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CHAPTER LIV


HOW A HOLY FRIAR, HAVING READ IN THE LEGEND OF ST FRANCIS OF THE SECRET WORDS SPOKEN TO HIM BY THE SERAPH, PRAYED SO EARNESTLY TO GOD THAT  ST FRANCIS REVEALED THEM TO HIM


It happened as a devout and holy friar was reading in the legend of St Francis the chapter concerning the sacred, holy stigmata, that he began in great anxiety of mind to ponder what those most secret words could be, spoken by the seraph to St Francis, which he would never reveal to any one in his life-time. And he said thus to himself: “St Francis would never tell these words to any one while he was alive; but now since his corporal death he would perhaps reveal them, were he devoutly besought to do so.” And from that day forth the fervent friar betook himself to prayer, beseeching God and St Francis to reveal these words to him; and after persevering for eight years in this prayer, it was at last granted in the following manner: One day after dinner as he was making his thanksgiving in the church, and remained there praying to this end with greater devotion than usual, and with many tears, he was presently summoned by another friar, by order of the Father Guardian, to go with him to the city on the business of the convent. Not doubting, therefore, that obedience is more meritorious than prayer, he no sooner heard the command of his Superior than he left the church, and went humbly with the brother who called him. And this act of obedience was so pleasing to God, that by it he merited what he had not obtained by all his long years of prayer; for as soon as they had passed through the gate, they met two stranger friars, who seemed as if they had come from a far land, one of whom appeared young, and the other lean and old; and by reason of the bad weather they were both wet and muddy. On which the obedient friar spoke thus to his companion: “Oh, dearest Brother, if the business on which we are going may brook some little delay, seeing that these stranger brethren have great need of a charitable reception, I pray thee let me first go and wash their feet, - and specially those of this ancient brother, and thou mayst wash the feet of the younger, - and then we will go upon the business of the convent.” Then the other friar yielding to the charity of his companion, they returned to the house, and most charitably received those stranger brethren, bringing them into the kitchen to warm and dry themselves at the fire, at which eight other brethren of the place were already warming themselves. And after they had been awhile at the fire, they took them aside to wash their feet, as they had agreed together to do. Now as the obedient brother was washing the feet of the ancient friar, he beheld on them the marks of the sacred, holy stigmata, and immediately embracing them in joy and wonder, he began to cry: “Either thou art Christ, or thou art St Francis!” At that cry, and at these words, the brethren who were at the fire rose up, and drawing near, beheld with great fear and reverence those glorious stigmata. Then the ancient friar suffered them at their earnest desire to behold them clearly, and also to touch and kiss them. And as they wondered more and more, and scarce believed for joy, he said to them: “Doubt not and fear not, beloved brethren and children; I am your father, Brother Francis, who by the will of God founded three Orders. And inasmuch as this brother, who but now has washed my feet, has been beseeching me these eight years past, and to-day more fervently than ever, to reveal to him the secret words spoken to me by the seraph when he gave me the stigmata, which words I would never reveal during my lifetime, now by the command of God, for his perseverance and for his prompt obedience by which he left the sweetness of contemplation, I am sent to reveal to him, before you, that which he has asked to know.”

Then St Francis, turning to the friar, said thus: “Know, dearest brother, that when I was on Mount Alvernia, wholly absorbed in the remembrance of the Passion of Christ, in that seraphical apparition I was thus stigmatised by Christ in my body, and then he spoke to me thus: ‘Knowest thou what I have done to thee? I have given thee the signs of my Passion that thou mayest be my standard-bearer. And as on the day of my death I descended into Limbo, and by virtue of my stigmata drew forth and took with me to Paradise all the souls whom I found there, so do I now grant to thee, in order that thou mayest be conformed to me in death as thou hast been in life, that when thou shalt have passed out of this life, thou shalt descend into Purgatory every year on the anniversary of thy death, and by the virtue of thy stigmata which I have given thee shalt deliver thence and take with thee to Paradise all the souls which thou shalt find there of thy three Orders - Minors, Sisters, and Penitents, - with all others soever who shall have been devout to thee.’ And these words I never told to any one while I was in life.” Having said these words, St Francis and his companion immediately disappeared. Many brethren heard this related by the eight friars who witnessed the vision, and heard the words of St Francis.



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