I’m a practical learner, even if I’m not practical in any other way. I like to set things in motion to see how they’ll turn out. I’ve spoken about pain before, but this week I’ve had a brand new experience of understanding physical and emotional pain. In true youth service style a conversation erupted recently about the seven sorrows of Mary and St Rita’s stigmata.
In St Paul’s letter, he tells the Galatians that he “bares on his body the marks of Jesus”. This mark might be similarly translated as the kind of branding you give an animal, a sense of ownership. Now that’s something I can get behind. Belonging to something is an incredible feeling, and I get really sentimental about the marks which indicate that belonging.
So stigmata have always been intriguing to me. I remember berating every poor person who foolishly walked near me on the Camino about stigmata and the Holy Wounds. The thing was, the more a I googled it the weirder it got. There were a whole host of people claiming to be stigmatic, seemingly without the humility or prayerfulness that I would have expected. Some say they hurt, others say they don’t, One even claiming that her stigmata glow in the dark.
So googling was getting me no where. Neither were my constant questions (e.g. If the wounds bleed perpetually how do you stop getting blood everywhere?”) Until one day, whether out of pure wisdom or just exasperation, a priest gave me the words that would answer all of my questions in one go; “It’s personal”.
Of course! Stigmata represent a personal relationship with Christ, as does every prayer and every devotion. Every human being is marked with His fingerprints, each unique and precious, irreplaceable and unrepeatable. We can not possibly fail to recognise the value of that uniqueness when Christ shed His Precious Blood for us without discrimination.
So my personal journey with the Holy Wounds began when I was in school, during a Lenten service in the parish attached to the school. That particular church was beautiful and almost opposite of my home parish. Because of this contrast I found myself studying the interior. One thing I found particularly puzzling was the cross. In my parish we had a “resurrection cross” and while I’d seen other crucifixes before I’d seen nothing like this. It was enormous, much bigger than me and for some reason propped up against the back wall rather than hanging over the altar. His expression broke my heart and the blood. Oh the blood. At that moment, as a 13-year-old girl, I wished more than anything to be able to take His hand down from the cross and hold it.
Since then, year on year, as I heard the passion read my heart grew more and more restless as I heard of our Saviour nailed to the cross. Like most things in my life it grew and grew. From every year, to every mass, to every prayer time in the front of my mind I remembered that Jesus died so I could live. I’ve spoken before about the true presence of Christ, but what I sometimes fail to remember is that where there is the Body, there is the Blood. Yet, somehow, this is the true magnitude of the sacrifice; His body cannot be separated from His blood, because he was a living, human person. This is precisely why it becomes our precious salvation. Nothing shows a greater sign of complete commitment than the sign of blood
(blood in, blood out).
I’ve been told I can be a little harsh on myself. I’m a sucker for penance. I once told a priest that I thought he’d let me off too lightly. As I said before, I’m a practical learner, I wanted stigmata because I wanted to know just how it felt it be crucified
(excruciating, apparently). I wanted to know how it felt to endure the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady, how do you live through that? To be sinless and in such pain. I guess there’s not really a clear thought processes in my head. All I know is that when Sr Teresa said that traditionally people walked the Holy Mile from Walsingham bare foot I was 100% up for it. Not just that, I wanted everyone else to be up for it too. We walked most of the way on gravel and it was one of the most amazing moments of my life. I’m not sure I can really explain why. Something about the pain was a great call to prayer, to beg forgiveness for my sins and a minute reminder of the agony of the Passion. Then there were moments when my feet had light relief through a puddle or a muddy patch and I’ve never praised and glorified the Lord more in my life, another minute reminder, but one all the same, of his infinite mercy and tender love in our times of pain.
In studying the cross, and meditating on the Holy Wounds we come to know one thing for certain; Jesus did not give something that He owned, He gave Himself. And what is more ‘you’ than your own blood. When we focus on the cross we are challenged to do the same; it’s not enough to give Him something that we own, we must give of ourselves, in service and in sacrifice.
This blood serves as an armour against the evils of the world. Bishop Ayo-Maria Atoyebi calls it “a means of defence, salvation, deliverance and fortification”. I can’t think of a more perfect way to put it. We must meditate on the Precious Blood, because it is by it that we are healed, it is the Precious Blood that threw satan from his grip on us.
“For I am His and He is mine – Bought with the precious blood of Christ.”