Bro.Joseph Thamby and The Crucified Christ
The widespread devotion to Br. Joseph Thamby might be based on several factors, and we think his frequent experience of the bitter Passion of Jesus Christ even physically by the stigmatization ranks perhaps foremost among them. The devotees of thamby will not fail to tell you how some of them were astounded by his intense participation in the passion and death of our Saviour. There are several priests, brothers and sisters, men and women who had the good fortune of witnessing this phenomenon: his intense mental agony, painful bleeding and gradual relief and return to normalcy.
Though stigmatization can be attributed to many psychosomatic factors discounting its calm to the spiritual sphere, its religious dimension, however, cannot be overlooked. The fact is confirmed by the Bible and hagiography of various saints throughout the centuries. St. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “Friends, as far as I am concerned, I have nothing about which I can boast expect the cross of our Saviour, Jesus Christ through whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. What matters is not whether you are circumcised or not, but whether or not you have experienced new life. Peace and mercy on all the people of God who make this their life’s goal. From now on, let no one bother me. The marks on my body are those of Jesus. May the grace of our Saviour Jesus Christ be with you” (Gal 6: 14-18). The last verse of this passage, “The marks on my body are those of Jesus”, have always fascinated men. There are some commentators who say that St. Paul had the stigmata, that is, external marks on his body which reminded him of the cruel sufferings of the divine Master, and gave him a sharing in the passion of Jesus Christ. He wrote to the Colossians, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake and in myself I complete what is lacking in Christ’s affliction for the sake of his body, that is, the Church” (Col 1:24).
Here, Paul begins the passage with a daring thought. He thinks of his sufferings through which he is passing as completing the sufferings of Jesus Christ himself. Jesus died to establish the kingdom of God which must be built and extended; it must be kept strong and pure and true; therefore, anyone who belongs to the kingdom, and gives himself or herself to its furthering continues the work of Christ. And if such service involves laying down one’s life, then it is completing and sharing the very suffering of Christ.
Motivated so sublimely to suffer, the path of Christian life so clearly exposed, Paul would not mince words in speaking about following the crucified Jesus. He wrote to the Philippians, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If it is to be life in the flesh, that means fruitful labour for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is better” (Phil 1: 21-23). “For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you” (2 Cor 4:11-12). In chapter twelve of the same letter, after recounting the visions and revelations he had, he states, “And to keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations: a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated” (2 Cor 12:7). For the word of the cross is folly for those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart” (Cor 1: 18).
The foregoing passages have been cited in order to show the importance Paul gives to sufferings in Christian life. The Sufferings of all types are an integral part of Christian life, and not something to be avoided. To follow Jesus Christ is basically to carry the cross, and its destiny is to die with him in order to rise with him to share his glory. Hence Paul, while recounting his personal sufferings, although excruciating they are, always remains free from complaint or regret. He had his own chronic and permanent problems the type and magnitude of which need not be discussed here. The mystery of dying with Christ as a prior condition for participating in His glory, specifically preached by Paul and the other apostles, is basic to Christian faith.