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The Stigmata Are Baffling and Intriguing

    Are the Stigmata Miraculous?

    Q: Recently, after watching a video about the life of Padre Pio, my husband and I wondered why the wounds appeared in the hands rather than the wrists. The hand sites are found depicted in many traditional paintings, while the wrists are the accepted actual site of the piercing. Could this anomaly be proof of a less-than-miraculous reason for the stigmata?

    A: Two reference books shed light on your question. The HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism, edited by Richard P. McBrien, states, "On very rare occasions the Catholic Church has accepted an occurrence of the stigmata as authentic, but has never defined their origin or nature, thus allowing physical, psychological and preternatural explanations for these phenomena."

    Ian Wilson, in Stigmata (Harper & Row, San Francisco), declares, "They [stigmata] are one of the most baffling and intriguing of medical and scientific mysteries."

    Obviously, there are few sure answers we can give or find regarding the stigmata. We are not even certain how the stigmata—wounds of the Passion—looked on Christ’s body. We can only speculate. But we do know that the stigmata do not appear the same in all who are believed to have had them.

    One stigmatic, for instance, had only the wounds that would have been made by the crown of thorns. Two possessed only the wound in the side. Some had the lance wound in the left side (Padre Pio), another in the right side (St. Francis of Assisi). One had the hand wounds in the wrists, others in the palms of the hands.

    Is it significant that more women than men have had the stigmata? What can we conclude from the fact that most stigmatics came from the Dominican and Franciscan Orders? And what does it say that some saints were stigmatics but not all stigmatics were saints?

    As I read Wilson, he searches for a natural explanation of the stigmata. Among the possibilities he suggests is some inner mechanism comparable to that which under stress produces evolutionary adaptations in species.

    In his study, Wilson notes some stigmatics seem to have identified with earlier stigmatics—ultimately with Jesus. Finally, Wilson notes, "A really riveting feature is the extraordinary precision of the mechanism’s conformity to the visualization that triggered it. Stigmata have been precisely positioned to conform with the wounds of a stigmatic’s favorite crucifix. Or a wound may have taken on the exact shape, such as a cross."

    That seems to imply that the stigmata may occur according to the way the subject pictures or imagines them.

    For books on the stigmata besides Wilson’s, see: Voices, Visions and Apparitions and They Bore the Wounds of Christ: The Mystery of the Sacred Stigmata, both by Michael Freeze, S.F.O. (Our Sunday Visitor).

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    Where Is Veronica’s Veil?

    Q: In the May 1998 issue, there is an excellent article on the Shroud of Turin. I would like to ask where is the veil that Veronica used to wipe the face of Jesus, and why isn’t it more well-known?

    I read somewhere that the veil is stored in a church in Europe, but I cannot remember where. It seems that something as important as Veronica’s veil should also be on display. After all, this is the imprint of the face of Jesus, painted by Jesus himself. It would be a great service to believers and nonbelievers alike if the veil were displayed.

    A: In discussing Veronica and the veil on which Jesus is said to have imprinted the image of his face, it is im-portant to remember neither Veronica nor her veil is mentioned in the Scriptures. Are Veronica and her story a creation of Christian piety and devotion? Or was her story preserved and handed down in tradition by the early Christians? No one can really answer those questions.

    We do know that Veronica’s name seems derived from the veil. It seems to come from the Latin words vera ("true") and icon ("image"). We do know from Our Sunday Visitor’s Encyclopedia of Saints that in the apocryphal Acts of Pilate Veronica is identified with the woman suffering from an issue of blood in the Gospel of Matthew.

    We are told that by legend Veronica carried the image from the Holy Land to cure the Emperor Tiberius of an illness. And, according to the encyclopedia, the veil was seen in Rome in the eighth century. In 1297, by the order of Pope Boniface VIII, the image was brought to St. Peter’s.

    Joan Carroll Cruz has several pages about the veil and its story in her book Relics from Our Sunday Visitor. She informs us the veil is still kept in St. Peter’s and from time to time has been offered for display.

    Mary, Joseph and Divorce

    Q: I have been told that St. Joseph was willing to divorce the Blessed Mother upon hearing she was pregnant. I never heard this before. Please explain.

    A: Verses describing the events before Jesus’ birth are read in the Gospels for the Fourth Sunday of Advent (A Cycle), the Vigil of Christmas and the feast of Joseph, Husband of Mary (March 19). St. Matthew tells us in Chapter One of his Gospel that while they were betrothed but before they lived together Mary was "found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly."

    A person needs some awareness of Old Testament law to understand the situation of Joseph in discovering the pregnancy of Mary. By law he was considered the husband of Mary as the result of their betrothal, even though he had yet to take her into his home.

    Deuteronomy directs what is to be done if a betrothed woman has relations with another man. She is to be stoned unless she was raped.

    The Book of Numbers allows a trial by ordeal if a husband suspects adultery but cannot prove it. If after drinking a mixture of holy water and dust from the floor of the dwelling, the woman miscarried or became sterile she was guilty. If she remained able to bear children, she was innocent. Whatever happened, it would be tremendously embarrassing for the woman.

    In The Gospel According to St. Matthew (Sheed and Ward), Alexander Jones says that at the time of Joseph and Mary it cannot be proven there was a legal duty of denunciation or that Joseph was sacrificing legal scruples in making the choice he did.

    Joseph was a just, righteous man. He was concerned with doing the right thing. Mary was obviously with child. Knowing Mary, he could not believe her blameworthy. He could think, says Jones, only of some unknown, perhaps supernatural cause.

    He would not subject Mary to some procedure before a village court. He would divorce her quietly—perhaps without offering any specific reason as far as the public was concerned.

    Henry Wansbrough, O.S.B., in the Nelson Commentary on Matthew proposes that the word righteous means Joseph knew Mary to be guiltless. The motive for divorce was his own sense of unworthiness and wondering how he could fit into God’s plan for Mary.

    Who May Celebrate Benediction?

    Q: May anyone other than an ordained priest celebrate Benediction? May a nun?

    A: According to Canon #943, the minister of exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and the eucharistic blessing is a priest or deacon.

    In special circumstances an acolyte, extraordinary minister of Communion or another person deputed by the local ordinary in accordance with the regulations of the diocesan bishop may expose the Blessed Sacrament for adoration. At the end of the period of veneration, that person may return the Sacrament to the tabernacle.

    Only the priest or deacon, however, may bless those present with the Blessed Sacrament.

    A religious sister could be one of those deputed to expose the Blessed Sacrament.

    A Reader’s Opinion: In responding to a letter about the forehead-lips-heart crossing before the reading of the Gospel, you missed a great opportunity to show that child the intimate connection between our Mass and God’s Word, the Bible!

    My Bible tells me that the crossing is representative of the cleansing Isaiah received with the burning coal as provided by one of the seraphim, during his vision of God. The notation in my Bible regarding Isaiah 6:7 says: "In the Roman liturgy, the celebrant at Mass makes reference to this incident just before he reads the Gospel."

    In addition, that chapter also holds the most wonderful explanation of why we sing, or say, "Holy, holy, holy Lord" before the consecration. The celebrant says that we will now "join the choirs of angels in singing...." It’s such a joy to realize that we are actually singing with the angels surrounding God’s throne!

    To Cynthia: Cynthia is the feminine of Synesius—a third-century Roman lector and martyr. Also called Cynthia was Blessed Diana of Andola, a 13th-century Dominican sister.

    The Wise Man welcomes your questions. If you have a question, please submit it here. Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Wise Man, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.

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