(Mount La Verna, September 17, 2011)
Br. José Rodríguez Carballo, ofm
Minister General, OFM
Gal 6, 14-18; Lk 9, 23-26
Dear brothers and sisters, May the Lord give you peace! The Lord has granted us the grace to come up this holy mountain this year to contemplate Francis as an icon of Christ crucified. This man, a true lover and follower of Christ, as St. Clare calls him (cf. TestCl 5), configured with the crucifix in his heart, was also in his body, receiving the stigmata on this mountain, two years before his death, thus becoming the stigmatized of La Verna – as Blessed John Paul II, a pilgrim, too, to this Franciscan Calvary, described him.
There are many historical sources that tell us what happened in this place two years before the death of Francis in 1224 (cf. 1 Cel III, LM XIII). Francis, who loved to retire to the solitude of La Verna, came here to observe the Lent of Saint Michael the Archangel by fasting, doing penance, and praying. Sick, physically tired, sad, and suffering in his body and spirit, Francis went up to La Verna. Around the feast of the exaltation of the Holy Cross, while he was suffering and more intimately sharing Christ pain, he is also experienced a profound joy (cf. LM XIII, 1. 3). It is then that he received the highest manifestation of the supernatural, i.e., the stigmata. As a result, he became an alter Christus, a faithful copy of the crucified Christ and his true friend– as Bonaventure described him. He, on whom the image of the Crucified remained carved in his heart since he heard him in the Church of San Damiano, now, on the top of this mountain, is, likewise, conformed outwardly to Christ. The lover (Francis) is transformed into the beloved (Christ). No one today can deny the authenticity of this fact just as no one can doubt the claim that Francis was the first in history to our knowledge to bear the five wounds.
By the silence he imposed on himself over this fact and the faithfulness which his companions guarded it, we can say that this highly mystical experience must be considered as unique, unrepeatable, and personal, experienced by Francis alone. The pain which he again felt of the Passion of Christ in his own flesh surely must have remained an incommunicable experience, for the experience of the stigmata is rooted in the constant contemplation of the Passion of Christ. In fact, the meditation and consideration of the Passion of Christ, together with the meditation and consideration of his birth, were both the deepest part of the spirituality of Francis and an essential component of his intimate religious experience.
With a heart overflowing with joy, dear friends, we try as far as we can, to enter into the mystery of the stigmata of Francis. If the nail marks on the body of Jesus is the “sacrament” of the love of the Son of God for humanity, the stigmata of Francis in the body are then the marks of Jesus’ love for him and, at the same time, signs of the passionate love of Francis for the Lord Jesus (cf. LM XIII, 2). We contemplate the wounds of Christ and we say, pain, but we must also say, love. We contemplate the stigmata of Francis and we say, pain, but we must also say love. These wounds speak to us of the most excruciating and agonizing pain ever suffered on earth; but they speak, especially, of a greater, stronger, and purer love ever expressed in the history of humanity, that is, the love of Jesus who “loved us and gave himself for us” (Eph 5, 2). Speaking of the stigmata, we also speak of sorrow, which, like Jesus, speaks not only of a physical pain, but also and above all, of love, the greatest love a man has ever had for his Lord.
If the wounds of Christ are the supreme revelation of God who became love in the person of the Son, then the stigmata reveal the true face of Francis, that is, one crucified for love, a man deeply in love with Jesus. By contemplating the Passion of Jesus, Francis understood that God is love and that He has loved us with such love as to not spare his Son (cf. Jn 3, 16). This knowledge, which became experience in Francis, made the poor man cry out, “love is not loved, love is not loved.” Even if he loved him as much as a creature can love, this love can never be an adequate response to the love of God for us. Therefore, in this sense we can never love God enough.
There is another important aspect here. At the end of his life Francis contemplated his life as a gift of the Lord saying repeatedly in his Testament, “The Lord gave me, the Lord gave me”. For Francis, everything is a grace from Him who has become everything in his life. “You are Everything” is what he would say in the prayer of praise to Almighty God. In this optic, we can say that the stigmata were also a gift that came to confirm Francis in the path he started and completed two years later with bodily death.
In the moments of darkness in the heart of Francis as he went through tough trials and great loneliness, the Lord finally spoke to him through this marvelous sign, i.e., the sign of the cross. It is the word of the cross (cf. 1 Cor 1, 10-3, 4), not listened to by the Greek or Jew, but by those who believe and wish to follow Jesus (”If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me”(Lk 9, 23). In other words, you cannot follow Christ without listening to the word of the cross, that is, if one does not accept to be crucified with Christ (Gal. 6, 14).
If the cross is salvation, then the only salvation given to men is to follow Jesus and listen to the word of the cross and embracing the cross. According to the text of the Gospel just read, the word of the cross, together with other sayings of the text proclaimed, is part of the compendium of Christian life and the mirror of the Word to which the disciple must conform his own face (cf. James 1, 22 -15). The cross, like the stigmata of Francis, is the mark of belonging to God in Jesus Christ (cf. Rev 7, 2SS; Ez 9, 4). In the contemplation of the Crucified, God reveals to us the real face of his love for us. By contemplating the stigmata of Francis the face of every man or woman who loves Christ, like Francis, is revealed. It is the same face, because “all of us, with unveiled faces, by reflecting as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into his own image” (2 Cor 3, 18). This is what Jesus tells us in the Gospel passage of this solemnity. This is what Francis tells us through the mystery of the stigmata.
Dear brothers and sisters, man realizes himself by loving. Yet, in order to love, one must be loved. Let us contemplate the cross and we will realize the great love that God has for us. Contemplate the stigmata of Francis, and like him yearn to identify ourselves with Christ, for only in this way, by being crucified for the world and the world crucified for us, will we become new creatures (Gal. 6, 14 – 15).