FEAST DAY Jan 7 - Blessed Angela of Foligno 1248-1309
Umbrian penitent and mystical writer. She was born at Foligno in Umbria, in 1248, of a rich family; died 4 January, 1309. Married at an early age, she loved the world and its pleasures and, worse still, forgetful of her dignity and duties as wife and mother, fell into sin and led a disorderly life. But God, having in His mercy inspired her with a deep sorrow for her sins, led her little by little to the height of perfection and to the understanding of the deepest mysteries. Angela has herself recorded the history of her conversion in her admirable "Book of Visions and Instructions", which contains seventy chapters, and which was written from Angela's dictation by her Franciscan confessor, Father Arnold of Foligno. Some time after her conversion Angela had placed herself under the direction of Father Arnold and taken the habit of the Third Order of St. Francis. In the course of time the fame of her sanctity gathered around her a number of Tertiaries, men and women, who strove under her direction to advance in holiness. Later she established at Foligno a community of sisters, who to the Rule of the Third Order added the three vows of religion, without, however, binding themselves to enclosure, so that they might devote their time to works of charity. Angela at last passed away, surrounded by her spiritual children. Her remains repose in the church of St. Francis at Foligno. Numerous miracles were worked at her tomb, and Innocent XII approved the immemorial veneration paid to her. Her feast is kept in the Order on the 30th of March. Bl. Angela's high authority as a spiritual teacher may be gathered from the fact that Bollandus, among other testimonials, quotes Maximilian Sandaeus, of the Society of Jesus, who calls her the "Mistress of Theologians", whose whole doctrine has been drawn out of the Book of Life, Jesus Christ, Our Lord.
Angela was born in 1248 of a prominent family in Foligno, three leagues from Assisi. As a young woman, and also as a wife and mother, she lived only for the world and its vain pleasures. But the grace of God intended to make of her a vessel of election for the comfort and salvation of many. A ray of the divine mercy touched her soul and so strongly affected her as to bring about a conversion.
At the command of her confessor she committed to writing the manner of her conversion in eighteen spiritual steps. "Enlightened by grace," she wrote in this account. "I realized my sinfulness; I was seized with a great fear of being damned, and I shed a flood of tears. I went to confession to be relieved of my sins, but through shame I concealed the most grievous ones, but still I went to Communion. Now my conscience tortured me day and night. I called upon St. Francis for help, and, moved by an inner impulse, I went into a church where a Franciscan Father was then preaching.
"I gathered courage to confess all my sins to him, and I did this immediately after the sermon. With zeal and perseverance I performed the penance he imposed, but my heart continued to be full of bitterness and shame. I recognized that the divine mercy has saved me from hell, hence I resolved to do rigorous penance; nothing seemed too difficult for me, because I felt I belonged in hell. I called upon the saints, and especially upon the Blessed Virgin, to intercede with God for me.
"It appeared to me now as if they has compassion on me, and I felt the fire of divine love enkindled within me so that I could pray as I never prayed before. I had also received a special grace to contemplate the cross in which Christ had suffered so much for my sins. Sorrow, love, and the desire to sacrifice everything for Him filled my soul."
About this time God harkened to the earnest desire of the penitent: her mother died, then her husband, and soon afterwards all her children. These tragic events were very painful to her; but she made the sacrifice with resignation to the will of God. Being freed from these ties, she dispossessed herself of all her temporal goods with the consent of her confessor, so that being poor herself, she might walk in the footsteps of her poor Savior. She also entered the Third Order of St. Francis, and presently found herself the superior and guide of others who followed in her path. Many women joined her, even to the point of taking the three vows. She encouraged them in works of charity, in nursing the sick, and in going personally from door to door to beg for the needs of the poor.
Meanwhile, Angela became still more immersed in the contemplation of the Passion of Christ, and she chose the Sorrowful Mother and the faithful disciple John as her patrons. The sight of the wounds which her Lord suffered for her sins urged her to the practice of still greater austerities. Once our Lord showed her that His Heart is a safe refuge in all the storms of life. She was soon to be in need of such a refuge.
God permitted her to be afflicted with severe temptations. The most horrible and loathsome representations distressed her soul. The fire of concupiscence raged so furiously that she said: "I would rather have beheld myself surrounded with flames and permitted myself to be continually roasted that to endure such things." Still, she called out to God, "Glory be to Thee, O Lord! Thy cross is my resting place." These painful trials lasted over two years; but then the purified and tried servant of the Lord was filled with great consolation. She obtained a marvelous insight into divine things and was very frequently found in ecstasy. For many years Holy Communion was her only food, until at last, completely purified, she entered into the eternal joy of the Supreme Good on January 4, 1309.
Pope Innocent XII approved the continual devotion paid to her at her tomb in Foligno. He beatified her in 1693.
ON THE BENEFIT OF TEMPTATIONS
1. Consider how Blessed Angela has to pass through many painful steps in order to arrive at true conversion. True conversion is not accomplished as easily and as soon as many people believe. One of these steps consisted in enduring temptations. This was one of the most painful stages, but it was in this way that God wishes to try the fidelity of His servants. Moses spoke thus to the chosen people of God: "The Lord your God tried you that it may appear whether you love Him with all your soul, or no" (Deut 13:3). What pleasure is it when the temptation has been overcome, to know that one has stood the test! Have you ever partaken of this joy after your temptations?
2. Consider that temptations are also a means by which we may learn to know ourselves and our weaknesses. Thomas a Kempis (1,13) says: "Temptations show us what we are." Sometimes we do not think it possible that we could fall into this or that sin into which a fellowman has fallen. But if severe temptation assails us, we readily join with the Psalmist in declaring: "Unless the Lord had been my helper, my soul had almost dwelt in hell" (Ps 93:17). Temptation does not make us weak, it merely shows us how weak we are. Such experiences cause us to be kinder in our judgements of others and more cautious in our own conduct. If David became an adulterer and a murderer through a glance at Bethsabee, may we then play with danger like a gnat flying about a glowing flame? "Watch and pray that you enter not into temptation" (Matt 26:41).
3. Consider that temptations impel us to draw nearer to God and to unite ourselves more closely to Him. As a child runs to its mother when danger threatens, and hides itself in her lap, so a Christian who loves his soul will have recourse to God in time of danger. And just as the tree strikes its roots deeper into the earth when storms whip its crown, so does the Christian attach himself more firmly to God during the storm of temptation. While we acknowledge that God is our all: our only hope, our support, our salvation. This acknowledgement is a great boon. Blessed Angela says, "To know oneself and to know God, that is the perfection of man; without this knowledge, visions and the greatest gifts are of no account."
from: The Franciscan Book of Saints, ed. by Marion Habig, ofm., © 1959 Franciscan Herald Press