There are experiences we have while we are young and although we could not fully comprehend their meaning at the time, they do leave lasting impressions on our minds.
I encountered one of such experiences in 1992 when I was 10 years, in Nigeria and in the company of my aunty – Felicia. Aunty Felicia is one of the members of my family who drew me closer to God while I was noticeably young. When I was 10 years and spending my school holidays with her and my paternal grandmother, aunty Felicia with the permission of my parents, took me on a Lenten Retreat at Owerri Ebeiri in Imo State, Nigeria.
It was a Lenten Retreat led by Brother Innocent Chima Okorie who was an extremely popular figure in the Catholic Church in Nigeria at the time and was a
STIGMATA. As a young man, I did not know what being a Stigmata entailed but I soon realised what was happening and became very curious.
Throughout that Lenten period, I had many experiences of Brother Innocent that convinced me at that age that something was special about him. Brother Innocent encouraged an atmosphere of prayer and attended Mass every day. Although he was revered by everyone around, he was amazingly simple and kept an open-door policy.
The one thing that struck me was the fact that when we arrived at his retreat house on Monday before Ash Wednesday, he did not have any marks on his body, after Ash Wednesday Mass, there were 5 visible marks on his hands, feet, and his side.
I witnessed blood pouring out from those visible marks on his body on Fridays of Lent and on Good Friday which left him exhausted afterwards but without him going to the doctors for blood transfusion.
I equally noticed those marks disappeared on Easter Sunday and everything was normal again. It was only in my teenage years and my encounter with the lives of Padre Pio and St Francis of Assisi that my experience of 1992 began to make sense to me – That I
was in the presence of a STIGMATA and a MYSTIC.
Although the gift of Stigmata does
not make one a saint, it is one of those gifts Christ bestows on His Church for the glorification of God and not the self-aggrandisement of the individual. Yes, the wounds of Christ are real and there are many saints who were blessed with them.
In the Gospel Reading of today, we encounter the wounds of Christ which after His Resurrection, became one of the distinguishing marks of His glorified body. The Gospel of today from Luke 24:35-48, starts from where the Gospel of John which we read last
The two disciples who were on their way to Emmaus went back to Jerusalem and reported to the 11 disciples how they did not recognise the ‘divine wayfarer’ who walked alongside them and explained the scriptures to them until at the breaking of bread. The Greek word used there for recognise is Ginosko which does not just mean to know, understand, perceive, and feel; it means to know someone personally, intimately, and experientially.
In fact, the Jewish people use this same
Ginosko to qualify that intimate and personal knowledge between married couples. It is a truism that the glorified body of the Risen Christ was not exactly the same body they saw on Holy Thursday and Good Friday; something had happened to it and Christ wanted to ensure they realized it but still recognized Him.
To make this reality present and palpable to the disciples in today’s Gospel, Christ did three things: Firstly, He showed them the wounds on His hands and feet and told them to LOOK at them. The Greek word used there for looking is Eido which means to perceive with the eyes.
The Risen Christ invited them to use their sense of sight and see the wounds that Good Friday left on His Body. Secondly, Christ asked the disciples to TOUCH Him and realise He was not a ghost. The Greek word used there for touch is Pselaphao which means to handle.
Christ invited His disciples not just to touch Him but to handle and feel Him and for the second time, He showed them the wounds on His hands and feet.
Finally, Jesus asked for something to eat and ATE before their eyes. The Greek word used there for eating is Phago/Esthio meaning to eat, devour or consume.
It was after looking, touching, and seeing Jesus ate before them that the disciples recognised (Ginisko) Him to be the same Jesus whom they had betrayed and who was crucified but had risen from the dead. Christ then validated them as His witnesses.
It is this witnessing to the Risen Christ and the forgiveness of sins that His death brought about that we heard in today’s First Reading from Peter who is the head of the Apostolic College. John equally made this point crystal clear in the Second Reading by informing us that it is the death of Christ that takes away not only our sins but the sins of the whole world.
My friends, Christ invites us today not to run away from His wounds. He asks us to look, touch and feed on His wounds because by His wounds we are healed – 1 Peter 2:24.
Although wounds are not great sights to behold because they are foul and festering, the wounds of Christ are trophies of His love for us and obedience to His Father. In his Easter Urbi et Orbi Message of 2021, Pope Francis reiterated this invitation thus: “…the risen Jesus bears the marks of the wounds in his hands, feet and side.
These wounds are the everlasting seal of his love for us. All those who experience a painful trial in body or spirit can find refuge in these wounds and, through them, receive the grace of the hope that does not disappoint.”
My friends, Christ equally asks us today to look at our own wounds. We now live in a dispensation wherein the exposure of our wounds to others might be termed weakness and wimpy. That should not be the case. Like Christ who showed His wounds to His disciples, we are called to show our wounds to those close to us and who can support us.
Until we are wounded ourselves, we cannot be healers to others with various
wounds. Christ finally urges us to look at the wounds of our world and especially of the less privileged in our society, bandage them like the Good Samaritan and do all we can to ensure the innkeeper is appropriately remunerated to look after them.
Like Christ who continues to give the gift of STIGMATA to various people to remind us of the highest price He paid for us, let us be the wounded-healers of each other and of our world.
May we equally continue to recognize Christ by gazing at Him in adoration, touching Him through our charity deeds to each other especially the less privileged and partaking of Him in the sacrament of Holy Eucharist.
Fr Johnpromise Umeozuru
Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Easter Year B (18/04/2021)