instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Stigmata are for everyone

The Church allows the possibility that some few persons are so tightly bound to the suffering Christ that the very marks of His crucifixion appear on their hands and feet, and sometimes side and head as well.

Why, though, did Christ Himself receive the stigmata, and why does He continue to bear them?

Isaiah foretold, "But he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins. Upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed.... And he shall take away the sins of many, and win pardon for their offenses."

The Letter to the Hebrews teaches, "Son though He was, He learned obedience from what He suffered; and when He was made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him, declared by God High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek."

Jesus was crucified to take away our sins, and in so doing His humanity was made perfect, making possible not merely human beatitude in Paradise, but human adoption into the Divine Life.

In Matthew's Gospel, Jesus tells His disciples, "Whoever wishes to come after Me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me." This comes immediately after He rebukes Peter as Satan, for thinking not as God does but as men do.

What is the Christian's cross? It varies from place to place, and from Christian to Christian, but a cross is promised to each of us. This means a crucifixion is promised to each of us, and there is no such thing as a crucifixion that leaves no marks.

We should all, then, bear the stigmata of Christ. They may not take the form of bloodied palms or wounds in the side, but they will be none the less real for that. They may even be physically visible: lines on the face from praying for one's children; callused hands from helping needy neighbors with outdoor chores; a tired smile from enduring the workaday humiliations of thoughtless co-workers. They may be hidden: reddened eyes from tears shed before God in private; sore knees from kneeling in prayer; cruel and cutting words left unspoken and forgotten.

We are the union of body and spirit, each reflecting the other, so even our spiritual marks of discipleship will have some physical effects. As Jesus' own wounds have been glorified in His body, eternal marks of His pefect humanity, so might our stigmata, through which we are being perfected as His disciples, be glorified forever. In a sense, they may be the brandings by which the Son of Man separates the sheep from the goats.