The Stigmata – mystery of Franciscan life
For Francis, the experience of the Stigmata was one of intense pain and ecstatic joy. He was filled with grief and compassion for the sufferings of Christ which he felt in his own body; at the same time a profound experience of Christ’s love brought him the greatest delight.
How does the gift of the Stigmata throw light on our vocation as Franciscans? We may feel that this tremendous grace is worlds away from our experience of Franciscan living. Yet each of us has been called by God into the Franciscan family. By coming to know Francis we know what spirit we have been called to share.
The fact is that the grace of the Stigmata is the crowning and completion of a number of gifts that we share with Francis: the gift of prayer; the call to follow Christ, especially in his Passion; the desire to spend ourselves for the reign of God.
Francis felt an intense desire to “follow in the footsteps of our Lord Jesus Christ”. Through his prayer and reflection on the Gospel, the person of Jesus became real and very familiar to him. He contemplated the events of the life of Jesus, and found there the motivation for everything he did.
This is where we too find our strength – centering our lives in Christ and following him in our day-to-day lives.
Our Franciscan Rule reminds us that following Christ means seeking the will of the Father. The community Chapter, as a particular experience of “seeking first the reign of God” is indeed one of the ways in which we follow Christ.
All the mysteries of the life of Jesus were dear to Francis. Yet the sufferings of the Lord aroused his love and compassion in a special way. We recall the story of the day Francis was walking near the Portiuncula when a passer-by noticed him in tears, obviously overcome by sorrow. The man stopped in concern and asked him what was the matter. “I am weeping over the Passion of my Lord,” Francis answered. The man was so touched that he too began to cry.
Meditating on the Gospel will touch our hearts with compassion for the sufferings of Jesus in his Passion and for his sufferings in people who are hurt, starving, ill, oppressed, alone.
Rather surprisingly, the gift of the Stigmata is associated too with Francis’ missionary zeal.
When he made that long journey to Egypt to visit the Sultan, Francis longed to bring the true faith to the Saracens. His apostolic zeal was a total self-giving: in fact, it contained the desire for martyrdom, a likely fate for anyone who braved the ferocious Saracens!
In concluding the story of Francis’ journey, his biographers comment that the Lord did not grant Francis’ desire for martyrdom at that time, but instead reserved for him the privilege of the Stigmata. It is clear that this grace is seen as another kind of martyrdom, a total self-giving, transformation into Christ.
Our Way of Life
The Feast of the Stigmata reminds us of these essential values of our Franciscan life:
- centering our life in Christ, with a special tenderness towards the suffering Christ
- zeal for the reign of God that is total self-giving.
Little by little, we too will be transformed into Christ.
Spend time reflecting on what the gift of the Stigmata meant for Francis. What does it mean for my life?