Saint Of The Day For January 27: Saint Angela Merici
No longer in the cloisters, but in the world: this is the Cartesian axis of the spirituality of Saint Angela Merici who, with the testimony of her life, succeeds in giving new form to the dignity of women.
Born in Desenzano sul Garda, in the province of Brescia, on 21 March 1474, Angela breathed a strong religious sense from an early age: in the evenings, the family gathered around her father, Giovanni, to listen to him read the lives of the saints.
And it was thanks to these readings that little Angela began to nurture a particular devotion to Saint Ursula, the noble young woman from Britannia who was martyred in the 4th century together with her companions, and who would play a great role in the maturation of her spirituality.
Angela, Franciscan Tertiary
At the age of 15, Angela lost her sister and parents prematurely; she then moved to Salò, taken in by her maternal uncle.
In those years, the desire to lead a more austere and penitential life arose in her, so much so that she chose to become a Franciscan Tertiary.
Five years later, on the death of her uncle, the young woman returned to Desenzano where she dedicated herself to the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, always accompanying manual work with prayer and recollection.
Angela ‘s vision of the “heavenly staircase
And it is while in prayer that the future Saint has a vision of a procession of angels and virgins playing and singing songs.
Among them, Angela also sees her deceased sister who foretells her: “You will found a company of virgins”.
In later centuries, hagiographic iconography depicted this vision as a ‘celestial ladder’ uniting heaven and earth.
Meanwhile, in 1516, Franciscan superiors sent Angela to Brescia to assist a widow, Caterina Patendola.
In the city, the young woman strengthened her idea of a laity increasingly committed to charity, but enriched by the contribution of female sensitivity.
After receiving a second vision, Angela decided to go on pilgrimage to various holy places: Mantua and the Sacro Monte of Varallo were among the first destinations, followed, in 1524, by the Holy Land.
But it is precisely during the journey to the origins of Christianity that a singular prodigy occurs: suddenly, Angela loses her sight; she will only regain it on her return from the Holy Land, praying before the Crucifix.
Far from becoming discouraged, Merici welcomed the momentary illness as a sign from Providence, so that she could look at the Holy Places not with the eyes of the body, but with those of the spirit.
‘Can you not understand,’ she would later say, ‘that this blindness has been sent to me for the good of my soul?
Saint Angela, The birth of the ‘Company of Saint Ursula
Back in Italy, in 1525, on the occasion of the Jubilee, Angela went on pilgrimage to Rome, where she consolidated her charisma to such an extent that Pope Clement VII proposed that she remain in the ‘Eternal City’.
But the young woman decided to return to Brescia, as she wanted to finally give life to the “heavenly vision”.
On 25 November 1535, therefore, together with twelve co-workers, she founded the ‘Company of the resigned nuns of Saint Ursula’, (‘resigned’ because they were deprived of the traditional monastic habit), with an original Rule of Life: to be outside the cloister to dedicate themselves to the instruction and education of young women, in obedience to the bishop and the Church.
A revolution of grace
It is a true revolution of grace: in the ‘Company’, in fact, every consecrated woman will be able to sanctify her existence not in the enclosure of a convent, but working in the world, as in the original Church.
At a time when women who can be neither brides nor nuns are destined to be marginalised, Angela offers them a new social condition, that of ‘consecrated virgins in the world’, able to sanctify themselves to sanctify the family and society.
Angela Merici, canonised in 1807
In 1539 Angela’s health deteriorated and she died on 27 January 1540, at the age of 66.
Her remains were laid to rest in the Church of Sant’Afra in Brescia, where they are still venerated today, in what has been renamed the Sanctuary of Saint Angela.
In the meantime, her reputation for holiness grew and in 1544 Pope Paul III elevated the Company to an Institute of pontifical right, thus allowing it to operate outside the diocesan borders.
Beatified in 1768 by Pope Clement XIII, Angela Merici was canonised on 24 May 1807 by Pope Pius VII.
A statue in her memory, sculpted in 1866 by sculptor Pietro Galli, is today kept in the Vatican Basilica.
Angela ‘s spiritual testament
‘I beg you,’ we read in her spiritual testament, addressed to the Ursulines, ‘to want to remember and keep carved in your mind and heart all your daughters, one by one.
And not only their names, but also their condition, character and state, and everything about them.
Which will not be difficult for you, if you embrace them with living charity.
Engage them with love and a gentle hand, not imperiously and harshly, but in all things be pleasant”.
Above all,” he concluded, “beware of wanting to obtain anything by force, because God has given everyone free will and does not want to force anyone, but only proposes and advises.