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CHARITY

A.  LOVE OF GOD
B.  LOVE OF NEIGHBOR


a.  LOVE OF GOD

It is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church beautifully quotes St. Paul: “If I.. have not charity, I am nothing” Whatever privilege, service, or even virtue one has, “If I… have not charity, I gain nothing.” Charity is superior to all the virtues. It is the first of the theological virtues. “So faith, hope and charity abide, these three. But the greatest of these is charity”.

We reflect on how Mother Francisca lived this virtue in her time so as to be emulated today.


a.1 Piety and Love for Prayer

In the bloom of her youth, Francisca lost her husband and having been bereft of offspring, she devoted herself totally to the practice of spiritual exercises and to the rigors of self-mortification, as well as mental prayer and frequent reception of the Sacraments with admirable perseverance to her soul’s profit. Her home seemed not the habitation of secular people, but the dwelling-place of the most recluse religious, for her retirement and practice of spiritual exercises in vocal and mental prayer, made her home look like a chapel rather than an ordinary house inhabited by laymen.

She took the habit of the Dominican Tertiary, and with this new state she devoted herself anew to the exercise of piety and religion, observing with minute exactitude so blindly rendered, that she seemed to have lost her own will even on the most innocent and simple things. She with the other Beatas frequented the sacraments in the convent of St. Dominic, setting good example of humility and devotion.

She was not contented with her voluntary confinement in her house. She appealed to the Dominican priests and she moved heaven and earth in order to carry out her splendid idea.

The Lord deigned to grant the requests of His servant. The priests, who had opposed her idea, were now encouraging it. The difficulties disappeared in a manner which was miraculous to certain degree. The edifice was made ready with everything that was needed. The Beatas were very much pleased, particularly Mother Francisca for seeing realized what for many years she had desired and asked from God with persistent prayers and tears. On the feast of St. Anne of the year 1696, the Beaterio de Santa Catalina was formally established with Mother Francisca elected as Prioress for life.


a.2 Devotion to the Eucharist

The prayer of Jesus is the only effective prayer, and His sacrifice is the only saving sacrifice. The Eucharist in which that sacrifice is renewed is our way of sharing in His prayer and sacrifice. For St. Thomas’ devotion to the Eucharist, is the great prayer that includes all prayer. This, the sacrament of sacraments, “contains Christ”, re-presents His sacrifice, and feeds believers on His Body and Blood in a communion that establishes the Unity of the Church.

For Mother Francisca, the Eucharist is the Center of her life. It was Jesus in the Eucharist that was her strength in trials and sufferings, who moved her to compassion for the poor, the sick and the young, and her inspiration to do God’s will in unifying the Beatas in a Beaterio to carry out God’s plan up to the present. This can be seen in her life that was centered in Jesus.

The narration of Fr. Juan de Santo Domingo started how Francisca after becoming a widow, gave herself truly to the service of God. She would frequent the sacraments in the Church of Sto. Domingo.

Wearing now the habit of St. Dominic, Francisca del Espíritu Santo together with her early companions Antonia de Jesus María, Sebastiana de Jesus, María Ana de la Vega, initially frequented the sacraments in the church of the Convent of Sto. Domingo in Intramuros. In the piety current at the time that means Mass, with Communion every fortnight more or less upon the permission of the confessor or spiritual director , and frequent, even daily confession.

An incident illustrates Mother Francisca del Espíritu Santo's great love for the Eucharist. When they finally had their own Beaterio and after their return from exile in Colegio de Sta. Potenciana, Mother Francisca intensely desired to have the Blessed Sacrament in their chapel. But Archbishop Diego Camacho y Avila refused to grant permission. When the new Archbishop Francisco de la Cuestra arrived the following year, Mother Francisca again sought permission with insistence. Not getting it, she then proposed to the Father Provincial of the Dominicans that a direct passageway be built from the Beaterio to the church of the Colegio de San Juan de Letrán. When the idea was turned down, she waited until a new Provincial was elected and who was favorable to it. But it was still the former Provincial, Fr. Juan de Sto. Domingo who actually built the passageway that gave access for the community of Mother Francisca to the Blessed Sacrament of the San Juan de Letran Church. The ready access meant that through a balcony the whole choir of the church was reserved for the religious women. A communion rail was placed for them, not to mention two confessional boxes with iron gates at the side of the choir.

Weakened by sickness and consumed by her penances, fastings and mortifications, Mother Francisca was bedridden before she finally passed away at the age of 63. She was blessed by having the Mass celebrated by her bedside, receiving Holy Communion with supreme joy. She was given the Viaticum solemnly in the Dominican way. In the afternoon of the day she died, she was buried in the church of San Juan de Letran (the first to be buried there), her tomb located over the steps of the main altar Gospel-side, as if in one final surge to be with her Eucharistic Lord and Master forever.

If Mother Francisca remained faithful to the will of God it is because her interior life was animated by prayer and the intense communion of the Eucharist held a central position in her spirituality.


a.3. devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary

To contemplate and be with Christ in the Eucharist is the Holy Father’s call to all the faithful in the Third Millennium. And this in Mary’s school of prayer, contemplating Christ with Mary. The rediscovery of the treasure that is the Rosary of Mary as the sweet chain linking us to God and as the special instrumenrt of our spiritual nourishment is very vividly exemplified in the life of Mother Francisca.

At the instance of their spiritual adviser Fr. Juan de Sto. Domingo, early on in the formation of the group of Mother Francisca, the decision was to have fifteen beatas in honor the mysteries of the Rosary. Each Beata would take a mystery of the Holy Rosary for her own particular devotion. This was in imitation of the same practice remembered by Fr. Juan de Sto. Domingo to have been introduced in a convent of Dominican Sisters in the Canary Islands sometime in 1685 by Fr. Pedro de Santa María Ulloa, OP. Only later would the priest find out that such was already the idea of Mother Sebastiana, a mytic from Pasig and one of the original companions of Mother Francisca, long before.

When the Beaterio de Sta. Catalina was finally built out of the generosity of benefactors and of the Dominican Fathers, at last they have their own oratory. Mother Francisca right away ordered that the Rosary be prayed by the community three times a day: in the morning, early afternoon and at night. Mental prayer followed the Rosary at one o'clock in the afternoon, and again at midnight. It was the conviction of Fr. Sto. Domingo, that with the help of the Virgin of the Rosary, the lack of funds by the beatas did not prevent their acquisition of the needed resources.


b. LOVE OF NEIGHBOR

By loving one another, the disciples imitate the love of Jesus which they themselves receive. Whence Jesus says: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love.” And again: “This is my commandments, that you love one another as I have loved you”.

The effectivity of one’s apostolate depends on the intensity of one’s prayerlife. Truly a Dominican, Mother Francisca’s love of neighbor is an outflow of her intimacy with Jesus in prayer.


b.1. as a widow

Francisca de Fuentes, widowed and childless after a brief marriage, could have remarried, considering that she was still young, and have lived a life in comfort. But the impulse of the Holy Spirit and her love for God prevailed over the temporary comforts of this world so that she decided to be free from earthly concerns in order to dedicate herself totally to the service of God and his people. This she did by remaining close to the Lord in her faithful observance of mental and vocal prayers. Because of her experience of an authentic relationship with God, Francisca felt free to do whatever God wanted of her, reading the signs of the time.

Francisca lived in the seventeenth century when missionary evangelization of the Philippine Islands was in progress. It was also an era when as a result of several calamities, Manila was a city of many impoverished widows and orphans, and other hapless dependents who lost their breadwinners in revolts, sea tragedies, fires and earthquakes.

Furthermore, Intramuros (Manila) at that period to be specific, was a place where many young and poor indian girls, natives of the land do not have a place to grow up nor to be educated and in consequence many are lost as it is commonly known and evidently observed. Most of these girls are daughters of poor soldiers who were married to poor native women and Creole. In extreme poverty they usually die in the Royal Hospital leaving behind their daughters exposed to the danger of losing themselves. Many of these young girls were left abandoned sometimes they were found frequenting the streets and even lived there or at the entrance floors of the houses of other miserable men, so that they were exposed to many dangers.

It was in this context that Francisa responded to the conditions of her milieu. She was a widow herself, yet she did not wait to be served, but instead opened herself to God by serving others through her charitable response to the needs of people around her. Her love for God impelled her to give to the poor what she had, even what was necessary for herself. Seeing Christ in the infirm she would frequent the hospital of San Juan de Dios, bringing consolation and food for the unfortunate sick.

Francisca felt the need for a community where a complete sharing with Christ could be experienced. She sometimes invited some pious women known to her to share such experience of praising God together in their prayers and sharing the fruits of their contemplation by serving the needs of the poor. The works of charity which she was able to get others to exercise with her, revealed her missionary spirit of collaboration. Her works of charity were the heart of her mission. For it is love that is and remains the driving force of mission. Her mission principally was in her witnessing to people not to “have more” for she had given out even what was necessary for herself, but to “be more” loving and caring.



b.2. as a Beata

Having donned the habit of the Tertiary of Penitents of the Order of St. Dominic, Mother Francisca while living in her home continued her charitable services with some pious women known to her until the Beaterio was founded.

Already in community in the Beaterio, Mother Francisca’s objects of charity were the Beatas who lived with her before, during and after the 2 years exile in Sta. Potenciana. As in any religious community, every sister is unique carrying with her the values taught and caught at home, society and environment.

One instance, an unhappy Beata wanted to leave the Beaterio under the pretext that the life in the Beaterio was rigorous. She left the Beaterio and eventually she needed help. Such situation, Mother Francisca’s compassion prevailed over the past incident that this Beata committed against her. Mother Francisca did not fail to assist her by requesting the Governor's Lady to protect her and then placed her in Sta. Isabel as a daughter of the Santa Mesa de la Misericordia.

Furthermore, her love and compassion to the poor and needy was shown when there was a scarcity of drinking water and she offered and allowed the poor people in the vicinity to fetch from the two big wells of the Beaterio.

Even amidst of difficulties coming from both out and within the community and already in the weakness of her old age, Mother Francisca was still concern for the welfare of the poor. She signed a receipt confirming that she received the amount of fifty pesos left by Don Juan de Escaño destined for alms for the poor.

Inspite of the trials she and the Beatas underwent: excommunication, dispensed from their vows, divested of their Dominican habits and then exiled for more than two years, Mother Francisca stood fast and faithful to her vocation.

Upon making the resolution and decision of their return to the Beaterio, Mother Francisca and the other Beatas could have just thought of the privileges they would enjoy in the enclosure. However, the love and mercy of God that she and other beatas experienced impelled them to extend that same love and mercy to others. As a community who became “of one heart and soul” through the love poured into their hearts by the Holy Spirit, they experienced an interior call to share everything in common including apostolic ideals and charitable service. Mother Francisca did not waste time in expressing such love and mercy of God to others.

Before returning to the Beaterio they felt a new way to greater perfection. In a letter to the Archbishop they stated their submission to the law of enclosure and their desire to have with them a large group of young native girls to educate them in the mysteries of the faith and Christian perfection. From then on, the Beaterio which was realized through the persistent prayers and tears of Mother Francisca and her love for the poor and the young carried on its mission as a school of sanctification and as an institution of learning primarily for the young poor native girls who from it acquired adequate preparation and disposition to the state of life where God was calling them. For Mother Francisca and the Beatas this was a better way of showing compassion to the young.



b.3. love of community

Francisca could have built a community in a family as an exemplary wife and mother. Or she could have accepted another marriage proposal after having been widowed young. Or she could have remained a childless widow the rest of her life.

But God has other design for her. She was called not just to build a community of 4 or 5 in a family but destined her to be a faithful bride of Christ and a mother of many.

Francisca felt the need for a community where a complete sharing with Christ could be experienced. She did not content herself praying or serving the poor and sick alone as a widow but divine inspiration moved her to exercise these pious works inviting other women known to her. That is why her house gave it rather the appearance of an oratory. She was inspired to leave the dress of a widow and join a religious institute.

In 1682, after a prayerful decision, Francisca took the habit of the Third Order of Penance living in her own home. She continued to carry out the apostolic work of caring for the sick and the poor with the other Beatas. Her act of gathering people to pray together and practice works of charity reflected the apostolic community gathered in the praise of God and in a concrete experience of communion and collaboration.

With the other Beatas they frequented the sacraments in the convent of St. Dominic giving good example to others. Some of them particularly Francisca wished to live together in a community and Fr. Juan de Sta. Maria placed two of them: Mother Francisca and Mother Antonia in the houses of María García in front of the belfry of the convent of Sto. Domingo. But this did not last long because the houses were bought with the funds of the chaplaincies and they had to return to their own houses. But she did not give up her desire to live in community.

The Beatas especially Mother Francisca started to urge the new Prior, Fr. Juan de Sto. Domingo about the Beaterio. Inspite of opposition and resistance the Beaterio was established. The community was growing, so much so, that the house needed expansion. On July 26, 1696, the Beaterio de Sta. Catalina was formally inaugurated with the Beatas, making their profession and accepting the Rule of the Community. All of the them were very much pleased and did not cease to give thanks to God, particularly Mother Francisca for seeing realized what for many years she had desired and asked from God with persistence and tears.

When some Beatas started to indulge in unnecessary conversations, slowly they lost fervor. As they lacked spiritual devotion, all their activities in the Beaterio caused them repugnance so much so that they missed mental prayer and Prime under the pretext of a headache or stomachache. Because of these, Mother Francisca admonished them, sometimes scolded them and threatened them with the zeal for the glory of God and the good of their state of life. For Mother Francisca, any affliction that others suffered aggrieved her, especially one that affected her sisters in the community.



b.4. fraternal correction

Due to Mother Francisca’s great love and zeal for the glory of God, she did not hesitate to admonish and even scold some Beatas who took advantage of their going to church to meet and chat with lay acquaintances and discussing things that are not spiritual. Mother Francisca took notice that these slowly caused some of the Beatas to abandon their spiritual obligations, lose fervor, feel exhaustion and regret their avowed state of life.

When the Beatas were in exile in Sta. Potenciana, they were beset by many trials. Not having a Beaterio of their own, and not allowed to wear the habit but still following the rigors of common life by regular observance of rules and regulations like prayers and other spiritual exercises, have caused some of the Beatas to be restless and to waver in their vocation. Mother Francisca, out of charity and her love for the Beaterio, tried her best to advise the Beatas to persevere in their vocation.

Mother Francisca corrected the erring Beatas with prayers, love and compassion. With deep faith, she entrusted them to the Lord.