Wednesday, January 06, 2016

St. Angela of Foligno and Mercy

"When you come across flatterers, men or women, who tell you: "Brother, your words have converted me to penance," do not pay any attention to them but rather turn to the Creator and thank him for this blessing. There are many preachers of falsehoods whose preaching is full of greed, and out of greed they preach for honors, money, and fame." - St. Angela

Remember that Christ endured much weariness in his journeys, visitations, and disgrace. - Angela of Foligno, Chapter X

Our Lord once reprimanded St. Angela for criticizing a priest - yet we have her quote calling out 'greedy' preachers.  Angela is a penitent saint who was quite hard on herself - and at times, hard on others, a fault many beginners fall into - but divine mercy soften her heart towards others - in and through prayer.  Despite her penance and incessant prayer, she devoted her time to caring for the poor and sick - 'taking care of widows and orphans' rather than being a busybody.

One author suggested her chief sin was just that - being a busybody or 'gossip'.  Perhaps.  If so she'd be an excellent example for someone like me to imitate - spending so much time online as I do.  Did I ever mention I'm embarrassed to admit to anyone that I have a blog?  I also try to immediately change the conversation when someone brings it up.  I'm ashamed of it - which is why I've subtitled it - 'the last days ...'

That said - I always thought Angela's great sin, which she had difficulty confessing, was more to do with sins of the flesh.  She railed so against the world after her conversion, that it seems to me she was guilty of something much more shameful than gossip.  Allowing my imagination to wander, it seemed reasonable to think she may have had an abortion or procured one.  She may have been promiscuous - and may have conceived?  I'm only speculating because I grew up in an Italian neighborhood and knew that stuff happened - and of course there was a woman - a strega - who performed abortions.  The nature of our sins will not be revealed until the Last Judgement, and such speculation may be useful only for those who have sinned in such a way that someone like an Angela is indeed a light of hope, an invitation to seek God's mercy in and through the sacrament of penance.  But I digress.

Angela finally made a good confession and no longer hid whatever sin which occasioned so much shame - and her way of penitence commenced, with many graces along the way.  What is significant about her is her initial 'imperfect contrition' - at the beginning of her conversion.  How many have speculated today, in response to the Holy Year of Mercy, that 'imperfect contrition' is not enough to receive mercy in sacramental confession - or that it is somehow deficient?  Yet the example of the Blessed Angela refutes that notion - in so far as her contrition was perfected in and through the very reception of the sacrament.

How did St. Angela advance - what was her route, her means to obtain such grace?  Prayer.  Incessant prayer:
"No one can be saved without divine light. Divine light causes us to begin and to make progress, and it leads us to the summit of perfection. Therefore if you want to begin and to receive this divine light, pray. If you have begun to make progress, pray. And if you have reached the summit of perfection, and want to be super-illumined so as to remain in that state, pray. If you want faith, pray. If you want hope, pray. If you want charity, pray. If you want poverty, pray. If you want obedience, pray. If you want chastity, pray. If you want humility, pray. If you want meekness, pray. If you want fortitude, pray. If you want any virtue, pray." ( from Voices of the Saints, Bert Ghezzi )
The mystery of light...

Some quotes from Benedict XVI on the Saint Pope Francis later canonized:

"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". Ones 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
I first read Blessed Angela's writings early on in my conversion - it was a great consolation and as helpful to my spiritual life as that of St. Teresa's Way of Perfection and Autobiography.

In some places St. Angela's feast is celebrated on 4 January, in the United States 7 January is her memorial ...  Either way - she is an Epiphany, Christmas saint - devoted to the Sacred Humanity of Christ, and a good patron for the Holy Year.


  1. "Therefore if you want to begin and to receive this divine light, pray. If you have begun to make progress, pray. And if you have reached the summit of perfection, and want to be super-illumined so as to remain in that state, pray. If you want faith, pray. If you want hope, pray. If you want charity, pray. If you want poverty, pray. If you want obedience, pray. If you want chastity, pray. If you want humility, pray. If you want meekness, pray. If you want fortitude, pray. If you want any virtue, pray."

    Amen. The great gift prayer, may we all benefit from it while giving glory to God.

  2. One of my favorite saints for so many reasons :)

  3. Thank you for this post. I have never heard of her before. But then, I am a convert from Protestantism.

    I still am not clued up regarding the (thousands [?]) of declared saints. I never pray "through" a particular saint, or TO one of them. Pope Benedict XVI had something very "protestant" to say about this Catholic/Orthodox tradition if it gets out of hand. And I agree with him in this.

    But this Saint's life story and experiences seem to me very revelatory and very relevant for anyone who truly wants to understand the "Perennial Big Question", and how it was solved by Jesus Christ.

    May you have a very blessed 2016.

    1. Thanks very much - I'm happy you like this particular saint. As a convert you will find new things about the treasury hidden within the Church. The saints shine as jewels or so many stars in the crown of Christ.

      Whenever you have concerns about devotions and prayer, esp. concerning Our Lady and the saints - always refer to the catechism. Pope Benedict XVI never departed from the faith as explained in the catechism - and if we return to this source, we can always better understand what the Popes say. I'll just refer you to the following sections to help explain:

      A cloud of witnesses

      2683 The witnesses who have preceded us into the kingdom,41 especially those whom the Church recognizes as saints, share in the living tradition of prayer by the example of their lives, the transmission of their writings, and their prayer today. They contemplate God, praise him and constantly care for those whom they have left on earth. When they entered into the joy of their Master, they were "put in charge of many things."42 Their intercession is their most exalted service to God's plan. We can and should ask them to intercede for us and for the whole world.

      2684 In the communion of saints, many and varied spiritualities have been developed throughout the history of the churches. The personal charism of some witnesses to God's love for men has been handed on, like "the spirit" of Elijah to Elisha and John the Baptist, so that their followers may have a share in this spirit.43 A distinct spirituality can also arise at the point of convergence of liturgical and theological currents, bearing witness to the integration of the faith into a particular human environment and its history. The different schools of Christian spirituality share in the living tradition of prayer and are essential guides for the faithful. In their rich diversity they are refractions of the one pure light of the Holy Spirit.

      The Spirit is truly the dwelling of the saints and the saints are for the Spirit a place where he dwells as in his own home since they offer themselves as a dwelling place for God and are called his temple. - CCC

      I hope that helps. The mystery of Christ is so deep, so vast, so wide, it encompasses our human nature which he has united to his divinity. All are alive to him because he is God of the living and not the dead, as scripture affirms.

      Wishing you a blessed 2016 as well.


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