24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
13 Sep 2023

Reading I: Sir 27:30-28:7
Psalm: 103:1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12
Reading II: Rom 14:7-9
Gospel: Mt. 18:21-35


The Feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis of Assisi

We look at our canonized Saints from afar, place them on altars, and keep them tucked safely away in shrines and holy places where they cannot challenge and disturb us. I am reminded of this every time I visit the Franciscan shrines in Assisi, Rieti, and La Verna.

Mount La Verna is the place associated with St. Francis’s Stigmata. Daily, the friars process from the Church down to the chapel of the Stigmata. The Chapel marks the spot where according to Brother Leo, the Seraph comforted Francis and the nails of Christ began to form in his body. It is Francis’s Mount of Olives, where he sought consolation and guidance.

On the 14th of September 1224, the Universal Church celebrated the Triumph of the Cross, as it has done since 324 when St. Helena discovered the True Cross of Jesus at Mount Calvary. That year, a dejected Francis of Assisi – trying not to nourish anger against his brothers – chose to escape them and spend time in isolation and prayer. He took with him only Brother Leo. It was there on Mount La Verna, amid personal turmoil, prayer, and discernment, that Francis discovered the True Cross of Jesus in his own flesh.

Francis, Clare, and their fellow Christians never saw Christ crucified and suffering on the Cross. Like the San Damiano Cross, all crucifixes were meant to show how Jesus vanquished the cross and rose triumphant from death. The cross was and is the sign of the triumphant Risen Christ in whom we die and live. From the day he heard the command of the Risen Christ coming from the Crucifix of San Damiano in 1206, Francis did his best to “die for the Lord” and “live for the Lord;” to rebuild the Church. Christ sent him brothers and sisters to help with this endeavor.

Francis, Clare, and others began a movement that soon attracted people from all over Europe. Most of these people never met Francis or Clare. They came with their own ideas. This encouraged and disheartened Francis in a variety of ways. In 1220, factions in the Order convinced Francis of the need to give up control of the Order. Francis responded by writing a Rule of Life in 1221 that many of the friars rejected and the Roman Curia would not approve. Disheartened, he redacted yet another Rule, which in 1223 received Papal Approval. Almost immediately, the friars looked for ways around the Rule and Francis’s will. Br. Leo, Clare, and the early friars sought to encourage him.

In his conversation with Leo on “True Joy,” Francis never once talks about perfect joy. Rather, he lists the ways in which the friars triumph in ministry and recruitment. He also talks about how the friars insult him, calling him an ignorant simpleton and asking him to leave. They hurt and offend him.

Today’s Gospel invites us to be like God, who pardons all iniquities and heals all ills, by forgiving those who offend us “not seven times but seventy-seven times.” Between 1200 and 1224, Francis certainly reached seventy times seven times in forgiving those brothers who hurt him.

In this context ,a rejected Francis, invoked “the Father of mercies and God of every consolation,” to show him the way. Brother Leo claims that a crucified Seraph encouraged Francis, much like the angel appeared to encourage Jesus before his passion.

From that point on, the nails of Christ began to slowly form in Francis’ hands and feet. He who gave himself to the Crucified and Risen Lord of the San Damiano Crucifix showed in his flesh how he had learned to forgive those who offended him, in the same way Christ Jesus forgave the offenses of the entire world.

The nails of Christ penetrated Francis’s body so that he might “live for the Lord” and on the night of October 3, 1226 “die for the Lord” revealing the fully formed stigmata on his dead body.

Francis’ encounter with Jesus taught him that “God is kind and merciful, full of compassion and slow to anger.” He chose to imitate God, even though it was not always easy to forgive the brothers and sisters that hurt and wounded him.

What Francis learned about forgiveness led him to the Stigmata and the discovery of “True Joy.” My friend Felix, would ask ¿Y que? (So what?):  How are you challenged and disturbed by Francis’ stigmata? How have you shared in the nails of Christ? Whom have you had to forgive repeatedly? When has a Seraph comforted you? When have you been the Seraphic Angel, burning with love for God and neighbor? When and how have you brought “True Joy” to the wounded and stigmatized people of the world?


Gilberto Cavazos-González, OFM, SThD

John Duns Scotus Chair of Franciscan Spirituality