Ever since I was a kid, one of the most impressive miracles to witness and hear about was that of the stigmata. Not only is it a rare occurrence among the saints but it also seems to be a strange miracle for a saint to perform, or rather receive. Most miracles we hear about are associated with a physical healing, a vision, a prevention of some disaster, etc. They are usually associated with a positive effect or result, but the stigmata seems to be just the opposite. Instead of bringing about some physical healing, the stigmata actually brings about extremely painful wounds that allow the saint to share in the pain of Christ on the Cross. And these wounds aren’t just signs that sit upon their hands; those who receive the stigmata lose much blood every day as the wounds continually bleed throughout their days. For most Catholics, this would not be the miracle that they would wish to receive due to its painful nature, yet we are all amazed and attracted to those who experience the wound of stigmata. Why is that?
During my Senior year in college, I spent much time praying at a secret place at Notre Dame called “The Cross in the Woods.” Unlike the Grotto and the Basilica on Notre Dame’s campus, this life-size statue of the Crucifixion with Mary and John on either side of the cross is hidden from the public view. Most pass it without noticing its place around St. Joseph’s Lake, but lucky for me, friends had told me of this place early on in my undergraduate career, so it became a place I would visit often throughout the years. As I sat more and more with this statue, I began to end my prayers by kissing the feet of Jesus and turning back around as I walked down the path to the lake, and as I continued this practice, an image began to emerge in my mind. I began to imagine the crucifixion emerging within my own heart for all to see, almost as if my heart was transforming into a space for all to see Jesus in His Ultimate Act of Love. It is hard to describe what I felt, but a Notre Dame Folk Choir song expresses well what I felt in those prayers:
“Crux Fidelis, Cross of Gladness.
Tree on which our Hope is hung.
Let my arms be as your branches;
Yours the Song that must be sung.”
(“Crux Fidelis,” Notre Dame Folk Choir)
We, as Christians, are called to become the Wood of Jesus’ Cross so that His Love may be shown to His Loving Creation. Part of the gift of Jesus' humanity is that we are able to participate in His Divine Love through our own elevated human nature because of the Incarnation. We are called to let Christ be crucified upon ourselves so that when others look upon us, they only see Christ’s Love for them. And as I sat with this reflection, I realized that those with the stigmata are individuals chosen by God to reveal this reality to all of us. The wounds in their arms, feet, and side represent a deep identification with Christ because they are mystically bearing Chist upon them as if they were the Cross that Jesus was crucified upon. They witness to the universal Christian call to bear the suffering Christ to those who suffer and are lost. These blessed individuals are not simply unique cases of holiness but are signs that this is the mystical reality that we all are invited to live into. And many do live into this reality without bearing the outward sign of the stigmata. Nevertheless, they still bear this wound mystically in a way that bears fruit for those who seek healing and rest.
We are called to become Wounded Healers, to become those who recognize our woundedness and who allow these wounds to become sources of healing through the power of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross. The peace of saints does not lie in a conquering of all suffering. Rather, their peace lies in accepting this suffering in complete surrender and trust of God’s Love for them in the midst of all this suffering. It is then that our lives can begin to bear much fruit even if we will never be able to witness the fruit in our own lives. If you want to hear about this topic in a more in-depth and theologically beautiful way, I encourage you to read “The Wounded Healer,” by Henri Nouwen where he elaborates on how we can do this in our own lives. May we be blessed by God to turn our pain and suffering into sources of healing for those around us, and may we bear the wounds of Christ for all to see that they are Loved infinitely by God through Christ His Son by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This 10th day of January - Year of Our Lord 2022
Monday of the First Week in Ordinary Time
Picture of the "Cross in the Woods" at the University of Notre Dame