideal of poverty, Francis reacted against the wealth and the power of money during the 13th century. Angela, with her ideal of true love for Christ reacted against the lax morals of her times and unchristian ways of living. To what are we called to react in our environment ? How do we do it ? What are the obstacles ? What has favoured sound reactions in accordance with our faith and our vocation ?

II. Saint Clare’s Influence on Angela’s spirituality

The Franciscan heritage transmitted by Saint Clare in her Rule and in her Letters to Saint Agnes of Prague is important. Who is Agnes ? Why did she have so much influence on Clare’s spirit and spirituality ? Clare’s four letters to Agnes give us an answer to this question.

Letters to Saint Agnes of Prague

Agnes was born in 1205. She was the daughter of the King of Bohemia, Ottokar the First. According to the customs of her times, she was engaged and asked to be married very young, several different times, according to changing political issues. She was three years old when she was betrothed to Boleslas of Silesia. That engagement lasted only five years, for she was eight years old, when she was promised to Henry, the son of Frederic the Second of Germany.Henry was then only two years old. This engagement lasted a bit longer, it ended twelve years later. Agnes was 22, when Henry the Third, then King of England, asked to marry her ; 24, when the German emperor, Frederic the Second, also wanted to marry her ; 28, when he repeated his proposal. Finally, after refusing so many interesting marriages, and being convinced that the Lord wanted something more of her, she wrote to Pope Gregory IX, begging for his support and protection. In 1234, a year later, she entered the Monastery of Saint Clare in Prague, a Monastery she herself had founded a few years before.

Clare was astounded by Agnes’ generosity. In Clare’s first letter, dated 1234, shortly after Agnes entered the monastery, she wrote to her : You could have enjoyed all the flattering and honours of this world; you could have reached the height of glory by becoming the legitimate spouse of the great Emperor... but you chose a Spouse of even nobler lineage, our Lord Jesus Christ (Letter 1, 5-7).

In her second letter, Clare wrote : To Agnes, very noble Lady, daughter of the King of kings, servant of the Lord of Lords, very worthy Spouse of Jesus Christ and therefore ennobled with the title of Queen (Letter 2, 1). Your Spouse, the most beautiful of all the children of mankind, look at Him, illustrious Queen, meditate on Him, contemplate Him and have no other desire than to imitate Him (Letter 2, 20).

We can easily recognize in these phrases several words which form the basis of Angela’s spirituality : We are called to so glorious a life as to be spouses of the Son of God and to become queens in heaven (Rule Prol 17). You have been chosen to be the true and virginal spouses of the Son of God (Rule Prol 7)... spouses of the King of kings and Lord of Lords (4th Leg. 14). Remember that these terms are not new in the history of the Church : Saint Bernard wrote wonderful pages on the love of Christ and His union with all those who receive Him. Bernard also compared this union to that of a Spouse with her Lord.

These words, Clare wrote them to someone who was really of royal lineage, used to all the honours of high rank. But Angela uses them for the members of her institute, most of whom were of low social rank, working hard for their living. Angela’s words are even stronger, because of the contrast between their social conditions and the wonderful call they received to become the “spouses of the Son of God”. When we look at our Sisters in our community, can this help us to respect, esteem, and love them ?

Clare underlined the beautiful state of this new queen of heaven, a state to be longed for when we compare it with the life of nobles in this world : Many kings and queens in this world, whose pride would lift them up to the heavens... come to be beguiled and deceived (Letter 3 27). Angela, on her side observes How many lords, queens and other great persons there are who, with the many riches and possessions they have, will not be able to find true relief in some extreme need (Couns. 5 33). On the contrary, the Spouse of the King will receive a golden crown, He who has endowed you with jewels bright as the Spring and who has put on your head a golden crown, symbol of holiness (Letter 1 1O-11). Saint Angela Merici, on her part, recalls the wedding procession, in which our gentle and loving Spouse Jesus Christ... will lead her to the glory of heaven, crowned with the golden and most shining virginal crown. (Rule 11 35-36).

Following in the footsteps of Christ, looking at Him... contemplating Him... imitating Him - these are the recommendations Angela is continually suggesting, by presenting the words and gestures of Christ, each time she proposes an evangelical attitude of humility, meekness, union among the sisters, obedience and poverty

For Clare, as for Saint Angela Merici, Christ is our light, He is our treasure. He is the splendor of eternal glory, a sparkling, eternal light, Clare says, while Angela recalls His dazzling Face which contents every afflicted heart (Rule 5, 19), His light and joyful splendour of truth (Couns. 4 43). He is, according to Clare, the treasure hidden in the field of the world and the human heart, an unrivalled treasure, since it has been bought from the One who created all things out of nothing (Letter 3, 7). According to Angela, He is our only treasure, the object of our love (Couns. 5 43).

Clare, followed by Saint Angela Merici, reminds us of the real battles we have to wage during our pilgrimage in this world : Take up the arms of courage for the service of God (Letter 1 13)... I humbly beseech your majesty... to become ever more brave in the service of God, to continually make progress in virtue, so that the One you will have served whole-heartedly, will give you the reward you hope for (Letter 1 31-32)... May you, as Queen of the King of heaven, enkindle every day a greater fervour of love (Letter 4 27). We can see in the Prologue of Angela’s Rule a reminiscence of these words: Strive with all your might to remai as you are called by God, and to seek and desire all the ways and means necessary to persevere and make progress to the very end. (Rule, Prol., 9-10). Come then, let us all embrace this holy rule which God in his grace has offered us and... let us behave so bravely that we, too may return gloriously to our heavenly home, where, from everyone in heaven and on earth, great glory and triumph will burst forth for us (Rule Prol. 29-31).

Even the snares of the devil will not overcome those who trust in Christ : Clare writes to Agnes, You triumph over the snares of the enemy in a terrible and surprising way (Letter 3 6). Saint Angela Merici does not hide, either, the battle we have to wage against the enemy : Neither does our adversary, the devil, sleep, he who never rests but... is always watching and seeking which approach he could use to devour any one of us (Rule Prol. 21). Like Clare, Angela is sure of final victory : You must not be frightened, for if you strive in the future, with all your might, to live as is required of the true spouses of the Most High, I have this firm and unquestioning faith and hope in infinite divine goodness, that not only shall we easily overcome all dangers and adversities, but also, to our great glory and jubilation, we shall defeat them (Rule Prol 22-25).

Angela says to each one of us : “I have this firm and unquestioning faith and hope in His infinite divine goodness, that not only shall we easily overcome all dangers and adversities, but also, to our great glory and jubilation, we shall defeat them". (Rule, Prol. 25). Do we ask her to help us in our daily battles, so that we may live them in peace, trust and joy ? Do we endeavour to give courage to those who need our compassion and understanding in the midst of their difficulties ? Are there any examples of your experience of this ?

Like Clare, Angela is full of motherly love for those the Lord has entrusted to her care. Shortly before her death, Clare wrote to Agnes a letter overflowing with motherly affection and joy : Remember your poor mother and tell yourself that the sweetness of my remembrance of you is deeply engraved within my heart, for you are dear to me, above all... Receive my words with benevolence and kindness ; see them only in the light of my motherly love for you and for your daughters... Farewell, dear daughter of mine, farewell to you and your sisters, as we wait for the throne of glory of the Most High (Letter 4 34-39). We can easily find similar feelings in Angela’s words: The more you esteem them, the more you will love them, the more you love them, the more you will care for and watch over them. And it will be impossible for you not to cherish them day and night, and to have them all engraved in your heart, one by one, for this is how real love acts and works. (Couns. Prol. 10-11). Furthermore, Saint Angela Merici, like Clare, claims that she is waiting for us in the heavenly dwellings : We want to see you in our midst in heaven, for the Lover of us all wants this too. (Last Leg. 17-18).

The Rule of Saint Clare

We have found in Clare’s letters to Agnes of Prague a source of inspiration for Angela. We can also note some similarity between her Rule and Angela’s. Clare does not give orders to her daughters, she exhorts them, as well as Angela (see Rule 7 1; 8 1; 10 1). Both call themselves servants of Jesus Christ, unworthy servants of Jesus Christ. Clare says that the abbess is the servant of all her Sisters (Rule 9 3), and Saint Angela Merici counsels the local Superiors as follows : Regard yourselves as ministers and servants, reflecting that you have more need to serve them than they have to be served by you, or governed. (Couns. 1 3). How often these words have inspired us in the field of education !

Clare gives the following advice to the abbess : She should give comfort to those who are in distress... She should be the last recourse of those who are tempted, so that the weaker Sisters may not give way to despair if they have not found in her the needed relief (Rule 4 9). Angela on her side says : If you see one faint-hearted and timid and inclined to despair, comfort her, encourage her, promise her the blessing of the mercy of God, lift her heart with every consolation (Couns. 2, 8).

When it comes to liturgical prayer, we can also find similarities : According to Clare, the Sisters who cannot read will recite 24 Our Father’s for Matins, 5 for Lauds, 7 for each of the Little Hours... 12 for Vespers, 7 for Compline (Rule 3 3). Angela was even more requiring, adding spiritual motives to theses prayers : For those who do not know how to read, they will say daily at Matins thirty-three Pater Noster’s and thirty-three Ave Maria’s in memory of the thirty-three years Jesus Christ lived in this world for love of us; then at Prime, say seven Pater Noster’s and seven Ave Maria’s for the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. And similarly, the same at each of the other canonical Hours, that is at Terce, Sext, None,
Vespers and Compline (Rule 5 12-14).

Both Clareand Angela gave the same prescriptions for the SacramentofPenance:at least 12 times a year, (Rule 3 11) says Clare, at least once a month (Rule 7 12), says Angela, who adds, In addition to this, we exhort each one to go to confession and communion in her own parish on solemn feasts (R 7 14), thus giving public witness of their faith and fidelity to the doctrine of the Church.

Saint Clare does not seem to have deeply influenced Angela on the subject of poverty. In her Rule, there are three chapters on poverty, each one from a different point of view. Probably Chapter 8 "On evangelical begging, on individual poverty and on the sick", would have more similar points with Angela’s Rule in Chapter 10. Clare defines the spirit in which the Sisters are to act: Pilgrims and strangers in this world, they serve God in poverty and humility... (Rule 8 1). Angela is often pictured as a pilgrim because of the many pilgrimages she undertook, but especially because of her interior attitude. She did not linger on this world’s goods, but passed on, putting all her love, all her hope and faith in God alone.

Clare invited her sisters to follow Christ who became poor in this world. Poverty has great value, for it makes the Sisters heirs and queens in the Kingdom of heaven, makes them poor in worldly goods, but rich in virtue (Rule 8 2). She exhorts her daughters to recognize that all richness comes from God and can be found in God. Angela takes up the same thought saying, In God one has all wealth ; and... with God, one has everything. (Rule 10, 6)

The chapter on poverty in Saint Angela’s rule involves a life-long process of fixing our hearts on God alone, in confidence and in love. What are the different steps she proposes to help us reach a stage where we rely on God alone for our spiritual and material needs ?

Clare has no specific chapter on obedience. In the ninth chapter of her Rule she presents the spirit in which the Abbess should act : She should visit her sisters and warn them, correct them with humility and charity and not ask anything which could be in opposition with their conscience (Rule 9, 1). Angela uses the same verb, visit The local superior will be inspired by the same spirit "of humility and charity". She will refuse to obtain anything through force and compulsion, she will act with kindness and charity. You can recognize here very important principles for our way of acting, especially while educating young people.

These few examples show a definite influence of Clare’s writings on Saint Angela. However, we must not stop our investigation at this point : Saint Angela Merici is free with regard to Francis and Clare, even if she uses some of their expressions. The "Madre" will go in more deeply, explain, give motives for living the different points she proposes for a truly evangelical style of life. This afternoon, we are therefore going to study a third aspect : how she differs from Francis and Clare.

III. Angel’s originality with regard to her Franciscan Heritage

Concept of obedience

According to Francis, obedience is lived in love. The brethren will remember that they have given up their own will, through love of God (Rule 10). Saint Angela Merici in her Rule places obedience immediately in the light of imitating Christ who did not come to do his will, but that of the Father who sent Him (Rule 8 3). That is truly the great light which makes every action good and acceptable (Rule 8 4). And she adds that it is better to obey than to sacrifice (Rule 8 5) and that our very action, if it is to be good, must be done under obedience (Rule 8 6).. This means that if our life is really guided by the desire to accomplish the will of the Father, whether in big or small circumstances, since they all are part of God’s providential plan for us, then all we do is favoured by an eternal weight.

Angela gave practical details on where to find these concrete expressions of God’s will : commandments of God and of His Church, even down to the laws of Governors or States. But mostly we are to obey the counsels and inspirations which the Holy Spirit unceasingly sends in our hearts... for the Holy Spirit is the one who, as Jesus Christ says, teaches us all truth (Rule 8 14-16). However, it is not easy to discern the action of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Saint Angela Merici shows us the conditions for this discernment : a purified and clean conscience, that is, a heart freed from all the negative feelings and attitudes we all are conscious of, deep within us. This despoilment is carried out in love, for it leads us to prefer others to ourselves, as Angela puts it, " to obey every creature for love of God (Rule 8 17).

Poverty

Poverty inspired the whole life of Francis. It included all that belongs to us, our body, our intelligence, our heart, not through contempt for creation, but as a way of becoming totally available for the richness of the Kingdom of God. His radical poverty is experienced even unto the Cross, this being our “perfect joy" in the Lord.

This son of a merchant required giving up all earthly values, including money, all forms of possessions, be they buildings or land. The very height of poverty is to go begging. They must not be ashamed of it, for the Lord became poor in this world (Rule 6). His only exception for the use of money was in favour of the sick brothers, or for buying clothes according to places, times and cold climate. (Rule 6).

Saint Angela Merici practiced heroic poverty in clothes, food, (rarely eating meat, but mostly vegetables), in furniture, sleeping on a mat on the floor with a piece of wood as pillow, or, at Saint Afra’s, on a chair. But, she never prescribed this to the members of the Company of Saint Ursula. However, she did insist on a deeper poverty, on spiritual poverty, by which we strip our hearts of all affection and longing for created things and for our very selves. And in God we put all our wealth ; and apart from God we see ourselves as completely poor (Rule 10 3-6). This radical poverty of spirit is founded on total abandonment to the Providence of God the Father, who wants nothing for you but only your good and your joy. (Rule 10 18).

She did not forbid possessing goods and money, or receiving legacies: all these were to be received with gratefulness as a blessing from God and to aid the Sisters in their spiritual and material needs.

Saint Angela Merici reminded her sisters of the Beatitude of poverty, Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Rule 10 7). If she asks us not to put our pleasure in goods, food and gluttony, relatives and friends, nor in ourselves and in our own resources and knowledge, but in God alone (Rule 10 9 - 13), it is to help us seek first the Kingdom of God, because all these other things of yours will be set before you (Rule 10 14). In other words, she reminds us that our last end is God, and that persons and things are springboards in order to reach Him.

She invites us to abandon ourselves to Divine Providence: Do not be anxious in seeking what you will have to eat or what you will have to drink, because your heavenly Father knows very well that you have need of all these things... because God, and He alone knows, can and will provide for them, He who wants nothing for you but only your good and your joy (Rule 10 15-18). Saint Angela Merici thus insists on spiritual poverty, which includes some material poverty, while Clare insists on material poverty, leading to spiritual poverty.

Virginity and chastity

In their way of life, both Franciscans and Ursulines evidently had contacts between men and women. Saint Francis asked specifically not to query counsels from women, not to deal with them, nor enter their monasteries. Saint Angela Merici goes deeper into the concept of virginity and puts it in a context of love and liberty, voluntarily making to God the sacrifice of one’s own heart.(R 9 2). She urges on to mature ways of thinking, of loving, of behaving with others in the midst of the corrupted and lewd customs of the Renaissance.

An analysis of the Writings of both Founders shows us that poverty was for Francis the centre of all, but for Angela, it was virginity, that is, an uncompromising love of Christ.

Their emphasis differs : Francis wanted to offer to all the grace of living evangelical poverty. Angela strove to give women living within the world the possibility, the grace of giving themselves to Christ through virginal love. Her counsels are offered to all those who wish to follow, as she did, the examples and the teachings of Christ, as revealed in the Gospel. Both virtues shine with royal dignity. Francis speaks of royal poverty which has made you heirs and kings of the Kingdom of Heaven (Rule 6). Angela reminds her daughters that "we are called to such a glorious life as to become queens in heaven (Rule Prol, 17).

Francis finds perfect joy in poverty ; Saint Angela Merici in a loving heart that has given everything to the One she loves. Moreover, with her practical sense of realities, Angela reminds her daughters of all that can alter that joy, by our shortcomings in relation to others : grumbling, being jealous and envious, haughty, of ill-will, repeating malicious gossip (see Rule 9 8-19).

Love is for Saint Angela Merici the fundamental basis for living our poverty, chastity and obedience. Can you give some examples of this in her Writings ? In your own way of living ?

Prayer

Francis was a man of prayer, and Saint Angela Merici a woman of prayer. They lived in constant union with God. This irradiated from them in their ways of dealing with others : in peacefulness, humility, simplicity, and unfailing availability.

Saint Angela Merici, however, made a distinction between vocal and mental prayer and explained what she means by mental prayer. She reminds us that By prayer one obtains from God the grace of a spiritual life (Rule 5 4). One needs always to pray in spirit and mind, given the continuous need one has of God’s help (R 5 5). She exhorts us, to give matter and means to mental prayer, to raise one’s mind to God and every day to practice this (Rule 5 15). Then, she adds a model of prayer which includes all our fundamental attitudes before God ; Saint Angela Merici expresses not only praise for the beauty of creation, but also a deep sense of her own wretchedness. She begs to obtain the grace of mercy for herself and for others, she has deep insight into the Passion of Christ, the value of His Blood and His holy Name. She wants to take part in the sufferings of the Saviour. She is sorry that she has loved and served God so late. She ends her prayer by giving everything she is, everything she has, and lays it down as an offering at the feet of His divine Majesty (Rule 5 42).

The two founders suggested long days of fasting, but Saint Angela Merici as well as Clare subordinated them to the discernment of superiors, for the latter, the spiritual Father and the lady governors of the Company. So many days of fasting seem excessive today, but need to be considered in the spiritual climate of the times : for instance, Pope Clement VII used to say a weekday Mass about once in two weeks, but he fasted almost every day !

Eucharist and Penance

The Holy Eucharist and the Sacrament of Penance were the themes most commonly dealt with by the preachers of the Franciscan "New Observance". Francis had great personal love for the Holy Eucharist. In his Testament, we can find the following gem : We adore you, holy Lord, Jesus Christ, here and in all the churches in the world... I do not see in this world any physical aspect of the most High Son of God, other than His very Holy Body and His very Holy Blood.

As for Saint Angela Merici, we remember that it was her devotion to the Holy Eucharist that incited her to enter the Third Order, so that she might receive Communion more often. According to Matthias Bellintani, it was the same motive which determined her to remain in Brescia, when her mission to Catarina Patengola was ended. Furthermore, Agostino Gallo notes that she used to spend all her mornings in prayer, assisting at all the Masses she could. When she moved to Saint Afra’s towards the end of her life, she could, from her own room, see the light of the sanctuary lamp and used to spend long hours in adoration, without having to enter the church. Even before the Council of Trent, she had received deep insights on the beautiful theological reality of the Eucharistic Sacrifice : In the holy Mass are to be found afresh all the merits of the Passion of our Lord, and the greater the attention, faith and contrition one brings to it, the deeper is one’s participation in these blessed merits and the greater the consolation one receives (Rue 6 3-4). Today we avoid talking about merits, because it seems to us that this word suggests a lack of gratuitousness. However, in Angela’s mind, merits represent the graces Christ acquired for us on His cross, His love for all mankind and His personal love for each and every one of us.

Saint Angela Merici asked for daily assistance at Mass, Confession and Communion at least every month, as well as on feast days in the parish. Reacting to Lutheran principles which had dropped the Sacraments, she emphasized them, and did not fear to row against the tide of her surroundings. In encouraging confession at least once a month, she added that it is the necessary medicine for the wounds of our souls (R 7 1). In addition, she develops a sort of teaching on the nature of the Sacrament and the way to receive it.

Mutual love

Francis had asked his Brothers to keep from all pride, vain glory, envy, stinginess, worldly care and solicitude, bad gossiping and grumbling.(R 10). Claire adds to this list dissensions and divisions (R 10). She asks her Sisters to always keep among themselves mutual unity and charity, for charity is the link of perfection (R 10 5). In her Testament, she suggests practical ways of living in mutual love: Love one another with the love with which Christ has loved you. And the love you have within yourselves, show it through outward acts, so that, urged on by your example, all the sisters will grow continually in the love of God and in mutual love (T 18).

Saint Angela Merici has many pages on the subject of mutual love, on how to be united with one another. She asks for union and harmony even at the cost of her own life : I implore you even with my blood (Last Couns. 1). This union and harmony must be longed for, pursued, embraced, held on to with all our strength (Last Couns. 11-14). In the midst of difficulties and even persecutions, living together united in heart will make us as strong as a mighty fortress or a tower impregnable (Last Couns. 15-17). And Jesus Christ will be in the midst of us to love and guide us as a father and good shepherd (Couns. 10 9). Mutual love will bear witness to His presence, for He himself says: By this the world will know that you are mine, if together, you love one another. (Couns. 10, 11).

In today’s world, full of tensions, hate and violence, how are we living Angela’s charism of union and communion ? Jesus Christ is there in the midst of us, helping us to welcome others and be available to them, to look upon others in a positive way, knowing that every person is loved by God. Let us try to remember circumstances in which we have had this attitude... with whom ? How did we express it ?

At the end of this talk, we have found out that Francis and Clare had much influence on Angela, but that in her Writings, Angela strove to found a new institution, fruit of her own experience, of her own spiritual sensitivity, and of her continual assessment of the Rule, together with her sisters, according to Gabriel Cozzano. In spite of notable similarities with the Franciscan spirit, she did not choose to put her Institute under the patronage of a Franciscan Saint. Furthermore, we remember that she requested of the Holy Father not to be buried in a Franciscan cemetery, which would have been normal for a member of the Third Order. According to times and circumstances, in a different context, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Angela wanted to give her daughters and to each one of us, counsels of spiritual wisdom.

Her originality consists, therefore in her care for a sort of on-going formation, far beyond the level of mere prescriptions. She therefore represents for all those who want to live, as she did, according to the spirit of the Gospel, a reliable and attentive guide, leading us ahead through her counsels, her prayer, and, most of all, her living presence among us.

Angela’s Franciscan Heritage

- 1. Let us stop a moment and ask ourselves, in the light of what Francis and Angela said and lived, how we ourselves give witness to Gospel values, wherever we are, in the midst of the difficulties we encounter. Each one of us has received a special call for bringing to those who surround us more love, more peace, more faith and hope. Do we remember a specific example of responding to that call ? What did we do ? What did we choose? What did we give up ?

- 2. You come from many different cultures. What are the positive and negative aspects of your own culture. How have they favoured your faith and your fidelity to the Lord ? How much have you had to react against the negative aspects of your culture ? Can you find some examples in your own life ?

- 3. How can we understand Angela’ s claim that her Rule was given to her by God, and, on the other hand, the fact that she had obviously used Franciscan documents to find inspiration for her own Rule ?

- 4. With his ideal of poverty, Francis reacted against the wealth and the power of money during the 13th century. Angela, with her ideal of true love for Christ reacted against the lax morals of her times and unchristian ways of living. To what are we called to react in our environment ? How do we do it ? What are the obstacles ? What has favoured sound reactions in accordance with our faith and our vocation ?

- 5. These words, Clare wrote them to someone who was really of royal lineage, used to all the honours of high rank. But Angela uses them for the members of her institute, most of whom were of low social rank, working hard for their living. Angela’s words are even stronger, because of the contrast between their social conditions and the wonderful call they received to become the “spouses of the Son of God”. When we look at our Sisters in our community, can this help us to respect, esteem, and love them ?

- 6. Angela says to each one of us : “I have this firm and unquestioning faith and hope in His infinite divine goodness, that not only shall we easily overcome all dangers and adversities, but also, to our great glory and jubilation, we shall defeat them". (Rule, Prol. 25). Do we ask her to help us in our daily battles, so that we may live them in peace, trust and joy ? Do we endeavour to give courage to those who need our compassion and understanding in the midst of their difficulties? Are there any examples of your experience of this ?

- 7. The chapter on poverty in Saint Angela’s rule involves a life-long process of fixing our hearts on God alone, in confidence and in love. What are the different steps she proposes to help us reach a stage where we rely on God alone for our spiritual and material needs ?

- 8. Love is for Angela the fundamental basis for living our poverty, chastity and obedience. Can you give some examples of this in her Writings ? In your own way of living ?

- 9. In today’s world, full of tensions, hate and violence, how are we living Angela’s charism of union and communion ? Jesus Christ is there in the midst of us, helping us to welcome others and be available to them, to look upon others in a positive way, knowing that every person is loved by God. Let us try to remember circumstances in which we have had this attitude... with whom ? How did we express it?

Sister Marie Seynaeve
Ursuline of the Roman Union

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