Yesterday, March 9, was the feast day of St Frances of Rome. Hailing as I do from a Protestant background, my knowledge of saints’ days is pretty thin on the ground. But yesterday I was visiting the Holy Cross Monastery in Rostrevor, and much of the day’s liturgical activities were given over to remembering and celebrating the life of the saint.
St Frances – not to be confused with St Francis of Assisi – lived between 1384 and 1440. She was a wife and a mother, but in later life became superior of the Benedictine Oblate Congregation of Tor di Specchi.
At yesterday’s main Eucharistic celebration in the Monastery, the homily drew these lessons from St Frances life:
- St Frances was not afraid to speak her mind to the pope of her day, Eugene IV.
- St Frances was deeply hurt by the schism between the Western and Eastern churches, and longed for the unity of all Christians.
- St Frances was a living example of the often overlooked good gifts and works that women have contributed to the church down through the ages.
Though my knowledge of St Frances remains superficial, I was intrigued by the way the monks in this monastery – practicing an ancient rule – were able to identify lessons from her life that still speak to the churches today.
The monks also led prayers around these issues, including:
- Prayer for renewal of the church. Given recent events especially in the Irish Catholic Church, this may require significant reform and the courage of some latter day ‘prophets’ to speak their minds frankly, yet lovingly, to church authorities.
- Prayer for the unity of Christians. The Holy Cross Monastery has a special mission in Ireland to model good ecumenical relationships. Unity, it might be added, doesn’t necessarily mean institutional unity. It can mean instead a unity of spirit and good relationships. As it says on their website, their presence in Northern Ireland is bound up with their mission
to contribute to reconciliation between Catholics and Protestants in a land marked by reciprocal violence and stained by the blood of Christian brothers and sisters.
- Prayer for women in the churches. Women’s roles in the churches have often been overlooked, downplayed or even scorned, but their contributions are needed today now more than ever. Like St Frances, women may have a special role to play in prophesying to today’s religious authorities.
The Holy Cross Monastery, where beyond Eucharist and prayers a rule of silence is generally observed, provided a space for me to ponder and absorb some of these lessons.
(image sourced on flickr photo-sharing site)