As I sat in one of the wooden choir stalls of the chapel where St. Francis received the stigmata on, the sacred wounds of the poor and crucified Christ, I closed my eyes and settled into the silence. Meditating on the way of the cross, these numbers came to mind: 4, 5, 6, 8. Often I would share these numbers with young friars, telling them that if they want to live religious life well, they could use this passcode, to unlock a way of better following Jesus, through His passion and death to the glory of His resurrection.
The numbers correspond to the stations of the cross between the moments when Jesus walks, falls, and walks again. Why did Jesus get up each time he fell and from where did he find the strength to continue walking up the street? The answers to these questions rest in the love of His Mother Mary, the kindness of Simon of Cyrene, the tenderness of Veronica, and the tears of the women of Jerusalem: 4, 5, 6, 8. Where do we find the strenght to “keep on keeping on”? Often it is the love of a mother or a friend who is kind to us and willing to go the distance with us. Sometimes it is the tender word or gesture from a stranger who appears from nowhere, at just the right time. We also find great strength when people are vulnerable around us and show us compassion.
Bearing the sacred stigmata atop of Mount Alverna, Francis resolved to stand up and continue along his path of discipleship: 4, 5, 6, 8. He found the strength to keep walking through the love of both his Mother Lady Pica and Mary, Mother of the Church. Francis felt the weight of the cross lighten through the constant support and kindness of Brother Leo, who was ever at his side. There was also the tender care of Lady Jacoba de Settesoli, as well as the tear-filled prayers and attention of Clare and her sisters, which sustained the stigmatized Francis in the last years of his life.
For Franciscans, we often find ourselves on both the receiving and giving ends of grace. There are times when we feel the grace, and moments when we give grace to others who are walking their way of the cross: 4, 5, 6, 8. To be continued –
– friar Michael Lasky OFM Conv.