Sign Up for our Free Daily Email Updates
SpiritualDirection.com / Catholic Spiritual Direction

Saint Angela di Foligno: Resting in Crucified Love

April 12, 2013 by  
Filed under Anthony Lilles, Conversion, Divine Union, Love, Suffering

“You are I and I am you.”  (Words spoken to Saint Angela di Foligno as recorded in Memorial, Chapter IX taken from Angela of Foligno: Complete Works, trans. Paul Lachance, O.F.M., in Classics of Western Spirituality, New York: Paulist Press (1993) 205.)

These are words that Saint Angela di Foligno believed the Risen Lord addressed to her. An early 14th century Franciscan Tertiary, her devotion to the humanity of Christ influenced Saint Teresa of Avila and, closer to our own time, Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity. For her, these words suggested no surmounting of the limits of Angela di Foligno Wikimedia Commonsour individuality but instead a total personal presence of Christ living in the abyss our spiritual poverty, a loving presence that turns our misery into joy. It is spousal language, an expression of a tender union of love, of reverent mutual possession in faithful friendship between the Incarnate Word and the soul, the Bridegroom and His Bride – the Church. This kind of relationship with Christ moved the Franciscan widow and penitent to look on suffering, privation and even hostility of our frail humanity with love because she knew her Beloved was present in it all. She believed that when He assumed our humanity, He assumed all our poverty to Himself. Radically devoted to Him, she understood Christ's mysterious words as an expression of tender affection, reassurance that He was entrusting the mystery of the Cross to her as His beloved so that she might “rest” in His triumphant and crucified love.

It is an error to assume that “You are I” and “I am you” refers to a mysticism of identity. Saint Angela did not really conceive of sacred humanity melting away before an abstract divine essence or the nihilistic absorption of her individuality into some super state of being or consciousness.  In the spiritual practices that flow from such idealism, one cannot claim any real friendship with God. Christian prayer, on the other hand, is ordered to the most sublime of all forms of friendship — union to God in love. This is because Christian prayer is grounded in the humanity of Christ. When we affirm that Christ “assumed” our frail humanity, we do not mean He absorbed it so that it loses all meaning in some absolute. Rather, the Incarnation is a mystery by which we understand how the Word infuses impoverished humanity with new meaning, a salvific meaning in which all that is good, noble and true about humble humanity is rescued from futility.

How did she discover such devotion to Christ? Through prayer, conversion and great personal suffering. She did not start out devout. She claims to not have been very dedicated as either a mother or a wife. Yet she was visited with a special grace. She asked Saint Francis of Assisi in prayer to give her a good confessor. In a dream, the saint appeared to her and spoke to her about her way of life.   In this encounter, she had a profound conversion and wanted to dedicate her life to penance. Then, disaster struck. Her husband and children all died and she was left alone in the world. Thanks to her new-found faith, rather than succumbing to despondency as one might expect, a new passion for the Lord burned in her heart and her imitation of St. Francis and his dedication to Christ's poverty became her new pilgrim way of life.

The Franciscan penitent directs us to contemplate the humanity of Christ – a theme that lives in St. Teresa of Avila's own doctrine of prayer. The human nature that Christ assumed to Himself is the same humanity we all share together, each in his or her own individual way. Through devotion to His humanity, Christ's suffering shows us the truth about humanity and the sin for which we are responsible. The deepest truth is that God loves each individual person whom He has fashioned in His image and likeness. Are we ready to face how we have been indifferent to the love of God and how the absence of love in our lives has contributed to the destruction of friendship, marriage, and respect for life in the societies in which we live? The reality of this should pierce through our hard hearts until we cannot find rest in anything except that which Christ rested in – the brokenness and privation we share with one another. The Word Incarnate rested in poverty and hostility because this is where the will of the Father rests – what the Father loves, the Son loves and those whom the Lord loves, we should love.

In other words, devotion to the humanity of Christ puts us in solidarity with the poor because Jesus, in His total devotion to the Father, implicated Himself in the plight of the poor. Rather than surmounting or trying to escape poverty and weakness, this kind of devotion implicates us with the plight of those who most need God: whether they are in the womb or in hospice, whether they are mothers and fathers frightened of the gift of life or caregivers overwhelmed by the mystery of suffering and death, whether they are spouses alienated from each other or children hurting themselves for reasons they cannot understand. This is a painful, even humanly impossible place to be – but all things are possible through Christ who strengthens us. By assuming our humanity and offering to the glory of the Father on the Cross, Christ has bound Himself to all of this and so much more.

For the humble penitent of Foligno, the Incarnate Word's faithfulness in the face of her misery and the misery of her time made her want to be like Him, the One whom she loved. Through her devotion to Christ's sacred humanity, Saint Angela found her rest in opening her heart to the suffering of Christ in the poor – materially and spiritually – so that their plight and the plight of humanity might always pierce her heart the way it pierces the heart of God. When she speaks of resting in the Cross, she means surrendering her whole being in every moment of her life on this holy trysting place of this crucified love. Here lives that hidden fruitfulness that alone provides real hope for the world, a true new beginning. Before the words, “You are I and I am you” the prayerful poverty of this holy widow offered to the Lord the only response truly commensurate to the wondrous mystery such words express: the radical friendship of spousal devotion which wants to be given and to be possessed completely all the more when confronted by the mystery suffering, privation, hostility, and death.

Note from Dan: Anthony’s fantastic book on prayer, Hidden Mountain Secret Garden, can be found HERE in print, and HERE in Kindle format

Information about the book can also be found here on Facebook.

+

Art for this post on Saint Angela di Foligno: Angela de Foligno, unidentified author, XVIIth century print, PD-US author's life plus 70 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About Anthony Lilles

Anthony Lilles, a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, completed his graduate and post-graduate studies in Rome at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas. He and his lovely wife, Agnes, are blessed with three children and live in California, where he is the Academic Dean, and Associate Professor of Theology, St. John's Seminary, Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and Academic Advisor at Juan Diego House, House of Formation for Seminarians. For over twenty years, Dr. Lilles worked for the Denver Archdiocese directing parish religious education, R.C.I.A. and youth ministry, as well as serving as Director of the Office of Liturgy for the Archdiocese and as Coordinator of Spiritual Formation for the permanent diaconate. In 1999, he became a founding faculty member of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary where he was Academic Dean for nine years and Associate Professor of Theology. He is a Board Member for the Society of Catholic Liturgy. Dr. Lilles has provided graduate level courses on a variety of topics including the Eucharist, the Sacraments of Healing, Church History, Spiritual Theology, Spiritual Direction and on various classics of Catholic Spirituality. His expertise is in the spiritual doctrine of Saint Elisabeth of the Trinity and the Carmelite Doctors of the Church: St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross and St. Thérèse of Lisieux. In 2012, Discerning Hearts published his book "Hidden Mountain, Secret Garden: A Theological Contemplation on Prayer," a compilation of discussions with seminarians, students, and contemplatives about the spiritual life. He collaborated with Dan Burke on the books "30 Days with Teresa of Avila" and "Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days with Thérèse of Lisieux". And, his book "Fire from Above" was published in 2016. Among his many accomplishments and responsibilities, Dr. Lilles now teaches theology for the Avila Institute. He blogs at BeginningtoPray.blogspot.com

please consider supporting our mission with a donation!

  • LizEst

    Jesus’ merciful condescension to become one of us, to become a “worm” and someone people hide their faces from, just like the poor, the suffering, the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, the desperate, the disenfranchised, the disillusioned, the difficult, to suffer with us and for us, to break the bonds of sin and death that had held us captive for so long is the greatest possible act of love that our broken world has ever known.

    Yes, Christ reigns from the cross. There it is that His glory shines forth. There it is that He is raised to the heights of love. If we are to follow after him, to love in the exquisite way he loves, then we must embrace the cross not just as a token of our affection but in solidarity with what he has done for us, knowing full well that our Divine Lover did not spurn it out of a profound, everlasting and intimate love for us, and that He has given us this example of love to follow.

    • Anthony_Lilles

      Thank you for this — it is beautiful.

    • frtrue75@att.net

      Dear LizEst: I’m confused by your last sentence, especially the phrase starting…”knowing full well that our Divine Lover did not spurn it out of a profound, everlasting and intimate love for us, and that He has given us this example of love to follow.” Please excuse my ignorance, but what does the word [it] in the phrase refer to? What is confusing me are the words, “spurn it” in the phrase. Please don’t think I am nit picking here or trying to ‘show off,’ I’m just confused. Thank you for your understanding and patience. God bless you. Donald

      • LizEst

        God bless you, too, Donald. No offense taken. I regret I did not state it clearly enough. Pity my hubby! (Ha! He’s shaking his head, yes!)

        The “it” I was referring to was the cross (and all the suffering that went along with it). When we venerate the cross on Good Friday, it’s often a token of our affection for the Lord’s sufferings and our love of what he has done for us.

        My point was that we must do more than acknowledge it. We must embrace it in solidarity with the Divine Lover, just as Christ embraced the cross and the Father’s will on the cross. Embracing the cross is much different than just being thankful for the passion, death and resurrection of Christ. It is to enter fully into the mystery of His love. For the wood of the cross is the throne of love from which Christ reigns. It is the mercy seat of God. We cannot follow Him if we will not take up our own crosses…for where He is, there also will we be. And, just as we die to sin and are buried with Him, we shall also rise with Him. Alleluia! Alleluia!

        • frtrue75@att.net

          Dear LisEst: Thank you so much! Now, I see your point, and you stated it so well. Cofession time: I diagrammed the sentence from memory but couldn’t arrive at a subject. Your explanation opens a another avenue of thought for embracing the Cross that I suspect may help me in finally identifying my root sin. Thank you again, I get a lot of insight and inspiration from your comments. God bless you. Donald.

          • LizEst

            You’re quite welcome, Donald…and most kind. The glory, of course, goes to the Lord. For, what have we that we have not received?

  • bltpm

    Dr. Lilles,

    What a great article. It is so uncomfortable to be completely stripped and bare from consolation amidst humiliations and deeply painful realities. I don’t like it. However, in the times I have sought consolation in this world, my pain increases because I can’t find comfort, I can’t rest. The only times I have been able to endure these realities have been just like you say by resting in “the brokenness and privation” offering it up for God’s greater glory and embracing it as His will.

    But why can’t I live in this all the time? I’ll have moments of grace where I can “rest” but it is not continual – or I don’t feel it is. There are times when I (especially when I wake up and realize the reality I have to face) that I tell our Lord “Oh Lord, another day, here, really? Like this, in the misery and loneliness, and rejection” I don’t have the strength to go on, I don’t. And little by little the day goes by and things get done – by the grace of God! I claim no merit.

    Aha! So there lies the secret. She found her “rest in opening her heart to the suffering of Chirst”. I guess I want to embrace suffering in homeopathic doses; not in the torrent of love that the cross really is.

    My prayer then should be, “My Lord and My God, let me be generous, like You! With a prick of a needle you could have saved the whole world, but you endured so much more than a tiny, stingy prick.”…….

    Thank again for the article. Incredibly helpful.

    God bless.

    • LizEst

      These things are very difficult, especially with the added trials of humiliation and no consolation. The only way to find true happiness is to unite your will to the Lord’s. When you tell him how tired you are and how difficult your situation is, you must then say to Him, “But, I do not ask you to take it away or to make it go away sooner than that which you have ordained for me. I am happy to do your will BECAUSE it is your will…just give me the strength and the grace and the mercy to do so.” This is the secret: even if you don’t have outward happiness, despite all the misery and all the difficulties, being interiorly happy to do it BECAUSE it is either God’s direct will or His permissive will for you. He loves it when you unite, when you conform your will to His. God bless you, bltpm. God is with you through all this.

      One word of caution here. I don’t recall what your situation is, or if you have said what it is. But, if you, or someone you know, is in an abusive situation, you need to seek assistance to get out of that. This, too, is the example of Christ. Many times in the Gospel we read about Him slipping away from the crowd. While He did have to put up with His disciples (a kind of trial), He did not undergo unnecessary suffering. He underwent His passion and death only at the point in time when His hour had come.

      • frtrue75@att.net

        Dear LisEst: Your point of Christ slipping away opens a new avenue of understanding for me. Your insight is on point, as is the comment that Christ didn’t ‘undergo unnecessary suffering.’ Thanks for you comments. God bless you. Donald

        • Andrew Martins

          Talking about new insights into Christ’s love for us, frtrue75, have a look at his. It is simply great!!!

          http://heralds.ca/newinsights/

          • LizEst

            Thank you for sharing this, Andrew. God bless you! It looks great…except for the price tag!

          • frtrue75@att.net

            Dear Andrew: Thanks for your thoughtful post. I appreciate your sharing this with me. God bless you. Donald

          • Thomas Poovathinkal SSP

            Since you are a new convert why don’t you try once a Word Proclamation Retreat in Sehion, Kerala, India? Here the Lord becomes experiencial.

            Thomas Poovathinkal SSP
            Taumpj@gmail.com

        • LizEst

          God bless you, Donald. I’m praying for you!

    • Anthony_Lilles

      Dear Bitpm,

      I am sorry that you are having to deal with so much distress and hardship at this time in your life. It is also humbling to know that this short reflection on Blessed Angela was a consolation for you, and I appreciate your insights and authenticity. LizEst has provided some solid counsel below. We are never alone in our trials. Bound together by love in Christ’s Body, we must support one another with the multiplicity of gifts each has been entrusted with. I hope in addition to the inner strength that you need for these present trials, the Lord will send you good friends to encourage you and through them in hidden and beautiful ways help you cling to the reason for our hope – for our hope does not disappoint.

      Praying for you –
      Dr. Lilles

  • Donielle

    This was excellent thank you! Very helpful!

  • luiz carlos Camacho

    ANGELA OF FOLIGNO……………….. HER BEAUTY TOOK MEN TO SIN………….. AND…………. JESUS SAVED HER STRONGLY……………….. SAINT ANGELA GIVE ME THE BEAUTY YIU HAD TO HAVE A WIFE AS SARAH ( BOOK OF TOBIT 6, 18 ) AND ASK JESUS TO SAVE US … STRONGLY ! THANKS !

Skip to toolbar