The Feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis
On September 17 the Roman Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis. It happened in this way. While Blessed Francis was staying at La Verna, two years before he returned his soul to heaven, he saw the vision of a man, having six wings like a Seraph, standing over him, arms extended and feet joined, affixed to a cross. He was filled with the greatest awe, but could not decide what this vision meant for him. Moreover, he greatly rejoiced and was much delighted by the kind and gracious look that he saw the Seraph give him. That the Seraph was fixed to the cross, and the bitter suffering of that passion, thoroughly frightened him. He kept thinking about what this vision could mean. Then signs of nails began to appear on his hands and feet just as on the crucified man that had hovered above him. His right side was marked with an oblong scar, as if pierced by a lance, and this often dripped blood. He hid those marks carefully from strangers and concealed them cautiously from people close to him, so that even the brothers at his side and his most devoted followers for a long time did not know about them. (Francis of Assisi: Early Documents. Regis Armstrong, Editor. New City Press, Hyde Park, New York. 1999 Pages 263 -265)
Our Vocation Has Changed Us
At the beginning of his spiritual journey Francis had no understanding of how it would end. So it is with us. There are marks we have now that we could not have foreseen. Think back to the person you were at the beginning of your Franciscan life. You are no longer that person. Of course you are older and certainly wiser, but you have changed in other ways. Time and effort were required to “accept all people as gift of the Lord and an image of Christ.” You haven’t finished with that. “Human frailty makes it necessary that this conversion be carried out daily.” Now you know what those words mean. “Prayer and contemplation” are not yet the soul of all you are and do, but you are inching toward it. You strive to purify your heart “from every tendency and yearning for possession and power,” but it hasn’t happened yet. In the field of public life you made definite choices “in harmony with your faith,” and were ridiculed for it. You have accumulated psychic scars that will be there till your death. And there will be more to come. Each one brought you closer to the experience of Francis and to Christ.
Francis prayed to participate in Christ’s passion, and his prayer was answered. Reflect on the different emotions of Francis as the vision was revealed to him. His first emotion was awe and uncertainty. When have you experienced that about something God asked you to do? Awe that you were asked and uncertainty about what was wanted. Like Francis seeing the Seraph, you knew that any pain you experienced would be accompanied by kindness and comfort. Think of your gradual understanding of your task and of your acceptance. Like Francis’s vision, it wasn’t something that you talked about, except with a few close friends. Now think of the times you were blessed to participate in the visions of others. You were able to provide the kindness and comfort they needed. Thank God for those opportunities. Say that you are ready, and ask God to use you again.
What call does the Feast of the Stigmata have for advocates of peace and justice? The stigmata joined Francis to the passion of Christ. We participate in that passion through our actions. We start by being more aware of the suffering around us. The poor, the homeless, children without families, the elderly, the handicapped and new arrivals in our communities, all share in the suffering of Christ. We participate if we do something to relieve that suffering. We all know what to do: help a newcomer to learn to read and write English; be a mentor for a struggling child; work at a food bank; visit an elderly person; hold a sick baby at a hospital nursery. Pray a Franciscan crown rosary for all who have lost their lives in war. Then pray another one for all who have died of diseases that could have been prevented, if the resources had been there. Fast for one meal and give the money you would have spent to a beggar on the street. Not all beggars are charlatans. If you live in a large impersonal city, look around you till you see a person who seems despondent. Say a prayer for that person. Think about how these actions can change you. You will become more patient, more gentle, more willing to listen to others. Others will observe your kind and gracious look and be comforted. At all times keep your heart open to others, and the joy of Francis will remain with you.
By Father David Moczulski, OFM
Most High, all glorious God,
In the fullness of time, you sent your son, Jesus Christ into the world,
Not to condemn us, but to save us.
As in generations past, the world began to lose sight of the light of Christ,
and so you inspired Francis of Assisi to preach the message of the gospel.
You marked Francis with the sacred marks of the stigmata as a sign
of his self-giving to You and to the world.
Now you call us, the followers of Francis, to be so enflamed with love
that we too realize that we bear the marks of your Christ in the world today.
Help us to be the messengers of gospel peace and bearers of your merciful compassion.
May we learn from Francis to be brother and sister to all of your created world.
May we learn to love as completely as Francis loved, so that we become mirrors
of the Crucified One.