Tag Archives: Benedictine Oblate

Saint Frances of Rome

Frances of RomeThe Church prays at Mass today: O God, who have given us in Saint Frances of Rome a singular model of both married and monastic life, grant us perseverance in your service, that in every circumstance of life we may see and follow you.

Here is a portion of Saint Frances’ biography from a life of the saint by Sister Mary Magdalene Anguillaria, superior of the Oblates of the Tor’ de Specchi:

God not only tested the patience of Frances with respect to her material wealth, but, as I have said before and will reiterate, he also tested her own body in a variety of ways, especially through long and serious illnesses which she had to undergo. And yet no one ever observed in her a tendency toward impatience. She never exhibited any displeasure when she complied with an order, no matter how foolish.

Through the premature deaths of her sons whom she loved dearly, Frances proved her constancy. With peace of soul she always reconciled herself to the will of God and gave him thanks for all that happened. With the same constancy she endured the slander of those who abused and reviled her and her way of life. She did not show the least hint of aversion toward them, even though she knew that they judged her rashly and spoke falsely of her way of life. Rather, returning good for evil, she habitually prayed to God for them.

God had not chosen her to be holy merely for her own advantage. Rather, the gifts he conferred upon her were to be for the spiritual and physical advantage of her neighbor. For this reason he made her so lovable that anyone with whom she spoke would immediately feel captivated by love for her and ready to help her in everything she wanted. Divine power was present and working in her words, so that in a few sentences she could bring consolation to the afflicted and the anxious, calm the restless, pacify the angry, reconcile enemies and extinguish long-standing hatreds and animosities. Again and again she would prevent a planned revenge from being carried out. She seemed able to subdue the passions of every type of person with a single word and lead them to do whatever she asked.

For this reason people flocked to Frances from all directions, as to a safe refuge. No one left her without being consoled, although she openly rebuked them for their sins and fearlessly reproved them for what was evil and displeasing to God.

Many different diseases were rampant in Rome. Fatal diseases and plagues were everywhere, but the saint ignored the risk of contagion and displayed the deepest kindness toward the poor and the needy. Here empathy would first bring them to atone for their sins. Then she would help them by her eager care, and urge them lovingly to accept their trials, however difficult, from the hand of God. She would encourage them to endure their sufferings for love of Christ, since he had previously endured so much for them.

Frances was not satisfied with caring for the sick she could bring into her home. She would seek them out in their cottages and in public hospitals, and would refresh their thirst, smooth their beds, and bind their sores. The more disgusting and sickening the stench, the greater was the love and care with which she treated them.

She used to go to the Campo Santo with food and rich delicacies to be distributed to the needy. On her return home she would bring pieces of worn-out clothes and unclean rags which she would wash lovingly and mend carefully, as if they were to be used for God himself. Then she would fold them carefully and perfume them.

For thirty years Frances continued this service to the sick and the stranger. While she was in her husband’s house, she made frequent visits to Saint Mary’s and Saint Cecilia’s hospitals in Trastevere, and to the hospital of the Holy Spirit in Sassia and to a fourth hospital in the Campo Santo. During epidemics like this it was not only difficult to find doctors to care for the body but even priests to provide remedies for the soul. She herself would seek them out and bring them to those who were disposed to receive the sacraments of penance and the Eucharist. In order to have a priest more readily available to assist her in her apostolate, she supported, at her own expense, a priest who would go to the hospitals and visit the sick whom she had designated.

Saint Frances of Rome

S Francesca RomanaThe Church gives us the liturgical memorial of Saint Frances Rome (1384-1440) today. However, her feast is obscured by the fact that it is the First Sunday of Lent. Yet, we cannot move from today without a mentioned of such a terrific witness to the Lord.

Saint Frances is the patroness of Benedictine Oblates and car drivers; and as one of the patrons of Rome along with Saints Peter and Paul and Philip Neri. She is proposed by Mother Church as a clear model of the tenderness of married life and motherhood, but also as a person who devoted her life to the poor and the sick (works of Mercy). Hence, her saintly example is much in need today.

In 1433, Frances founded the Benedictine Oblates of Mary as part of the Olivetan Benedictines. The Mass Collect for Saint Frances of Rome  gives us the lex credendi:

O God, Who in Saint Frances of Rome, has given us a model of holiness in married life and of monastic conversion, make us serve You perseveringly, so that in all circumstances we may set our gaze upon You and follow You.

Saint Frances’ congregation of Oblate sisters exist today in Rome, Le Bec-Hellouin, France, and at Abu-Gosh in Israel. In addition to the characteristic devotion to the Divine Office and the fraternal life, is the devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Guardian Angels which gives rise to the service of the Church in Rome. Their habit remains the same as their Mother Foundress of a black habit and long white veil. The Roman monastery is open to the public once a year for Mass and interaction with the sisters. I was privileged to be in the monastery with two friends a few years ago.

It is interesting to see how God works in the lives of the unsuspecting. In the period in which Frances lived and in movement of her heart, the Holy Spirit identified a new form of life with some of the Roman widows. Frances discerned a new form of Benedictine life never previously proposed before: women living under the Rule of Saint Benedict, not as enclosed nuns, but as Oblate Sisters of the Roman monastery of the Olivetans at Santa Maria Nuova.

Frances’ followers left the monastery following prayer to serve the poor and sick; the foundress, though, did not limit the sisters to this form of ministry allowing for other skills and talents to give glory to God. Nevertheless, Frances was clearly inspired by Chapter Four of Benedict’s Rule, the Instruments of Good Works:

To relieve the poor, to clothe the naked, to visit the sick, to bury the dead, to give help in trouble, to console the sorrowful, to avoid worldly behavior, and to set nothing before the love of Christ (RB 4:14-21).

The beauty of the vocation attracted the attention of the Roman people that  Frances, a widow, a servant of the poor, a mother to the sick, a spiritual daughter of Saint Benedict, and a mystic was an attractive witness. Frances has also been a favorite saint of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

Her practical approach to the spiritual and apostolic life has been noted in her saying that “Devotion in a married woman is most praiseworthy, but she must never forget that she is a housewife. Sometimes she must leave God at the altar, to serve Him in her housekeeping.” Perhaps we all can find inspiration here.

Atchison Blue: A Search for Silence, a Spiritual Home and Living Faith

Judith Valente’s Atchison Blue: A Search for Silence, a Spiritual Home and Living Faith (Ave Maria Press, 2013) is a spiritual memoir noting her pilgrimage points to Mount St. Scholastica monastery in Atchison, Kansas. As many of us Ms Valente is in search of God, meaning, encouragement in the faith, and spiritual healing in a world where these things are hit-and-miss. We desire at the deepest level freedom and a stability of heart. Atchison Blue is about our eternal destiny (Cf. the Rule of Benedict); the book’s value is to help us recognize where we have met Christ, where we meet Christ, through the lens of the ancient and ever new Benedictine charism as it is rooted Rule of St Benedict. The Rule orients the process of becoming more human and a faithful disciple of the Lord.

If you have ever been to a monastery to pray the Divine Office or to spend time as guest you will likely be struck by several things you find absent in the world: order, holiness, courage, zeal, patience, silence, the desire for an honest search, the willingness to cultivate a life of virtue, facing reality as it is (and not as we want it to be) and conversion of mind and heart. We know these in contrast to the substance of the way we live: freneticism, addiction, noise, curt speech, bits of anger, pride, and a divided tongue and heart.

Atchison Blue is about the spiritual and human process with ears of the heart open. That is, when we speak of the process of searching for God means that we engage in an evaluation of life, a judgment of what we experience, an examination of how sin and grace lead us: we are not exempt from the hard work of conversion if we belong to Jesus Christ. Valente goes to the heart of the Church by going to a group of women, Benedictines who take their spiritual life seriously and desire to be people fully alive. Being fully alive is the way we know grace is at work in our life. We are attracted by a presence and the sisters make this presence recognizable. The title ‘Atchison blue’ is a reference to the color blue in the windows of the chapel of Mount Saint Scholastica Monastery in Atchison where the author spent time in contemplation.

Judith Valente is a Benedictine Oblate, poet, reporter; she and her husband live in the Chicago area. Valente’s professional work is reporting on religion for Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly and other PBS works. She’s a former staff writer of The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal and a 1992 Pulitzer Prize finalist.

Benedictine wisdom is attractive for Valente and she is attempting to make this wisdom accessible for the laity. She is neither romantic nor critical. Atchison Blue is based on relationships and not abstractions. If you want to understand the contours of your own spiritual life then read in a sensitive way Judith Valente’s Atchison Blue.

Vist Ms Valent’s website.

Benedictine spirituality for the laity

Oblates Vows at St MeinradThe charism (the gift given by the Holy Spirit) of Saint Benedict, a layman, who is known as the Father of Western Monasticism, was to provide the Church a method and ultimately a culture by which we all can meet the Triune God. The central aim of the Rule, however, is to encourage the adherent to focus attention on seeking God at all times and educate to maturity the person who desires to know and love the Lord in this life, and in life eternal. Benedict’s holy Rule has been a source of inspiration, guidance, self-examination since the sixth century.

It is very true, Benedictine spirituality isn’t just for monks. The laity since the beginning have oriented themselves to the life of a monastery while keeping their secular vocation intact. This vocation of the baptized person in the Catholic Church is fittingly explored in a church documentby John Paul II in Christifidelis laicior more recently in an essay by Father Julián Carrón, “Life as Vocation” (you can select the text in various languages).

Among the many things that the laity have experienced and been educated to, are things like praying in common the Divine Office (the Liturgy of the Hours), the practice of lectio divina — or sacred reading of Scripture — a theology and practice of work, and a method for ongoing conversion to Jesus Christ. Like the monks and nuns, the lay person is given instruction in the Rule of St. Benedict, the guiding principle behind Benedictine life, but the lay person is given a way of thinking that is oriented to life precisely as a lay person. However, secular priests are also Oblates. A good example may be the steps of humility of chapter 7 of the Rule are lived differently by a lay person than by a monk or a nun without reducing the content.

There is more to being an Oblate that is beautiful and fitting for many people can be said at this moment. It is , indeed, a proposal that we ought to make to others because it is a source of inestimable graces. In a recent article on Benedictine Oblates connected with the Illinois monastic community of St Bede, opens a door, “‘Monks Outside the Walls’ Oblates bring monastic spirituality to secular life.” In the article we learn that,

The interdenominational group [of oblates] boasts a membership of about 100 from across Central Illinois and the Chicago suburbs, with an average of 20 attending the meetings each month. The most recent numbers from the Vatican’s website for International Benedictine Oblates from 2008 indicated there were 25,481 oblates in 50 countries, with 42 percent of those in the U.S., and the numbers are growing.

Saint Frances of Rome

S Francesca Romana Clothed by the Virgin.jpg

O God, Who in Saint Frances of Rome, has given us a model of holiness in married life and of monastic conversion, make us serve You perseveringly, so that in all circumstances we may set our gaze upon You and follow You.

This painting given here for today’s lectio is attributed to Antonio del Massaro da Viterbo, depicts Saint Frances of Rome (1384-1440) being clothed by the Mary in the white veil of her Benedictine movement that, even today, characterizes the Olivetan Benedictine Oblates of Mary she founded in 1425.

Mary, Mother of God wears a mantle of gold, which Saint Paul at the left wraps around Frances Romana. The presence of certain saints is instructive: the great evangelizer, Saint Paul, Saint Mary Magdalene (the Apostle to the Apostles and dressed in red) and Saint Benedict,  the Father of Western Monastic Life, with the various ranks of angels, including Francesca’s Guardian Angel.  Magdalene and Benedict wrap/invest the mantle on the gathered Oblates.

The angel below the Gothic windows is busy carding golden threads with a warp and loom. Nearby are two frisky dogs and two cats, a frequent sight in Rome. The Oblate Congregation, commonly thought to be woven together by heavenly graces and harassed by evil spirits. The evil one is given flesh in the form of cats and dogs. As a testimony of grace the Oblates flourish today at Tor de’Specchi. Several years ago I had the privilege with many others to pray in this monastery opened to the public only Saint Frances’ feast day.

I have longed hoped that the Oblates of Saint Frances of Rome would found a house in the USA. We are ready for this witness.

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About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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