The other day I shared with you the story of St. Simeon Stylites the Elder, the original “pillar-hermit.” Simeon was a lay person, but he evidently was unencumbered by family responsibilities. Today, I want to introduce you to a saint for the rest of us. Her name is Angela and she lived in Foligno, Italy from 1248 until her death in the year 1309.
As I reported back when I shared Algar Thorold’s essay, I stumbled upon the story of this lay Catholic mystic and stigmatic and I’m glad I did. Algar busts the myth that there are two Catholic Church’s (one for the priests and religious, and one for lay people) and Angela’s life shows this as well.
That this is a myth is obvious to anyone who turns their attention to the Communion of Saints. Although there are many priests and religious in the saintly ranks, there is also a heaping helping of regular folks like you and me too. Blessed Angela is an example of a regular person who accepts the call to become a saint.
A friend of mine noted that Angela’s life reminds her of the television series Desperate Housewives except that in Angela’s case the story is that she used to be desperate until she came to rest in Our Lord’s arms. Let’s take a look at the Catholic Encyclopedia citation on her,
Umbrian penitent and mystical writer. She was born at Foligno in Umbria, in 1248, of a rich family; died 4 January, 1309. Married at an early age, she loved the world and its pleasures and, worse still, forgetful of her dignity and duties as wife and mother, fell into sin and led a disorderly life. But God, having in His mercy inspired her with a deep sorrow for her sins, led her little by little to the height of perfection and to the understanding of the deepest mysteries.
So she was well to do, and footloose and fancy free. Maybe a party girl like the one’s you knew in school. Or someone from the popular crowd who you secretly admired while you openly despised her. But she had a profound change of heart around the time she turned 40 years old. And as she details in her Eighteen Steps, it was not an instantaneous change, but one that was progressive. Thankfully, her confessor decided to document her incredible story.
Angela has herself recorded the history of her conversion in her admirable “Book of Visions and Instructions”, which contains seventy chapters, and which was written from Angela’s dictation by her Franciscan confessor, Father Arnold of Foligno. Some time after her conversion Angela had placed herself under the direction of Father Arnold and taken the habit of the Third Order of St. Francis.
In the course of time the fame of her sanctity gathered around her a number of Tertiaries, men and women, who strove under her direction to advance in holiness. Later she established at Foligno a community of sisters, who to the Rule of the Third Order added the three vows of religion, without, however, binding themselves to enclosure, so that they might devote their time to works of charity.
Angela at last passed away, surrounded by her spiritual children. Her remains repose in the church of St. Francis at Foligno. Numerous miracles were worked at her tomb, and Innocent XII approved the immemorial veneration paid to her. Her feast is kept in the Order on the 30th of March.
Bl. Angela’s high authority as a spiritual teacher may be gathered from the fact that Bollandus, among other testimonials, quotes Maximilian Sandaeus, of the Society of Jesus, who calls her the “Mistress of Theologians”, whose whole doctrine has been drawn out of the Book of Life, Jesus Christ, Our Lord.
Angela has been noticed by Pope Benedict XVI as well. Back in October, while speaking during his weekly audience, he said that the lesson of her life is that “God has a thousand ways, for each of us, to make himself present in the soul, to show that he exists and knows and loves me.” Regarding her conversion and constancy, Our Pope credits Angela’s commitment to a life of prayer and quoted her words as follows,
“However much more you pray, ever more greatly will you be illuminated; however much more you are illuminated, so much more profoundly and intensely will you see the Supreme Good, the supremely good Being; how much more profoundly and intensely you see it, much more will you love it … Successively you will arrive to the fullness of light, because you will understand not being able to comprehend.”
Third Order Franciscans are still active today, though they no longer “take the habit” as recounted above. When Algar Thorold writes of Angela, it is in glowing praise because of her complete conversion, her humility, her commitment to prayer and for the miracles and visions that she was gifted with. She bore the stigmata, and you may read of her visions The Book of Divine Consolations and of her conversion in Thorold’s Essays on Catholic Mysticism.
Blessed Angelo of Foligno, pray for us.