July 3, 2022 –
The Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
I bear the marks of Jesus on my body.
Saint Paul tells us today about a spiritual gift that he received from God. This gift is called the “stigmata”, which refers to Jesus’ wounds from the Crucifixion. Very few saints have received this gift: among those who have are St. Francis of Assisi and St. Padre Pio.
But in case we’re tempted to think of the stigmata as mere scars, we ought to realize that St. Paul bore, in addition to the open wounds of Jesus’ crucifixion, the physical pain of those wounds.
To understand what it means for a person to bear the stigmata, it’s helpful to hear St. Paul declare, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” The stigmata, including its pain and disfigurement, sharply distinguish the world from the person who bears these marks.
A few weeks ago the Church celebrated Pentecost. From the Upper Room in Jerusalem, the Church has grown to the ends of the earth and through the course of twenty centuries. The life of the Church stands in contrast to “the world” of which St. Paul speaks.
The Christian believer is caught between the Church and the world. The “catch” stems from the fact that fallen human nature is powerful in its “fallen-ness”. Try to imagine, if you can, someone who has the five marks of the stigmata on his own body, but doesn’t even notice them. That’s pretty hard to imagine. We might be able to imagine someone who is absent-minded not noticing someone next to him bearing the stigmata, but it’s nearly impossible to imagine that someone who bears those wounds does not notice them.
Since you and I are not likely to be given the marks of the stigmata, we might think it a waste of time to speculate about such matters. But bring the subject closer to home: if you do not have to deal with the stigmata, what about the wounds caused by your sins?
Personal sins may not often cause physical wounds, but they do often cause wounds of other types. These wounds often go either unnoticed by us, or are ignored. Perhaps this is because the pain of these wounds seems greater if we acknowledge it. Perhaps it’s because acknowledging the pain would imply the need for some sort of action on our part. We easily look past our sins and their effects on our selves and others.
All this is to say that in dealing with the wounds that mark our souls, we have a radical choice to make. Each of us has to decide by what means to deal with these wounds, if at all. St. Paul suggests that we deal with these wounds through the power of Christ’s Cross.
What does St. Paul mean when he claims that through “the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ… the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world”? Consider the explanation of “The Way of the Cross” offered by the 20th century Carmelite friar, Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, OCD in his work titled Divine Intimacy:
“We must be thoroughly convinced that if the Holy Spirit works in our souls to [conform] us to Christ, He can do so only by opening to us the way of the Cross. Jesus is Jesus crucified; therefore, there can be no conformity to Him except by the Cross, and we shall never enter into the depths of the spiritual life except by entering into the mystery of the Cross. St. Teresa of [Avila] teaches that even the highest… graces are given to souls only in order to enable them to carry the Cross. ‘His Majesty,’ says [Teresa], ‘can do nothing greater for us than to grant us a life which is an imitation of that lived by His beloved Son. I feel certain, therefore, that… favors are given to us to strengthen our weakness, so that we may be able to imitate Him in His great sufferings’ [Interior Castle VII, 4].”
This coming week, say your daily prayers kneeling in front of a crucifix. If because of health you’re unable to kneel, place a picture of the Crucifixion before you, and look at this image of Jesus dying for you on the Cross as you offer all your prayers through the power of the Cross.