The Stigmata of St. Francis

tumblr_maierrjNZG1rrutr7o1_400In the year 1224 St. Francis of Assisi was given a gift of grace which no one could have imagined: the sacred stigmata.  St. Francis, the ardent lover of Christ crucified, now bore in his own body the wounds of the Passion.  On this day all Franciscans celebrate the Feast of the Stigmata of Our Holy Father Francis, which was first instituted by Pope Benedict XI.  Below is the second reading from today’s office of readings

From the Legenda Minor of Saint Bonaventure

Two years before Francis, the faithful servant of Christ, gave his soul back to God, he was alone on the top of Mt. Alverna.  There he had begun a fast of forty days in honor of the archangel Michael and was immersed more deeply than usual in the delights of heavenly contemplation.  His soul became aglow with the ardor of fervent longing for heaven as he experienced within himself the operations of grace.

As he was drawn aloft through ardent longing for God one morning near the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, and was praying on the mountainside, he saw what appeared as a seraph with six bright wings gleaming like a fire descending from the heights of heaven.  As this figure approached in swift flight and came near the man of God it appeared not only winged but also crucified.  The sight of it amazed Francis and his soul experienced joy mingled with pain.  He was delighted with the sight of Christ appearing to him so graciously and intimately and yet the awe-inspiring vision of Christ nailed to the cross aroused in his soul a joy of compassionate love. Continue reading

St. Bonaventure

Many things can change in a year.  Just last year, Sunday, July 15th, Pope Benedict XVI, in his Sunday Angelus, spoke of St. Bonaventure, the tenth Doctor of the Church, who had a major influence on the Pope’s theological formation.

Here is what the Holy Father had to say about this renowned Franciscan Saint:

Today, 15 July, in the liturgical calendar is the Memorial of St Bonaventure of Bagnoregio, a Franciscan, Doctor of the Church and the successor of St Francis of Assisi at the helm of the Order of Friars Minor. It was he who wrote the first official biography of the “Poverello” and, at the end of his life, he was also Bishop of this Diocese of Albano.

Bonaventure wrote in one of his letters: “I confess before God that the reason which made me most love the life of Blessed Francis is that it resembles the birth and development of the Church” (Epistula de tribus quaestionibus, in Opere di San Bonaventura. Introduzione generale, Rome 1990, p. 29). These words refer us directly to this Sunday’s Gospel which presents the first occasion on which Jesus sent the Twelve Apostles out on mission. Jesus “called to him the Twelve”, St Mark recounts, “and began to send them out two by two…. He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics” (Mk 6:7-9). After his conversion Francis of Assisi practised this Gospel to the letter, becoming a very faithful witness of Jesus; and, uniquely bound to the mystery of the Cross, was transformed into “another Christ”, exactly as St Bonaventure describes him.

Jesus Christ is the inspiring centre of St Bonaventure’s entire life and likewise of his theology. We rediscover this centrality of Christ in the Second Reading of today’s Mass (Eph 1:3-14), the famous hymn of St Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians that begins: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places”. The Apostle thus shows in the four passages, that all begin with the same words: “in him”, with reference to Jesus, how this plan of blessing was brought about. “In him”, the Father chose us before the creation of the world; “in him” we have redemption through his blood; “in him” we became his heirs, predestined to live “for the praise of his glory”; “in him” all those who believe in the Gospel receive the seal of the Holy Spirit. This Pauline hymn contains the vision of history which St Bonaventure helped to spread in the Church: the whole of history is centred on Christ, who also guarantees in every era new things and renewal. In Jesus, God said and gave all things, but since he is an inexhaustible treasure, the Holy Spirit never ceases to reveal and to actualize his mystery. So it is that the work of Christ and of the Church never regresses but always progresses.

Dear friends, let us invoke Mary Most Holy whom we shall be celebrating tomorrow as Our Lady of Mount Carmel, so that she may help us, like St Francis and St Bonaventure, to respond generously to the Lord’s call to proclaim his Gospel of salvation with our words and, first and foremost, with our lives.

Pope Francis’ First Homily: We Must Preach Christ Crucified

We are happy to share this post from our friend Dr. David Delaney, who shares his thoughts on our Holy Father’s first homily.  To read the actual text of Pope Francis’ homily click here.

Pope Francis’s First Homily: We Must Preach Christ Crucified

Listening to our Holy Father’s first homily, I was struck by what he emphasized and how this may possibly suggest what will be the emphasis for his pontificate.  Perhaps it also may help us to understand more deeply his choice of St. Francis as his papal name (assuming Fr. Lombardi’s statement is correct that he chose the name in honor of St. Francis of Assisi rather than St. Francis Xavier).

Our new Holy Father Francis emphasized in his homily the need for conversion and discipleship (albeit he did not use the term disciple this is what he described).  He declared that we must witness Christ to this world.  Strikingly, he stated that when we are not witness for Christ then we are witnesses for the devil.  This is a profound statement!  Francis is declaring that for the Christian, there is no neutral ground.  If we do not explicitly preach Christ then we are doing the devil’s bidding. This is the very poison with which secularism attempts to salt us.  The new evangelization means that we must reject any temptation to go along in order to get along.

Francis qualifies the preaching of Christ.  He tells us that if we do not preach the Cross then we preach another christ.  I suspect that this is a hint about the selection of his papal name.  St. Bonaventure recounts the vision by which St. Francis receives his stigmata as that which indelibly marks him with a devotion to Christ Crucified.  It was Christ Crucified who Francis and his little band preached in order to rebuild Christ’s Church.  It seems to me that Pope Francis is emphasizing the pressing need for the Church to be the agent for overcoming secularism. This may very well be Pope Francis’s approach to the new evangelization, preaching Christ Crucified in word and deed.

Finally, Pope Francis warns us that our life in Christ can never be static.  That is, if we are not moving forward on our journey toward conversion and communion with Christ, then we are moving backward, we are losing ground.  This truth confirms us in our need for perpetual zeal in living for Christ and His Cross and for witnessing this same life to the world.

Pope Francis’s life of poverty is his living witness to the Cross.  It is a rejection of the siren song of self-sufficiency, which is a perpetual danger for those of us who live so much “in the world” that we slip into being “of the world.” His solidarity with the poor expresses and lives out his solidarity with Christ Crucified and at the same time, is an inoculation against the temptations of the world, that is the devil.  This must also be our attitude for the new evangelization.  We cannot adequately preach Christ if we do not know Him intimately, if we do not allow ourselves to experience His Cross through poverty of spirit.  We must know Christ Crucified if we are going to be authentic witnesses to Him.

Dr. Delaney is Professor of Systematic Theology at the Mexican American Catholic College in San Antonio, Texas.  He previously wrote for the now defunct Cosmos-Liturgy-Sex blog.