From The Little Flowers Of Saint Francis
Regarding the Third Consideration, that is, the apparitions of the Seraph and the imprinting of the Stigmata, you should know that when the Feast of the Cross in September was approaching, Brother Leo went one night at the usual time to say matins with Saint Francis.
And after he had called, “Domine, labia mea aperties,” from the end of the bridge, as he usually did and as he had been ordered to do by the saint, Saint Francis did not answer. Now Brother Leo did not go back, as Saint Francis had instructed him, but with a good and holy intention he went across the bridge and quietly entered the saint’s cell. By the bright moonlight shining in through the door, he saw that he was not in the cell. Not finding him, he thought that he might be praying outside somewhere in the woods. So he came out and silently walked among the trees looking for him by the light of the moon.
And at last he heard Saint Francis’s voice speaking, and he went closer to hear what he was saying. In the moonlight he saw Saint Francis on his knees, with his face lifted toward the sky and his hands held out to God, saying these words with fervor of spirit: “Who are you, my dearest God? And what am I, your vilest little worm and useless little servant?” And he repeated those words over and over, and he said nothing else.
Brother Leo marveled greatly at this, and he looked up and gazed at the sky. And while he was looking, he saw come down from the heights of Heaven a torch of flaming fire that was very beautiful and bright and pleasing to the eyes and that descended and rested on Saint Francis’s head. And he heard a voice come out of the flame and speak with Saint Francis, and the saint answered the speaker.
But seeing this and thinking himself unworthy to be so close to that holy spot where this marvelous apparition was taking place, and also fearing to offend Saint Francis or to disturb him in his contemplation of such holy secrets, in case the saint should hear him, he silently went back so that he could not hear what was said. And he stood at a distance, waiting to see the end.
And watching carefully, he saw Saint Francis hold his hand out to the flame three times. And finally, after a long time, he saw the flame return to Heaven.
So Brother Leo went away, feeling reassured and joyful, and began to return quietly to his cell, so that the saint should not hear him.
But as he was confidently leaving, Saint Francis heard the sound of his feet on some twigs and leaves, and he said: “Whoever you are, I command you, in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, to stay where you are. Don’t move from that spot!”
So Brother Leo obediently stood where he was and waited. And later he told his companions he was so terrified then that he would have preferred that the Earth should swallow him up than to wait for Saint Francis who, he thought, was angry with him. For Brother Leo took the greatest care not to offend his Father, so that through his fault Saint Francis should not deprive him of his companionship. In fact, he felt such faith and love for the saint that he did not care at all to live without him. And therefore whenever any friars were speaking about the saints, Brother Leo used to say: “My dear friends, all the saints are great, but Saint Francis is also among the great ones because of the miracles which God performs through him.” And he used to speak more willingly about him than about the others. So it is no wonder that he was terrified at his voice.
When Saint Francis came up to him, he asked: “Who are you?”
Brother Leo replied, trembling: “I am Brother Leo, Father.”
And recognizing him, Saint Francis said to him: “Why did you come here, Little Brother Lamb? Did I not tell you many times not to go around watching me? Tell me under holy obedience whether you saw or heard anything?”
Brother Leo answered: “Father, I heard you talking and praying and saying often with great wonder, ‘Who are you, my dearest God? And what am I, your vilest little worm and useless little servant?’ And then I saw a flame of fire come down from Heaven and speak with you, and you replied several times and held out your hand to it three times, but I don’t know what you said.”
Then Brother Leo knelt down before Saint Francis and confessed the sin of disobedience which he had committed against his order, and with many tears he begged Saint Francis to forgive him.
Then he asked very reverently: “Father, please explain to me the words I heard and also tell me those I did not hear.”
Now Saint Francis loved Brother Leo very much on account of his purity and meekness, and seeing that God had revealed to him or allowed the humble brother to see some things, Saint Francis consented to disclose and explain to him what he was asking.
And he said to him: “Little Brother Lamb of Jesus Christ, in those things which you saw and heard when I said those words, two lights were shown to my soul: one of the knowledge and understanding of the Creator, and the other of the knowledge of myself. When I said, ‘Who are you, my dearest God?’ then I was in a light of contemplation in which I saw the depths of the infinite goodness and wisdom and power of God. And when I said, ‘What am I?’ I was in a light of contemplation in which I saw the grievous depths of my vileness and misery, and therefore I said, ‘Who are you, the Lord of infinite wisdom and good and mercy, that you deign to visit me, a most vile and abominable and contemptible worm?’ And God was in that flame which you saw, and he spoke to me under the form of that flame, as he had formerly spoken to Moses.
“And among other things which he said to me then, he asked me to give him three gifts. And I replied: ‘My Lord, I am entirely yours. You know that I have nothing but a habit and cord and breeches, and those three things are likewise yours. So what can I offer or give to your majesty? For Heaven and Earth, fire and water, and everything in them are yours, Lord. Who indeed has anything that is not yours? Therefore when we offer you anything, we give you back what is yours. So what can I offer to you, the Lord God, King of Heaven and Earth and all creation? For what do I have that is not yours?’
“Then God said to me: ‘Put your hand in your bosom and offer me whatever you find there.’ I searched and I found there a coin of gold that was so large and bright and beautiful that I had never seen one like it in this world, and then I offered it to God.
“God said to me again: ‘Make me another offering as before.’
“But I said to God: ‘Lord, I do not have and do not love and do not want anything but you, and for love of you I have despised gold and all things. So if anything more is found in my breast, you put it there, and I give it back to you, the ruler of all things.’
“And I did this three times. And after making the third offering, I knelt down and blessed and thanked God, who had given me something to offer. And I was immediately made to understand that those three offerings symbolized the holy golden obedience, the very great poverty, and the very radiant chastity which by his grace God has granted me to observe so perfectly that my conscience reproaches me nothing.
“And just as I put my hand in my bosom and offered and gave those three coins back to God who had placed them there himself, so God infused into my soul the power always to praise and magnify him with my voice and heart for all the good things and all the graces which he has granted to me through his very holy goodness.
“So those are the words which you heard when you saw me raise and hold out my hand three times. But be careful, Little Brother Lamb, not to go watching me anymore. Now return to your cell with the blessing of God. And take good care of me. For in a few days God will do such astounding and wonderful things on this mountain that the whole world will marvel at them. For he will do something new which he has never done to any other creature in this world.”
And after saying those words, he had the Book of the Gospels brought to him, for God had placed in his mind the idea that what God wanted to do with him would be shown to him in opening the Book of the Gospels three times. So when the book was brought, Saint Francis gave himself to prayer. And when he had finished praying, he had Brother Leo open the Book of the Gospels three times in the name of the Holy Trinity. And it pleased Divine Providence that in those three openings the Passion of Christ always appeared before him. Thereby he was given to understand that as he had followed Christ in the acts of his life, so he had to follow him and be conformed to him in the afflictions and sufferings of the Passion before he left this world.
And from that time, Saint Francis began to taste and feel more abundantly the sweetness of divine contemplation and divine visitations.
Among others he had one which immediately preceded and prepared him for the imprinting of the Stigmata, in this way. The day before the Feast of the Cross in September, while Saint Francis was praying secretly in his cell, an angel appeared to him and said on God’s behalf: “I encourage you and urge you to prepare and dispose yourself humbly to receive with all patience what God wills to do in you.”
Saint Francis answered: “I am prepared to endure patiently whatever my Lord wants to do to me.”
And after he said this, the angel departed.
The next day came, that is, the Feast of the Cross. And Saint Francis, sometime before dawn, began to pray outside the entrance of his cell, turning his face toward the east. And he prayed in this way: “My Lord Jesus Christ, I pray you to grant me two graces before I die: the first is that during my life I may 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. The second is that I may 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.”
And remaining for a long time in that prayer, he understood that God would grant it to him, and that it would soon be conceded to him to feel those things as much as is possible for a mere creature.
Having received this promise, Saint Francis began to contemplate with intense devotion the Passion of Christ and his infinite charity. And the fervor of his devotion increased so much within him that he utterly transformed himself into Jesus through love and compassion. And while he was thus inflaming himself in this contemplation, on that same morning he saw coming down from Heaven a Seraph with six resplendent and flaming wings. As the Seraph, flying swiftly, came closer to Saint Francis, so that he could perceive him clearly, he noticed that he had the likeness of a crucified man, and his wings were so disposed that two wings extended above his head, two were spread out to fly, and the other two covered his enter body.
On seeing this, Saint Francis was very much afraid, and at the same time he was filled with joy and grief and amazement. He felt intense joy from the friendly look of Christ, who appeared to him in a very familiar way and gazed at him very kindly. But on the other hand, seeing him nailed to the cross, he felt boundless grief and compassion. Next, he was greatly amazed at such an astounding and extraordinary vision, for he knew well that the affliction of suffering is not in accord with the immortality of the angelic Seraph. And while he was marveling thus, he who was appearing to him revealed to him that this vision was shown to him by Divine Providence in this particular form in order that he should understand that he was to be utterly transformed into the direct likeness of Christ Crucified, not by physical martyrdom, but by enkindling of the mind. During this marvelous apparition, all of Mount Alverna seemed to be on fire with very bright flames, which shone in the night and illumined the various surrounding mountains and valleys more clearly than if the sun were shining over the Earth.
The shepherds who were guarding their flocks in that area witnessed this. And they were gripped by intense fear when they saw the mountain aflame and so much light around it, as they later told the friars, declaring that the fiery light remained above Mount Alverna for an hour or more.
Likewise, because of the brightness of that light, which shone through the windows of the inns in the district, some muleteers who were going to Romagna got up, thinking that the sun had risen, and they saddled and loaded their animals. And while they were on their way, they saw that light cease and the real sun rise.
Now why those holy Stigmata were imprinted on Saint Francis is not yet entirely clear. But as he himself told his companions, this great mystery is reserved for the future.
Brother Leo told this account to Brother James of Massa, and Brother James of Massa told it to Brother Ugolino di Monte Santa Maria, and Brother Ugolino, a good and trustworthy man, told it to me who am writing.
During that seraphic apparition Christ, who appeared to Saint Francis, spoke to him certain secret and profound things which the saint was never willing to reveal to anyone while he was alive, but after his death he revealed them, as is recorded further on. And these were the words: “Do you know what I have done?” said Christ. “I have given you the Stigmata which are the emblems of my Passion, so that you may be my standard-bearer. And as I descended into limbo on the day when I died and took from there by virtue of these Stigmata of mine all the souls that I found there, so I grant to you that every year on the day of your death you may go to Purgatory and by virtue of your Stigmata you may take from there and lead to Paradise all the souls of your three orders, that is, the Friars Minor, the Sisters, and the Continent, and also others who have been very devoted to you, whom you may find there, so that you may be conformed to me in death as you are in life.”
Now when, after a long time and a secret conversation, this wonderful vision disappeared, it left a most intense ardor and flame of divine love in the heart of Saint Francis, and it left a marvelous image and imprint of the Passion of Christ in his flesh. For soon there began to appear in the hands and feet of Saint Francis the marks of nails such as he had just seen in the body of Jesus Crucified, who had appeared to him in the form of a Seraph. For his hands and feet seemed to be pierced through the center with nails, the heads of which were in the palms of his hands and in the upper part of his feet outside the flesh, and their points extended through the back of the hands and the soles of the feet so far that they seemed to be bent and beaten back in such a way that underneath their bent and beaten-back point – all of which stood out from the flesh – it would have been easy to put the finger of one’s hand as through a ring. And the heads of the nails were round and black. Likewise in his right side appeared the wound of a blow from a spear, which was open, red, and bloody, and from which blood often issued from the holy breast of Saint Francis and stained his habit and breeches.
Consequently his companions, before they knew it from him, nevertheless noticed that he did not uncover his hands or feet and that he could not put the soles of his feet on the ground. Later, finding that his habit and breeches were bloody when they washed them for him, they felt sure that he had the image and likeness of Christ Crucified clearly imprinted in his hands and in his feet and likewise in his side.
And although he tried hard to hide and conceal from them those glorious Stigmata, which had thus been clearly imprinted in his flesh, on the other hand he saw that he could scarcely hide them from his intimate companions. Nevertheless he feared to make public the secrets of God. So he was in an agony of doubt as to whether or not he should reveal the vision of the Seraph and the imprinting of the Stigmata.
Finally, urged on by his conscience, he called to himself some of his more intimate companions, and speaking in general terms, he explained his doubt to them without describing what had happened. And he asked for their advice.
Among those friars there was one called Illuminato who was very holy, and he was truly illumined by the grace of God. Realizing that Saint Francis must have seen something marvelous, because he seemed almost stunned, he answered this way: “Brother Francis, you must know that God sometimes shows you his divine mysteries not only for yourself but also for the sake of others. So it would seem that you should rightly be afraid of being judged guilty of hiding your talent if you keep hidden something which God has shown you for the future good of many other persons.”
Then Saint Francis, being moved by these words – although at other times he used to say, “My secret to me” – with very great awe described the above-mentioned vision in detail, adding that Christ, who appeared to him, had said to him certain things which he would never tell anyone while he lived.
Now although those very holy wounds, inasmuch as they were imprinted on him by Christ, gave him very great joy in his heart, nevertheless they gave unbearable pain to his flesh and physical senses.
Consequently, being forced by necessity, he chose Brother Leo, who was simpler and purer than the others. And he revealed everything to him, and he let him see and touch those holy wounds. And Saint Francis entrusted his wounds only him to be touched and rebound with new bandages between those marvelous nails and the remaining flesh, to relieve the pain and absorb the blood which issued and flowed from the wounds. When he was ill, he let the bandages be changed often, even every day in the week, except from Thursday evening all through Friday until Saturday morning, because he did not want the pain of the Passion of Christ, which he bore in his body, to be eased at all by any man-made remedy or medicine during the time when our Savior Jesus Christ had for us been arrested and crucified, and died and been buried. For the love for Christ, on that day of the Crucifixion he wished to hang, truly crucified, with Christ in the sufferings of the cross.
Sometimes it happened that when Brother Leo was changing the bandage of the wound in the side, Saint Francis, because of the pain which he felt from the loosening of the bloody bandage, would put his hand on Brother Leo’s chest over his heart. And from the contact of those holy hands on which were imprinted the venerable Stigmata, Brother Leo would feel such sweetness of devotion in his heart that he nearly fainted and fell to the ground. He would begin to sob and be rapt in a life-giving trance.
Lastly, regarding this Third Consideration, when Saint Francis had finished the fast of Saint Michael the Archangel, by divine revelation he made ready to return to Saint Mary of the Angels. So he called Brother Masseo and Brother Angelo, and after many holy words and instructions, he commended to them as strongly as he could that holy mountain, saying that he had to go back to Saint Mary of the Angels with Brother Leo. And after this, he said good-bye to them and blessed them in the name of Jesus Crucified. And granting their request, he held out to them his very holy hands adorned with those glorious Stigmata, to see and touch and kiss. And leaving them thus consoled, he departed and went down the holy mountain.
To the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.