Today is the feast day of one of the few married woman saints: Frances of Rome. I found it highly ironic and funny that this was today’s Epistle reading in The Book of Common Prayer:
Now about what you wrote: “It’s good for people not to touch each other.” But because of promiscuity, everyone should have their own spouse. Spouses should fulfill their duty to each other. Committed people don’t have authority over their own bodies, but their spouses do. Don’t deprive each other, except by mutual consent for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to [fasting and] prayer, and then come together again so the Satan won’t tempt you because of your lack of self-control. But I say this as a concession, not as a precept. I actually wish that all people were like me. But everyone has their own gift from Godde; one has this and another has that.
I say to the single and widowed, it’s good for them if they remain like me. But if they don’t have self-control, they should marry, because it’s better to marry than to burn with passion. (1 Corinthians 7:1-9, DFV)
Aah Paul, you old curmudgeon. The thing I hate the most about his allowance to marriage is that he doesn’t even use his own Jewish tradition to defend marriage. He says, “Well, OK, if you’re going to screw anything with two legs then get married, but you really should be a curmudgeonly celibate single like me.” (Disclaimer: I was single for 36 years and loved it–thought for awhile I might not marry–now I am married. I LOVE being married. I’ve been happy on both sides of the fence.)
Here is what Paul’s defense of marriage should have looked like:
Remember why our Godde created marriage in the first place. In the beginning…
Sophia-Yahweh said, “It is not good for the human to be alone. I will make it a power equal to it.”
Sophia-Yahweh caused the human to fall into a deep sleep. As the human slept, Godde took one of its ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. Sophia-Yahweh made a woman from the rib which was taken from the man, and brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh. She will be called ‘woman,’ because she was taken out of man.” Therefore a man will leave his father and his mother, and will join with his wife, and they will be one flesh (Genesis 2:18, 21-24, adapted from the World English Bible).
So you see dear sisters and brothers in Corinth, it is fine if you want to stay single, but marriage is Godde-ordained as well. Godde made marriage because it was not good for the human to be alone. Now the communion does not have to be marriage–that’s why Jesus had disciples. It is not good for us to be alone, which is why we need both marriage and community. We can’t make it though this life alone. Both marriage and celibacy have their place in the world and in the community. Some will stay single like me. Most will marry like Peter and his wife (1 Corinthians 9:5), Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18:2), and Andronicus and Junia (Romans 16:7). Both celibates and couples can serve Godde and bring Godde’s kingdom into the here and now by loving each other, loving the stranger, and showing the world around us that life can be different.
That’s what Paul should’ve said to the Corinthians.
Saint Frances is the perfect example of this vision of the Christian life and marriage. She lived what Paul should have said.
Saint Frances of Rome
I am used to seeing medieval women saints as nuns. Either they are single or a widow. I was delighted a few years ago when I discovered a married woman saint who lived during the 14th century. March 9 is the feast day of St. Frances of Rome who was a Benedictine oblate. She was also married. An oblate is a lay person who is connected to a Benedictine community and observes The Rule of St. Benedict in their daily life at home and work. St. Frances founded a lay congregation of women called the Oblates of Mary; they were attached to the church of Santa Maria Nova in Rome. The order she founded is now known as the Oblates of Saint Frances of Rome. In this period of Christianity there were nuns who chose God’s highest calling and wives who settled for marriage. Rarely have I read of a woman who was both a contemplative and wife. Not to mention a saint. And she didn’t settle. She obeyed Godde’s calling for her life right where she was in her marriage and home.
After her marriage, [Frances] continued an intense spiritual life of reading, prayer and visiting churches . . . she built a chapel in their palace, visited the sick, gave alms to the poor, and nursed patients in the hospital of Santo Spiritu. The tension she experienced in trying to combine intense devotions with the life of a wealthy Roman matron resulted in a breakdown. After a year of suffering, she was miraculously healed by a vision of St. Alexis.
From this crisis, Frances learned how to offer the three always interwoven threads of her life to God: first her family life, including her children, household duties, and role as wife. Second her civic life of healer, spiritual director, organizer of almsgiving and charity for the poor of Rome. Finally, her spiritual life with its liturgical and mystical experiences. Interweaving these three threads is characteristic of Benedictine spirituality: just as the Rule counsels the monk to take his brothers into account in every aspect of his life in the monastery, so Frances continuously responded to her family and her city. Like a monk who finds in the enclosure of the monastery not a prison, but a home, she created a sphere of inner freedom within the confines of this dense community.
. . . [After the death of her mother-in-law], the family unanimously chose Frances to run the household. . . She was seventeen. . . She was thus in charge of a large, wealthy Roman estate, supervising servants and overseeing kitchens, food purchases and harvests. Because of their political sympathies, the family figured prominently as a center for papal support in Rome, and she was in charge of the entertaining associated with their role in the drama of the divided papacy…
Frances longed attracted the attention of women who wanted to give their time, wealth, and energy to the sick and the poor. Now they approached her asking her to give institutional expression to their way of life. They were attracted to the Benedictine order. . . Characteristic of their freedom, the oblates could live either in community or in their homes. . . .The women who followed this path did so freely, unlike the medieval children entrusted as oblates who were unable to choose for themselves. However, like the child oblates, they brought with them monetary funds to build up the common good. (From Benedict in the World, Portraits of Monastic Oblates quoted in Benedictine Daily Prayer.)
Lord God, in Saint Frances you have given us a rare model of both married and religious life. Teach us to serve you with constancy so that we may be able to see and follow you in all circumstances of our daily existence. Amen.