Saturday, June 21, 2008

Stigmata and La Verna

Thursday we went with Br. Daniel (second from left) to visit the place where St. Francis received the Stigmata. The wounds of Christ appeared in Francis' body in response to his prayer for a sign of God's favor; watch out what you pray for! But as we walked around the various places I kept thinking about how all the things in my life that I have found most painful have become the greatest source of blessing. One of the wounds I carry is alcoholism, yet in recovery I can say I am grateful. Gratitude is a big part of my prayer during this pilgrimage.

Francis used to seek out remote and uncomfortable places to pray. The crevice to the right is about ten degrees cooler than up by the church. Francis used to creep in under the cliff on the left hand side; the brothers keep a wood cross there. While I most prefer praying in my room in a chair, I found this place to be very powerful; what I suppose is called a "thin place" where the boundary between earth and heaven is very thin and permeable. The Franciscans say the cleft was created by an earth quake the day Christ died on the cross.

The Sanctuary is filled with della Robbia sculptures, and when we went into the small chapel of St. Mary of the Angels we saw an extraordinary depiction of Mary and the Angels. It happened while we were there a young friar was playing the organ, and the music was the theme music from "Brother Son, Sister Moon:" a great favorite of the brothers from the Solomon Islands. They've worn out their video copy and asked me to buy a DVD, which I will. We often sing the music as we walk around Assisi: "Brother Son, Sister Moon, I haven't seen you, seldom hear your tune, please to occupy the selfishness in me." Behind me is the view from the top of La Verna: hair-raising height but a fantastic sense of the hugeness of creation and the embrace of God.

After lunch we joined the Friars in the choir of the Sanctuary and walked in procession to the place where Francis received the Stigmata. It is now enshrined in a beautiful chapel. But every day for hundreds of years the brothers have gone to this place to pray, to give thanks and to dedicate themselves to serving the world in the name of the Crucified One.
On the wall of one of the buildings is this inscription: "Mount of secrets most holy and divine: St. Francis here with the wounds of Jesus marked, united his life with the sufferings of our Lord, streams of life now flow into all the world."

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