Francis of Assisi’s Special Devotion
By Reverend Pierre Pourrat
The love of Christ, above all, filled his soul. It was not simply a love, but a compassion for the suffering Jesus, a veritable participation in his pain. Not long after his conversion, Francis felt himself pierced through with the love of the divine Crucified One in the Church of Saint Damian, then in ruins. While he prayed before a crucifix, he heard the voice of Jesus saying to him: “Go, Francis, and repair my house; thou seest clearly that it is fallen in ruins.” At the moment that he gave his servant a mission, Jesus imprinted his wounds deeply on his soul. From that day, Francis was not able to think of the passion without weeping. “He filled the highways with lamentations,” says Thomas of Celano, “and refused all consolation in meditating on the wounds of Christ.” He would occasionally withdraw into the woods and desert places in order to lament by himself over the sufferings of Jesus.
“One day,” as is related by the companions of Francis, “he was walking alone near the Church of Saint Mary of the Portiuncola weeping and lamenting aloud. A holy man heard him and thought he was suffering. Seized with pity, he asked him why he wept. Francis answered: ‘I bewail the passion of my Lord Jesus Christ, and I ought not to feel ashamed to go throughout the world weeping.'” The man then began to weep with him. It was often noticed that when he had just been praying, his eyes were filled with blood because he had wept so much and so bitterly. “Not content with shedding tears, he used to deprive himself of food at the memory of the passion of the Lord.”
He taught his followers this prayer with the intention of making them do unceasing honor to the passion of the Savior: “We adore you, O Christ, in all the churches of the whole world, and we bless you because by your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world.”
Francis had so constant memory of the passion present in his heart that it might be thought that he desired to participate actually in the pains of Christ. The Fioretti (Little Flowers of Saint Francis) attribute the following prayer to him, which expresses the sentiment of his soul in this regard toward the end of his life, a little while before the apparition of the stigmata:
“My Lord Jesus Christ, two graces do I ask you to grant me before I die: the first that, during my lifetime, I may feel in my soul and in my body, so far as may be possible, that pain which you, my sweet Lord, did suffer in the hour of you most bitter passion; the second is that I may feel in my heart, so far as may be possible, that exceeding love whereby you, Son of God, was enkindled to bear willingly such passion for us sinners.”
His prayer was heard by the impression of the stigmata of Christ in his flesh. “About two years before his death,” his companions tell us, “at the approach of the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, he was praying one morning on the slope of Mount Alvernia. He was uplifted to God by desire and by seraphic ardor and felt himself transformed by a tender compassion for whim who, in the excess of charity, willed to be crucified. A six-winged seraph then appeared to him, bearing between his wings the form, of great beauty, of One Crucified, having the hands and feet stretched on the cross, and clearly a figure of our Lord Jesus. Two wings were folded so as to hide his head; the others veiled the rest of his body, and the other two were extended to sustain the flight of the seraph.”
“When the vision had disappeared, a wonderful ardor of love rested in Francis’s soul; and more wonderful still, in his body there appeared the impression of the stigmata of our Lord Jesus Christ. The man hid them as much as possible until his death, not wishing to make public the mystery of the Lord; but he was not able so to conceal them from his companions, at least from those who were most familiar. But after his happy departure from this world, all the brethren who were then present and many of the laity saw his body gloriously marked with the stigmata of Christ.”
Francis of Assisi bequeathed to his order, as a precious heritage, a special devotion to the passion of Jesus; a devotion that very soon spread and became general through the Church (Source: Christian Spirituality: From the Time of Our Lord Till the Dawn of the Middle Ages, 1922).
About the Author: Reverend Pierre Pourrat (1871-1957) was a Roman Catholic priest and theologian. Over the course of his long life, Father Pourrat taught at seminaries in both Lyons and Paris; and authored many books and articles including Christian Spirituality, a four volume history of spirituality from biblical to modern times.
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