Thursday, September 17, 2009

Letter #28, from America, Signs

insidethevatican - Sep 17, 2009


A reflection on a morning prayer

By Robert Moynihan, reporting from America

This September morning dawned cool in the friary in Yonkers.

I wrote last time about evening prayer. But there is also morning prayer. (I write in the dining room of the friary, photo below).

Morning prayer today in this Franciscan friary was devoted to two things worthy of note (this is, after all, a "good news" flash):

(1) today, for Franciscans, is the Feast of the Stigmata of Our Holy Father Francis; and

(2) today, for the Universal Church, is the Feast of St. Robert Bellarmine, who died in 1621.

Since my name is Robert, today is therefore also my name day.

In Italy, the name day -- the day of the saint whose name one bears, called the "onomastico" -- is celebrated like a birthday... because it is, in a sense, a birthday.

We are born into the world, nameless, and the day we are born is the day of our physical birth.

Then we are named, and the day of our naming (or rather, the day of the Feast of the one we are named for) is the "birthday" of our identity.

So if anyone would like to send me "name day" greetings, I would be happy to receive them! And a blessed name day to all of you named Robert...


Today is the anniversary of that September day in 1224, 785 years ago, on Mount Alverna in central Italy, when St. Francis received the stigmata.

He was the first known case of this phenomena occurring.

Since Francis, it has occurred many times, most notably, perhaps, in the case of Padre Pio, who died in 1968.

In the friary chapel this morning, in front of the altar, there is a picture of Christ appearing in front of St. Francis, his arms outstretched. (photo left)

In this and other images of this type, one sees and senses that some kind of spiritual power is imprinting, almost like a photocopy, the nature of Christ upon the nature of the little Italian man who followed Christ 800 years ago.

And in some drawings, there are lines which are traced from Christ's hand to Francis's hand, from Christ's feet to Francis's feet, from Christ's side to Francis's side.

What is happening?

The artists are showing that the wounds of Christ are being transferred from Christ to Francis, mystically, and in reality.

St. Bonaventure -- whose thought was so influential also on the young Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI -- explains the stigmata this way (the words are posted on a sheet of paper just outside the chapel this morning, where I read them; photo below):

"In these latter times," Bonaventure wrote in the mid-1200s, "the Lord has bestowed the signs of goodness and mercy on St. Francis to enkindle love, and what are the signs of consummate love except the marks of the passion which God chose to endure for us out of measureless love?

"Hugh of St. Victor tells us: 'Such is the power of love, that it transforms the lover into the Beloved.'

Bonaventure concludes: "Love of the Crucified Lord was supremely and gloriously aflame in his heart, and so the Crucified Himself, in the form of the Seraph, an angelic spirit burning with the fire of love, appeared before his saintly eyes and imprinted the sacred stigmata on his body."

There is not time here to go into all aspects of the stigmata, and how they have been received and interpreted over the centuries.

But I would like to suggest one important thing: for St. Bonaventure, the stigmata of St. Francis were more than a personal, mystical phenomenon.

They were an "apocalyptic" ("apocalyptic" in the sense of "revelatory") sign with significance for world history.

For St. Bonaventure saw in Francis, marked with Christ's wounds on his own physical body, as the sign that a new age on salvation history was beginning.

Bonaventure interpreted Francis as "the angel of the sixth seal" mentioned in the Book of Revelation, the one "sealed with the seal of the Living God," that is, with the wounds of Christ.


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