800 Years of the Stigmata

The stigmatization of St. Francis is not just an acceptance of the extraordinary signs of Christ’s suffering in the flesh. It is also the great joy and consolation of God’s closeness along with the pain of seeing the cross, shortly before receiving the stigmata. In the earliest sources these elements are found side by side and with equal intensity, so we will consider them together. For Francis, the stigmata did not appear on his body during the mysterious vision, but after it was over, when he struggled to understand its meaning. At first he was filled with something beautiful and blissful both from what he was seeing and from the way the man on the cross was looking at him (that he was seen). Then came the pain when he realized that this man was tied to the cross. Only then did the stigmata become apparent.

How can we understand this? There are more possibilities. We could think of regret for our own failures that cause crucifixion-like torment in a person’s soul. Or, reflecting on the wounds and pains, those of Christ 2000 years ago, and those now carried by his mystical body – the many lonely and sick in body/soul, members of minorities, marginalized, people without support or work, persecuted, abused, driven into insecurity by various circumstances…. We stand before the invitation to see Christ’s kind gaze looking at us from the midst of this suffering.

We are invited to see God’s presence in the midst of the wounds we carry and the wounds we touch. God looks at us and sees us in each of our sufferings, not just from the outside, as an observer, but as one who suffers with us. We bear his image in our souls, and he bears us in his heart, even with our vulnerability and wounds. We are those whom God sees and looks at us with the same captivating and delightful gaze that he looked at Francis. A gaze that infuses joy and hope into our souls – when we expose ourselves to him and stay close to him, in the safety of his love; when we touch his glorified wounds, like Thomas in the Gospel. When we allow this joy to permeate us, we will have the strength to suffer with those who suffer and to bear and carry the wounds on our own body (and in our soul), like Francis. Then we will not be destroyed by becoming vulnerable, it will be Christ in us who suffers, whose wounds are already glorified. His resurrection is our hope.

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