Traditional Program News

Franciscan Feast of the Stigmata: September 17

Posted on September 17 2013

Something happened to Francis of Assisi near the end of his life which many people would consider odd, bizarre, or creepy; it was definitely unusual. Many people saw and testified to the fact that Francis had five wounds: one appearing on his side and each hand and foot.

Francis had returned from Egypt after spending about a month with Malik-al-Kamil, the Sultan of Egypt. During his time in Egypt, a mutual and deep respect of each other’s beliefs had developed. However, the Crusades continued backed by the Church. Francis suffered greatly over this involvement and the violence.

Besides this conflict, turmoil engulfed the Order. With over 5,000 men joining, different ideas of how to live the Gospel life rose. During the 1220 general meeting of all the friars, Francis resigned. In letting go of the Order, Francis placed the community and his ideals into the hands of others. Francis always said, “…and God gave me brother.” He has now stripped himself even of this “possession.”

Francis chose Peter of Catani, a man of like vision, to lead the friars. However, within six months of being head of the friars, Brother Peter died. Brother Elias, whose dreams were not those of Francis, was chosen by the friars. (Brother Elias was the one who ordered the building of the Basilica of St. Francis.) Further stripping of Francis occurred.

Working within the blessing of the Church was essential for Francis. When the Rule of 1221 was not approved, Francis received another stripping and entered deeper into a darkness of spirit.

Francis journeyed to La Verna, a place of solace for him, and on August 15 began a 40-day fast. It was during this time that Francis had an intense experience of Jesus. Wounds appeared on his body as if crucified like Jesus. Francis, interpreting this as validation of his original dream, returned to Assisi fired with love for all of creation and the Canticle of the Creatures was born.

Numerous artworks portray Francis receiving the stigmata, the crucifixion wounds of Jesus. On the contrary, Francis was extremely vigilant in exposing these wounds. Since he was in the midst of a 40-day fast, no one was present to witness this happening. Only he knew what happened. Both Thomas of Celano and Bonaventure as writers use figurative language to communicate a deeper reality.

St. Bonaventure in The Soul’s Journey into God wrote, “There is no other path but through the burning love of the crucified.” This is what Francis desired; this is what Francis sought.