Some weeks in the liturgical calendar are packed with all-stars! I am grateful that one of those weeks happens to be my birthday week. As I write this, I picture the saints lining up in order of their feast days just like we lined up in alphabetical order for lunch in elementary school. In the Cathedral of Los Angeles, Our Lady of the Angels, there is a beautiful tapestry that depicts the diversity of the saints as they stand side-by-side. If this lineup was based on feast day, St. Clare and St. Jane Frances would be next to one another. I imagine they would turn to one another and realize how much they have in common. Some of the many commonalities they share include having a best friend named Francis, founding a religious order, living in Europe, and finding great joy in serving the poor. In the Four Loves, CS Lewis writes, “Friendship is born at the moment when one man says to another ‘What! You too?’”
When I studied abroad in Rome during college, I spent a weekend alone in Assisi walking in the footsteps of St. Francis and St. Clare. I prepared for this trip by reading a biography of St. Francis, I, Francis. For me, the most memorable part of the book was imagining Francis listening to Clare sing in the church choir and the way he felt when Clare shared his humble mission, chopped off her beautiful long hair, and donned a simple brown tunic. Visiting St. Clare’s incorrupt body in Assisi was astonishing; it seemed as if I could just wake her up from a nap and ask her all about her friendship with St. Francis. Her beauty radiates from her body today and I could only imagine what others experienced when they encountered her while she was alive.
One day, while in grad school, I returned to my room after a retreat to find an icon of St. Jane Frances on my bed. My mom is named Jane Frances, so I was intrigued to learn more about this fascinating saint who experienced both married and religious life. She became a widow at thirty-two after her husband died in a hunting accident. On his deathbed, her husband forgave the man who killed him. Jane, however, was slower to forgive as she was deeply grieving. Eventually, she not only forgave the man, but also became the godmother of his child. Additionally, around this time, she began an eighteen-year-long correspondence through letters with Francis de Sales, who was only a few years older than her. He was the Bishop of Geneva and was the answer to her prayer for a spiritual director. They became fast friends and, as Francis wrote, “God, it seems to me, has given me to you. I’m more sure of it by the hour.”
In my book Single Truth, I write how our “yes” is a gift and not an obligation. Love is focused on giving, not receiving. When we are grasping, we are not loving. While writing the book, I went on a yearlong dating fast. During this time, I felt more free to see men as brothers in Christ and not lose myself in the thought that everyone is a candidate for dating and marriage. I did not get distracted by what I may get from a person (i.e. relationship status or affection) and instead focused on being a friend. St. Clare and St. Jane were incredible models for faith and friendship. They both developed deep, authentic friendships with St. Francis of Assisi and St. Francis de Sales. They joined in their mission for the Kingdom and had friendships rooted in charity.
To bring our focus back to the tapestry at Our Lady of the Angels, it is essential to notice how the saints are all facing the altar. St. Peter teaches us that keeping his eyes on Jesus allowed him to walk on water, but when he forgot who he was walking to, he sank. In our friendships, especially with the opposite sex, we can get distracted by our fleshly desires and human understanding. We grasp at and rush into something that is often less than what God intends for us.
“It’s beautiful to be able to love on earth as we shall love in heaven.” – St. Francis de Sales
Article 2347 of the Catechism reads, “The virtue of chastity blossoms in friendship. It shows the disciple how to follow and imitate him who has chosen us as his friends, who has given himself totally to us and allows us to participate in his divine estate. Chastity is a promise of immortality. Chastity is expressed notably in friendship with one's neighbor. Whether it develops between persons of the same or opposite sex, friendship represents a great good for all. It leads to spiritual communion.”
Charity is a love that is directed outwardly instead of inwardly. If two people in a relationship try to out-love, out-forgive, and out-serve one another, there is a high probability that they will overcome whatever obstacles they face. St. Francis de Sales wrote to St. Jane Frances, “Never will it be possible for anything to separate me from your soul: our bond is too strong. Death itself would be incapable of undoing it.”
As Easter people, we believe that death is not the end for those in friendship with Jesus. When loved ones pass away, we find hope in the Resurrection and look forward to seeing them again in Heaven. These four saintly friends have been powerful intercessors in this life and I am excited to share fellowship with them for eternity!
Promotional Image Credit: https://angelusnews.com/voices/why-the-saints-can-do-great-things/