Friday, March 31, 2017

Stuck on Stigmata

Copyright © Edward Riojas

I still bear a nasty, transverse scar on the top of my head from a childhood incident, but I’m almost positive it has nothing to do with St. Peter of Verona. There’s a good possibility I also have a scar as the result of my brother chucking stones at me, and yet St. Stephen has never come into the mix.
Artist Bartolome Esteban
Murillo takes heretical
liberties with his painting,
"St. Francis of Assisi Embracing
the Crucified Christ" c. 1669
(Museum of Fine Art, Seville)

It is a curious thing that Catholics of the Roman persuasion get hung up on stigmata – the wounds of Christ – that somehow appear on [somewhat] normal folks, and desperately try to make a mystical connection. The key word is “curious.”

St. Francis of Assisi is thought to be the first stigmatic, or bearer of stigmata, and a rather long list of stigmatics followed in his wobbly train. It’s common practice to depict St. Francis with stigmata. That is, unless he’s otherwise depicted as occupying himself with a sermon for the birds or, in the example at right, getting all inappropriate at the crucifixion of Jesus. Curious.

St. Catherine of Siena also oozed mysticism. However, don’t confuse her crown of thorns with the stigmata, and try to ignore that invisible ring which proves her marriage to Jesus. And please, oh, please don’t get too curious about her [invisible] ring!

While wading through images of similar devotees, the nagging question eventually surfaced, “So what?” So you fell on some glass or decided to claw a hole in your hand. So what?
Another piece that exudes
mystical weirdness.
"St. Catherine of Siena"
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. c. 1746.
(Museum of Art History, Vienna)

Every year when Holy Week comes along, pockets of Roman Catholics around the globe do the self-flagellation thing or have themselves crucified. But doing so doesn’t help squat where sins are concerned. (Ask the criminals crucified alongside Jesus how it worked for them!) And St. Paul’s mention of “Bearing the marks of Christ,” shouldn’t go beyond the fact that he simply had the snot beat out of him for the sake of the Gospel; throughout his flurry of misadventures, Paul never mentioned being crucified.

There is also telltale evidence of serious Tomfoolery with several stigmatics. Curiously, a number of them had carbolic acid and disinfectants in the cupboard. The former would certainly cause a wound (if self-mutilation didn’t do the trick), and the latter would keep infection at bay. Magdalena de la Cruz, considered for a number of years to be a living saint, later confessed that her stigmata was a ruse, causing her, in turn, to become the patron saint of not-a-whole-lot.

Having the wounds of Christ means little, if anything. The curious wounds in the palms of your hands, your bleeding eyes, the nasty cuts that mess up your bedding, and that hole in your side did not – and cannot – save you or anyone else from their sins. A good number of us in Christendom are not wowed. Nor should we be. Only the wounds of Jesus Christ could atone for the sins of the world – once, and for all – and that they did.

What is more, mystical misfits undermine a much more important mark. That mark occurred when you and I were Baptized in the Name of The Father and of The Son and of The Holy Spirit. The sign of the cross marked them and us as His, and nothing – NOTHING – can supersede, supplant, or mystify that fact. For those of you still managing nifty stigmata, go buy a box of Band-Aids and please get over it already.


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