Miracles are such a rich source of inspiration in our faith. Our God is the God of the possible and practical, as well as the impossible and impractical, after all. Miracles are those impossibilities and impracticalities, and God shows us His strength and potential through them. As we turn to explore “internal miracles” and movements of the human heart in the last three weeks of our message series on miracles, I was drawn to explore the life of Padre Pio, an Italian Capuchin friar, who is perhaps most notable for bearing the stigmata (the five crucifixion wounds of Jesus Christ).
Born in 1887, Padre Pio joined the Capuchins at age 15, having expressed a desire to join a religious order from the age of five. He was drafted in World War I, and served Italy in the medical corps for several years, though he did have to take a leave of absence for medical reasons. In August of 1918, just a few months after his permanent discharge from the military, Padre Pio began experiencing “a painful stigmata that would come and go over a period of weeks.”
This stigmata, wounds on each of his hands and feet as well as a slash in his side, mirrored the crucifixion wounds of Jesus, and eventually became permanent. Countless doctors and medical professionals examined the stigmata over the course of Pio’s lifetime, and were all baffled at the wounds’ presentation. The wounds caused him great pain and embarrassment, Pio reported, but despite bleeding constantly and never healing, they were never infected, nor did he experience any side effect of constantly bleeding (like a drop in blood pressure). The wounds were also described as “floral- and sweet-smelling,” a highly unusual description of traumatic injuries.
Many remained skeptics of Padre Pio’s stigmata, and the Vatican too censored his priestly activities for a brief period. Padre Pio was a mystic and was said to have physically struggled with Satan in dreams and in prayer. Many people believed in his power and closeness to God, however, and his priestly privileges (saying Mass, offering confession, and counseling the community) were eventually restored.
Christian theologian Ivan Illich wrote on the stigmata in a paper titled “Hospitality and Pain,” saying that the appearance of the wounds stems from “compassion with Christ . . . [and] faith so strong and so deeply incarnate that it leads to the individual embodiment of the contemplated pain.” He theorizes that the stigmata appear in deeply religious individuals who exhibit “exceptional poignancy of faith” and “an intense desire to associate [themselves] with the suffering Messiah.” These qualities were certainly exhibited by Padre Pio, both during his lifetime and after, having been canonized in 2002 by Pope John Paul II.
Though he accepted the stigmata with grace, Padre Pio himself did not consider them a miracle. In fact, he often wept from the pain and embarrassment they caused, though he hid them in public at all times. But, his compassion as a human being was so great that he carried the wounds of Christ, who died for the world — living openly as both a follower and a channel of Jesus’s love and peace for all people. That, indeed, is a miracle of the human heart.
—Claire Kosewic, Staff Bulletin Writer
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