We all know the current Francis of Rome. But before him, there was a “Frances” of Rome. She was an uptown girl of noble birth—a holy girl, wholly unimpressed by her position. She wanted to devote her life to Jesus Christ.
Her father, on the other hand, wanted her to devote her life to Lorenzo Ponziani, commander of the papal guard. Lorenzo was a nice guy but when a girl’s heart is set on Jesus, even the best catch in town can’t compete.
Roman ways being what they were at the time, Papa’s devotional direction won out. But that didn’t stop Frances from leaving us a life worth imitating. Watch for some hints on how you can follow her example.
One girl’s dream is another girl’s nightmare.
After getting married, Frances couldn’t adjust to the social obligations of her new life. Her mother-in-law thrived on them and expected the same from her. But Frances was nothing like her carefree sister-in-law Vanessa. Being a socialite was too much for her. Frances eventually collapsed from strain, coming close to dying until a vision made her understand there was a reason for her position that would be revealed over time. She got well and returned to socialite duty.
Soon after, Vannozza happened upon a crying Frances in the family garden. It was there that the two discovered a common desire to live a life dedicated to Our Lord. What Frances had mistaken for a frivolous nature was simply Vannozza being a get-along-with-people person; that’s why fancy clothes, parties and card games with the ladies seemed to come naturally to her.
St. Frances Emulation Alert #1:
Look beyond the surface when you encounter people who seem quite different from
you. We are all God’s children and approach Him with the personalities He gave us.
Frances and Vannozza became like sisters, going to mass together, visiting prisons and serving in hospitals. Frances also realized the spiritual wisdom in Vannozza’s acceptance of family duty and began participating gladly in social obligations.
Sometimes, a girl can’t do anything right.
Among the downsides of high-society—lot’s of wagging tongues. Talk of Frances and Vannozza visiting less-than-savory places caused their mother-in-law no little embarrassment. She wagged her own tongue at the girls, but they wouldn’t listen. She then wagged her tongue at Lorenzo, who told mama, “no dice”—or whatever upper-crust Roman version of “no dice” was used at the time.
Frances Emulation Alert #2:
Don’t let the hostility of others toward your Christian devotion knock you off course.
Several years later, meddling mother-in-law died, giving devout daughter-in-law an unintentional jab on her way to the other side. A great family needs matriarchal management and Frances was the unanimous choice for the position. Great! Not only was Frances still in a league that, in her heart of hearts, nauseated her—she was a team manager! But God’s ways were not her ways, once again. She was great at the job. The household ran like a top and people loved working for her.
St. Frances Emulation Alert #3:
Be faithful to your family responsibilities; it’s a holy thing to do, and what Our Lord expects of us.
But things didn’t go along smoothly forever. When flood and famine hit Rome, Frances’s almsgiving reflex went into overdrive. Frances and Vannozza gave away food and clothing until their father-in-law got wind of it and shut them down, moving them to take to the streets, begging on behalf of the poor.
Frances even searched the corn loft her father-in-law had emptied, looking for stray grains to give away. Lorenzo happened by afterward and found the loft miraculously filled with corn. Between that and Frances drawing wine from an empty cask (in response to her father-in-law’s anger over finding it drained) Clan Ponziani’s menfolk became convinced that she was onto something.
Like many women might, Frances celebrated her victory with a new frock—a dress of rough green cloth. She sold her finery, giving the money away.
St. Frances Emulation Alert #4:
Take care of people less fortunate than yourself. We aren’t all called to almsgiving.
The good times just kept coming for Rome.
In the throes of civil war and animosity among various men claiming to be pope, Frances eventually found herself with a seriously injured husband and her brother-in-law imprisoned by a cruel governor who demanded her son, Battista, in exchange for his release.
Frances’s first instinct was to whisk Battista away, but her spiritual director encouraged her to trust God. She surrendered Battista. But when he was put on a soldier’s horse to claim him for the governor, no horse would keep Battista on its back. Recognizing Divine Will in equine willfulness, the governor relented.
That battle ended, but war continued. Frances sent Lorenzo away to prevent him being captured, leaving herself alone against the thugs who beset Rome. Her servants were killed. Her palace was ravaged, everything in it smashed. But rather than give in, Frances turned what was left into a shelter for the homeless.
When war and disease had run their course, Frances found herself with two of her three children dead and her husband broken by battle. Frances dedicated herself to restoring Lorenzo’s physical and spiritual health, caring for him until his dying day. During that time, she founded an order of laywomen pledged to God and serving the poor. After Lorenzo’s death, Frances moved into a home for widowed members of the order and became its superior.
And so, after some forty years, God rewarded Frances by putting her right where she always wanted to be. Of course, she would most likely say her greater reward was the service she had the privilege of doing for others along the way.
Bonus St. Frances Emulation Alert:
Have patience with God.
He lives in eternity. We don’t. He knows what we need when better than we do.
Many thanks to catholic.org and Wikipedia for helping us learn about St. Frances!
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