Sunday, January 04, 2015

St. Angela of Foligno

"Through temporal poverty the soul will find eternal riches; 
through contempt and shame it will obtain supreme honor 
and very great glory; 
through a little penance, made with pain and sorrow, 
it will possess with infinite sweetness and consolation 
of the Supreme God, God eternal" - St. Angela

St. Angela died on January 4 but her feast day is January 7.

I've written much about her, as have others, and of course Pope Benedict XVI spoke extensively about her during his weekly catechesis in 2010.

In my opinion, St. Angela remains an excellent, premiere example for penitents - not for converts who write and reference their conversion over and over, but penitents.  Conversion may be marked by an experience - even great mystical experience, but it is an ongoing process.  Great mystical fireworks do not make a saint nor even a good Christian.  The many stages and 'steps' of conversion Angela wrote about demonstrate the difficulties found in following the narrow way of Christ crucified, which is in her words, a "penance as long and as hard as life itself".

All of her family were taken from her - husband, sons, each died in succession.   Talk about sorrow and loneliness.  The long loneliness... widowed.  Eventually,she lived with a companion, and then later others joined her - though she was a Franciscan tertiary, she remained a single, laywoman - celibate, chaste and alone.  What was her strength?  What was her prayer?  The one Book of Life, Jesus Christ and him crucified...  Did she cry out publicly that she was tempted and lonely and suffering?  Hardly.  If she cried out publicly about anything, she would do so only to proclaim her sins, her hypocrisy, imploring those who knew her not to be deceived by her.

Some quotes from Benedict XVI on the Saint:

"We will now consider only some "steps" of the rich spiritual path of our blessed. The first, in reality, is an introduction: "It was the knowledge of sin," as she specifies, "following which the soul has great fear of being damned; in this step she wept bitterly" ("Il Libro della beata Angela da Foligno," p. 39).

This "fear" of hell responds to the type of faith that Angela had at the time of her "conversion"; a faith still poor in charity, namely, of love of God.

Repentance, fear of hell, and penance opened up to Angela the prospect of the sorrowful "way of the cross" that, from the eighth to the 15th step, would then lead her on the "way of love."

The friar confessor recounts: "The faithful one now said to me: I had this divine revelation: 'After the things that you have written, now write that whoever wants to preserve grace must not take the eyes of his soul off the Cross, whether in joy or in sadness, which I grant him and permit'" (Ibid., p. 143).
However, in this phase Angela still "does not feel love"; she affirms: "The soul feels shame and bitterness and does not yet experience love, but sorrow" (Ibid., p. 39), and is dissatisfied."
After this "initial stage", there were great trials and tribulations for Angela: occasions for further "purifications". One conversion experience does not justify the feeling that one is one of the "elect". For Blessed Angela it was only the first step on a long and arduous journey as she set her sights firmly on Christ on the Crucifix. The becoming a tertiary Franciscan was only a stage in the transition. More was required. Total commitment and a life of prayer. Until she was rewarded by an act of grace, undeserved and arising out of Love. The Pope stressed the importance of: penance, humility and tribulations. Especially in an age where there is a danger of living as if God did not exist. Stasis is not and never an option.

The Pope went on to say:

"In the third Instruction the blessed insists on this contemplation and affirms:

"The more perfectly and purely we see, the more perfectly and purely we love. [...] That is why the more we see the God and man Jesus Christ, the more we are transformed in him through love. [...] What I have said of love. [...] I say also of sorrow: The more the soul contemplates the ineffable sorrow of the God and man Jesus Christ, the more it sorrows and is transformed in sorrow" (Ibid., p. 190-191).

To be immersed, to be transformed in love and in the sufferings of Christ crucified, to be identified with him. Angela's conversion, begun with that confession of 1285, came to maturity only when God's forgiveness appeared to her soul as the free gift of love of the Father, source of love:

"There is no one who can give excuses," she affirms, "because each one can love God, ad He does not ask the soul other than that He wills it good, because He loves it and is its love" (ibid., p. 76). - Source

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