Angela Merici (1474-1540) invented a new way for women to minister to their communities in the late fifteen century. At a time when the only women who were educated were the rich and those who had taken Holy Orders, Angela extended education and religious instruction to the poor. At a time when those who belonged to religious orders remained cloistered in prayer, Angela and her sisters took to the streets and communities, serving those around them with great love and dedication. Her efforts and new way of serving the Lord through others makes today, January 27, the feast day of her sainthood.
In a time where there is much debate about Church reform, we might look to the wisdom of Saint Angela Merici. During particularly challenging times, when the “new way” of service was struggling, Saint Angela would tell her sisters, “If according to times and needs you should be obliged to make fresh rules and change certain things, do it with prudence and good advice.” Perseverance, love, and adherence to the laws of God were to guide decisions and shape our lives.
Following her parents’ deaths, Angela and her sister were sent to live with a wealthy uncle. Shortly afterwards, Angela’s sister died unexpectedly, before she was able to receive the sacrament of Last Rites. Angela herself had yet to receive Holy Communion, due to both her lack of education, her gender, and the delays common in that time period. Extremely upset by her sister’s death, Angela’s eyes were opened to the plight of young girls around her. Few received education, and even fewer, religious education of any kind. Angela saw, even in her youth, that this lack of education was detrimental to families, as there were few “Christian mothers” who could instruct their children in the ways of the Lord.
The Ursuline company was novel for its day. At a time where women remained cloistered in prayer, Angela and her slowly growing group of women remained in the community, living with families. They identified poor young girls and women, instructing them in prayer and religion. They collected alms by which to live, but generally distributed all but bare necessity to the poor of the region. Not a recognized or organized sect, Angela nonetheless instructed her sisters in Christian doctrine, which they in turn passed to those they served. Vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience were expected. Despite her lack of “formal” education, Angela was regarded as clear-headed, Christ-centered, and pious, and was often visited by priests and theologians for consultation.
It was not until 1535, five years before her death, and after a trip to the Holy Land where she was struck blind, that Angela officially founded the new order of Ursulines with approval from the pope. The order, still in existence, continues to share the early mission of Saint Angela, serving those in need and focusing on Christian education and social justice. Ursuline sisters may be found throughout the world, and have founded schools for secondary education, as well as universities and colleges.
Saint Angela Merici saw the world simply, first as a child, and then later as an adult and leader in her community. Rather than turn a blind eye toward the social injustices around her, she embraced those in need with her heart, her prayers, and her service. Not to be deterred by expectations and perceived limitations, Angela listened attentively to God’s call, and then, against the odds, worked tirelessly to literally change the world. What could we be doing to help those around us? What limits do we place on ourselves due to what we perceive to be societal restrictions, role expectations, or prohibitions by those we come in contact with? Even a glimpse at Saint Angela’s life inspires us to view the world through the eyes of a child, identify what needs to improve, and then find a “new way” to change the world.
O Lord, let St. Angela never cease commending us to Your kindness. By always imitating her charity and prudence may we succeed in keeping Your teachings and reflecting them in our lives. Amen.
Day 27of 365
Prayer Intentions: Charity and Prudence; Courage to work for social justice; Those suffering in the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake
Requested Intentions: Reconciliation of struggling marriages (A); Friend beginning new job of ministry (J); Reconciliation and Healing in personal relationships (N); Safety for friend deployed to Afghanistan (S); Those considering or having attempted suicide (Pr. L); Those who serve the Archdiocese of Los Angeles (N); Safety of friend/ relief worker in Haiti (L); Health and safety of new daughter (J); Renewal of loving Christ-centered relationship (A).
Why pray the Rosary every day for a year?
Each time the Blessed Virgin has appeared-- whether it be to Saint Bernadette Soubirous at Lourdes; to Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco at Fatima; or to Mariette Beco at Banneux-- she has asserted the importance, saving grace, and power of praying the Holy Rosary on a daily basis. Based upon her words, the Rosary is penance and conversion for sinners, a pathway to peace, an end to war, and a powerful act of faith in Jesus Christ. Pope Paul VI presented the Rosary as a powerful means to reach Christ "not merely with Mary but indeed, insofar as this is possible to us, in the same way as Mary, who is certainly the one who thought about Him more than anyone else has ever done."
To show us how this is done, perhaps no one has been more eloquent than the great Cardinal Newman, who wrote: "The great power of the Rosary consists in the fact that it translates the Creed into Prayer. Of course, the Creed is already in a certain sense a prayer and a great act of homage towards God, but the Rosary brings us to meditate again on the great truth of His life and death, and brings this truth close to our hearts. Even Christians, although they know God, usually fear rather than love Him. The strength of the Rosary lies in the particular manner in which it considers these mysteries, since all our thinking about Christ is intertwined with the thought of His Mother, in the relations between Mother and Son; the Holy Family is presented to us, the home in which God lived His infinite love."
As Mary said at Fatima, "Jesus wants to use you to make Me known and loved. He wishes to establish the devotion to My Immaculate Heart throughout the world. I promise salvation to whoever embraces it; these souls will be dear to God, like flowers put by Me to adorn his throne."