St. Angela of Foligno

Saint Angela of Foligno (1248-1309)
Written by Helen Caldarone, SFO

 

Franciscan tertiary and mystic Feast Day - (Org. January 4 - changed to January 7)

 

Patroness of those ridiculed for their piety, those who struggle with temptation and sexual temptation in particular, of widows and of those whose children have died.

Some saints and blesseds show marks of holiness very early. Not Angela! She was born to a very prominent family in Foligno, Italy in 1248, a city in Umbria about 10 miles from Assisi. At a young age, she was married into another wealthy family in the city and had several sons. As a young wife and mother, she loved to display her wealth and the delights of her social position and, for many years, was completely immersed in the social life and distractions of Foligno often neglecting her family and leading a disorderly life.

While we do not know the specific details of her life, Angela said that for 30 years, her life was "mortally sinful". She describes herself at this time in her life as "being full of greediness, gluttony, and drunkenness". In 1285, she is reported to have made a bad confession because she was too embarrassed to make a full confession of her sins. She received communion anyway, adding sacrilege to her unconfessed sins. Recognizing the emptiness of her life and with the torment of her bad confession on her conscience, she prayed to St. Francis of Assisi who had died some 60 years earlier. He appeared to her in a dream and promised to help her, urging her to make a good confession, to lay her sins before God and the confessor honestly and to beg for forgiveness. The following day, she found a Franciscan friar, Fr. Arnaldo, to whom she made a true confession and, thus, began a life of penance and prayer. God led her little by little to the height of perfection and a deep understanding of the deepest mysteries of faith.

Within a year of her conversion, Angela's husband, who did not approve of her new life, her mother and all her sons died. Her former friends ridiculed her new life. She was left alone and although she mourned the loss of her family, she was eventually able to see it as a stripping away of all attachments to her former world. Upon returning from a pilgrimage to Rome in 1291, she gave away most of her possessions, and entered the Franciscan Third Order, dedicated herself to prayer and charity, meditating on the crucified Christ and serving the needs of the poor as a nurse and beggar for alms. The fame of her sanctity drew other tertiaries, both men and women to seek her direction in order to advance in holiness. Later, Angela established a community of tertiary women who in addition to the Rule of the Third Order, took the three religious vows and devoted themselves to the care of the needy.

Her influence grew especially among Franciscan friars involved with the reform of their order, grown decadent since the death of St. Francis. She called them her "sons" and her letters to them on the spiritual life have been collected in what is now called her "Instructions"in which she always tries to prevent them from going to extremes; for example, when, in their zeal for total poverty, they asked her if it was wrong to own books, she replied that it didn't matter if they kept them or gave them away, but that they should always be ready to give them up. That is true poverty, the ability to be detached from one's possessions.

I writing to the friars on Humility, Angela says, "Humility of heart is the matrix in which all the other virtues and virtuous works are engendered and from which they spring,

much as the trunk and branches spring from a root". . . "I desire that you have in your soul what leads from discord to unanimity, namely, becoming little. When you are little, you do not consider yourself self-sufficient because of your knowledge or natural abilities, but rather you are always inclined to acknowledge your defects... to be little also means that you are not a threat or burden to others; nor are your words contentious... Truly a soul cannot have a better awareness in this world than to perceive its own nothingness... Judge no one, even when you see someone commit mortal sin. I do not tell you that sin should not displease you... but I say that you should not judge sinners, because you do not know the judgments of God. For many seem to us to be saved and are actually damned before God, and there are many who seem to us to be damned and are saved by God."

As her spiritual life progressed, she was favored with seven visions of the Holy Eucharist of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament - sometimes as a beautiful child, sometimes crucified, bleeding and dying, and other times surrounded with glory and majesty. She received Holy Communion every day and for 12 years it was her only food.. One day, when Angela experienced a great longing for Holy Communion but was unable to have a priest bring her the Blessed Sacrament, the angels brought it to her. Her visions demonstrate the gift of revelation and a mature mystical union with Christ. Her spiritual director, Fr. Arnaldo, having overcome his considerable skepticism of her visions, recorded them in the Latin book "Memoriale" (9 chapters)

Blessed Angela said, "The Holy Eucharist is the Sacrament of Love that stirs up the soul to fervent prayer. It stirs up our hearts to beg graces from God and this forces God to grant our petitions. The Holy Eucharist makes us more humble and, above all, it makes the flame of love grow in our hearts. Because the Blessed Sacrament give our souls so many blessings, it is truly the Gift of Gifts and the Grace of Graces" Her most quoted line is "The world is pregnant with God"..

At her confessor's urging, Angela wrote her "Book of Visions and Instructions" in which she recalls, in its 70 chapters, the temptations she suffered following her conversion and she also expresses her gratitude to God for the Incarnation of Jesus. This book and the example of her life earned for her the title "the Teacher of Theologians" first given to her by Maximilian Sandaeus SJ. "The Book of Divine Consolations of the Blessed Angela of Foligno" combines the 9 chapters of the "Memoriale" with 36 sections from her "Instructions"

Angela of Foligno died on January 4, 1309 and was beatified in 1693. Her tomb is in the church of St. Francis in Foligno. Many miracles have been recorded at her gravesite.

COMMENTS: Today, we can readily identify with Blessed Angela's self-centered life and her own sense of worth based on money, prestige, fame and power. We see it all around us. Through her visions and conversion experience, she was able to see that her true worth came only from being created and loved by God. This realization changed her profoundly from a shallow, self-centered socialite to a penitent who sought to atone for her past life through prayer and love for the poor. The path she followed is the path all men and women must seek if they want to be holy. In the words of Bl. Angela, "Humility exists only in those who are poor enough to see that they possess nothing of their own".

SOURCES:

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
"Day by Day with Followers of Francis and Clare
Catholic Encyclopedia www.newadvent.org/cathen/01482a.htm &  www.home. infionline. net/-ddisse/angela.html

Presented at Divine Mercy Fraternity, Secular Franciscan Order, monthly meeting 6/11/2006, Vero Beach, Florida

 

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