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Though movies portray them falsely, stigmata are real signs from God

Published: March 1, 2008

Betsy Wiederkehr Huss has a master’s degree in theology from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif.

By Betsy Wiederkehr Huss

Today, if you asked people, “What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘stigmata’?” you would probably receive a wide range of responses. Some might mention television episodes of “Nip/Tuck,” “House,” “Picket Fences” or even “The Simpsons.” Others may recall the films “Winter Light” (1963), “Agnes of God” (1985) “Stigmata” (1999), “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” (2005) or “I Know Who Killed Me” (2007).

Still others may mention novels with this word, “Touch, Keeping Faith,” “The Shining” or “Wild Cards” (In this case it is an alien disease). Even comic books (“Love and Rockets,” “Death, Jr.” and “D. Gray-man”) and games (“Nightbane” and “Book of Exalted Deeds from Dungeons & Dragons”) feature this word. Music groups use it too (Violet Stigmata and Stigmata). But what does this word really mean?

The answer is in Jesus’ passion. He suffered much for us. His head was gouged with huge thorns. His skin, over his whole body, was ripped and bled because of 39 lashes from a cat-of-nine-tails. This whip had nine leather “tails” embedded with shards of pottery, rocks and other items, which dug into his flesh and ripped it away when pulled back.

His shoulders were bruised from carrying the crossbeam. His hands or wrists and feet had large spikes driven into them by a hammer. A sharp lance was shoved deep into his side out from which blood and water flowed.

His shoulders were bruised from carrying the crossbeam. His hands or wrists and feet had large spikes driven into them by a hammer. A sharp lance was shoved deep into his side out from which blood and water flowed.

These are the wound marks of our crucified Lord. Others have experienced them too. The word, “stigmata,” is Greek and plural for “marks.” Mystical stigmata are the spontaneous bodily marks, sores or sensations that appear in the corresponding locations of Jesus’ crucifixion wounds.

A stigmatic is one who suffers from the stigmata. A stigmatic may have all, several or one of the wounds. The appearance of these marks and intense pain may be temporary, periodic (i.e., Fridays, Good Friday, special days or times of day) or permanent. The stigmata may be invisible to the eye but felt by the stigmatic, or the wounds may be visible on one’s body. Genuine stigmata may ooze clean, pure blood. A perfumed smell, not a putrid one, can emanate from the wounds. Medication cannot heal a genuine stigmatic.

The mystical stigmata, visible or invisible, are a sign of unity with Christ crucified. In one of his “Straight Answers” columns, Father William Saunders wrote, “... the genuine stigmatic must have lived a life of heroic virtue, have endured physical and moral suffering, and have almost always achieved the level of ecstatic union with him in prayer.”

It is said that genuine stigmatics are surprised when they receive the stigmata and often try to humbly conceal them.

Did you know the first authentic, well-documented stigmatic accepted by Church authorities lived in the 13th century? No others are known before St. Francis of Assisi but more have known the sufferings of Christ since then. We may be intrigued by this sign, but hopefully we are inspired by those who bore/bear the sufferings of our Savior’s wounds. Maybe, we will meditate on the Stations of the Cross more often than just during Lent. Maybe, we will confess and reconcile more too.

Maybe, we will be more grateful of what our Lord and Savior went through because of his love for us and obedience to his Father.

This article was originally published in Arkansas Catholic March 1, 2008. Copyright Diocese of Little Rock. All rights reserved. This article may be copied or redistributed with acknowledgement and permission of the publisher.