Maria Rosa, as Mary Frances was christened, was born in Naples in 1715 of a
family that belonged to the middle class of society. Her mother, a devout and
gentle woman, who had much to contend with from her hot-tempered husband, was
quite worried before the birth of this child. But St. John Joseph of the
Cross, who lived in Naples at that time, calmed her and recommended special
care of the child, as it was destined to attain to great holiness.
She was scarcely 4 years old when she began to
spend hours in prayer, and sometimes arose at night for this purpose. Such was
her desire to know the truths of the Catholic Faith, that an angel appeared to
her and instructed her regularly. She had not yet attained her 7th year when
she desired to receive holy Communion. Her pastor marveled at her knowledge of
the Faith, as well as her ardent desire for the Bread of Angels, and felt that
he could not deny her the privilege. In fact, it was not long before he
permitted her to receive daily.
Meanwhile, although physically of a very delicate
constitution, the little saint was making herself useful to her parents by
assisting them in their work. Her father, a weaver of gold lace, was anxious
to have his children help as early as possible. He found that Mary Frances was
not only the most willing but also the most skilled in the work.
Mary Frances was 16 years old when a rich young man
asked her father for her hand. Rejoicing at the favorable prospect, her father
at once gave his consent.
But when he told Mary Frances about it, he was
amazed to hear her, who had never contradicted him, declare her firm intention
of espousing only her heavenly Bridegroom, and asking his permission to become
a Tertiary. He became so enraged that he seized a rope and whipped the
delicate girl un mercifully, until her mother intervened. He then locked her
in a room, where she received only bread and water, and no one was permitted
to speak to her.
Mary Frances considered herself fortunate to be
able to offer her divine bridegroom this early proof of her fidelity; she
regarded the trial as a pre-nuptial celebration. The earnest representations
of a priest made her father, who after all was a believing Christian, realize
that he had done wrong; and he consented that his daughter take the Tertiary
habit and serve God as a consecrated virgin at home, as was customary in those
Filled with holy joy, Mary Frances now received the
habit and with it the surname "of the Five Wounds." This name was prophetic of
her subsequent life. At home she had much to endure. Her father never got over
it that he lost a wealthy son-in-law. When God favored her with unusual graces
-- she was sometimes granted ecstasies at prayer and suffered our Lord's agony
with Him -- her own brothers and sisters insulted her as an imposter. Even her
confessor felt obliged to deal harshly with her. For a long time she could
find consolation nowhere but in the wounds of Christ.
Her confessor perceived at last that it was God who
was doing these things in Mary Frances. Since her mother had died meanwhile,
he saw to it that she found a home with a fellow Tertiary. There one day, as
she herself lay ill, she learned that her father was near death; and she asked
almighty God to let her suffer her father's death agony and his purgatory.
Both requests were granted her.
Although she suffered continuously, our Lord also
gave Mary Frances great graces and consolations. She received the marks of the
wounds of Christ and was granted the gift of prophesy and of miracles. When
Pius VI was crowned pope in 1775, she beheld him in a vision wearing a crown
of thorns. Pope Pius closed his life 24 years later as a prisoner of the
French Revolution at Valence.
Mary Frances also prophesied the tragic events of
the French Revolution; and God heard her prayer, asking that she be taken from
this world before they would happen. She died on October 6, 1791, kissing the
feet of her crucifix. God glorified her by many miracles. She was beatified by
Pope Gregory XVI, and canonized by Pope Pius IX in 1867.
ON CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE
1. What made Mary Frances
so resolute that she never failed in courage amid her many trials, but rather
advanced in holiness? The lessons of the catechism did that for her. She
entertained such a longing to know them that almighty God had her guardian
angel instruct her in them before she received any human instruction. Without
a knowledge of Christian doctrine, as it is impressed on the heart in through
catechetical instruction, man impressed on the heart in thorough catechetical
instructions, man is not safe in the storms of life. Piety itself is built on
sand without that knowledge; if the waters of tribulation surround it, it
collapses. But the soul that is well instructed in the truths of our Faith is
like the house in the Gospel: "And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the
winds blew, and they beat upon that house, and it fell not, for it was founded
on a rock" (Matt 7:25). -- Have you properly appreciated the lessons of the
2. Consider how the lessons of the catechism should be taught to
children. Before they ever learn to read or go to school, the parents and
other members of the household, like visible guardian angels, should teach the
children their prayers and the more important lessons of faith, so that the
instructions will not be something strange to them later. The first school and
the first church of the little ones should be the parental home. And when the
children begin to attend instructions in school, the parents should encourage
their interest by asking them questions and hearing them recite their lessons.
Above all they should not neglect to send the children regularly to the
instructions. Those lessons are the most necessary and the most important of
their lives. The Holy Spirit speaks of their importance when He says: "From
your mouth receive instructions, and even to gray hairs you shall find
wisdom." (Eccli 6:18). -- How can parents be guilty of keeping their children
ignorant for life of the most important matters?
3. Consider that even in
later life we should not neglect the lessons of the catechism. We learn them
in youth, but we must use them throughout life. That is why we should
frequently review these lessons and reflect on them. Take up your catechism
occasionally and re-read it. Its lessons mean much more to us as we grow older
than they did when we were children. If public catechism instructions or study
clubs are conducted in your parish, or is a series of sermons on these lessons
is given in your church, so not fail to attend, for they offer valuable
lessons for young and old. If one received money for attending them, no doubt,
there would be many present who now prefer the comfort of their homes. But
Holy Scripture says: "Receive my instructions and not money; choose knowledge
rather than gold" (Prov 8:10). Christian doctrine is worth more than all the
gold on earth. It reaches us that man is made for heaven and not for the
earth; and if we live in accordance with that principle, we shall enter the
kingdom of heaven when we have to leave the things of earth.
PRAYER OF THE CHURCH
O Lord Jesus, who, together
with many other graces, didst give St. Mary Frances the grace of perfect
contempt of the world, grant that through her merits and intercession, we,
too, may despise material things and aspire to those which are heavenly. Who
livest and reignest forever and ever. Amen.
The Franciscan Book
of Saints, ed. by
Marion Habig, ofm., © 1959 Franciscan Herald