September 17, 2008

Stigmata

Looking through past posts I realize on this feast of the Stigmata of Francis that I have written quite a bit about it; its scriptural basis in Paul's letter to the Galatians, its possible relationship to Francis's supposed medical diagnoses, even its meaning with regard to a fundamental semiotics of the Cross.

I suppose this is because the Stigmata of Francis has been a recent discovery for me. In my Franciscan formation not much was made of it; it was either ignored as something belonging to another time and sensibility, or it was dismissed as something gruesome or fantastical. But as I've grown up as a Franciscan, the Stigmata has seemed more and more important to me in my understanding of and devotion to Francis of Assisi.

It seems to me that Stigmata are the logical end of saying, as we do in every Eucharist, that we are the mystical Body of Christ. To bear on our own bodies the wounds, or "brand marks" as our Bibles usually translate the Greek stigmata, would seem to be the ordinary result of affirming the God who, in Christ crucified, identifies with our suffering and alienation and pain. Even if there is nothing miraculous to see with the physical eyes, it seems to me that any of our own suffering and pain that we allow to be caught up into the humanity of Christ becomes the sacred Stigmata.

To me it's the mystery of seeing Christ crucified in the suffering humanity God has united himself to in the mystery of the Incarnation, of seeing their wounds as the wounds of Christ.

3 comments:

ben in denver said...

I really like what you have said here. But I have to ask how it fits with what you said about eucharistic miracles last week.

Couldn't the devotee of eucharistic miracles say much the same thing?

The physical sign of the stigmata on St. Francis testify to his real communion with Christ crucified, but are ultimately unecessary signs since the same spiritual reality would have been present lacking the physical sign. Yet we celebrate the physical sign because it underlines the reality in a powerful way.

Can't the same be said of the eucharistic miracle? Isn't it the case for the eucharistic miracle that the visible sign, although unecessary, underlines the reality in a powerful way?

Brother Charles said...

You do make a point, Ben. But I'll need to think on this one. Nag me if I don't get to it.

ben in denver said...

Today is the feast of the second most famous stigmatist in the Church and your brother in the Capuchin order.

Any thoughts yet?

Now it is curious that St. Francis died with the stigmata and St. Pio died without them. It is also curious that the stigmata of St. Francis took the form of nails and the stigmata of St. Pio took the form of wounds.

I think perhaps that Our Lord was showing us something different in each case. With the Seraphic Father, I think Our Lord wanted to show us a love so strong that it could only end in the death, the complete and total giving of the self over to the good of another.

St. Pio, as a priest, shows us something different. Because he continued to celebrate the mass and to administer the sacraments, especially confession, coupled with the fact that his stigmata disappeared before his death, I think that Our Lord was trying to show us that Life comes from the cross, that in dying to self, we truly rise to new life.

Happy St. Pio Day!