The Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
Sacred Heart Convent
A few moments ago, we asked almighty God to give us, in his mercy, “what prayer does not dare to ask.” We know that God “wishes to give us more than forgiveness, more than our desires, more even than what we know to ask, or dare to ask.” But what does this mean? What is it that prayer does not dare to ask?
The answer to this question is, I think, hidden within the text from the Letter to the Hebrews: “For it was fitting that he, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the leader of their salvation perfect through suffering” (Hebrews 2:10). The Greek word translated for us as “leader” can also be translated as “pioneer” or “author.” This is why Mary Healy rightly says that “Jesus is not only the cause of our salvation but also the pioneer, the one who blazed before us the difficult trail from human fallenness to divine glory. We experience nothing on the path to salvation that he did not endure before us.” If Jesus is our pioneer along the via dolorosa, does it not follow that we who are called to follow him must also make our way along the way of the Cross if we hope to be perfected in him? How often do we dare to ask for this perfect unity with Christ Jesus?
Two days ago, Mother Church celebrated the great witness of her sons who was brought to glory through perfection in suffering: Saint Francis of Assisi. (You will forgive me, I hope, for speaking of a Franciscan in a Dominican convent with so many Dominica Saints before us; having studied with Franciscans, I know more about Saint Francis than I do about Saint Dominic.) It was he, of course, who received the sacred stigmata – the five holy wounds of the Savior – upon his body just two years before he entered into the joy of his Master (cf. Matthew 25:23). What is perhaps less well known about Saint Francis is that his reception of the stigmata followed two requests he asked of God.
Because “Jesus Christ crucified always rested like a bundle of myrrh in the bosom of Francis’ soul, and he longed to be totally transformed into him by the fire of ecstatic love,” he ascended Mount La Verna for a period of prayer (cf. Song of Songs 1:13). He was on Mount La Verna on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross when he said to God what few of us would ever dream of saying:
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.
With these two requests, the Seraphic Father asked to share completely in the Cross of Christ. Is this not what, for most of us, prayer does not dare to ask?
It was after he made this prayer that “he saw a man with six wings like a seraph whose hands were outstretched and whose feet were joined together, and who was nailed to the cross.” As Saint Francis contemplated this vision, Thomas of Celano tells us
|MS 18851 f. 469v|
…the blessed servant of the Most High was filled with admiration, but he was unable to understand the meaning of the vision. He was inflamed with joy by the loving sweetness of the Seraph’s glance, which was immeasurably beautiful, yet he was terrified by the consideration of the cross to which he was nailed and the bitterness of his passion. He got up feeling sad yet happy at the same time, if this is what we call it, and joy and sorrow were intermingled in him… He could not understand anything specific and was engrossed with the uniqueness of the vision, when the signs of the nails began to appear on his hands and feet, just like the ones on the man he had seen crucified above him just a short time before.
His hands and feet were pierced right through the middle by nails and the heads of these nails could be seen in the palms of his hands and on the upper part of his feet, whereas the ends came out on the opposite side…. Moreover, his right side looked as if it had been pierced by a lance and had a long scar that bled frequently…
If we happened to muster up the courage to ask to feel in our bodies and in our souls all that Jesus experienced on the Cross, would we welcome these signs of the Savior’s love? The early followers of Saint Francis looked upon them “pearls, like most precious gems” that made him “more wonderfully rich in honor and glory than any other man…” Even so, the Poverello kept the stigmata as secret as he could.
Dear Sisters, to be so closely conformed to Jesus Christ that we feel in both body and heart all that the Lord endured for us because of his love, is this not what prayer does not dare to ask? And yet, is this not precisely what you and I have been called to share? Is this not what we have promised to seek? Let us, then, not shy away from the Cross, but let us – with Saint Francis – seek to embrace it and so be perfected through the fire of ecstatic love. May the Lord, in his mercy, perfect us and bring us to glory. Amen.
 Collect of the Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Roman Missal.
 Anthony Esolen, The Beauty of the Word: A Running Commentary on the Roman Missal (New York: Magnificat, 2012), 184.
 Mary Healy, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture: Hebrews (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2016), 62.
 Saint Bonaventure, The Major Life of St. Francis, 9.2.
 The Little Flowers of St. Francis, 190-191.
 Thomas of Celano, The First Life, 2.94.
 Ibid, 2.94-95.
 Ibid, 95.