Celebrating the Gift of the Stigmata 1224-2024


The hagiographic sources tell us that Francis of Assisi, after an intense period of apostolic activity, withdrew to Mount La Verna to carry out a Lenten period of fasting and prayer, as was his custom. It was precisely in this context of silence and prayer that the Poverello received the visit from the winged Seraphim, because only in silence can one hear and be open to the words of the other. On Mount La Verna, the profound desire that motivated the Poverello to follow Christ and to conform himself totally to Him was realized in his encounter with the Crucified One, who imprinted the signs of His love on Francis’ heart and body. St. Bonaventure summarizes Francis’ experience in this way: “[The] true love of Christ transformed the lover into His image” (Major Legend 13: 5, FF 1228). The encounter with the Beloved became a song of praise; therefore, after his encounter with the Crucified One, Francis composed the Praises of God, a prayer which sprang from a heart in love, totally focused on the divine “You”: “You are the holy Lord God Who does wonderful things. You are strong. You are great. You are the most high” (Praises of God 1-2, FF 261). 

In celebrating the Centenary of the Gift of the Stigmata as a Franciscan Family, we are invited to restore the dimension of prayerful and contemplative silence in our daily lives, the silence that places us before the essential, that lets us recognize our desire for the infinite that resides in our hearts, that allows us to listen to ourselves, to others and to God. In fact, even today, the Poverello is presented as a person who made listening a way of life: “Saint Francis heard the voice of God, he heard the voice of the poor, he heard the voice of the infirm and he heard the voice of nature. He made of them a way of life. My desire is that the seed that Saint Francis planted may grow in the hearts of many” (Fratelli tutti 48).

After receiving the sacred stigmata, “Francis came down from the mountain, bearing with him the likeness of the Crucified, depicted not on tablets of stone or on panels of wood carved by hand, but engraved on parts of his flesh by the finger of the living God” (Major Legend 13: 5, FF 1228). Moreover, just as the finger of God touched Francis, so, Francis went forth to touch the poor, the sick and the needy, to transmit that divine love to them. Francis’ meeting with the Crucified One prompted him to meet those who had been crucified throughout history, those whose pain he wished to alleviate. We see this in St. Bonaventure’s account of the man who was suffering from cold: “Burning with the fire of divine love, he stretched out his hand and touched him. A marvelous thing happened! At the touch of his sacred hand, which bore the burning coal of the Seraph, the cold fled altogether and the man felt great heat within and without, as if he had been hit by a fiery blast from the vent of a furnace” (Major Legend 13: 7, FF 1231). Remembering and celebrating Francis being touched by the Crucified One inspires us to come out of ourselves and go forth “touching Christ’s suffering flesh in others” (Gaudete et exsultate 37) at the same time, we allow ourselves to be touched and challenged by the dramatic instances of pain and suffering we see afflicting so many of our brothers and sisters around the world.


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