Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Stigmata of St. Francis

Today is a great day for the Franciscan Family as we celebrate the feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis.  “Stigmata” is a Latin word referring to the Roman custom of making a mark on slaves with a hot branding iron designating them as the property of their master.  Toward the end of his life, St. Francis saw a vision of a crucified man borne on the wings of a seraph.  When the vision disappeared, St. Francis found that his heart was burning with intense fervor while his hands and feet were pierced with nails and his side had an open wound as if made by a lance.  Christ crucified had marked His faithful servant with His own brand-marks made by the fire of divine love.

In the history of the Church, there have been over 300 recorded “stigmatists”, but St. Francis is distinguished in being the first to bear these mystic wounds.  Then, his were not just open, bleeding, painful wounds; his hands also had the likeness of nails imbedded in flesh.  It is rare to see the stigmata of St. Francis authentically portrayed in art.  I am pleased to say that our own statue of St. Francis which a good friend found in an antique shop in New York, does have the raised head of a nail carved into his extended hands. 
Although I have not studied all of the hagiography of the stigmata, it seems to me that from what I have heard, most stigmatists receive this grace (or this trial, if you prefer) as a mission to suffer in union with the Passion of Christ.  This of course is also true of St. Francis, but in his case, it came as a culmination and a seal upon his suffering life which had already been perfectly conformed to Christ Crucified.  It is as if the Passion that he had borne so faithfully in his heart suddenly broke out and became visible.

All of us are wounded by sin, that of others and especially that which we have committed ourselves.  But can we allow these wounds to become the wounds of Christ?  If we unite our pain with His through loving obedience to the Father, it can happen.  It hardly matters if our wounds should ever become visible in a stigmata on hands, feet and side.  But the wounds of the Passion will become visible in our open hearts and open hands ready to share Christ’s own compassion for all who suffer.

Today's altar bouquet
Pampas grass makes great angel wings!

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