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Friar’s E-Spirations: The Stigmata of St. Francis

The Chapel of the Stigmata is perched on the edge of the same sheer precipice where St. Francis stood two years before his death and was swept up into the mystery of God’s overwhelming love for him and for humanity.

St. Bonaventure, in his Life of St. Francis, describes Francis as being more inflamed than usual with the love of God as he began a special time of prayer at La Verna in September of 1224.

“His unquenchable fire of love for the good Jesus,” Bonaventure writes, “was fanned into such a blaze of flames that so many waters; could not quench so powerful a love” (see Song of Songs 8:6–7).

The Vision of a Seraph

Bonaventure goes on: “While Francis was praying on the mountainside, he saw a Seraph with six fiery and shining wings descend from the height of heaven. And when in swift flight the Seraph had reached a spot in the air near the man of God, there a appeared between the wings the figure of a man crucified, with his hands and feet extended in the form of a cross and fastened to a cross. Two of the wings were lifted above his head, two were extended for flight and two covered his whole body.

“When Francis saw this, he was overwhelmed and his heart was flooded with a mixture of joy and sorrow. He rejoiced because of the gracious way Christ looked upon him under the form of a Seraph, but the fact that he was fastened to a cross pierced his soul with a sword of compassionate sorrow.”

When the vision disappeared, writes Bonaventure, Francis was left with a “marvelous ardor” in his heart. At the same time, there “was imprinted on his body markings that were no less marvelous.”

These markings were the stigmata, the wounds of Christ crucified.

More about the Seraph

There are two things to dwell on here. First is the Seraph. Seraphs are angels closest to God, burning with love as they bow before God, shouting, “Holy, holy, holy!” Their fiery wings suggest the flaming intensity of God’s love that Christ communicated to Francis, which, in turn, set Francis’ heart afire. The word seraphic is often used to describe Francis’ passionate style of relating to God and is often applied to the Franciscan Order, which is sometimes called the Seraphic Order.

Second, we focus on “the gracious way that Christ looked upon him.” This is something of a repeat of the vision Francis had in the beginning of his spiritual life in which “Jesus appeared to him fastened on a cross. Francis’ soul melted at the sight, and the memory of Christ’s passion was so impressed on the innermost recesses of his heart that from that hour whenever Christ’s crucifixion came to mind, Francis could scarcely contain his sighs . . .” (Bonaventure’s Life of St. Francis).

Friar Jim: Thank you so much for your E-spirations. May the Lord anoint you with more wisdom to give us more spiritual reflections! Ambrose from Uganda

Friar Jim: Thank you for your post on Pope Francis. It was a great explanation of his words and meaning. Katy

Friar Jim: Thank you, thank you, thank you! Some of my Protestant friends have been confused by Pope Francis’ statement. Thank you for addressing this and explaining it in a way that shows that our God is a God of mercy and love for all of his creatures. It is only through that love, poured forth on us in his Son Jesus Christ, that we are saved. It is imperative for each Christian to ensure that there is no one on this earth who does not know Jesus. Frank

Friar Jim: Thanks! We all need clarification and reminding. People are very quick to criticize. God bless Pope Francis, and thanks be to God for his choice of name that directs us to the example of our Father. Anthony, OFS

A: Dear Ambrose, Katy, Frank, and Anthony: Thanks for your responses to the article on Pope Francis. It is so affirming that the pope takes on important topics that are misunderstood.

How many people ask, “Who is saved?” The answer is simple: since Jesus died for everybody, God wants everybody saved. God never separates “good” people from “bad” people. It’s people themselves who make the separation from God.

God is about bringing everybody together, including people who seem unworthy. And yet the people closest to Jesus were those who were considered hopeless in the eyes of the religious leaders. God is full of surprises! Friar Jim