The Miracles of the Cross of Saint Francis of Assisi
The Lord worked powerfully in the life of St. Francis of Assisi. The mandates He gave the little Saint, one at the beginning of his life, and the other towards the end of his life, came to him through Miracles of the Cross. Francis knew the power of the Cross. He spent his entire life with his eyes on the Cross, carrying his Cross, embracing his Cross, adoring his Cross. The Miracle which Our Lord gave him at the beginning of his life of ministry, put him on a path, in a direction, from which he never veered. The Miracle of the Cross he was given towards the end of his life was to make his body a beaten, broken crucified Christ. Francis always said Yes to the Lord, even though he might not have known what he was saying yes to, what he was getting into.
Francis was not aware he was born to be a Saint, a role model, a leader of thousands of men, at least not as a young man. He had been raised as a knight in training. He had the best suit of armor, the best horse. He had the best weapons. He learned how to play five instruments. He was the hit of all the parties of his social class.
St. Francis, a knight in training
St. Francis was truly a soldier, a knight in training. He was full of the chivalry of his time. He was of a higher station, and although he was not nobility, his father, a merchant, had always been able to give Francis the best of everything. In return, he expected the best of everything from Francis. That included going into battle for God and country. In the case of Francis' father, it was more for social status than for God. But Francis understood that. He was the son of a merchant; he would someday be a merchant. His father worked his way up from his bootstraps, becoming a success in business selling the fabric he bought from France; thus the name Francis for his son.
Francis had only to follow the lead his father gave him and make use of all the talents he had mastered as part of his training. He was also trained in the art of gentlemanly warfare. This was all part of his father's plan for the role of his son as the proud offspring of a rich merchant, who yearned to achieve nobility through this boy, something he had not been able to claim. But Pietro de Bernadone had not considered one ingredient which was prevalent in the life of this boy, the power of God, the agenda of God.
Francis was always a good boy, but not deep, and not overly religious. As a natural course of events, he was embracing his father's plan for his life. He had a dream one night. He saw a huge palace filled with armor, and the coat-of-arms of Christ. He envisioned in his dream that he would have that palace to contain all the weapons necessary to fight for the glory of his town and his chivalry. He asked who this belonged to and was told it was for him and his knights. Not realizing what the Lord meant, he joined up with a military group to go to war against a neighboring town. It was a disaster for Francis.
Francis goes off to war.
He was captured early in the game, and sent to prison. There, he took ill and spent the bulk of the war in the hospital infirmary of the little town which could not have been more than five miles from Assisi. He had a dream one night. He saw the palace again. Our Lord appeared to Francis in the dream. The Lord asked Francis whom he would rather serve, the Lord or the servant. Francis replied "The Lord!" Then he asked, "What do you want me to do? The Lord told Francis he would be committed to fight all his life, but the battle would be for the Lord, and the weapon would be the Word of God, the Gospel. The Lord also told Francis to return to Assisi, where he would be told what to do.
Francis finally went back to Assisi, but not as the playboy who had left for the wars. Rather, he spent much of his time in meditation, searching for the meaning of his life. He went to churches quite a bit of the time. He thought the Lord would speak to him in a church. One such venture brought him into a broken-down roadside chapel, just outside Assisi, called the Chapel of San Damiano. The roof was off the church; it was in shambles. But Francis felt comfortable praying before the crucifix, which was still intact.
The First Miracle of the Cross
As he was praying, a blanket of silence covered the church. Even the sounds of the birds flying in an out, and the singing crickets and other insects stopped. It was as if the world had come to a complete halt. Francis looked up at the huge Cross in front of him. The eyes, huge brown, almond eyes, penetrated deep into his soul. Jesus came to life on the Cross. He locked His gaze on the frightened little man. Francis got up enough courage to ask him, "What do you want of me, Lord?" Jesus spoke to him. "Go and repair My Church, which as you can see, is in ruins." Francis stared at the Miracle which was taking place in front of his very eyes. The Lord may have spent more time with him than that. We're not told in the life of St. Francis just how much time the Lord spent with him, or what else he may have said to him. We do know that this was the absolute turning point of his life. This Miracle, which consisted in the Lord breathing life into a wooden image of Himself, and speaking some few words to this chosen apostle, would change the life of this young man forever, who would, in turn, save the Church of the Middle Ages.
Francis became totally committed to the Lord, but he didn't really know in what way or to what degree. He looked around at the little Church of San Damiano, which was truly in ruins, and did what he thought the Lord was asking him to do. He went about repairing it. His approach was simplistic; he used stone and mortar, but he was doing what the Lord told him. When the time came that the total plan of the Lord, or rather that part of it He wanted Francis to execute at that time, was laid out before Francis, he eagerly did what he did on that first key day in his life, he said yes and went to work.
The Second Miracle of the Cross
Francis on Mount La Verna
After the second Rule, the Rule of 1223 was imposed on Francis and his community, a great sadness overtook him. He lost all his zeal, that which had kept him going in good times and bad. He removed himself from the everyday workings of the Fraternity. It had gotten away from him. He didn't want to be part of decision-making, and yet, he couldn't keep his nose out of the everyday happenings.
He had to put distance between himself and his beloved Assisi. He spent a great deal of time in seclusion, with just Brother Leo, Brother Masseo and Brother Angelo (These three brothers, Leo, Masseo and Angelo, are the three Friars, who compiled a book of narratives on the life of Francis, called The Three Companions.) It was important to Francis to surround himself with old friends, to be reminded of the way it had been in simpler times. He covered himself with a blanket of joy. Even in his sufferings, his illnesses which kept him in constant pain, he exuded joy. This was a decision! He instructed his Friars to go to the privacy of their rooms, if they wanted to bemoan their outcast state. But when they were in the presence of people, they must reflect the joy of Jesus. And so he practiced what he preached. He went off by himself. His companions stayed a safe distance, available to minister to Francis when he needed them, but always allowing him the space he needed, to let it all out with the Lord.
Francis and his faithful company of three, went to the mountain of Alverna (La Verna) to pray, from the Feast of the Assumption (August 15) to the Feast of St. Michael (September 29). He called this period the Lent of St. Michael. Francis had a special rapport with Mary and Michael from the early days of his conversion. He went to them often, for comfort and consolation, when things got rough. He was going there now to give, by fasting in honor of their feasts; but he knew he would be receiving from them as well.
He always had an exalted devotion to St. Michael. He felt that Michael should be honored because he had the office of presenting souls to God. He also said "Everyone should offer to God, to honor so great a prince (Michael), some praise or some special gift." He loved Mary reverently. As he loved Jesus, he could not do otherwise than love "the womb that bore Him." He sang to her, offered special prayers to her, shared his joys and sorrows with her. She was his very best friend, the Mother of his God. While he was honoring Michael during this time, he was also honoring Mary on the Feast of her Assumption into Heaven, August 15, and her birthday, September 8.
There was a crag on that mountain, a deep crevice which separated one part of that high place from the other. Tradition has it that at the very moment Our Dear Lord Jesus died, this mountain split in two, as the whole earth shook in protest over the demonic act of murdering our Savior. Francis loved to sit on that jagged rock, and meditate on the Passion of Jesus. The brothers brought him some bread and water from time to time, but for the most part, he was alone with his Lord and Savior.
According to the Divine Plan, another special Feast fell during the Lent of St. Michael. It took place on September 14, and was called The Exaltation of the Cross. Today, we celebrate it on the same day, but we call it the Triumph of the Cross. On that day, in 1224, the Lord gave Francis a distinctive gift, as reward for a lifetime of service. Might not our Lord also have been telling Francis that He affirmed all that Francis had done, that he had shepherded his flock the way Jesus wanted, but that all of it was dulled in comparison to what would happen this day? For on this day, Jesus gave His brother Francis, the gift of His wounds, His Stigmata.
Francis had been meditating deeply on the Passion of our Lord. He had asked his best Friend, Jesus, for two gifts. The first was that somehow, before he died, he might feel the wounds of Jesus in his own body and soul; and secondly, he might experience Jesus' love for those who inflicted the wounds on His Body, and killed Him. Francis went through a dark night of the soul. His mind kept interfering with his spirit. He thought of what he had given up, his Fraternity, his Rule. He tried desperately to put these things in the back of his consciousness, and just zero in on the pains of His Redeemer. His humanity fought him all through the night, but with the dawn, a stillness, a heavy blanket of peace came over the mountain. Everything was quiet; not a sound from any of the creatures. It was as if they knew what was to come, and were preparing themselves for the entrance of a Heavenly Being.
Light began to emerge from the darkness. Francis thought it was Brother Sun greeting him. But the light was too intense, much stronger than the sun. The curtain separating Heaven from earth split open. A figure came forth, slowly, and carried the brilliant light with it. Francis couldn't look at it; the light was too strong. Then the Lord allowed Francis' eyes to open. Before him, suspended in the air, was a huge Angel enveloped in a Cross, which appeared to be made of fire, he was so bright; but there were no flames coming from him. He had six wings, two extended over his head, two extended as if for flight, and two covering his body. (Celano First Life no. 94) The angel was nailed to the Cross; the wounds of Jesus flared up, and shivered against the light. They were of a deep crimson, sprinkled with gold.
Francis receives the Stigmata
Francis stood up joyfully, to greet the Seraph. (Seraph is the name of the Angels of the Angelic choir of Seraphim, which is one of the choirs who adore before God. The word comes from the Hebrew "fiery" - Is 6: 1-4). At that moment, beams of heated illumination shot out from the Cross, and penetrated Francis' body, hands, feet and side. He fell from the force of the thrust; his body experienced devastating pain, mixed with inconceivable joy. His blood raced throughout his body; he was sure he would die, but it was all right. Then the sensation calmed down to a constant throb of joy and pain. He looked up at the Heavenly creature. The eyes of the Angel were studying Francis. The stare was compelling. There was at once fear and bliss, mixed together. He didn't know what was happening to him. The eyes of the Angel were the most beautiful he had ever seen. He could not look away from them.
The Heavenly vision spoke gently to Francis' heart. He told him things he had to hear, which were for him alone; he would not in his lifetime, reveal them to anyone. He stayed with Francis for the better part of an hour. This is according to the testimony of the farmers, and mule keepers at the foot of the mountain. They mistook the brilliant light for the sun coming up, and began their day. Then, when it disappeared, and the natural sun came out, it was colorless by comparison. They became confused.
After a time, the Angel began to fade. The flames remained bright, outlining the Cross and then flickered like embers, after which they died. Francis kept looking at the image before him. The last thing he saw was the Cross.
Many insights were revealed to Francis on top of Mount Alverna on that September 14, Feast of the Triumph of the Cross. His whole life was put into perspective. He finally understood his journey, and while his humanity would tend to kick in over the next two years, he could always fall back on this time, and the revelations he received through this Miracle of the Cross, and a peace would come over him.
The story of Francis' yes to the Lord on that day, and his ongoing yes, fills history books. He began the largest religious order in the world. But as always, in times of crisis, Our Lord raises up Saints and Other Powerful Men in the Church, Our Lord raised up in the Thirteenth Century Saints Francis and Dominic for the salvation of the Church of the Middle Ages. (For more on St. Francis, read Bob and Penny Lord's book: Saints and Other Powerful Men and Women in the Church.)
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