A young woman is brutally gouged and slashed by Stigmata, the wounds of Christ. A phenomenon that is said to occur only in the deeply spiritual, deeply devout. But this young woman is the opposite of all that. She’s the ultimate “sex, drugs and rock and roll” girl, plus she says she’s an atheist. How is that possible?
Just watched the controversial movie “Stigmata” again recently, and as always, it gets me thinking. The story goes like this. When Frankie, a wild child from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania gets the wounds of stigmata, the Vatican sends an official investigator, Father Kiernan, to determine the authenticity of the incidents. She has holes in her wrists that go all the way through from one side to the other. But when she tells him she’s an atheist, he’s ready to dismiss her case. Because only the very deeply devout get stigmata. So why is she getting them?
Her mother had sent her a rosary belonging to a priest at a church in the Brazilian village of Belo Quinto, Father Alameida, who was known to experience stigmata. His church was not affiliated in any way with the Roman Catholic Church. When Father Alameida died, a street urchin had grabbed his rosary from his coffin and sold it at a marketplace to an American woman. The woman mailed it as a gift to her daughter, the atheist wild child, Frankie, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Frankie starts to get stigmata, and a message, which she scribbles all over the wall in her apartment, rakes viciously across the tops of old cars in alleys, and screams angrily to the world. The words say: “Jesus said the Kingdom of God is inside you, and all around you, not in mansions of wood and stone. Split a piece of wood and I am there, lift a stone and you will find me.”
The words, written in Aramaic, said to be the original language of Jesus, are from some ancient scrolls discovered a while back. Father Alameida was one of three people assigned to translate the writing on the scrolls. When the Roman Catholic Church, represented here by Cardinal Daniel Houseman, found out about this scroll, they ordered the three men to cease their endeavor. But the men continued it in secret.
Years later, Cardinal Houseman of the Roman Catholic Church finds out that the blasphemous words he had ordered suppressed, words saying God is in everyone and everything, and that one does not have to go the “mansions” of the Catholic Church to find Him, are spewing out of the mouth of a sinful young woman who is also showing signs of Stigmata. She must die. Fortunately the investigator priest, Father Kiernan, figures out what’s going on, and manages to save her in time.
The implication, of course, is that the spirit of Father Alameida possesses the girl, and makes her his “messenger,” hence the stigmata. Thus, the words from the scroll make their way from him to her and into the world. But Father Alameida also says only those who “believe” can be the messenger: “The messenger believes, the messenger has faith…” So the question is: how could he have chosen this atheist party animal as his messenger? Could it be that somehow she could possibly be a believer?
What does it mean, then, to “believe”? Blind, unquestioning belief in everything the church dictates? Could it be to believe in oneself? The one line from Frankie that sticks in my mind is “I love being me.” She says this in the emergency room when the doctors suggest her wounds are self-inflicted. She says she would never hurt herself because she loves herself. She believes in herself. Despite all her vices, Frankie comes across as happy, almost childlike, as if she somehow managed to maintain the purity she was born with. And like a child, she is at peace with herself. Could that be a kind of devotion? To accept and love yourself despite all your faults, despite the judgment of society? If the “Kingdom of God” is indeed within all of us, then to believe in oneself would be to believe in that kingdom.
Suppose the Kingdom of God is in everyone. Then men like Cardinal Houseman who claim that the only path to God is through them, and that those who do not support the Church are not loved by God, are wrong. The message, as I understand it, is that God cannot discriminate between those who “believe” and those who don’t, and accepts and loves everyone, because they are all a part of Him. It follows that those who love themselves, are kind to themselves, forgive themselves, in a way show devotion to God, whether they go to church or not, because they are a part of God. Moreover those who love themselves usually do not feel the need to hurt others, who are also a part of God. So that also becomes a way to show devotion to God, by not hurting others. And maybe when she said, “I love being me,” Frankie showed herself to be a believer, one who has faith in herself, and thus in God. If everyone loved themselves, and as a consequence were kind to others, maybe the world would not be so full of hate? Maybe that is the most truly religious one can actually be?
Yes, it’s only a movie. My husband thinks it went a little overboard with the possession scenes, which resembles the ones in “The Exorcist.” Okay, so it’s a little sensational sometimes. But movies, books, any form of literature and art, are ultimately drawn from real life issues, the purpose being, hopefully, to make one think about them. And this movie gets my mind going every time I watch it.
Here is the official trailer for “Stigmata”. If you have thoughts, I would love to hear them!