What is the Stigmata?

Q. I have been a good Catholic all my life. I have heard that God sometimes blesses some worthy Catholics with a miracle called “stigmata.” Does the Catholic Church acknowledge the existence of stigmata, or is it a hoax perpetrated by some human beings who just want attention?

Manny, via e-mail

A.Here is a reply from Father Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:

The stigmata is a miracle, and the Church does recognize it after careful scrutiny. But sometimes it turns out to be a hoax. The two worthiest Christians ever (Our Lady and St. Joseph) did not bear the stigmata, although Our Lady bore the wounds of Christ in her heart, which was pierced with a sword (see Lk 2:35). The stigmata can be a sign of holiness, but it does not make a person holy; nor does the absence of the stigmata suggest a person is not holy.

The stigmata, or the five wounds of Christ, are a blessing in disguise because it usually brings great physical and spiritual suffering to the person who bears it. The term comes from St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians: “I bear the marks of Jesus on my body” (6:17). The four most famous stigmatists were St. Paul, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Catherine of Siena and St. Padre Pio. There have been dozens of other verified cases of the stigmata down through the ages, with the majority of the cases happening to saints and blesseds, most of whom were women.

Sadly, there have been hoaxes about the stigmata, too, and some poorly formed Catholics consider mystical signs and wonders evidence of holiness, and flock to see the curiosity. But true holiness is usually found in the sanctification of ordinary life and ordinary daily duties, accompanied by growth in the virtues.