The Little Flowers of St. Francis, tr. by W. Heywood, , at sacred-texts.com
How Christ appeared to Friar John of Alvernia
AMONG other wise and holy friars, sons of St. Francis, who, according to the saying of Solomon, are the glory of their father, there was in our days, in the said Province of the March, the venerable and holy friar, John of Fermo, who, by reason of the long time which he dwelt in the holy place of Alvernia where too he passed from this life, was also called Friar John of Alvernia; for he was a man of excellent life and of great sanctity. This Friar John, while he was yet a boy and living in the world, desired with all his heart to follow the life of penance, which preserves the purity of both body and soul; wherefore, even as a very little child, he began to wear the mail-shirt and the iron ring next his flesh, and to use great abstinence, and, especially when he sojourned with the Canons of San Pietro of Fermo, who lived sumptuously, he shunned fleshly delights and mortified his body with exceeding rigid abstinence; but, inasmuch as he had in that place companions who were much opposed thereto and who despoiled him of his mail-shirt and thwarted his abstinence in divers manners; he, being inspired of God, resolved to leave the world and its lovers and to offer himself wholly to the arms of the Crucified, assuming the habit of the crucified St. Francis; and so he did. And having been received into the Order so young and committed to the care of the master of the novices, he became so spiritual and devout that, whenever he heard the said master speak of God, his heart melted like wax before the fire; and he was enkindled with such sweetness and grace by the
[paragraph continues] Divine love, that, being unable to endure such sweetness sitting still, he would rise up and, as one drunken with the spirit, would run hither and thither, now through the garden, now through the wood, and now through the church, even as the flame and impetus of the Spirit drove him. Thereafter, in process of time, the Divine grace caused this angelic man to increase continually from virtue to virtue, and in celestial gifts and Divine ecstasies and raptures; insomuch so that anon his mind was uplifted to the splendours of the Cherubim, anon to the ardours of the Seraphim, anon to the joys of the Blessed, anon to amorous and immoderate embracings of Christ, not only with inward spiritual delights, but also with manifest external indications and corporal pleasure. And, once in particular, was his heart inflamed beyond measure by the fire of Divine love; and this fire lasted in him for three full years; during which period he received marvellous consolations and visitations Divine, and ofttimes was he rapt in God; and, in a word, during the said period, he seemed all on fire and burning with the love of Christ; and this was on the holy mountain of Alvernia. But, because God hath singular care for His children, giving them, at divers times, now consolation now tribulation, now prosperity and now adversity, as He seeth that their need is, to preserve them in humility or to enkindle in them a greater desire for heavenly things; it pleased the Divine goodness, after those three years, to withdraw from the said Friar John this light and fire of Divine love, and to deprive him of every spiritual consolation. Wherefore Friar John, being left without light and without love of God, was wholly disconsolate and afflicted and sorrowful; for the which cause, being in such anguish, he went through the wood, running hither and thither,
calling with voice and tears and sighs the beloved Spouse of his soul, who had hidden Himself and departed from him, and without whose presence his soul found no quiet nor repose; but in no place nor in any manner might he find again his sweet Jesus, or renew that sweet spiritual consolation of the love of Christ, which he had enjoyed aforetime. And this tribulation lasted for many days, in the which he persevered in continual weeping and sighing, ever beseeching God that of His pity He would give back to him the well-beloved Spouse of his soul. At last, when it pleased God to have sufficiently proved his patience and enkindled his desire, upon a day, while Friar John went through the aforesaid wood, thus afflicted and troubled, he sat him down for weariness and leaned against a beech-tree and there abode, with his face all bathed with tears, gazing toward heaven; and lo! on a sudden Jesus Christ appeared before him in the pathway whereby Friar John had come; but He spake no word. Then, Friar John, beholding Him and knowing full well that it was Christ, forthwith cast himself down at His feet, and with infinite weeping very humbly besought Him and said: "Help me, O my Lord, for without Thee, my sweetest Saviour, I abide in darkness and in woe; without Thee, most gentle Lamb, I am full of anguish and pain and terror; without Thee, Son of God, most high, I am fulfilled with confusion and shame; without Thee I am despoiled of every good and am blinded; for Thou art Jesus Christ, the true light of souls; without Thee I am lost and damned, because Thou art the life of souls, the life of lives; without Thee I am barren and dry, because Thou art the fountain of every gift and of every grace; without Thee I am altogether disconsolate, because Thou art Jesus our redemption, love and
desire, the bread which giveth strength, and the wine which maketh glad the hearts of the angels and the hearts of all the saints; enlighten me, Master most gracious, and Shepherd most pitiful, for I am Thy little sheep, albeit all unworthy". But because the desire of holy men, when God delays to hear, enkindles them to greater love and merit, Christ the blessed departed without giving ear unto his prayer and without answering him a word, and gat Him thence by the aforesaid pathway. Then Friar John rose up and ran after Him, and anew cast himself at His feet, and, with holy importunity, laid hold upon Him and held Him, and with most devout tears besought Him, saying: "O most sweet Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me in my affliction; hear me out of the abundance of Thy mercy and for the truth of Thy salvation, and give me back again the joy of Thy countenance and of Thy pitiful regard, for the whole earth is full of Thy mercy". And, yet again, Christ departed and spake no word unto him, nor gave him any consolation; and He did even as doth the mother to her child, when she makes him desire the breast and follow after her weeping, to the end that he may thereafter take it the more eagerly. Wherefore Friar John, with yet greater fervour and desire, followed Christ, and, when he had overtaken Him, Christ the blessed turned toward him and looked upon him with glad and gracious countenance; and, opening His most holy and most merciful arms, embraced him very tenderly; and as He opened His arms, Friar John beheld resplendent rays of light issue from the most holy bosom of the Saviour, which illuminated all the wood, and him also, both in soul and body. Then Friar John kneeled down at the feet of Christ, and the Blessed Jesus, even as He had done to the
[paragraph continues] Magdalene, graciously offered him His foot to kiss; and Friar John, holding it with extreme reverence, bathed it with so many tears that, of a truth, he seemed another Magdalene; and he said, devoutly: "I pray Thee, my Lord, that Thou look not on my sins, but, by the shedding of Thy most holy blood, revivify my soul in the grace of Thy love; for Thou hast commanded us to love Thee with all our heart and with all our soul; and this commandment may no man fulfil without Thy aid. Aid me, then, most loving Son of God, that I may love Thee with all my heart and with all my strength." And while Friar John thus spoke, lying at the feet of Christ, his prayer was answered, and he received from Him once again the first grace, to wit the fire of Divine love, and felt himself wholly renewed and comforted; and, knowing that the gift of Divine grace had returned to him, he began to thank the Blessed Christ and to devoutly kiss His feet. And, thereafter, having risen up to look upon the face of Christ, Jesus Christ held out His most holy hands and offered them to him to kiss; and, when Friar John had kissed them, he drew nigh and leaned upon the breast of Jesus and embraced and kissed Him; and Christ, in like manner, embraced and kissed him. And in this embracing and kissing Friar John perceived so Divine a fragrance that, if all the odoriferous graces and all the fragrant things of the world had been gathered together, the odour thereof would have seemed a stench in comparison with that fragrance; and therein Friar John was rapt and consoled and illuminated; and that fragrance endured within his soul for many months. And from thenceforward, out of his mouth, which had drunk of the fountain of Divine wisdom in the sacred breast of the Saviour, there came marvellous and celestial words,
which changed men's hearts and brought forth much fruit in the souls of them who gave ear unto him; and in that woodland pathway where stood the blessed feet of Christ, and for some distance round about, Friar John, for a long time thereafter, smelled that fragrance and saw that splendour, whenever he went thither. Now, when Friar John had come to himself after that rapture, and the corporal presence of Christ had disappeared, he remained so illuminated in soul, in the abyss of his divinity, that, albeit he was not a man learned through human study, yet he marvellously solved and explained the most subtle and lofty questions concerning the Divine Trinity, and the profound mysteries of the Holy Scriptures. And ofttimes, thereafter, when speaking before the Pope and the cardinals, and kings, and barons, and masters, and doctors, he greatly amazed them all by the sublime words which he spake and by his profound judgments.