Thursday, September 23, 2010

Stigmata: A Spooky Catholic Thing

Translation: "Don't make me holy, you won't like me when I'm holy".
Today we celebrate the feast of St. Pio. One of the fascinating marks of his saintliness is that he had the marks of the "stigmata". "Stigmatists" (those who have stigmatas) bear the marks of Christ's suffering by showing physical wounds on their hands, feet, side and sometimes head and back. All where Christ would have been wounded on his walk to Golgotha and during his agony on the cross.
Stigmata visible on the hand of Padre Pio (now a saint)

Recently there has been some question to the authenticity of Padre Pio's stigmata. There are some claims that he may have actually faked his wounds by using carbolic acid as far back as 1919. There hasn't been much doubt concerning the stigmata from official Catholic sources but seemingly the atheists and ex-Catholics (sic) have accepted the hoax. Anecdotally, someone asked Padre Pio if the wounds hurt and his response supposedly was, "What do you think? Do you think the Lord gave them to me for decoration?"

What are Catholics supposed to believe when it concerns this phenomena?
The Church certainly does not discourage personal devotion to saints and their mystical unions. The Church also doesn't hold that we have to believe such things either. We may be foolish not to but we are not required. It won't be on the test.

Padre Pio's stigmata may be scary to some and the term "stigmata" be more associated with schlocky movies than saintliness.

Stigmata the movie: Later she got married and became a Medium. So it's all good.
Personally, I have a love/fear relationship with the whole "mystical wounds and blood" thing from our tradition. It can be at once terrifyingly bloody and mind-blowing while at the same time hard to turn away. Sort of like how the Rebels 2010 season is turning out to be. Haha..umm..moving on.
We are told over and over again that God gives those he loves a greater burden. This is not because God wants to test us but rather because he has made us tougher than the darker forces of sin. I think there is something good about knowing that no matter how ugly and fearsome sin can be, God can counter with better and more bold. LIKE THE HULK! YARRRRRRGH! The wounds of the stigmata are not pretty and may appear to be a weakness. God chooses the weak and makes them strong (1 Cor 1:27).

Hulk: Scary and Good. Abomination: Scary and Bad. Guess who wins? Ever hear of a comic called "The Incredible Abomination?" No. You haven't.
Sometimes, I wish it were as easy as having some visible sign of God's presence to encourage people to believe but that rarely brings out true faith. No, we have to do it the hard way and follow the instructions of our saints, like Padre Pio, who just want to be "holy". And I suppose if that doesn't work, there's always Jesus toast.

The "Jesus Toaster" makes a daily apparition on your daily bread!