During the four years of writing A Pastor's Ponderings never have I been so inundated with questions about a specific topic as I have been during the past three weeks. The movie Stigmata has caused quite a stir among readers and pilgrims alike.
The movie recounts the horrors of Frankie Paige who "catches" stigmata (the marks of the crucifixion of Jesus) from a rosary and ends up spiritually oppressed and presumably possessed-by what, we're not sure. In any event, Frankie deals with all sorts of evil events through the rest of the movie because of the stigmata which has invaded her body. The theme of the movie implies that this religious phenomenon is somehow malevolent and to be avoided at all costs. Another predominant theme in the movie seems to be an accusation against the Roman Catholic church for hiding the "true words of Jesus" supposedly discovered on an ancient scroll and spirited away in Vatican City (in one scene Frankie begins spouting these sayings in Aramaic as if it were her own native tongue, though it was likely the language of Jesus). Indeed, a blurb added to the end of the movie, stating that the Vatican has not recognized the scroll of St. Thomas, is a blatant attempt to authenticate the accusation of the movie.
Because of all the confusion created by the movie's distortions of the truth, let's look at what is true and what is not. To begin with, we need to begin by defining exactly what stigmata is. Stigmata is the visible marks of Jesus' crucifixion-the wounds in the hands, feet, side, and head-visited upon another. Generally, the sign only accompanies the devout, although there have been documented cases where the stigmata has appeared on casual believers. However, the visitation of the stigmata has been uniformly received as a blessed event and is certainly not accompanied by demon possessions, marauding trains, and attempted drownings as the movie implies.
The reality is that stigmata is a real and documented religious phenomenon. The evidence that stigmata has been visited upon people is supported both traditionally as well as medically and scientifically. The first reported case of stigmata comes from St. Francis of Assisi where it was visited upon him as a sign of his blessedness by God. Since then, literally hundreds of cases of stigmata have been reported and verified. Indeed, scientific studies and medical examinations have been conducted during the past century and stigmatics are well documented in literature, photography, and even video (see Stigmata by Ian Wilson). In our limited personal experience, we have met one stigmatic, a Kansas woman from a little town who had received the marks. The woman kept mostly to herself and to her devotion to her daily prayers and mostly sought to be left alone.
The movie Stigmata has alarmed and concerned a small army of seekers and Christians alike by twisting and distorting the truth. It is unfortunate that we, as a nation, are so spiritually uninformed that we couldn't see through the misinformation so as to dismiss the movie as so much schlock.
Next week we'll look at the movie's claim that the Vatican has conspired to keep the "true words of Jesus" from the world.