Monday, September 17, 2012

Feast of the Sacred Stigmata of St. Francis of Assisi

The Holy Wounds.

Today's feast, once celebrated universally as an optional memorial, is now observed primarily by Franciscans. This feast had been permitted to enliven the hearts of men with the flame of love and devotion, as the prayer of the Mass for the day says;

Lord Jesus Christ,who reproduced in the flesh of the most blessed Francis, the sacred marks of your own sufferings, so that in a world grown cold our hearts might be filled with burning love of you, graciously enable us by his merits and prayers to bear the cross without faltering and to bring forth worthy fruits of penitence: You who are God, living and reigning with God the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen

Here is an account of the event in the life of St. Francis.

From the Legenda Minor of St. Bonaventure (de Stigmatibus sacris, 1-4; ed. Quaracchi, 1941; pgg. 202-204)

"Two years before Francis, the faithful servant of Christ, gave his soul back to God, he was alone on the top of Mt. Alverna. There he had begun a fast of forty days in honor of the archangel Michael and was immersed more deeply than usual in the delights of heavenly contemplation. His soul became aglow with the ardor of fervent longing for heaven as he experienced within himself the operations of grace.

As he was drawn aloft through ardent longing for God one morning near the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, and was praying on the mountainside, he saw what appeared as a seraph with six bright wings gleaming like a fire descending from the heights of heaven. As this figure approached in swift flight and came near the man of God it appeared not only winged but also crucified. The sight of it amazed Francis and his soul experienced joy mingled with pain. He was delighted with the sight of Christ appearing to him so graciously and intimately and yet the awe-inspiring vision of Christ nailed to the cross aroused in his soul a joy of compassionate love.
When the vision vanished after a mysterious and intimate conversation it left Francis aglow with seraphic love in his soul.

Externally, however, it left marks on his body like those of the Crucified as if the impression of a seal had been left on heated wax. The figures of the nails appeared immediately on his hands and feet. The heads of the nails were inside his hands but on top of his feet with their points extending through to the opposite side. His right side too showed a blood-red wound as if it had been pierced by a lance, and blood flowed frequently from it."

I bear the marks of Christ.

Though saints before him may have born the wounds of Christ, St. Francis of Assisi is the first recorded individual to have received the gift of the stigmata. Since his time other saints have received similar graces, one, St. Catherine of Siena prayed that her stigmata would remain invisible, which it did almost immediately.

God alone is the source of authentic stigmata, which is an external manifestation of the most ardent love and longing for God resulting in the spiritual wound of love in the heart. Teresa of Avila discusses this in her writing, Interior Castle; Sixth Mansion. This wound of love, that many believe St. Therese of Lisieux also experienced, effects an intense love for the cross, penetrating to an intimate degree the spiritual will, hence it can emanate from God alone. It is a source of ecstatic joy, simultaneously delightful while excruciatingly painful. (adapted from Garrigou-Lagrange)

Francis de Sales, a third order Franciscan, defends the veracity of St. Francis' stigmata as something altogether spiritual in these words;

"Love has wonderful power to sharpen the imagination, so that it may penetrate even to the exterior. Yet the love which was within St. Francis of Assisi simply could not produce the openings in the flesh on the exterior. That is why the burning seraphim, coming to its help, darted at the saint rays of such penetrating light that it actually pierced the flesh with the exterior wounds of the Crucified which love had interiorly imprinted upon the soul." (Treatise On the Love of God.)

In The Living Flame of Love, John of the Cross says such signs of God's love and lofty graces are often given to founders of religious orders in proportion to their legacy and to carry on the original charism. He writes;

"Few persons have reached such heights. some have, however; especially those whose virtue and spirit was to be diffused among their children. For God accords to founders, with respect to the first fruits of the spirit, wealth and value commensurate with the greater or lesser following they will have in their doctrine and spirituality." (Living Flame)

May the entire Franciscan order, even unfaithful third order members such as myself, be inflamed today with a double portion of the spirit of our holy father St. Francis of Assisi.


  1. Happy Feast, buddy.

    1. Same to you brother Thom.

  2. I went to the friar minor blog to see if Father Charles had any insights, and his blog is completely gone!

    1. That is so sad - he said he might stop - I guess he did.

  3. I experienced a very intense type of flaming love burning within my heart after receiving Communion for the 10th time or so...I actually completely forgot about it until I read this, so thank you.
    It happened in the middle of the night and woke me up. It was extremely wonderful but the next day I was terrified, experiencing the supernatural in such a way shook me up pretty bad.

    It was probably nowhere near that of what the Saints experience. But I wonder if what you wrote about it being experienced by founders of orders applies to me somehow as I strive to raise my children to be Saints.

    1. What you describe is a wonderful grace - to sustain you during difficult times. I think such things are the 'signal graces' Our Lady promised to those who recite the rosary.


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