His Precious Blood, His Holy Wounds.

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.

faith palm

 

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.”

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Darling, Don’t Be Afraid.

I like to think I’m a generally happy person.
I know there are a few people who know me really well who are probably chuckling at that idea right now. I’m emotional. I feel everything x100. I cry at everything, I’m angry, I can be aggressive, I shout, I once punched a dent into my macbook because it wouldn’t load the sims.
When Jesus told us to be like little children, I’m not entirely sure he meant petulant. I throw tantrums. I feel pain, and I feel it often. I pray every day that I can be more patient, more understand and more gentle.
I watch too much Grey’s Anatomy. To the point where I genuinely think that another two episodes and I may just be a qualified MD. One particular episode that I watch again and again features a young girl who thinks she is a super hero. As the Doctors examine her, they find more and more cuts and bruises, one particular cut is closed up with a staple gun. It later transpires that this girl has no cognitive sensitivity to pain. She can’t hurt and so she thinks she is indestructible. She able to climb the tallest trees, fight courageously, do whatever she wants without the fear of getting hurt.
Imagine the things we could do without the fear of failing, of being hurt. We’d be superheroes, surely? We’d be the people we always dreamed to be. We’d love, we’d give, we’d do everything without fear. So why do we have to feel pain? As a child, and well into my teen years I thought that we suffered pain because we’d been bad. I thought it was a punishment of sorts. God let us hurt because we hurt him with our sin. If not, why would God create humans with the ability to hurt, and worse still how can he create a human (that he loves so much) and that person have a willingness to hurt themselves, to cry alone, or worse to die. And how are we, then, as humans in pain supposed to believe in an all-loving God, let alone open ourselves to his will?
When I think of hurting, and I’m talking emotionally speaking now, I think of Mary. She was born without sin, and yet she suffered more than I could ever Imagine. When I think of her triumphant acceptance of the Lord’s will in her life I’m inclined to remember the joy and grace that would bring her. Less often do I think of the consequences. When Mary said yes to bearing the Son of God, she also said yes to open ridicule and disgrace as a pregnant, unmarried woman. She said yes to potentially losing the love of her life. And she had an understanding of what would happen to him. She said yes to scorn and misunderstanding, even rejection from her peers. It’s not just coincidence, I’m sure, that this suffering is reflected in her Son’s passion and he is ridiculed, embarrassed and abandoned.
Then later Mary loses Jesus (not for the last time) for three days in the temple. She’s done nothing wrong, she is sinless, and yet she goes through the pain of losing her child. At this point Mary and Joseph are unaware of the mysteries of faith. When we hear the words “after three days” we must automatically turn our minds to Jesus’ death on the cross. To continue the parallel the Child Jesus is found in His Father’s house, accomplishing His Father’s work.

“After three days He is found in the temple, that it might be for a sign, that after three days of victorious suffering, He who was believed to be dead should rise again and manifest Himself to our faith, seated in heaven with divine glory.” – St Ambrose

Mary speaks her words much more tenderly than I ever could in my pain, confusion or loneliness. “Son, why has thou done this to us?”. This ought to be a lesson to us in our pain. Mary doesn’t demand or accuse, she wants to learn, to be taught this mystery.
So, cognitively speaking, why can’t we be super heroes? Why is pain important? Well, as we all well know, pain is a warning sign. When something hurts our attention is drawn to it so that we may take special care of that area. That pain teaches us a lesson, that falling down hurts, and we must be more careful in the future.
So why aren’t we all hermits, wrapped in cotton wool? Well, our miraculous brains have the ability to control the pain signal.
The controversial “Dr Death” Jack Kevorkian suggests that if you aren’t satisfied with life you must choose death. This is a logical conclusion, but it’s cold and unfeeling. Death is the easier option, I guess. But satisfaction is the more… satisfying?
God wants to satisfy us, he wants to fill us. Mary went through agony so that she could learn and she quietly contemplated all these things in her heart. When we hurt, emotionally, God is telling us to pay attention to certain aspects of our life. In Psalm 81:10 he tells us to open our mouth wide so that he may fill us. This word wide speaks of not just creating space, but making room. When we want to fill our wardrobes with nice new dresses that will make us happy it would be illogical to buy a bigger wardrobe. No, you get rid of the dresses you no longer wear, or don’t fit you. no matter how pretty they are. You must make room for God, like you make room for desert. We don’t have to grasp at things, God wants to fills us, but we must be hungry for Him. He wants to fill us in such a way that it overwhelms us, saturates us. But, he can’t if we are full of other things.
So, back to my earlier question of how can we open ourselves to this? If we are scared or in pain? If we can’t understand the fullness of what we are opening ourselves to. Think of baby birds, they’re so tiny, they can’t see. They’ve no idea what is around them, but they open their mouths and cry out until their mother feeds them. This is how we must be towards Our Lord. In our fear and uncertainty, we must trust that what we need will be given us. We are nourished by God as we are told through out scripture.
Fighting without consequence isn’t bravery or courage, it’s just logic. We must have faith in God’s plan even if we don’t understand it. That’s true faith. If I want God to make me more patient He has to test my patience, if I want to be stronger, He has to test my strength.
Let us be open to what God is trying to teach us, to pay special attention to the areas that we need to nurture in God’s light. Most importantly let us not lose our patience with God. Let us, just as Mary did in the temple, ask God to open us up to His will.
When I remember all of this. I remember a song with the words “darling don’t be afraid I have loved you for a thousand years and I’ll love you for a thousand more.”
The song is so cheesy but it reminds me that through my pain, loneliness and confusion there is a plan because God doesn’t just love me now. I’m covered in His finger prints. He thought me out, he created me body and soul and most incredibly he loved me so much he gave me purpose, he gave me a vocation and through that, in the words of St Catherine, I will set the world on fire.