She always wanted to be a nun. She couldn’t imagine being anything else. Frances, however, lived during a time when marriages were arranged. Her father had already promised her hand in marriage to a good man, Lorenzo Ponziani, commander of the papal troops in Rome.
Young Frances of Rome appealed in tears to her confessor. Surely, he would understand her desire to live for God alone.
“Are you crying because you want to do God’s will or because you want God to do your will?” he asked her. Ouch! Sometimes truth hurts, but it always sets us free. Thus, with these words came the grace for Frances to accept her vocation to married life.
Knowing God’s will doesn’t always make it easy. At first, Frances found the demands placed on her difficult. Her mother-in-law expected Frances to participate fully in high society life. Frances, however, found fasting and penance more desirable than feasting and revelry. Even with the love and devotion of her husband, Frances was not fitting in very well in the Ponziani household.
Frances was miserable trying to live her Christian vocation in worldly surroundings. God, therefore, sent Frances a friend and confidant to help her. Her sister-in-law, Vannozza, also had a deep devotion to God. But she found a way to balance her spiritual and family life.
Together, the young women went to Mass, visited prisons, served in hospitals, and prayed. Yet, they prioritized family duties. With Vannozza’s help, Frances learned to joyfully make and receive visits. At social events, they would elevate conversations and not participate in the gossip. At home, Frances successfully ran her household and raised her three children. She grew to love and cherish Lorenzo. Theirs was a happy marriage lasting forty years.
Frances’ charity knew no bounds. When a flood swept her town and brought disease, she liberally gave from the stores of the household granary and wine cellar. Yet, neither ever ran out. During a plague that hit Rome, Frances turned the palace into a hospital and homeless shelter. She started a lay order of women under the patronage of Saint Benedictine to tend to the poor and sick of the city. With her husband’s blessing, she bought the consecrated women a house where they could live in community. She herself, though, remained at the castle caring for her family.
Because of war, Lorenzo returned from battle a broken man, old beyond his years. For the last seven years of his life, Frances faithfully nursed and cared for him. His last words to her were, “I feel as if my whole life has been one beautiful dream of purest happiness. God has given me so much in your love.” The reluctant bride had, by God’s good grace and the help of a friend, fully fulfilled her vocation.
God would finally fulfill her heart’s desire. After Lorenzo’s death, Frances joined her Benedictine sisters. For the last four years of her life, God granted Frances her childhood wish. God wasn’t telling Frances “no;” He was asking her to wait. He had so much more to give her first.
My life is opposite of Frances’. I was blessed with a religious vocation first, then a happy marriage and family. What I have learned from Saint Frances of Rome and my own experience is this:
1) God’s plans for us are always bigger than the plans we have for ourselves.
2) When we need help, God will send a faithful friend to support us.
3) If we are faithful to God, trust Him and do as He asks, He will fulfill our heart’s desire.
March 9, is the feast day of Saint Frances of Rome. May she intercede for us in our vocations as wives, mothers, and Christian women. Saint Frances, pray for us.