How long have I had these marks? It was one thing to see them
on Jesus or St. Francis. There was a distance and they were paintings.
But this one of Padre Pio, a photograph, and in my lifetime, it
makes me shudder. At best I could conceive diligent prayer and
service, and the stigmata being the result.
Now I had tendencies in the same places and I had reasons for
such marks on my body. Shoveling, using the hand edger, put marks
on my palms. The ones on my feet were the result of wearing my
brother's hand-me-down shoes. They were his fit, not mine. They
would itch like skin blistered and peeled, but it went away or
I got used to it.
It was during a session with a directee that I felt something
on my side, damp and sticky. By feigning concentration I leaned
forward and hugged myself much like the way I held myself when
I had ulcer pains. There was no throbbing of hands or feet, just
a sticky pain. My directee continued on about finding God in all
things. When she left I went to the restroom to see what was going
on. Slowly I lifted my shirt and turned to my left to see this
slit on flabby skin. Like Thomas invited to touch, I worked my
finger around, a boy enamored with his first touch of a girl's
nipple. Now I was confused, this mark was right where a neighbor
had poked me with a piece of hot plastic, and left an indentation.
There seemed to be a growing domino effect of worry, and "why
me?" is all I cold say. Victor Frankel says if there is a
"why" you can put up with any "how."
I had done enough reading to know the stigmata happens, even to
"common folks." This was a call or warning, right to
It was Wednesday, the scheduled staff meeting. Could this be work
related? The pastor always joked that all he needed was one bleeding
statue and all his money worries would be over. He has a live
staff person, what could be better? I left a message with my spiritual
director. I mumbled something about the stigmata. Before entering
the staff meeting I touched myself to make sure I had enough Band-Aids
over my wounds. Check-in seemed to be a good place to mention
predicament. I trusted this group, but this will
drop them to a new place. I had time, though. They were going
the long way around to get to me.
When did I first notice this sensitivity of my body? Wednesday's
child is full of woe. I had an ulcer at the age of nine, no, edging
flagstones, hand clippers along our never-ending fence, holding
the handles at bad angles. Shit, I've been through this rational
One person away from my check-in. I raised my hands from my thighs.
There are two marks of red. I feel a line of blood moving to a
crease on my thick skin. "I have the stigmata." Not
yet my turn. As I look at these friends,
like I just said something that put reverence on hold and X-Files
reruns on the table. I raised my hands with elbows resting and
turned my wrists. The two in the group that still had lingering
effects of pre-Vatican II looked at my side and blessed me. Someone
said, "Feet, too?" I nodded. "Any suggestions"
My lame effort at an icebreaker. A look of ardor-confusion was
on all their faces, but one. Pastor Jim was still in the realm
of the skeptical. I began to imagine evening prayer, my hands
wrapped in bloody gauze as I raise the incense toward the crucifix
walking prayerfully and painfully around the chapel. I worry about
the Filipino women who tend toward the charismatic, and fainting.
There is still a silence and I began to wonder if I should have
said anything. All the things that might give insight or peace
of mind were not spoken or just passé. I am handed tissue
for my palms, the blood on my side slowly drying to a cracked
"We can use you
this!" All eyes were on Fr. Jim.
"Someone get an alb! Let's go to the sacristy." My shirt
was taken off. "Shouldn't we petition Rome or something?"
Another lame attempt at humor. Fr. Jim shouts, "Let Rome
come to us! Take his socks off, wash his feet! God! Wait 'til
Holy Thursday! We'll have a lottery to see who gets to wash Tom's
It was unraveling. Somehow another string in this ball of my life
got pulled. I was being sucked dry of religious significance,
by a church with dwindling finances and faith gone awry. Like
Cinderella surrounded by mice, I shook, in hope they would tumble
away or at least see what they were doing. I was being pampered
for wealth, not sympathy. The Money was the right color in the
wrong Liturgical season. You could never inject green into Lenten
purple. This, by God, was no Ordinary Time.
I went back to my office, no shirt, no socks. My Spiritual Director
had called back, leaving a message on my voice mail, confused,
and something about being susceptible to the Holy Spirit. The
Holy Spirit, yes, not these friends.
I put my elbows on the table and my pre-scabbing hands together.
"How much," said a voice, "how much must occur
to know that I am God? I sensed anger surrounded by sadness. "What
is this relationship that you want with Me? Do you see Me in others
or are they all money-changers, too? Do people see Me in you?"
I unfolded my hands, my shoes and shirt were on. I had a quick
feeling of leaning out the window and asking a boy what day it
was. The black spiritual kept humming in my mind: "Keep
your eye on the prize." Fr. Jim leaned into my office, "ten
minutes to staff meeting, Tom. Did you cut yourself?" I looked
at my hands, side and feet. He pointed to my cheek, "It must
have happened when you were shaving."