Christ on the Cross
Both Francis and Clare had a deep devotion to the cross of Christ, where they believed they saw the love of God most fully expressed.
In her teaching on prayer, Clare encouraged her sisters to gaze on Christ as on a mirror. And at the very centre of prayer she placed the passion of Christ. She wrote:
‘In the depths of this mirror, contemplate the ineffable charity which led Him to suffer on the wood of the Cross and die thereon the most shameful kind of death.’ (Fourth Letter to Agnes of Prague, 23)
Clare used in her own prayer a special Office of the Passion which Francis had composed. He took scripture verses, mainly from the psalms, to create an additional psalm for each of the day’s prayer services, which focussed on the passion of Christ. As Francis and Clare, and their brothers and sisters used this in their daily prayer, they entered more and more deeply into the mystery of the cross, which is the mystery at the heart of the Christian faith.
And they were moved by compassion for Christ in his suffering, often weeping as they prayed, or when they remembered the crucifixion. Three of Francis’ early brothers recorded that from the time that the figure on the crucifix at San Damiano spoke to him, ‘his heart was wounded and it melted when remembering the Lord’s passion. While he lived, he always carried the wounds of the Lord Jesus in his heart.’ (Legend of the Three Companions, V)
Towards the end of his life Francis came to carry these wounds in his body also. In 1224 he spent a prolonged period of retreat on Mount La Verna, in Tuscany, meditating especially on the passion of Christ. In his prayer he saw a six winged seraph, beautiful and glorious, but nailed to a cross; and as he watched, the marks of the nails and the spear which he had seen in the seraph began to appear in his own body. These stigmata, as they are called, remained until his death two years later. His early biographers saw them as a sign of his intense identification with the crucified Christ.