The 23rd of September is the Feast of Padre Pio, Saint Pio of Pietralcino. He died fifty years ago on this day in 1968. For fifty years before that, Padre Pio bore on his body, the stigmata. The stigmata are the marks of the sufferings of Christ. The five precious wounds are the holes in the feet, in the hands and in the side. The stigmata are the marks of the nails and of the centurion’s spear. The strange miracle of the stigmata, which seems like the very opposite of healing, was always understood by Padre Pio himself as evidence of the cure which Jesus administers to the suffering world. Someone who has become very close to Christ shares something of the Lord’s Passion, the stigmata, as a sign to everyone else that the One who has saved us was our brother and that His sufferings were real. As Wisdom puts it: let us test him with cruelty and with torture, and thus explore this gentleness of his. Padre Pio had difficulty moving and in holding anything because of the stigmata. For most of us, that Jesus was wounded and marked enables us to do things which we could not otherwise hope to do.
Most of us would not regard it as a blessing to carry on our own bodies the wounds of someone else’s sufferings. Having the stigmata is certainly not a common experience. However it may be that we all hobble through life damaged in various ways and marked by the troubles of someone else: our parents or our children, for example. We carry scars, at least emotional ones, which remind us not only of our pain but of the suffering of other people. It may be also that it would help us to think of what is wrong with us as being like the precious wounds of Christ. Is it absurd to think that what is wrong with us might be used by God as a means to salvation? Our being saved depends on Jesus treating as his own the damage that has been done to us by sin. This He is willing to do. He carries this burden for us happily. If anyone wants to be first, he must make himself last of all and servant of all.
Jesus asked the disciples: What were you arguing about on the road? He puts this question to all of us. What makes you angry? What divides you from other people? What is the struggle in your life? This question can shame us. Our quarrels do not always bear inspection by the Prince of Peace. When we recount our grievances and bitterness, Jesus listens. To our prayers of complaint, the Lord listens sympathetically. Our catalogue of complaints is respectfully received by One who loves us and has endured much for our sake. Always, Jesus Christ suggests forgiveness and understanding. He urges us to a further effort at making peace rather than a fight. Jesus puts it to us that at least sometimes we might not put ourselves first, for the sake of peace. James tells us: Peacemakers, when they work for peace, sow the seeds which will bear fruit in holiness. The Redeemer urges us to be long-suffering and forbearing. The Gospel offers us the example of the Lord forgiving those who have harmed him. Sustained by our Saviour’s good example and by his grace we cannot dismiss his way of treating those who have hurt us. Jesus helps us to live in his way: obedient to God, merciful to sinners, forgiving of wrongs. In all this there is strength and a prospect of justice. The wisdom that comes down from above…..makes for peace, and is kindly and considerate; it is full of compassion and shows itself by doing good.
If we were suspicious of Padre Pio or another stigmatist we might wonder if they had hurt themselves in order to seem to have the wounds of Christ. His being declared a Saint is the Church saying among other things about him, we believe you to have received this grace. This is a miracle of solidarity in suffering with Jesus. For any of us, the damage that has been done to us has been, to some extent, at least, been done by ourselves. We have some responsibility for the way we are. The message of the Gospel is that God is willing to disregard our failures and shortcomings, the way we are not very good, even our sins, as like the stigmata, like the wounds of Christ. Salvation comes from God because of the suffering of Christ and is received amid like sufferings. We too have been pinned to our cross. We too have been pierced to the heart. Jesus is willing to treat it all as equal. Somehow our pain is his pain. The great miracle is that his resurrection is ours also.
Peter Gallagher SJ