My faraway mountaintop place of encounter with God can be found in Tuscany, three hours north of Rome on the Monte della Verna. This is a sanctuary, now in the care of the Order of Friars Minor, where on this day—September 17, 1224—Saint Francis received the Stigmata, the physical wounds of Christ Himself, on his hands and feet. The place is reached by a switchbacking road—up, up, up you go! The place is impressive for its almost startling peacefulness, a felt reality that this is a place where God is—IS, for sure—you know it, you can sense it from the moment you step off the bus.
La Verna's indelible mark on my own heart comes from one Source—the action of the Holy Spirit, felt and experienced during a brief visit nine years ago. These encounters in awesomely holy places must encourage us to run after Jesus and to place ourselves on the Emmaus Road, so to meet Him there.
Pope Francis has spoken several times of the need for a "culture of encounter" as a foundation for peace and real justice in the world. The first place where this culture begins, I argue, is our own hearts. If what our Lord Jesus says in the Sermon on the Plain is true—"From the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks" (Luke 6:45)—we need encounters with the Lord to fill and shape our hearts, thus to be kind in our encounters with others.
Saint Francis' life of encounter with Christ reached a pinnacle in the Lord impressing His own wounds upon Francis' person. You or I might never receive the physical wounds of Christ in our own hands or feet, but we can foster the culture of encounter in our own life of prayer. Ministering and witnessing out of the overflow from our hearts will help build the Kingdom of God on earth!
Patrick Finn serves as Communications Director for the Black and Indian Mission Office in Washington, D.C.