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

Seven Things Paul VI Did Before Pope Francis Made it Cool

Original Post at USSCBlog by Don Clemmer

Pope-Paul-VI Pope-FrancisOnly a pope who has railed against clericalism to the extent that Pope Francis has could get away with canonizing two popes at once and then beatifying a third within six months. But that’s exactly what will happen October 19, when Pope Francis moves another one of his predecessors, Paul VI (1963-1978), one step closer to official sainthood.

There’s been ample consideration of how Pope Francis completes a triumvirate with his two immediate predecessors, and it’s easy to compare Francis to the jovial, Council-calling, tradition-shirking John XXIII. But in numerous other ways, there’s a direct line of influence from Pope Paul to his latest successor, who was ordained a priest during Paul’s pontificate and largely formed by it:

“A poor Church for the poor.” In his first audience as pope, Francis explained his choice of name as inspired by Francis of Assisi — the man of poverty, the man of peace, the friend of creation. He has gone on to condemn on numerous occasions a “throwaway culture” linking everything from poverty to genocide to a willingness to cast people aside as disposable. Pope Paul’s 1967 encyclical Populorum Progressio greatly laid the foundation for this thinking, as did his 1972 World Day of Peace message, “If you want peace, work for justice.” Continue reading

Francis of Assisi – The First Missions

Francis-missionsAn earlier article had discussed the problems with the rapid growth of members within in the fledgling community friars.  The period from 1213 to 1216 is the most obscure period in Francis’ life and also one of the periods of explosive growth in the movement as the brotherhood spread well beyond Assisi.  How many friars joined the fraternity in those years?  It is impossible to say, but we do know this: in 1217 the annual meeting (called a “chapter”) made the decision to send out missions across the Alps into northern Europe, the Baltic states, and to the Crusader States in the eastern Mediterranean.  Within Italy, six provinces were established; outside of Italy, five provinces were established: Spain, northern and southern France, Germany, and Syria. Continue reading

Francis of Assisi – Integrating into the Church

Francis finished his military adventures and time as a prisoner of war in early 1205. It was during the latter part of 1205 into 1206 that Francis chose to “leave the world.”  In subsequent years , Francis’ model of following Christ began to attract other men to join him in the emerging way of life – even as the “way of life” was being discovered by Francis himself. Francis modeled the life, prayed with the brothers, exhorted them from time to time, and slowly the life began to take shape.

francis-innocentThe basic shape of the movement was not all that unique in Francis’ day. There were many other penitential and mendicant movements in the beginning of the 13th century in western Europe. – some scholars tallying 130 others. Interestingly, only one of them exists today: the Franciscan.  Why? Most scholars hold that it was because of Francis’ insistence on being “Catholic” and formally part of the Catholic Church.  There are several theories as to the reason for that insistence.  Like most things it is a complex reason, but likely primary among the reasons is Francis’ love of the Eucharist. But whatever the reasons, it is no surprise that in 1209 Francis and some of his brothers journeyed to Rome to seek an audience in a consistory with Pope Innocent III in order to receive formal recognition of his proposed way of life. Continue reading

Francis of Assisi: Francis and Nature, Part II

People are surprised to learn that the Early Rule of the friars instructed the brothers not to own pets – as well they were not to ride horses. These rules are only partly about poverty; they encouraged friars not to treat animals as objects or possessions. And, in the case of horseback riding, his rule distanced the friars from the proud world of chivalry. Later in his life when sickness compelled him to ride, Francis always preferred a donkey.

In his own writings, Francis does not adopt images from his experience of nature, rather he took those images from Scripture. In the five passages outside the Rules where he mentions animals, only once does he go beyond the imagery from Scripture, and it is to hold up animals as an example of obedience to God. Continue reading

Francis of Assisi: Francis and Nature, Part I

St. Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of Italy, merchants, stowaways, ecology, but most famously, of animals.  If one searches the internet, you can easily find all kinds of pious, ecologically insightful, and often amazingly-modern sounding quotes from St. Francis. And they are inevitably without a citation from one of Francis’ writings or at least a later Franciscan source writing about Francis. As I noted in the beginning of this series, Francis has always been reinvented and marketed as needed.  Perhaps the one book most responsible for casting Francis as the lover of animals and nature is a collection of stories – many miraculous and all very saintly – that first appeared in 1390 in Tuscany: the Fioretti (The Little Flowers). But can we say about St. Francis, the patron saint of animals? Continue reading

Francis of Assisi: The Problems of New Growth

By the spring of 1213, four years after the founding of the “order,” Francis’ reputation had risen to the attention of the Italian aristocracy – not just in Assisi but throughout central Italy.  The order was beginning to attract men from the higher social classes. Sons of merchants like Francis, sons of the landed wealthy, sons of ruling households, men with established careers in law, music and the arts, and also ordained priests. They joined the already formed group of men from middle and lower backgrounds in muddling through what it meant to follow Christ in the manner of Francis. G.K. Chesterton’s later definition of the Catholic Church – “here comes everybody” – was being lived out in Francis’ day. Continue reading