The Stigmata of St. Francis

St. Francis receives the Stigmata (fresco attr...Authorized by Pope Paul V, September 17th is the Feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis of Assisi, a feast day celebrated within the Franciscan communities.

Stigmata, from the Greek word, generically points to a “brand” or a “mark.” It is the common word to describing branding of cattle. In the Christian context it refers to the bodily marks resembling the wounds of the crucified Christ. St. Francis was the first person, historically recorded, who bore the marks of the crucified Christ in his hands, his feet, and in his side. Continue reading

Francis of Assisi and Prayer

When people think of St. Francis of Assisi and prayer, what most likely comes to mind is “The Peace Prayer of St. Francis,” with the memorable line: “Make me an instrument of peace…” It is a moving and noteworthy prayer, certainly in the Franciscan tradition, perhaps inspired by St. Francis, but it dates to 1912 and was first published as a poem in the French spiritual magazine, La Clochette. Later, during World War I, it appeared on the back of a holy card bearing an image of St. Francis and the association of the two became cemented in our minds. Continue reading

Francis of Assisi and almsgiving

prayer fasting almsgiving2There are many ideas that people hold about what it means to be Franciscan.  I was once asked, “Where do you friars keep the animals?”  I was living in the Soundview area of the Bronx at the time.  The person assumed that our way of life would always be surrounded by furry friends.  Later, another person wondered why we were not living out our vow of poverty by spending our day begging for alms? Continue reading

The Stigmata

stigmata-st-francis-giottoAfter Francis’ withdrawal from active ministerial leadership of the friars, he witnessed an inevitable evolution of the religious order, which had grown to over 5,000 brothers in 1223 from the humble beginnings in 1209 of Francis and four companions. The evolution of the Order, necessary on a number of levels, also began to change the life of the fraternity. Francis worried that the Spirit of prayer was being compromised and that the necessities of ministry were leading the brothers to increasing ties to material possessions. He lived and suffered in a “Time of Doubt,” as described in the previous article. Continue reading

A Time of Doubt

In the short span of 12 years (1209-1221), the Franciscans had grown from a small, Assisi-based fraternity consisting of Francis and four other brothers, to a large, “multi-national,” religious order with an approved Rule of Life, a Cardinal Protector (who would soon become Pope), and more than 5,000 brothers.  There was nothing in Francis’ life that prepared him for leadership of such a far-flung fraternity, which was already spanning the European continent and parts of the Middle East and North Africa.  He had been a spoiled dilatant, a would-be knight, a wounded warrior, a solitary figure, living a quasi-hermetical life, and now he was the “leader” of a growing, international community of brothers.  In the beginning, things just seemed to unfold, signs appeared along the way, and Francis followed the path in faith.  And people followed Francis.  Now most Franciscans had never met Francis and Francis’ model of leadership by example, which worked in 1209, but was not the one needed in 1221.  And so he stepped down as leader, leaving the Order in the care of the Church – at least as far as discipline and administration. Yet it was also clear that he hoped to preserve a superior authority, of a spiritual type, demonstrated in the way in which he lived the Rule of Life. Continue reading

Franciscan Rule of Life

FrancisSanDamianoThe year is 1220 and Francis has just announced his decision to step down as “leader” of the Franciscan brothers.  In last week’s installment, I described Francis’ reason for stepping down.  Francis had already seen the effects of a vacuum in spiritual authority brought about by his year-long absence while in the Middle East.  It is in leaving to his “vicar” and to the Roman Church the care of making decisions of a normative or disciplinary type that he could hope to preserve a superior authority, of a spiritual type, that would only have been diminished in the heat of daily administration. Continue reading

Brothers and Sisters

church-familyIf you have been following the daily gospel readings, you have read about the growing opposition to Jesus. He has been performing miracles, casting out demons, curing the sick, and yet people are hesitant to believe. In some cases, they outright refuse, and in the most extreme, they recognize the supernatural but attribute it to being in league with Satan. The people resist, the authorities accuse, and in today’s gospel it seems as though Jesus’ family wants to see him. Unsaid, but its seems as though they want to have an intervention. Continue reading

Authority and Example

FrancisSanDamianoAfter his 1220 return from his mission/travels to Egypt, Palestine, Syria, and Asia Minor, Francis of Assisi resigned as “minister” of the Franciscan movement. As with most changes in the life of St. Francis, there are a host of modern commentaries that offer reasons why. Some conjecture Francis was upset that clerics, ordained priests, were starting to inject their priestly charism upon the fraternity; hence he resigned in protest. Others offer that he was protesting the increased oversight and intrusion of the Pope into the affairs of the friars and their life. Some have insisted that Francis recognized that this religious movement was becoming a religious order – something he did not intend nor desire. Continue reading

Vocations: Founder and Friars

Francis-brothersIn the early summer of 1219, Francis left Assisi and traveled to Egypt, meeting with the Sultan of Egypt, Al-Malik al-Kamil.  According to the Franciscan chronicler Jordan of Giano, informed by an eyewitness, a prophetess living in the Holy Land who was known as “the Tongue-that-Proclaims-the-Truth” declared to the friars:  “Come back, come back, for the order is troubled by the absence of Brother Francis; it is divided and in the process of destroying itself.”  Thus in May of 1220, the Poor Man of Assisi returned to Italy, where problems had been multiplying in his absence.  In a prior article we mentioned some of the problems that had arisen, which Francis addressed.  He then considered the future of the Franciscan movement.  In September, 1220, he formally resigned his role as minister of the brothers. Continue reading

After the Crusades

FrancisSanDamianoIn our previous three articles we described Francis’ part of the 5th Crusade and his meeting with the Sultan of Egypt, Al-Malik al-Kamil.  We know that Francis was away at a time when the community began to grow rapidly – and not just around Assisi, but in many other parts of Italy, Spain, France, and the Germanic nations as well.  While Francis was away, what happened to the friars he left behind?

Francis had delegated his powers to two vicars during his absence:  Matthew of Narni, who remained in Assisi, and Gregory of Naples, who visited the communities throughout Italy.  Another friar, Phillip the Tall, was entrusted with the care of St. Clare and her sisters, the Poor Ladies of San Damiano.  They were given very few orders or instructions.  This might seem odd, given that religious life in the 13th century was quite ordered and obedience was a topic often written about – even by Francis himself.  However, the friars were not technically an ordo, a religious order – they were still a “religious movement” – albeit, a quite famous and rapidly growing one that had the attention of the Pope and the Roman Curia – both in praise and concern.

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