The feast day of the Stigmata of St. Francis is celebrated on September 17.
What is a stigmata? A stigmata is the spontaneous appearance of the wound marks of Jesus Christ on a person’s body. St. Francis is the first known saint to receive the stigmata.
St. Francis was born in 1181 in Assisi, Italy. His father was Pietro di Bernardone, a wealthy cloth salesman. Francis was indifferent to school. He enjoyed good times with his friends. He was attracted to the military and was a prisoner of war for two years. After returning home he experienced a profound conversion after having a dream. Christ appeared and spoke to St. Francis in a vision in the chapel at San Damiano. He said
“Francis go out and build up My house, for it is nearly falling down.”
St. Francis took these words literally and began to repair the old chapel. St. Francis embraced poverty, founding the Order of St. Francis after living for a time as a hermit. He had a strong devotion to the cross and to the Eucharist. He served the poor and the sick, caring for the lepers who were suffering at that time.
On Sept. 14, 1224, St. Francis was just beginning the second month of a retreat in honor of St. Michael the Archangel. He was fasting for 40 days. Near the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, St. Francis experienced a vision in which a seraph with six wings appeared. The figure not had wings but also showed signs of being crucified. While contemplating the crucifixion of Christ, St. Francis experienced joy mingled with pain. The vision of Christ nailed to a cross touch his soul with compassion. The vision vanished but St. Francis was left with marks on his own body as if had been crucified. His hands and feet now had nail wounds. His right side had a wound as if it had been pierced and frequently it bled.
At first St. Francis tried to conceal the wounds which were real and painful. Eventually he revealed them publicly, saying;
“Nothing gives me so much consolation as to think of the life and passion of our Lord.”
While St. Francis of Assisi was the first saint to receive the stigmata, currently 62 Saints and Blesseds have been known to receive the stigmata. St. Catherine of Siena (1380) and Padre Pio (1918) are only two of the many who have received this grace.
The stigmata is a considered a supernatural sign that a person has united their suffering with that of Christ. The suffering of Christ during His Passion is called redemptive suffering. When we join our suffering to His (no matter how small our suffering is in comparison) we are participating in the Passion of Our Lord. Our suffering can be beneficial to the salvation of others. The sign of the stigmata shows us that our suffering has a purpose. It unites us to Our Lord Jesus Christ.
May I feel in my soul and in my body, as much as possible, that pain which You, dear Jesus, sustained in the hour of Your most bitter Passion. May I feel in my heart, as much as possible, that excessive love with which You, O Son of God, were inflamed in, willingly enduring such suffering for us sinners.
Quote of St. Francis of Assisi
September is the Month of Our Lady of Sorrows