From now on, let no one trouble me;
for I bear the marks of Jesus on my body.
Galatians 6: 17
Today Franciscans throughout the world celebrate the feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis. The stigmata are the wounds of Christ on his hands, feet, and side which Francis was the first to experience in his own body.
In 1224, two years before his death, in the midst of a time of deep anxiety in the soul of Francis about the future of the order that had grown up around him, Francis was in prayer and fasting on Mount Alverna.
He saw a vision of a seraph on the cross and experienced the wounds of Christ in his own body which he sought to hide.
It is very easy to dismiss the stigmata as a medieval legend meant to present Francis as “another Christ” or to exalt the stigmata to a super-miraculous manifestation of God’s special favor.
But I think it’s much simpler.
As Augustine Thompson writes in Francis of Assisi: A New Biography (p. 118):
… the stigmata were the culmination of Francis’s life since his conversion: a search for total conformity to Christ.
Francis sought to be like Christ in all things, especially in his poverty and his love for all people and all creation.
As Carlo Carretto puts it in I, Francis, Francis prayed for two graces:
Lord Jesus, two graces I ask of Thee before I die.
First, to feel in my soul and in my body, as far as possible, the sorrow which Thou, sweet Jesus, didst endure in the hour of Thy most bitter passion; second, to feel in my heart, as far as possible, that extraordinary love with which Thou, O Son of God, wast inflamed, to the point of willingly undergoing so great a Passion for us sinners.
Francis sought to be like Christ in solidarity with the suffering and love for all.
The stigmata are signs that Francis felt the pain of Christ – as Christ feels the pain of all human beings. They are also signs that Francis wanted to love as Christ did, loving even those who crucified Him.
The wounds of Christ and the stigmata of St. Francis are for me a call to deeper solidarity with the suffering and to a more embracing love for all.
Lord, open me today to solidarity and love.