January 4 is the feast day of the Blessed Angela of Foligno.
Angela was born around 1248 in Foligno, a few miles away from Assisi, Italy. She married around the age of 20, but her husband’s name is not known. She and her husband had several sons, and lived a life of superficial self-indulgence and moral laxity before Angela experienced a conversion, Not long after Angela’s conversion, her mother, her husband, and all of her sons died within a short space of time. For five and a half years, she struggled to overcome her sinful past, unsatisfied with her progress, engaging in strange behavior trying to become poor, following the example of St. Francis. Her counselors cautioned her about the dangers of this path, fearing that she might be sick or possessed. Not until 1291 did the Franciscans allow her to make her profession in the Third Order of St. Francis.
That year, she traveled to Rome with a few companions. Stopping at a small chapel during their journey, Angela received a great manifestation of the Trinity, which she had been promised in a recent vision. She returned from Assisi feeling an intimacy with God, but her confessor, Brother Arnoldo, who had seen it, feared that her experiences were prompted by an evil spirit. Brother Arnoldo prompted her to tell him everything, and her resulting narrative, placed in writing, is her Memorial, the first part of The Book of the Blessed Angela. The second part of her Book is the Instructions, made up of the teachings she gave to a small group of Franciscans who gathered around her in the later years of her life and considered her to be their spiritual mother. She died on January 4, 1309.
Here are some excerpts from her Book (Instructions), translated by Paul Lachance, and published in Angela of Foligno: Complete Works (Classics of Western Spirituality Series), Paulist Press, 1993:
“The purpose of prayer is nothing other than to manifest God and self. And this manifestation of God and self leads to a state of perfect and true humility. For this humility is attained when the soul sees God and self. It is in this profound state of humility, and from it, that divine grace deepens and grows in the soul. The more divine grace deepens humility in the soul, the more divine grace can grow in this depth of humility. The more divine grace grows, the deeper the soul is grounded, and the more it is settled in a state of true humility. Through perseverance in true prayer, divine light and grace increase, and these always make the soul grow deep in humility as it reads, as it has been said, the life of Jesus Christ, God and man. I cannot conceive anything greater than the manifestation of God and self. But this discovery, that is, this manifestation of God and self, is the lot only of those legitimate sons of God who have devoted themselves to true prayer.” [Instruction III]
“In order to do better, examine your life carefully every day; recollect yourselves for this purpose at least once a day; and pass in review before the eyes of your soul all the time that has gone by. If the time has been well spent, praise the Lord, and if to the contrary, moan and grieve for the evil you have done. This is the true circumcision of the soul prefigured in Christ’s own circumcision. Let us give thanks to God. [Instruction V]
“Judge no one, even when you see someone commit mortal sin. I do not tell you that sin should not displease you, or that you should not abhor sin, but I say that you should not judge sinners, because you do not know the judgments of God. For many seem to us to be saved and are actually damned before God, and there are many who seem to us to be damned and are saved by God. I can tell you that there are some whom you have despised, who stray, that is, who are destroying the good things they have begun, but about whom I entertain a strong hope that God will lead them back to his way.” [Instruction XXXVI]