franciscan - September 1998
© The Society of Saint Francis 1998
Sister Teresa CSF, Minister General of the First Order Sisters
Someone once said – it was probably Brother Michael – ‘The trouble with Francis is not that we know so little about him but that we know so much.’ Indeed, when we look at our library shelves, there are umpteen biographies, writings, legends and plays, as well as the more recent books that help us to interpret Francis in our own day. But when it comes to the Stigmata, which festival we keep at this time, words seem to fall silent, as Francis himself fell silent. For me, the Stigmata fits more into the realm of silence and mystical prayer, better expressed by St John-of-the-Cross than by prose. We know Francis himself tried to hide the Stigmata and only one or two brothers knew of its existence before his death, so deep and awesome an experience of God’s love it had been.
I thought of this after the funeral of Sister Angela Mary. One of her relatives had been asked to give the homily and, as he spoke, I thought, ‘Who is this person of whom he is speaking?’ I had known Angela Mary for thirty-three years and assumed I knew her pretty well. I had lived with her, worked with her and shared my life with her – yet I realised I had never really known her. We had talked often about her time in Delhi and Fiwila: had I just listened to the bare facts? Had I ever tried to clothe them with my imagination? Had I ever really listened and heard her? Her war-time experiences were entirely new to me. I never knew that she had worked in Cairo, as I had. What a lot I had missed and now regretted.
No one wants to pry into another’s life – indeed, our old CSF Rule expressly forbade it – but so often there are unique stories of what God has done in the lives of our sisters and brothers, the telling of which might so enrich the rest of us. I should like to be more ready to listen, to take time to hear and to value past experiences, especially of our older brothers and sisters. I realised I had seen Angela Mary through my own eyes, my own judgement, my own image, and it was a very powerful experience to discover, perhaps for the first time, a sister whom I thought I knew; but now it is too late. But perhaps that is what heaven is all about.
We each have our own gospel to tell: of what God has done in our lives. Sometimes we are too shy to share it, feel
that it is ‘just me’, or need to hide it for a good reason. Yet the Stigmata of Francis, reticent about it though
he was, is something which has greatly enriched us all, and will do so for all generations.
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