VATICAN CITY, 13 OCT 2010 (VIS) – Benedict XVI dedicated his catechesis during this morning’s general audience to the Italian Blessed Angela of Foligno (ca. 1248 – 1309). The audience was celebrated in St. Peter’s Square in the presence of 25,000 people.
This great mediaeval mystic generally arouses admiration “for the heights she scaled in her experience of union with God”, said the Pope. “However, perhaps too little attention has been given to her first steps, to her conversion and the journey that led her from her starting point of a ‘great fear of hell’, to her goal of complete union with the Trinity”.
Angela was born into a rich family and received a worldly education. She married very young, had a number of children and lived a carefree life until dramatic events such as the violent earthquake of 1279 and the consequences of a war with the city of Perugia led her to question the meaning of her existence. In 1285 she received a vision of St. Francis of Assisi whom she asked for help in making a general confession of her sins. Three years later, her husband and children having all died, Angela sold her goods and in 1291 entered the Third Order of St. Francis.
Her story is recounted by her confessor in the “Book of Blessed Angela of Foligno”. At the beginning of her spiritual itinerary the blessed felt the fear of hell for her sins. “This fear”, the Pope explained, “reflected the kind of faith that Angela had at the moment of her conversion; a faith still poor in charity; that is, in love for God. Penance, fear of hell and atonement opened before Angela the prospect of the painful ‘way of the cross’, which … would lead her to the ‘way of love'”.
“Angela felt she had to give something to God to make up for her sins, but she slowly came to realise that she had nothing to give Him; indeed, that she was ‘nothing’ before Him. She understood that it was not her will that could give her the love of God, because her will could give her ‘nothing’, it could only give her ‘non-love'”. Little by little “she came to a profound understanding of the central reality: that what would save her from her ‘unworthiness’ and from her ‘deserving hell’ would not be her ‘union with God’ or her possession of the ‘truth’, but the crucified Jesus, … His love, … and her self-identification and self-transformation in the love and suffering of the crucified Christ”.
“Angela’s conversion”, the Holy Father concluded, “reached maturity only when in her heart she saw God’s forgiveness as a gratuitous gift of the love of the Father, Who is the source of love”. On her spiritual journey, “the move from conversion to mystical experience, from that which can be expressed to that which is inexpressible, came about through the crucified Christ. … All her mystical experience thus tended to perfect ‘likeness’ with Him through increasingly profound and radical purifications and transformations. … Such identification also meant living as Jesus lived, facing poverty, contempt and suffering. … A sublime journey, the secret of which was constant prayer”.
AG/ VIS 20101013 (540)
Published by VIS – Holy See Press Office – Wednesday, October 13, 2010