Saturday, 23 March 2013

Stigmata: St Francis of Assisi

The Stigmata
St. Francis of Assisi

Saint Francis of Assisi was an Italian Catholic Friar and preacher, but before he became a man devoted to God, he was the son of a wealthy cloth merchant who was often seen cavorting in the streets with friends as a youth.
Francis was born whilst his Father was away on business, his mother was having a difficult labour and could not push the child out, an old beggar woman knocked on the door of the house and told her she should go to the stable. Once in the stable, miraculously, everything righted itself and the baby was born.
The unnamed baby was soon to baptised “John” in the local church, and was given the name Francis, upon his Fathers return. “Francis” meaning “ The Frenchman” in Italian, was given as that was his Mothers birth country.
His up bringing was that of a moderately wealthy Italian family, and Francis himself was known for being flamboyant, often wearing clothing all the colours of the rainbow, with a long red feather protruding from his hat.
One day, an unusual thing happened, a beggar came to town, and upon seeing Francis, removed his dishevelled coat and placed it on the ground in front of Francis.
Francis told the beggar, “I have no money give!”, but the poor beggar did not care for money, he replied, “I do not want any! I do this to honour you, for, you will soon do great things that will be talked about until the end of the world!”

The beggars words have indeed proven to be true, with the recent election of Pope Francis, taken his name from St Francis of Assisi.
Francis, a youth of high spirits and energy, was soon to face war, like all youths in Italy in that era, he was sent to fight. Francis was captured, and spent a year imprisoned. Upon his return to Assisi, it was noticed the energy and pluck of his youth was long gone, instead of his endless partying, he was now seen to stray into the fields to pray.
He gave away his armour, he gave his horse and gave away many of his other possessions.

Chapel of San Daminao
Whilst praying in the Chapel of San Daminao, a neglected old ruin at the time, Francis heard the Lord Jesus speak to him, Jesus told him to “Rebuild his Church”. Francis took the instruction literally and sought out the old priest in charge of the ruins, and gave him a large bag of gold to get the restoration work under way.
Francis disappeared for a month or more, no-one knew where he went, but when he returned he was dressed in rags like a beggar. His Father had him taken away fearing he had gone mad, but when his Father left on business, Francis Mother gave him money and set him free.
His Father returned, and was angry, he took his son to court to retrieve his money, but lost. Next he took his son to the local Bishop. The bishop questioned Francis extensively, and Francis reply was that he wishes “to serve God”.
The Bishop admonished Francis for stealing his Fathers money, to which Francis reply, was to walk behind the curtain of the Bishops throne, strip naked, and return. He laid the clothing in front of his Father, as well as a small bag of gold and said unto him “Until now I have called Pietro di Bernardone father. I am returning his money and the clothes he has given to me. From now on, I shall not say ‘Father Pietro di Bernardone,’ but ‘Our Father who is in heaven!’”
With that Francis came under the protection of the Church and one of gods servants.

It wasnt long until Francis lifestyle earned him followers, men and women who were inspired by the wealthy youth, who would give it all up to follow Christ and serve him unconditionally.
One of Francis followers, a young woman named Clare was so inspired she started the Catholic order of Poor Sisters
Frances himself also founded a number of orders, which the Pope at the time, Pope Innocent III authorised in 1210, he also went on to found the Order of Poor Clares, a religious order for women, as well as the Order of Brothers and Sisters of Penance (The Third Order)
It wasn’t until near the end of his life that Francis stigmata appeared. He had a vision of Jesus on a burning cross in the night sky.
Streams of light came from the vision and touched upon Francis body, overcome with the deepest of love for the Lord, Francis fell to the ground, the wounds of Christ displayed upon his body.
It is said Francis found great joy in carrying the wounds of Christ but they had a terrible effect on his body,weakening his health greatly. His stigmata lasted from 1224 until his death in 1226.
Late in his life Francis received the Stigmata,
as told in this account from the Catholic Encyclopedia:

Early in August, 1224, Francis retired with three companions to "that rugged rock 'twixt Tiber and Arno", as Dante called La Verna, there to keep a forty days fast in preparation for Michaelmas. During this retreat the sufferings of Christ became more than ever the burden of his meditations; into few souls, perhaps, had the full meaning of the Passion so deeply entered. It was on or about the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (14 September) while praying on the mountainside, that he beheld the marvelous vision of the seraph, as a sequel of which there appeared on his body the visible marks of the five wounds of the Crucified which, says an early writer, had long since been impressed upon his heart.

Francis died singing to death, his body was carried through Assisi so the people could see the wealthy young youth who would become known as the poor man of Assisi.

Saint Francis of Assisi is the first recorded person to have been gifted the Stigmata.
On July 16th 1228 he was pronounced a Saint by Pope Gregory IX.
He is known as the patron Saint of Animals and the environment and is a patron Saint of Italy (along with Saint Catherine of Siena)
Saint Francis of Assisi is also recognised as the creator of the nativity scene.

© 2013 Allen Tiller

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