Feast of St. Angela Merici – 01/27/2021
Thank you to all who celebrated the Feast of our Foundress, St. Angela Merici. Mass was celebrated at St. William the Abbot Church in Seaford. During this Mass, we prayed especially for our Prayer Enrollment Intentions. Thank you to Fr. Joe Fitzgerald for celebrating this Feast Day Mass with us.
Saint Angela, Woman of Love
A Reflection on the History and Spirituality of St. Angela
For the Feast of St. Angela Merici – January 27, 2021
By Sr. Catherine Talia, O.S.U.
Angela Merici was born around 1474 in Desenzano on Lake Garda in northern Italy. She began her life in a loving, pious family but at a young age she and her brother were left orphaned and sent to live with an uncle in Salo. We might assume that her parents and sister died of the plague that was afflicting Italy at the time. After the death of her sister, Angela had a vision while at prayer of a ladder going to heaven with many virgins ascending the ladder. The vision showed her that she would one day gather a group of virgins in Brescia. This was the foundational moment for the creation of the company of Saint Ursula many years later in Brescia.
Let’s put Angela Merici’s life in the context of her own history and culture.—Renaissance Italy was at a time of political upheaval, experiencing growing respect for the glory of humanity together with increasing moral decay. Religious life as well as families seemed to be falling apart, regional wars were common and brutal. Disease destroyed both human dignity and the bonds of community. It was a time of war, violence, disease, political rivalry, and inequality—not unlike our own. Angela lived in the midst of this and spent most of her life trying to respond to it in a relational, loving, bold and just way. While in Salo, Angela became a Third Order Franciscan. This led her to accept an assignment in Brescia to console a wealthy woman, Caterina Pentagoli, who had lost her husband to war. During almost 40 years Angela was a pilgrim to many holy sites, Venice, Milan, Rome, the Holy Land and Varalo while working with the poor, sick and needy in Brescia especially women and children. Angela saw a need and responded to it. In the Prologue to her Counsels, the words she directed to her local leaders of the Company, she writes, “Act, move, believe, strive, hope, cry out to God with all your heart, for without doubt you will see marvelous things, if you direct everything to the praise and glory of God’s majesty and the good of souls.” One of the key words all through her life was “harmony”. In her Last Counsel she says “My last word to you, by which I implore you even with my blood, is that you live in harmony, united together, all of one heart and one will. Be bound to one another by the bond of charity, esteeming each other, helping each other, bearing with each other in Jesus Christ. Imagine what our world would be like today if we strived to put these words into practice in our own local circumstances.
Angela’s spirituality reflected a great openness to the inspirations of the Spirit, which guided her life and her work. In chapter 8 of her Rule she states, “And above all: to obey the counsels and inspirations which the Holy Spirit unceasingly sends into our hearts, the Spirit whose voice we shall hear all the more clearly as we have our own conscience more purified and clean. For the Holy Spirit is the one who teaches us all truth.” Angela’s open personality attracted people to her. She was like a piazza. If you have ever been to Mexico or to Italy you know that a piazza is where people gather to share life. Angela was that piazza to all who came into her life. In her Second Legacy she writes, “And it will be impossible for you not to cherish them day and night, and to have them all engraved in your heart, one by one, for this is how real love acts and works.” She encouraged everyone to be a piazza. Several years ago, reflecting on this aspect of Angela as a piazza I wrote this:
Engraved on her heart
Each one—the rich, the poor, the educated, the uneducated, the well, the incurable.
How large a heart and hospitable a woman
Respect in her heart
For each one—the rich, the poor, the educated, the uneducated, the well, the incurable
How receptive a heart.
Fire in her heart.
For each one—the rich, the poor, the educated, the well, the incurable.
How loving a heart.
Am I willing today to allow life’s circumstances to keep stretching my heart, so that my love might expand beyond my present circle to include people that I don’t especially like? Those who have hurt me. How broad is my capacity to love? Can I be open to all who step into my space? Angela’s life was totally relational—to God, to the members of her Company and to all people and circumstances that came into her life. She spent her night in prayer in relationship with her Spouse and her days in acts of love to people. In the Seventh Counsel Angela offers this timely advice, “For in these perilous and pestilential times, you will find no other recourse than to take refuge at the feet of Jesus Christ. Because if he directs and teaches you, you will be well taught….”
Today, we, the Ursuline Sisters and Associates of Tildonk, in our Vision Statement, say that we are dedicated to radical gospel living. Energized by the spirit and example of St. Angela, we dare to effect change in ourselves, our church and in our society by standing with the economically poor, especially women and children. We have done this in the US for 96 years. Our numbers may be small, but our spirit is great. Our world still needs us, perhaps more than ever, and we look to our mother, Angela, for continued guidance. Her parting words to us were, “So persevere faithfully and joyfully in the work you have begun. And take care, take care I say not to lose your fervor, for every promise that I make to you will be fulfilled for you beyond measure.” Happy Feast day!
Sr. Catherine Talia is a former Provincial of the Ursuline Sisters of Tildonk. She had the opportunity to spend extended time in Brescia and Desenzano over the years studying the history and spirituality of St. Angela. She currently volunteers with Pronto, a community service agency in North Bay Shore, and is community liaison for the Ursuline Sisters who reside at Maria Regina Residence.