Stigmatization of St Francis by Giotto
“Stigmatization of St Francis” by Giotto

On October 4th we celebrate the Feast Day of the beloved saint, Francis of Assisi. This year we have been gifted with an extraordinary opportunity to pause and reflect on the life of Francis, as fear has been set loose upon the human community like an enraged wolf with blood dripping from its jaws.

The fear that stalks the human community, spreading terror, is the hideous Brother Virus, a Frankenstein-like creation set loose by demented “scientists.” Perhaps we should tame that wolf and overcome our fears, proceeding much as Francis did when he ministered to lepers.

Perhaps we should reflect on the summer in 1224 when Francis sought hermitage at the mountain retreat of La Verna not far from Assisi. Francis planned to fast and pray for forty days, seeking to know how he might best please God.

During his prayers on the morning of the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross,  Francis beheld a figure coming toward him from the heavens. Saint Bonaventure later described the event as follows:

[H]e 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 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 appearance of the Seraph, but the fact that he was fastened to a cross pierced his soul with a sword of compassionate sorrow.

Eventually he understood by a revelation from the Lord that divine providence had shown him this vision so that, as Christ’s lover, he might learn in advance that he was to be totally transformed into the likeness of Christ crucified, not by the martyrdom of his flesh, but by the fire of his love consuming his soul.

The event left his body imprinted with stigmata, the wounds of crucifixion.

As we reflect on this event, one of the most amazing events in the life of Francis, we begin to grasp the manner in which the supernatural realm pervades the mundane world.

We might intuit the extent to which prayer is the mediating bridge between supernatural and natural causes. We discover we’re not abandoned to our worldly condition, but rather our mortal existence exists as only one part of a continuum we span due to our immortal nature.

“Scientists” may create terrible suffering and promote horrific fear but we can transcend their dystopia, not only now in these frightening times, but throughout eternity.

That is the promise of Christ delivered by a Seraphic angel to Francis, a promise he shared with us.

Have a blessed feast day.