Reflection by: Anan and Jerel  

Chronicles of a pilgrim – Day 9 – Assisi/La Verna 

#sequelachristi2023

Today, we started the day early and left Assisi for La Verna, travelling up the towering mountain over 1200 metres in height. La Verna, also known as Mount Alvernia, is undoubtedly one of the most sacred places within the Franciscan tradition. It is the site where St. Francis received the stigmata – the wounds of Christ. Just as Greccio is considered the Franciscan ‘Bethlehem’, La Verna is the Franciscan ‘Calvary’. St. Francis visited the sacred mountain 2 years before his death in 1224, suffering from stomach issues and blindness. Before receiving the stigmata, St. Francis spent time absorbed in prayer as a hermit.

“For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” – 1 Cor 2:1

Quiet and serene, the views of the surrounding mountains were breathtaking. With background knowledge of this place, we visited it in anticipation and desired to see the exact spot where St. Francis received the Stigmata. Before that though, St. Francis asked for two graces while in prayer. He prayed: “O Lord Jesus Christ, before I die I ask you for two graces; first, that in my lifetime I may feel, as far as possible, both in my soul and body, that pain which you, sweet Lord, endured in the hour of your most bitter Passion; second, that I may feel in my heart as far as possible that excess of love which moved you, O Son of God, to suffer so cruel a Passion for us sinners.”

In essence, the first grace was to know the pain Christ felt during the Passion, and the second was to know the love which made Christ take on his Passion. St. Francis’s prayers changed from becoming self-centered to focusing on God.

It was a unique experience to participate in the daily 3 pm procession. The church filled with angelic voices as the franciscan friars sang together. During mass, my mind was filled with many anxieties and worries, and I often feel as though I am unworthy to participate in Holy Communion. However, the gift of the Eucharist reassured me of God’s love and mercy, and I allowed myself to fall into the arms of God, trusting fully in His mercy and goodness.

Thus, the life of St. Francis reminded us that true love and suffering go hand-in-hand with each other. The silence of the monastery reminded us that there is a need for prayer. For instance, there is a recurring pattern that big moments in St. Francis’s life are always accompanied by prayer, silence, and solitude. 

While St Francis received many graces from God, in profound human weakness, he underwent moments of loneliness, depression and suicidal contemplation. The story goes that St. Francis experienced a period of intense spiritual dryness, doubt, and inner turmoil. He felt abandoned by God and overwhelmed by a sense of despair, he was tempted to end his life. Legend has it that as St Francis leaned over the edge, mother nature caved in to protect him. This episode is seen as a pivotal moment in St. Francis’s spiritual journey, illustrating his perseverance through profound challenges and his ultimate reliance on his faith to overcome adversity. It also underscores the human struggles that even revered saints can face in their quest for spiritual fulfilment.