Giles writes

    
Dear friends,

September 17th was a Franciscan festival.
It was the day we remembered Francis receiving the Stigmata or the five wounds of Christ; in his hands, his feet and his side.
It sounds quite bizarre to us ia the 21st Century, perhaps?
But towards the end of his life St Francis experienced a miracle that, for him, was the climax of his whole spiritual journey.

Stigmatics, as they are called, have been documented from the 13th century.
Some people displayed the five .wounds of Christ.
Some had wounds on the forehead, as if from a crown of thorns.
Some had wounds on their backs, as if they had been whipped.

Francis received his marks in 1224. He had gone with some of his closest friends amongst the friars to Mount La Verna, a beautiful mountain given to Francis as a place of retreat by a pious and wealthy man.
Francis built himself a cell, some way from the others, out of sticks and branches so that he could spend a solitary time of retreat.
It was late summer. Each night Brother Leo was to bring some bread and water and call out to Francis.
But if there was no reply he was not to cross the small bridge leading to Francis' place of solitude.

One night though, when Leo got no reply, he was worried for Francis and he crossed the bridge.
He saw Francis kneeling in ecstasy and repeating over and over again, "Who art thou, my God most sweet? And what am I, thy unprofitable servant and vilest of worms?"
A flaming torch came from the sky and rested on Francis before returning to the heavens.
Leo was terrified and retreated.
He had seen his master transfigured and he knew that Francis and God were communing in ways he could not understand.

The retreat continued until holy cross day, 14th September.
Francis had been praying in the early morning while it was still dark, "O my Lord, Jesus Christ, two graces do I pray thee to gent unto me before I die: first, that while I live I may feel in my body and in my soul, so far as is possible, that sorrow, sweet lord, that thou didst suffer in the hour of thy most bitter passion; the second, that I may feel in my heart, so far as may be possible, that exceeding love wherewith, O Son of God, thou wast enkindled to endure willingly for us sinners agony so meat."

At that moment Francis saw a vision of a crucified that shone incredibly brightly and lasted for over an hour so that people in nearby villages were amazed at the light.
When it faded Francis bore the wounds of Christ marked on his body.
They were a holy mystery and no one knows how they came there, but they denoted Francis's complete identification with the suffering of Christ, something he had yearned for throughout his ministry.
Francis kept the marks secret for they were a gift of faith to him, from his God.
It was only in his later illness, when he was so weak that a brother had to wash him, that suspicion was aroused.

In 1226, when Francis died, the head of the Franciscan order, brother Elias, proclaimed the Stigmata to the World as a sign of Francis's great holiness and of God's favour.
Franciscans celebrate the anniversary of that day on October 4th, Francistide.
From the moment that he received the Stigmata Francis had endured great pain and he was wracked with this right up until his death.
Undoubtedly, the Stigmata were responsible, in part, for his rapid canonisation.
They brought Francis great pleasure at what, for Francis, was a sign of God's blessing; for he suffered extreme pain and thus identified with Christ on the Cross.

For us, the Stigmata remain mysterious but are also a reminder that God was amongst us as Jesus the human.
The divine and the material were united in the body of Jesus.
That is what we mean by incarnation.
In the Stignata, the spiritual and physical were also united. God is Spirit but He acts through the physical too and we experience God in both ways.
For Francis, and for us, God is experienced in a real way our world, not as an idea or as trancelike state.
God asks us today to discern how it is that He is trying to act in the world through the Spirit dwelling in reach of us who are baptised.
What are the physical signs in our lives that God is at work through us?
Francis became a sign of Christ's redemption.
How can we be a physical sign of redemption and salvation in our world today?

With love,
Giles