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Stories of the Saints by  Grace Hall
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THE PATIENCE OF ST FRANCES THE ROMAN

[94] FRANCESCA, daughter of Paolo and Jacobella Bassi, was born at the end of the fourteenth century.

What she wished from earliest youth was to be permitted to retire in peace to a convent and there spend her life in religious meditation and in good works, but her parents, much against her inclination, married her, when she was twelve years of age, to an excellent man, Lorenzo Ponziano by name, who was not only noble and rich but also kind.

As she would have made an exemplary nun had she been granted her desire, so she made an impeccable wife and mother. The same zeal which she would have bestowed upon her spiritual duties she lavished upon her home and her family.

This is not to say that she did not find time and opportunity for the performance of some of those works of charity and devotion which were needful to her happiness, for instead of spending her days in the ease and idleness and search for pleasure to which riches and position would have entitled her, she daily repaired, clad in disfiguring garments, to a podere  owned by her beyond the walls of Rome, outside of the gate of San Paolo, a podere, part farm, part vineyard, and part woodland. There she gathered faggots and such provisions as the farm afforded, and on her head, on her back, in her arms, bore these back to town and distributed them to the poor and the sick. If the burden was more than human woman could carry, she loaded with [95] it a little donkey—and herself walked humbly behind him, like any poor Contadina.

Had it not been for her ability thus to gratify her need for service and for the effacing of self, she must have been most unhappy, but apart from the joy she obtained from her surreptitious good deeds, she had another hidden source of delight. She was everywhere attended by an angel, invisible to any but herself. This lovely companion made a celestial link for her between earth and heaven, and gave her at all times a sense of association and kinship with the High Lord and Master in whose service she lived.

It happened one morning that, according to her daily custom, Francesca was reciting the Office of Our Lady. Kneeling in her oratory with open book before her on the carved desk, she read the words which ever brought her fresh life and light. She had come to a certain verse, when Donato, her page, tapped apologetically:

"Monna Francesca, I crave pardon, but there is a poor man at the door who seeks alms . . . "

Francesca rose, closed her book, and descended. Having attended to the wants of the mendicant, given him bread for his scrip, wine for the warming of his heart, ointment for his sores, and money for his rejoicing, she returned to the oratory, and sinking on her knees began again at the beginning the Office in which she had been interrupted.

She had arrived at the same verse and was about to continue when a matter-of-fact voice sounded from the doorway. Very gently closing her book, Francesca went to answer. It was Beppa the cook, who must know whether the capons were to be served to the masters that night, or the pigeons that Gianni had brought yesterday from the podere, and if so, how many, and were there to be guests, and would her gracious lady deign to descend and see if . . . and so on.

[96] When Beppa had been satisfied in all her questions and demands, Francesca resumed her Office at its first line.

Having reached the familiar verse "Francesca!" she heard Lorenzo calling from below, "here is Luigi just back from the hills with the falcon I bade him find and train for me, and he has also the sheep dog from Maremma to guard our sheep at the podere."

Francesca joined her husband. When all had been done that required to be done for Lorenzo and Luigi and the falcon and the Maremmano sheep-dog, Francesca returned unperturbed to the oratory. She began the Office from the beginning and for the fourth time arrived at the apparently impassable verse.

Mother!" called the voice of her small son Battista, youngest of her three children, "Mother, I pray thee come here to me. The green pig thou didst give me last night has lost all his legs—"

Francesca smiled a little, sighed a little, rose and went to attend to the needs of Battista and the green wooden pig.

"A wife and mother when called upon must sometimes leave her God at the altar and find Him in her household affairs," she said to herself.

And when at last she returned to the dimly lighted little oratory, with its flowers and tapers before the image of the Blessed Virgin, the place was all aglow with a shining light radiating from the book of orisons which she had left open. On its fair page her guardian angel was finishing the inscription in luminous golden letters of the verse which she now finally read to the end:

Thou hast holden me by my right hand. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel—And afterward receive me in glory.


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