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Seasonal Reflection: When Francis Became the Love He Contemplated

by John Anglin, OFM

stigmataIn anticipation of the Sept. 17 is the feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis, John Anglin, OFM, of the Province’s Ministry of the Word, reflects on the occasion, helping Catholics interpret it today.

When I was asked to share my thoughts on the coming feast of the stigmata, the imprinting of the wounds of Christ on the body of St. Francis, my mind went immediately to the question of what post-modern people of the 21st century are to make of such a claim. I decided, though, that this was not the place to begin, but rather, accepting the fact that while making a retreat with brother, Leo, on Mount Alvernia (from the feast of the exaltation of the cross on Sept. 14 until the feast of St. Michael on Sept. 29), a profound, life summarizing mystical and spiritual experience happened to Francis.

What was that experience? I don’t mean by this question to explore exactly what happened, because that is nearly impossible to put into words, but rather, what was the deeper meaning of that experience. In answering that question, I am guided by the writing of Sr. Ilia Delio, OSF, in her book Crucified Love (Franciscan Press, 1998).

In that book, Sr. Ilia refers to Bonaventure’s visit to Alvernia in 1259, two years after beginning his term as minster general of the Order. In meditating there on the experience of Francis, it is my summary, that Bonaventure concludes Francis was contemplating the total, unconditional love that is expressed from the cross. Francis so desired to love and be loved by the one who loved him that he became that love.

I don’t believe that any of us Franciscans today will have, or necessarily should have, the mystical experience of Francis, but the celebration of this feast calls all of us in the Franciscan family to realize that at the heart of our vocation is the call to contemplate, like Francis, the crucified love of the cross. We are called to strive to imitate that in the way we walk with each other and with all of God’s creation.

The modern mind might question what really happened on Mount Alvernia — whether it was physical, symbolic or psychosomatic. Those questions miss the mark. What is really important is celebrating the fact that Francis became the love that he contemplated. That love marked him in body and spirit. We are called to strive for no less.

— Fr. John lives at St. Anthony Friary in St. Petersburg, Fla. He frequently posts entries to his blog “The Wandering Friar.”