On 17 September of every year, the Franciscan Family celebrates the feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis, making memory of the marks and the manifestation of the wounds of the Passion of Jesus on the body of St. Francis. We all know what great devotion and love for the Passion of Christ Francis carried within his heart; the many hours he spent contemplating the immense, merciful love of Christ who for love of us accepted to live and die in extreme poverty in order to redeem us. The mountains were always his favorite spots for prayer, away from the noise of the city, alone, contemplating “Love is not loved” for days and hours on end.
- A brief history of La Verna
Mount La Verna is a promontory which forms part of the ‘Apennines’. The highest part reaches the height of 1283 meters, but the sanctuary is situated at a height of 1128 meters. The history of La Verna owes its origin to the XIII century. At the beginning of the XIII century this mountain belonged to Count Orlando of Chiusi del Casentino. Count Orlando had inherited it from his ancestors. He possessed the entire region. But he is known in history more for his friendship with Francis than for his military and political achievementss.
- The friendship of Count Orlando with Francis and his brothers.
The friendship between these two personages had its beginning on a special occasion: a feast was being celebrated in the castle of San Leon de Montefeltro in honour of a new knight. The preaching as well as the example of Francis attracted the attention of Count Orlando so much, that after a conversation with St. Francis, the Count offers Francis Mount La Verna. This feast took place on 8 May 1213, a date which marks the beginning of the history of the mountain, as well as the friendship between the Count and Francis with his brothers.
- A Short description of Mount Alverna
The Mount of Alverna was donated to St. Francis in 1213 by Count Orlando. The Count described the mount as a perfect and ideal place for contemplation amidst nature.
“[…] Mount Alverna is really isolated and wild and perfect for those who want to do penance in a remote place or to those who want to live in solitude. If you would like it, I will give it to you and your followers for my soul’s safety”.
A hermitage was founded on the mount and became the favorite site for Francis and his followers for spending long periods of meditation and prayer. Francis climbed the mountain for the first time in 1214.He returned to La Verna at least four or five times more: in 1215, 1216 , 1217, 1221 and in 1224. Francis’ last stay at Mount Alverna was in 1224 when he was already tired and ill. This last time was probably the longest stay of Francis on the mountain, and the most memorable, because it was then that he received the stigmata on 17 September 1224.
- Francis receives the Stigmata: significance.
While he was absorbed in prayer, Francis asked God to be able to take part, from the very depth of his heart, in the Passion of Christ, mystery of both love and pain. The Lord paid attention to his words and appeared to him in the guise of a crucified seraph who gave him as a gift, the seals of the Passion. Francis turned into a visible and concrete image of Christ, not only in his heart, mind and soul, but even in his exterior body. Francis carried this gift of the stigmata until his death two years later.
Francis not only wanted to imitate Jesus, he wanted to live Jesus, and this is very well expressed in the words of St. Paul: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me”. This took place on Mount La Verna in the summer of 1224.
Francis wanted to experience in order to manifest with his entire being, body, soul, heart and will, that infinite love of God which led Christ to assume our human fragility. God granted Francis his desire by imprinting the wounds of Christ Crucified on his body, and by making him experience His immense love for the entire world.
Most probably, it will not be given to us to have the wounds of the Cross on our bodies, but if we wish, we can always have the passion of love which will inflame our heart for God and for our brothers and sisters, especially those who are suffering. Today, through the intercession of St. Francis, let us ask the Lord to grant us this grace.
- Mary of the Passion visits Mount Alverna
Glimpses of the pilgrimage of Mary of the Passion to Mount Alverna, 24th June 1901.
In June 1901, Mother Foundress, accompanied by Mother Redemption and Mother Marie Jehanne, went to Mount Alverna to offer the Institute of victims to St. Francis and to venerate the place where St. Francis received the Stigmata. This being the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of the Institute, Mère renewed this act of our venerated Mother … (Chronique Intime 1937, No 9, pp.181-182)
Before leaving Mount Alverna where the Friars Minor had received her with really fraternal kindness and cordiality, she was presented with the pilgrim book in which she wrote:
“Oh, my Father St. Francis, I come here to offer you the whole Institute of the FMM, past, present and to come. My hands are not entirely empty because seven of your Franciscan Missionaries of Mary have shed their blood for the faith of Christ at Tai-yuan.fu.
Oh, by the merits of the Precious Blood of Jesus, by the blood of your Stigmata and that of all the martyrs, bless us and watch over us always. Amen”. (Alverna, feast of St. John the Baptist, 24th June, 1901)
- Exhortation and grace to be asked
In the Directory for today’s feast, Mary of the Passion exhorts us to ask for the grace “that the Passion of our Divine Master be imprinted on our hearts as on the body of our Father. Let us (also) ask for the love of suffering, which should be the daily bread of a true Franciscan Missionary of Mary.”
To help us obtain the grace of following Jesus in this “royal way of the cross “ we have to remember that “in the cross is salvation and life […] the success of the Institute will be proportionate to its union with the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ and with the Stigmata of our Seraphic Father. (CT/1, 113)
And in the Liturgical Meditations Mary of the Passion adds:
“Meditating upon the mystery of Mount Alverna, another Calvary, we shall understand the full extent of the grace of seraphic vocation. Based upon poverty, it unites us with Jesus Christ from his birth at Bethlehem, and offers us as victims to Divine Love that we may also be stripped, crucified, transformed into Our Lord, if not by the martyrdom of the body, at least by the fire of love, and thus bear some resemblance to our Crucified Saviour.” (MD, 566)