Saint Frances of Rome
Who can preside over a meeting of men and of women, of monks and of nuns gathered together in order to pray? When in August 1425, Dom Hippolitus, surrounded by his own Olivetan monastic community, received Frances Ponziani and her companions for the “Benedictine oblation” in the church of Santa Maria Nuova in Rome, he did not know that this ecclesial act and the intuition that he was sealing would lead to a “covenant of prayer” in which the Church would recognize its own face.
What intuition and what face of the Church? With Frances, who is called the Roman because she served and loved her people well, everything began with its opposite: she wanted to be a nun and was married; she sought the peace of the monastery and she had to watch not only over her own household but also over the “House of the Church” that was torn by factions; she united her companions in the service of the poor and in the reality of the most concrete miseries, and with her companions she discovered in this service the meaning of a Benedictine oblation that would lead to the foundation of a monastery. She saw a life of prayer, of meditation on Scripture, and of Benedictine formation leading to this foundation, which was the cause of great controversy. Her only dream was to take the last place when her husband’s death freed her from family obligations… and she found herself in the first place, consecrated and recognized by those who were with her, by the pope, by the city, by the love and fidelity of her Benedictine spiritual brothers and fathers, who had supported her throughout her journey of consecration to God, to the Church, and to the peace of the Church.
What was this woman’s secret other than the love of Christ, who was served in conjunction with a male monastic community, to which Frances gave all she had in feminine intuition and in her sense of interiority, thus receiving in her turn, in her gift of self to Christ, the strength to serve others, all others, no matter what form the events gave to this oblation?
She “breathed” this strength of soul in the spirit of Saint Benedict. She placed the foundations for a union in prayer between men and women, which had to lead to recognizing in the joy of this gift that was common to all of them, the secret of the movement that draws the whole Church to its Lord.
She gave a living image of the Church to all who, following her, were willing to sit in the shade of the Beloved in order to understand what Love is.
Why was a woman needed to teach us this? The question itself bears the answer.