I remember when I first learned about the Stigmata—the five wounds of Christ’s Crucifixion that have appeared on various saints throughout the ages, such as St. Francis of Assisi, St. Catherine of Siena, and St. Padre Pio. I remember thinking how cool that would be, to have this manifest miracle right in my body, a walking testament to the reality of God!
A few years ago, our parish had a Lenten Mission with a priest from India, Fr. Manjackal, who himself was a Stigmatist (whose wounds even bled when he consecrated the Host and the Chalice during Mass). Our priest at the time, Fr. Bill Trusz, has a radio show on AM530, and he interviewed Fr. Manjackal on his show during the mission, and invited callers to call in with questions. One caller asked whether the Stigmata hurt. Fr. Manjackal replied, “What? Do you think they’re just for decoration?” I realised, when I heard that answer, that yes, that’s precisely how I viewed this miraculous grace! I had reduced this mysterious share in Christ’s Passion to the level of a tattoo!
The fact that the Stigmata isn’t for “decoration”, or even as some sort of evangelistic “tool”, is clearly seen in those saints whose stigmata was invisible during their lives. St. Catherine of Siena, for example, bore the pain of the Crucifixion, including the Crown of Thorns, for years invisibly. The marks were only revealed after her death! What, then, could be the purpose of such mystically-inflicted pain?
St. Paul, who wrote that he himself carried the marks of Christ’s Passion branded on his body (cf. Gal. 6:17), tells us that the suffering we endure is redemptive—that it can be endured on behalf of the whole Church. While Stigmatists are joined to Christ in a special, mystical union with His Passion, all of our suffering has this redemptive value, whether it be simply a headache or severe disease like cancer. When we unite our sufferings with Christ’s, it becomes a powerful and effective form of prayer that works miracles!
I’m writing this primarily to remind myself of this amazing truth of the Catholic faith. Lately, I’ve been rather depressed that life hasn’t been going the way I hoped it would. Sometimes, that depression can become quite overwhelming, to the point of having no energy or desire to even get out of bed—or get a blog post written on time! While I was pondering what to write about, the advice my spiritual director came to mind from a previous time when I struggled with depression and discontent. He told me to meditate on the Third Sorrowful Mystery—Jesus Crowned with Thorns—and to view my depression in light of the Crown of Thorns, offering it to Him. May I always remember to offer up my sufferings!
When we allow ourselves to wallow in our pain and misery, we waste a valuable opportunity to work miracles in the lives of others. When we offer up that suffering in union with Christ’s, it has the potential to lead us closer to Him and to deeply affect the lives of others. Whether mystical or natural, our suffering has the potential to be stigmata.