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OF THE SECOND CONSIDERATION OF THE SACRED, HOLY STIGMATA
The second consideration is of the conversation of St Francis and his companions upon Mount Alvernia. Be it known, then, that when Orlando heard that St Francis with three companions was come to dwell on Mount Alvernia, he was filled with exceeding joy, and on the morrow he came with many others from his castle to visit St Francis, bringing with him bread and wine, and other things necessary for him and his companions; and when he came thither, he found them in prayer, and drawing near he saluted them. Then St Francis arose, and with great joy and charity received Orlando and his company; and so they began to converse together. And after they had spoken together for some time, and St Francis had thanked him for the devout solitude which he had bestowed upon them and for his coming to visit them there, he prayed Orlando to cause a little cell to be made for him at the foot of a beautiful beach-tree, which was about a stone’s-throw from the place where they now were; and this Orlando immediately caused to be done. Then, because evening was drawing on, and it was now time for them to depart, St Francis preached to them for a little space; and when he had finished preaching, and had given them his blessing, Orlando called St Francis and his companions aside, and said to them: “My dearest brothers, never was it my intention that you should be exposed on this savage mountain to any corporal necessity, which might hinder you from attending perfectly to things spiritual; wherefore it is my desire - and I say it to you now once for all - that you send freely to my house for everything you want, and if you fail to do so I shall take is very ill at your hands.” And so saying, he departed with his company and returned to his castle.
Then St Francis caused his companions to sit down, and taught them the manner of life they were to keep, that they might live religiously in their solitude; and among other things, most earnestly did he enjoin on them the strict observance of holy poverty, saying: “Let not Orlando’s charitable offer cause you in any way to offend against our lady and mistress, holy poverty. Hold it for certain that, the more we keep aloof from her, the more will the world keep aloft from us, and the greater want shall we endure: but if we closely embrace holy poverty, the world will come after us, and will minister to us abundantly. God has called us into this holy religion for the salvation of the world, and has made this compact between the world and us - that we should give it good example, and that it should provide for our necessities. Let us, then, persevere in holy poverty; for it is the way to perfection, and the pledge of eternal riches.” And after many devout and holy words, he thus concluded: “This is the manner of life which I impose upon you and upon myself; and because I behold my death approaching, I purpose to remain in solitude to recollect myself in God, and to weep over my sins in his sight. Therefore, when it shall so please him, let Brother Leo bring me a little bread and water, and on no account suffer any secular to come near me; but do you answer for me to them.” And having thus said, he gave them his blessing, and went his way to his cell under the beach-tree; and his companions remained behind, full purposed to obey his commands.
Now a few days afterwards, as St Francis was considering the formation of the mountain, and marvelling at the great fissures and openings in the solid rock, it was revealed to him by God in prayer that these strange caverns had been made miraculously at the hour of the Passion of Christ, when, according to the Evangelist’s words, the rocks were rent; and this was by the will of God, who manifested himself thus wonderfully upon Mount Alvernia, because there the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ was to be renewed in the soul of his servant by love and compassion, and in his body by the impression of the sacred, holy stigmata.
When St Francis had received this revelation, he forthwith shut himself up in his cell, and, in great recollection of soul, prepared himself for the mystery which was to be revealed to him; and from that time forth he began to taste more frequently the sweetness of divine contemplation, by which he was sometimes so absorbed in God, that he was seen by his companions to be raised corporally above the ground, and rapt in prayer; and in these raptures were revealed to St Francis not only things present and future, but even the secret thoughts and desires of the brethren, as was experienced by Brother Leo, his companion in those days.
For this same Brother Leo, being beset by a most grievous spiritual temptation, felt a great longing to have some devout thing written by the hand of St Francis, feeling assured that, if he had it, the temptation would leave him, either wholly or in part. But, either out of shame or reverence, he dared not speak of his desire to St Francis, to whom nevertheless it was revealed by the Holy Ghost; whereupon he called the brother to him, and bade him bring him wherewithal to write, and with his own hand he wrote a verse in honour of Christ, drawing at the foot thereof the sign of a cross Tau: and according to Brother Leo’s desire, he gave it to him, saying, “Take this writing, dearest brother, and keep it most diligently till the day of thy death. May God bless thee, and guard thee from all temptation! But if temptation come unto thee, be not afraid, for I hold thee to be more truly the servant of God, and more worthy of love the harder thou art oppressed by temptation. And I tell thee in all sincerity, that no man should account himself to be a perfect friend of God until he has passed through manifold temptations and tribulations.
Now when Brother Leo had received this writing with great faith and devotion, at once all the temptation departed from him; and returning to his companions, he told them with great joy of the grace which he had received from God through that writing of St Francis; and the brethren laid it up and kept it diligently, and by it they were enabled to work many miracles.
And from that day forward Brother Leo set himself with a good and pure intention to scrutinise and attentively consider the life of St Francis; and in reward of his purity he was permitted many times to behold him rapt in God and suspended above the earth, sometimes at the heights of three feet above the ground, sometimes four, sometimes raised as high as the top of the beach-trees, and sometimes exalted so high in the air, and surrounded with so dazzling a glory, that he could scarce endure to look upon him.
And what did this simple friar when St Francis, in his raptures, was thus raised above his reach? He would go softly behind him, and, with tears, embrace and kiss his feet, saying: “My God, have mercy upon me, a sinner, and by the merits of this holy man let me find grace in thy sight.” And once when he was standing beneath the feet of St Francis, who was raised so high that he could not touch him, he saw a scroll descend from heaven and rest upon his head, whereon were these words, written in letters of gold: Here abideth the grace of God! And when he had read the scroll, he saw it return again to heaven.
By the gift of the grace of God which dwelt in him, St Francis was not only absorbed in God by ecstatic contemplation, but was comforted often by angelical visitations. One day when he was meditating upon his death, and upon what might hereafter befall his Order, he said: “O Lord God, when I am dead, what will become of this thy poor family, which in thy goodness thou hast committed to me, a sinner? Who will comfort, who will correct, who will pray to thee for it?”
Then did an angel of God appear to him, and comfort him with these words: “I declare to thee, on behalf of God, that thine Order shall never fail until the day of judgment; and no sinner, be he ever so great, who shall bear a hearty love to this thine Order, but shall find mercy with God; and no man shall live long who shall maliciously persecute it. Nor shall any evil-doer, who shall refuse to amend his life, long persevere in thine Order. And be not thou troubled if thou perceive some brethren who are not good, and observe not the rule as they ought to do, and fear not lest on that account this religion will fail; for there shall always be many and many a one who will observe with great perfection the life of Christ’s Gospel, and the purity of the rule; and all these, after their bodily life is ended, shall enter into life eternal, without passing through Purgatory. Others will observe it, but not perfectly; and these, before they reach Paradise, shall remain for a while in Purgatory; but the time of their purification God will commit unto thee, ‘But of those who in no way observe the rule, take thou no care,’ saith the Lord; for neither doth he care for them.” And when the angel had said these words, he departed, leaving St Francis greatly strengthened and consoled.
And now the Feast of our Lady’s Assumption drew near, and St Francis sought for a more secret and solitary place in which he might spend alone the Lent of St Michael the Archangel, which begins on the Feast of the Assumption. Wherefore he called Brother Leo, and said thus to him: “Go and stand at the door of the brethren’s oratory, and when I shall call thee, turn to me.” And Brother Leo went and stood at the door, and St Francis went away a space, and called aloud, and Brother Leo heard and turned towards him. Then St Francis said: “My sons, let us seek for some more secret place, where thou wilt not hear me when I call thus to thee.” And when they had searched the mount, they found a place on the northern side most secret and well fitted for the purpose, but they could not reach it because of a frightful chasm in the rock; across this chasm they cast a tree to serve for a bridge, and so passed over. Then St Francis sent for the other friars, and told them that he purposed to spend the Lent of St Michael in that solitary place, and prayed them, therefore, to make for him a little cell, so that, though he could cry aloud, he might not be heard by them. And when the cell was made, he said to them: “Return now to your place, and leave me here, without any disturbance or perturbation of mind; therefore let none of you come unto me, nor suffer any secular person to come near the cell. But thou only, Brother Leo, once a day shalt come to me with a little bread and water, and once a night at the hour of Matins, and thou shalt come in silence; and when thou art upon the bridge thou shalt say, Domine labia mea aperies; and if I answer thee, thou shalt come to the cell, and we will say Matins together; and if I do not answer thee, thou shalt depart forthwith.” And this St Francs said because he was sometimes so absorbed in God that he heard nothing, nor felt anything by his bodily senses. And having thus spoken, he gave them his blessing, and they returned to their place.
Thus, on the Feast of the Assumption, St Francis began the holy Lent, with great abstinence and austerity, maserating his body and invigorating his soul by fervent prayers, vigils, and disciplines; and thus increasing more and more, and going from virtue to virtue, he prepared his soul to receive divine mysteries and illuminations, and his body to sustain the cruel conflicts with the demons, who often attacked him sensibly. And among other times it befell one day to this Lent that St Francis, going forth from his cell in great fervour of spirit, went to pray in a cave hollowed out of a rock at the top of a steep and frightful precipice, when the devil suddenly appeared before him in a terrible form, and sought to hurl him to the bottom. St Francis, being unable to fly or to endure the horrible aspect of the devil, turned his face, hands,, and whole body towards the rock, and recommended himself to God, groping with his hands, yet finding nothing to which he might cling. But, as it pleased God, who never suffers his servants to be tempted beyond what they are able to bear, the rock suddenly opened and received his body within it; and, as if he had placed his hands and face in liquid wax, the form of the hands and face of St Francis remained impressed upon the stone; and thus, by the help of God, he escaped out of the hands of the devil. But the injury which the devil could not then do to St Francis by casting him down the precipice, he inflicted long after his death upon one of his beloved and devoted brethren, who was standing in the same spot preparing some planks of wood for the safe passage of those who should come to the place out of devotion to St Francis and the miracle which had been wrought there. For one day, when he had a heavy piece of wood on his shoulder, the devil cast him down thus laden to the bottom of the rock. But God, who had preserved St Francis from falling, by his merits delivered the devout friar from all injury in his fall; for as he fell, with a loud voice and great devotion he recommended himself to St Francis, who immediately appeared to him, and taking him in his arms, set him down at the bottom of the rock without suffering any injury whatsoever. The brethren, who had heard his cry when he fell, believing that he was assuredly dead, and that he had been dashed to pieces by his fall from so great a height upon those pointed rocks, taking a bier went round the mountain by another way, with great weeping and lamentation, to collect his mangled remains and give them burial. Having, then, descended the mountain, behold, the brother who had fallen met them with the wood on his shoulder with which he fell, singing the Te Deum with a loud voice. And the brethren marvelling greatly thereat, he related to them in order the manner of his fall, and how St Francis had delivered him from all danger. Then all the brethren came with him to the place, devoutly chanting the Te Deum, and praising and thanking God and St Francis for the miracle that had been wrought in their brother.
St Francis, then, passing this Lent, as has been said, in the midst of these conflicts with the devil, received many consolations from God, not only by angelic visitations, but through the ministry of the wild mountain birds. For, through all that Lent, a falcon, whose nest was hard by his cell, awakened him every night a little before the hour of Matins by her cry and the flapping of her wings, and would not leave him till he had risen to say Matins; and if at any time St Francis was more sick than usual, or weak, or weary, this falcon, like a discreet and charitable Christian, would call him somewhat later than was her wont. Now St Francis took great delight in this clock of his, because the great carefulness of the falcon drove away all sloth and summoned him to prayer; and moreover during the daytime she would often abide familiarly with him.
To conclude this second consideration, St Francis, being much weakened in body both by his great abstinence and by his conflicts with the devil, and desiring to strengthen his body by the spiritual food of the soul, began to meditate upon the unbounded joy and glory of the blessed heaven; and he besought of God to grant him some little foretaste of their bliss. Now while this thought was in his mind, suddenly an angel appeared to him in surpassing glory, having a viol in his left hand and a bow in his right. And St Francis stood in amazement at the sight, the angel drew the bow once across the strings of the viol, when the soul of St Francis was instantly so ravished by the sweetness of the melody, that all his bodily senses were suspended, and he believed, as he afterwards told his companions, that, if the strain had been continued, the intolerable sweetness would have drawn his soul from his body. And so much for the second consideration.
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