Dear friends in the Lord, fellow sharers in the gifts of priestly vocation and consecrated life, isang mapagpalang hapon sa inyong lahat. In Gal 6:17, Paul says in Greek ἐγὼ γὰρ τὰ στίγματα (stigmata) τοῦ Ἰησοῦ ἐν τῷ σώματί μου βαστάζω. In English: “…for I bear the marks of Jesus on my body.”
This passage should give us a good reason today as members of the Clergy and the Consecrated persons to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the stigmata, or the marks of Jesus’ wounds on the much-loved Saint Padre Pio. We might be surprised to find out that many of us have these marks too, even if they might not be in the right places.
It is not uncommon for people in this day and age to be stigmatized for one reason or another. You know what I mean; stigma no longer has the neutral meaning that it had before. Modern English has assumed this Greek word in its vocabulary but has given it a very negative meaning. Very much like the words UNCLEAN or SINNER during the time of Jesus—as common labels for the rejects in Jewish society in the first century AD, those regarded as violators of the law. Or very much like the STAR OF DAVID the Jews were forced to wear during the time of Hitler. Or the SCARLET LETTER in the novel of Nathaniel Hawthorne, the woman who had committed adultery, and who had been condemned to wear a dress marked with a bold letter A (for adulteress) in scarlet, to make sure that her sin was known by the whole town.
Perhaps the modern equivalent for the scarlet letter A in our country today is DS—meaning, “drug suspect”. It is probably the worst stigma that can be given as label to people who land in the drug watch list. It is generic but cruel because it can mean anything: drug user, pusher, runner, protector, supplier, producer, smuggler, etc. This stigma can get people jailed or killed, and people just shake their heads with pity when they see their dead bodies on a street alley. It takes just one toxic whisper, “He must be a drug suspect” to justify the murder.
Actually, the stigmata of Jesus did not have a neutral or positive meaning either. They were also the marks of a criminal, one who had been condemned to death through the brutal and the most cruel form of death penalty invented by the Persians and adopted by the Romans. Two marks on the hands and two marks on the feet for the nailing on the cross. But unlike the other criminals, Jesus bore a fifth mark on his side. One that supposedly pierced his heart. Let me share about that fifth stigma of the man from Nazareth who had been condemned as criminal, on the occasion of the visit of the heart of Saint Padre Pio. Take note that the original stigmatist before this Franciscan Capuchin, Padre Pio, was no other than Saint Francis of Assisi himself.
The most familiar photos of Saint Padre Pio are those of him celebrating Mass with extended hands covered with mittens that have marks of blood. But unknown to many people, aside from the stigmata on both hands and feet, the most painful stigma that Padre Pio received was hidden under layers of clothes marking the wound inflicted on the side Jesus when a soldier pierced him with a lance after he had expired on the cross. At least, Jesus was dead already when he got it; Padre Pio was very much alive when he received his fifth stigma. In one of his writings, he described what it was like when he saw a vision of an angel thrusting a flaming spear into his side. He described the excruciating pain that he felt as the spear cut into his flesh and pierced his heart. He said he thought he was going to die right then and there.
The pain that Padre Pio experienced in his heart after that mystical experience is what we came here to reflect on today dear brothers and sisters in the Clergy & Consecrated Life. We’re not just here to venerate a relic. We’re here to reflect on the priestly heart of Padre Pio, and on that which wounded this heart to be so configured to the Heart of Jesus, our Supreme High Priest. Is this not what we sing about during our First Friday devotion? “O sacred heart O love divine, do keep us near to Thee, and make our hearts so like to Thine that we may holy be.” Like that of St. Francis of Assisi, Padre Pio‘s heart was wounded, not to bleed, but to burn, to be set on fire. In our Gospel, we heard how the divine heart burned with indignation (like those of the prophets of old) when he drove away the traders and money-changers from the temple and cried out, “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” The evangelist tells us people were reminded of the words of the Psalm 69:10, “Zeal for your house consumes me!” The closest Tagalog translation that I can think of for this is that line that we sing in our national anthem: “Alab ng puso sa dibdib mo’y buhay.” Or more accurately, “Alab ng puso ko para sa tahanan mo, sa dibdib ko’y buhay.” (Good thing, it is not the line that the honorable senator wanted to revise. I think what he wanted to change was the ending, “Ang mamatay ng dahil sa iyo.” Apparently, he does not want us to sound defeatist, so he suggests to revise it to “Ang ipaglaban ang kalayaan mo.” People who are too eager to fight for a cause can be dangerous too. Like those who say, “Ipaglaban ang kaayusan ng lipunan laban sa mga kriminal” who would probably feel more comfortable changing the slogan to “Ang pumatay ng dahil sa iyo.” This is never the way of Christ. Ang paraan ni Kristo ay hindi ang pumatay. Manindigan sa tama kahit pagdurusa at kamatayan ang kapalit nito. Christ’s way is never about the eagerness to kill but the zeal to offer one’s life, like San Lorenzo Ruiz who said, “I am a Catholic and I am ready to offer my life for the Lord. If I had a thousand lives, I’d be willing to offer them all for him.”)
The heart of Padre Pio, like that of Jesus, burned with the priestly zeal to save, not to condemn sinners. Like Christ, he was indignant towards religious leaders who turned religion into politics and business.
The Bible is replete with many instances when God’s Word, or God’s mercy & compassion are described like fire burning within people. Remember the Call of Moses? Something was already burning within him before he encountered God in the burning bush. God was merely echoing to Moses what Moses himself had already been feeling whenever he witnessed the oppression of the Hebrew slaves. The words God said in the burning bush “I have seen the affliction of my people; I have heard their cry, and I know well they are suffering…” could have been said by Moses himself.
Or remember Jeremiah who wanted to give up his prophetic mission because proclaiming God’s Word always got him into trouble? How he resolved to just shut up his mouth and stop speaking on God’s behalf? He said in chapter 20:9 “I say I will not mention him, I will no longer speak in his name.But then it is as if fire is burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones;I grow weary holding back, I cannot endure it!”
Or remember those two disciples who were running away from trouble in Jerusalem, how the Lord who had walked and talked with them like a casual stranger was revealed to them at the breaking of the bread? How they looked back and said, “Were not our hearts burning within as as he explained to us the Scriptures?”
Kaya pala napakahalagang simbolo ng apoy sa ating pananampalataya. Di ba’t sa lahat ng mga simbahan natin, kapag naroon ang Katawan ni Kristo sa Banal na Eukaristiya, kailangan laging may apoy din, ang ilaw ng bihilya, na hindi rin dapat hahayaan ng mga pari na mamatay kailanman. Tayo palang mga pari ay tagapangalaga ng apoy.
Walang duda, ang apoy ay sumisimbolo sa walang hanggang pagibig ng Diyos para sa atin, at sa Salita niyang nagbibigay liwanag. Ngunit kung minsan ang apoy ng pagibig ay nagiging apoy din ng banal na galit na dulot ng malasakit, pagpupuyos sa kalupitan at pagkasuklam sa pagkukunwari at pagbabanal-banalan. Kaya pala nang sabihin ni Hesus “wasakin nyo ang templong ito at itatayo kong muli sa ikatlong araw”, natandaan ng mga tao ang nasusulat sa Salmo: “Ang alab ng puso ko para tahanan mo, sa dibdib ko’y buhay.”
The Carmelite saint, John of the Cross, did not receive stigmata, but in one of his poems, he describes an experience similar to what Saint Padre Pio experienced when he received his fifth wound. The poem is entitled LIVING FLAME OF LOVE.
Oh, living flame of love
That tenderly wounds my soul in its deepest centre,
Since thou art no longer oppressive, perfect me now if it be thy will, Break the web of this sweet encounter.
Oh, sweet burn! Oh, delectable wound!
Oh, soft hand! Oh, delicate touch
That savours of eternal life and pays every debt!
In slaying, thou hast changed death into life.
Sa sentenaryo ni Padre Pio, mga kapatid kong pari at relihiyoso na naririto ngayon, tiyakin ninyong sa bawat pagpasok ng mga mananampalataya sa ating mga simbahan ay may apoy pa rin silang maiuuwi at maibabahagi sa kanilang kapwa. Ano ang saysay ng ating naglalakihang mga simbahan kung wala na silang masumpungang ilaw na magbibigay liwanag sa mga kadilimang kailangan nilang harapin sa buhay? Ano ang kabuluhan ng salitang ating ipinahahayag kung wala nang init na naidudulot ito sa mga kaluluwang nanlalamig?
Minamahal kong mga kapatid sa pagkapari at sa buhay konsagrado, kapag ang ating mga parokya ay naging mga bahay-kalakalan na lamang, kapag nilalagyan natin ng takdang presyo ang mga sakramento at dahil dito’y alangan nang lumapit sa simbahan ang mga dukha, kapag hindi na nila maramdaman na bahagi rin sila ng ating mga pamayanan, ibig sabihin, wala nang apoy sa ating mga simbahan. Kapag wala na tayong madamang malasakit sa mga asawang nabalo at mga anak na naulila ng mga araw-araw na pinapaslang na mga taong napagbibintangang “drug suspect”, kapag hindi na tayo nababahala sa karahasan, sa patayan, sa katiwalian, at sa pagmumura, panlalait, paninirang puri at kasinungalingan. Kapag wala na tayong pakialam sa pagkasira at pagkawasak ng kalikasan at kapaligiran, o sa paglapastangan sa ating pananampalataya, sa panlalait sa ating mga martir at mga banal, kapag tuluyan na nating isinantabi ang kapakanan ng bayan para sa pansariling kapakanan, muling masusumpa ang ating mga bahay-dalanginan at manganganib na mawasak muli ang ating lipunan.
Ang sakit na naramdaman ni Padre Pio sa kanyang dibdib ay parang apoy na nag-alab sa kanyang puso. Sa mga panahong iyon ng panlalamig ng pananampalataya sa Europa, ang hatid ni Padre Pio ay bagong apoy na nagdulot ng bagong init at liwanag. Sa pagdalaw sa kanya ng libo-libong tao sa San Giovanni Rotondo, para bang sumiklab na muli ang apoy ng kabanalan at kumalat na muli sa buong Italya at sa iba’t ibang sulok ng mundo. Sa paglapit ng taong 2021, bago dumating ang ikalimangdaang taon ng pananampalatayang Kristiyano sa Pilipinas, hilingin nating ang panalangin ng mahal na Santo Padre Pio ay muling magpaningas sa pananampalataya nanlalamig ng maraming mga Pilipino. Hilingin nating ipagsanggalang niya sa mga tukso ng pang-aabuso at mga gawaing nakaiiskandalo ang kaparian sa Pilipinas at sa bawat sulok ng daigdig. Hilingin nating siya ay maging inspirasyon nating lahat sa pagkapari at buhay konsagrado, upang manatiling maalab sa ating mga puso ang pag-ibig ni Kristo, at ang pagsusumikap na manatiling tapat sa pag-ibig na ito sa kabila ng mga sugat na dulot karupukan at kataksilan ng iba.
Sandali tayong tumahimik at magnilay sa liwanag na dulot ng Salita ng Diyos.