Words for St Francis Day – 4th October 2020 – A cyber sermon from the Vicarage
From now on, let no one make trouble for me; for I carry the marks of Jesus branded on my body. (Galatians 6:17)
God give you peace my sisters and brothers.
What do you do when you are wounded? Do you hide your hurt? Do you seek weal for your woe? Or do you bite back at whatever has caused you pain?
We need to answer this question as, at the very centre of our faith, there stands enthroned on the Cross of Calvary a Wounded Saviour. A paradox proclaimed eloquently in the title of Jürgen Moltmann’s book The Crucified God.
We live in a world that is not as it should be. Regardless of how we see Creation, be it an astrological accident or Divine intention, our world is worse off because of humankind. We a wounded people, living on a planet wounded because of our own anger and greed (which are themselves wounds) cry out for answers to heal our pain, save our planet and perhaps even our souls.
What does God offer us? Wounds! The history of the Church is enriched by those who, like our Saviour, have also physically borne the Wounds of Christ – the Stigmata. Scholars think this is what Paul means when he writes that he ‘carr[ies] the marks of Jesus branded on [his] body’. Other famous stigmatists are Padré Pio who has been recently canonised, Dorothy Kerin who established a House of Healing at Burrswood near Tunbridge Wells, Francis of Assisi whose feast we keep today and, somewhere in an English Convent an anonymous nun who turns the wounds of Christ into her Daily Prayers.
Often, but not always, those who bear the Stigmata also have gifts of healing. It seems as if somehow that, bearing the wounds of Christ gives them a share in the Healing Ministry of Christ. This is no sinecure, Stigmatists heel real pain and, though many are destined for sainthood, they are not always saintly. St Paul, though wounded, is frustrated by some of the Galatian Christians. Francis of Assisi was sometimes a hard taskmaster towards those who could not see his vision of living life completely without property. Holy wounds yes, but still hurting wounds.
Which causes me to think about ourselves.
All of us are ‘stigmatists’ in one form or another. We all carry the pain of some hurt that has wounded us. There are perhaps a few people who are genuine innocents and live lives untouched by the ways of the world, but the fact that we are not innocent anymore is proof that we have been wounded.
What do we do with these wounds? Grin and bear them, stoically pretending that we are unaffected by our pain? Grow a tough scab on them and harden our hearts against others in case we are wounded again? Make them into a running sore drawing attention to them and never giving them a chance to heal? Or do we, in our pain and hurt, use the strength of our wounds (for the wounded have much energy) to lash out and wound others?
Richard Rohr, when speaking of our own pain says this:
If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it.
This is what sets Stigmatists apart from the merely wounded.
Being wounded, sadly, is a commonplace.
Using our wounds to bring healing is part of our calling to Sainthood.
Our Beloved stands before His disciples on the evening of the First Easter Day and shows them His Wounds to bring them the resurrection. It is not being wounded that is redemptive but still living a life for others even though we are wounded!
Which returns us to the Cross and the paradox of the Crucified God.
How can our common lot of being broken and wounded bring healing?
How do we learn to transform our pain rather than transmit it?
How do we stop our own hurt from hurting those around us?
How do we use our hurt to heal those who have hurst us?
We begin to transform our pain when we, like Christ hold on to the Cross, and in so doing discover that out of the middle of pain can be borne a passion for others.
This is why Paul (and Francis with him) put the Cross at the centre of their message and if they are going to boast about anything they are going to boast about dying.
May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
Being a Wounded Healer is hard work. No one thanks you for it. In our harsh world there is little sympathy for those who despite being abused and neglected offer themselves again and again in the service of others.
Being a Wounded Healer means living with a pain yet not speaking of it for fear that any good you do might be done in your name rather than for the Saviour’s sake.
Being a Wounded Healer means living with the contradiction of having got it wrong ourselves – for some of our wounds are self-inflicted – yet daring to offer advice and healing to others.
Being a Wounded Healer means that you never quite fit in as you are compelled to go against the flow of society, speaking up for the wounded, the broken, the fallen, and the left behind.
Being a Wounded Healer, however, is the only way we can stop our pain from growing and hurting others. To heal when wounded is to begin to transform our pain and to bring an end to our wounding of others.
We are not all Pulpit Preachers, but because we are wounded we all ‘preach’ the gospel all the time. This is perhaps what Francis of Assisi meant when he said ‘Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary use words!’ so we must be careful what we do with our wounds.
The American preacher Nadia Bolz-Weber knows about being wounded in her personal life, but also knows that healing comes with Christ and her wounds can bring healing to other broken people. Her advice for us wounded is that we own them and live with them until, in God’s time wounds become scars and scars become proof of the resurrection. So that, when people ask us to show proof of God’s love all we need do is hold out our scarred hands and feet and encourage people to follow Him and become healers with us.
[This blog Wounded Healers’ is copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2020 and may be reproduced without charge on condition that the source is acknowledged]