A Year with the Saints – 15 March


The greater part of Christians usually practice incision instead of circumcision. They will make a cut indeed in a diseased part; but as for employing the knife of circumcision, to take away whatever is superfluous from the heart, few go so far. Saint Francis de Sales

The example of the venerable Sister Francesca Farnese confirms this truth. Immediately after her profession, she began to yield to relaxation, into which she fell so far that she cared for nothing except vain ornaments in dress, flirting, remaining all day at the grate, and, finally, covering the walls of her cell with hangings and mirrors. She was many times warned, corrected, and sharply reproved by her Superior, her confessor and, above all, by a nun who was her aunt. She felt and understood the force of these admonitions and reproofs and often formed good resolutions; she even put them in practice by taking off her vain ornaments, abandoning the grate, and breaking and throwing from the windows her mirrors and tapestry; but a little while after, she went back again to all these things, and became as she was before. These miserable alternations lasted for a long time, and might have continued for her whole life, as the reforms which she made were nothing more than incisions. But, happily, the Divine Mercy was pleased to stir her heart by a strong inspiration, so that, unable to resist the reproaches of her own conscience, she had courage to make a true circumcision, by leaving not only all vain amusements, but also by forming for herself a rule more rigorous than her own, and so well planned that it made her foundress of a new order, in which she spent the rest of her life in an exemplary manner, and died in the odor of sanctity, as is sufficiently proved by the fact that her body remained unchanged for many years. Somewhat different was the career of Saint Paula, who, as Saint Jerome relates, even from her earliest years, undertook to practice a true circumcision of the heart, and with increasing age applied herself to it more and more, cutting off and retrenching on all sides whatever seemed superfluous or beyond what was suited to her state. So, while her husband was living, she led a life so well regulated and dutiful that she was an example to all the matrons of Rome, and no one ever dared to charge her with the slightest error. But when she was freed from the restraints of the world, after God took away her husband, she began a most austere life and never wavered in it until death. She no longer slept upon a mattress, but upon the bare ground, covered only with hair-cloth. Indeed, she slept but little, for she passed almost the whole night in prayer and tears. She chastised her body with rigorous fasts and very severe disciplines, without stint or mercy. In confessing her slightest faults, she shed so many tears that anyone who did not know her might have supposed her guilty of the gravest offenses; and when she was entreated not to weep so much, that she might preserve her sight for reading; and not to practice so many austerities and penances, that she might not wholly lose her health, “No,” she replied, “with all reason should this face be disfigured, which I have so often beautified with washes contrary to the precept of the Lord; this body ought, indeed, to be afflicted, which has enjoyed so many delights; long laughter ought to be compensated for by continual weeping; rich and delicate garments ought to be changed into hair-cloth: for I, who have taken so much pains to please the world, now desire to please God.” Thus she spoke and acted, in reparation for the disorders of her past life, which, nevertheless, had been most circumspect and modest.

MLA Citation