Saturday, April 7, 2018

"BY HIS WOUNDS, WE ARE HEALED." (In Touching Jesus' wounds, we too, like Thomas, can find healing for our own woundedness. Reflections on Divine Mercy Sunday, John 20:19-31)

"How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart, you begin to understand, there is no going back? There are some things that time cannot mend. Some hurts that go too deep...that have taken hold.”
  
Towards the end of the Lord of the Rings, Tolkien put these words in the mouth of his character Frodo.  

There’s been a lot of “disbelief” in the Gospel readings for Mass during this first week of Easter: Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb, the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, the entire group being “rebuked” by Jesus for not believing Mary’s news to them. And today we hear the famous story of Thomas, doubting, proclaiming for everyone to hear: “Unless I touch his wounds, I will not believe”.

Why all the incredulity?

“There are some hurts that go too deep”. Some of life’s wounds are indeed so painful, deep, and hurtful that they seem to create a veil that covers one’s eyes, preventing him from seeing anything past the wounds themselves.


Could this be the reason the two disciples on the road to Emmaus failed to recognize Jesus even as he walked and talked with them? Perhaps their sorrow was too immense that they failed to recognize even the joyful demeanor of the stranger who suddenly joined them and spoke about the fulfillment of Scriptures to them.

Could this be the reason Mary Magdalene herself failed to recognize Jesus at the tomb, and thought instead that he was the gardener? I’ve read a commentary once that suggested it was Mary’s tear-filled eyes that actually prevented her from recognizing Jesus at first; they clouded her vision.

Could this be the reason the apostles refused to believe Mary when she first broke the news? Their sorrow and fear after all, made them lock themselves up and isolate themselves from the world. Could this be the reason Thomas wanted to see the nailmarks on Jesus’ hands and put his hand on his wounds?

It is a known fact that when a person experiences a tremendous tragedy, it casts a dark cloud over him, and for a time, all he can see is pain and sorrow, and he refuses to believe there can be anything beyond it. It is not uncommon to hear someone who has lost a loved one or experience tremendous suffering, say or wonder: “How can I go on?”


Life can lose a lot of meaning when we’re in pain.

Several Holy Weeks ago—as the church was bombarded from all sides about the scandals that have rocked our community for several decades now, the hurt and pain of it all, came very close to home. Two of my friends—both priests—called me up just to catch up on things. I love these guys dearly, they were like brothers to me in seminary, and they are still very dear friends. The thing is, they are themselves, both victims of abuse in the hands of priests—when they were very young, one when he was nine, the other when he was a teenager.

They haven’t been in active ministry for the last few years, as they’ve been quietly trying to receive healing and obtain justice for the pain and degradation they suffered at the hands of persons they trusted.

Not wanting to drag the church they still love into deeper media scrutiny and scandal, they’ve been working on their cases quietly. And because I am still in active ministry, they feel they have a connection still to the priestly life through our conversations. We still share our faith on the phone, I ask them about progress in their healing and therapy, and they continue to encourage me in my ministry.

These truly good men have been, for me, living witnesses and proofs of two things we often hear but take for granted: that the Church is truly a community of “sinners” as well as “saints”, but that no matter how sinful its members can sometimes be, one can nonetheless love it with one’s whole self; for it is, as one of them says, “the Body of Christ”.

A few years ago, on a Holy Saturday night, after coming home from the Easter Vigil, one of them called me up. The conversation was long. But at the end, I said to him:

“Happy Easter, my friend. What are you up to tomorrow?” After a rather long silence, he replied: "I haven’t had a real Easter in a while, you know. This year isn’t going to be any different. I know one day I will. I hope and pray for it everyday. I know I’ll celebrate Easter again. But not this year. Not yet."

"There are some hurts that go too deep."

Thomas’ doubt was not simply the result of a stubborn heart nor a questioning mind. It was the result of a pain too deep, the pain of having lost his friend, his Master who had been his life, and reason for living during the three years of Jesus’ ministry.

The pain of loss was too intense that it prevented him, just as it did the other disciples, from believing that Jesus had risen, that Easter had come, that his friend had really returned. 


Thomas himself was terribly wounded, and deeply broken. And yet, today, as Jesus allowed him to see the nailmarks on his hands, and put his finger and hand on his wounded side, Thomas received the healing of his wounds, and a lessening of his pain.

Often when we hear the story of Thomas, our attention is focused on his doubt. But the real focus of the gospel isn't his doubting. It’s just the lead-on to the real point, which is the restoration of his faith, the fact that he was made whole—because Jesus allowed him to touch his own wounds, and in touching his Savior’s wounds, Thomas touched his very own woundedness, his very own brokenness.

In touching Christ, in holding onto Christ, Thomas was made whole. Thomas’ sorrow was healed. Thomas’ faith was restored, allowing him to proclaim with all his heart: "My Lord, and my God!"

Whenever I talk to these two guys, or to others who have experienced the wrenching pain of betrayal on the part of the church that they love and on the part of those whom they trusted, I know no words of mine can take away their pain.

There is, even in the healing power of the priesthood, a tremendous sense of weakness and powerlessness. We aren’t the Savior after all. I know no words of consolation that I speak can heal them.

“There are some hurts that go too deep”.

Still, I do my best to tell them: “Look to Jesus. Hold onto him. Touch him that he might one day heal you. Don’t look to the institution. It isn’t bad, it serves its purpose. But it isn’t there that you’ll find your healing. Hold onto Jesus. Bind yourself to him. It’s your only hope”.

The words Jesus spoke to Thomas in today’s gospel are the same words he speaks to each one of us.

None of us is spared the wounds, hurts, and brokenness of life.

We’re all broken and wounded and pained, and sometimes, like my priest-friend, we can feel that we will never have an Easter.

And that’s why Jesus speaks those words to us: “Put your finger here and see my hands, bring your hand and put it into my side”.

“How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart, you begin to understand, there is no going back? There are some things that time cannot mend. Some hurts that go too deep...that have taken hold”.

In touching Jesus' wounds, we come to touch our own, and in doing so realize—contrary to these beautiful lines from Tolkien—we can in fact be mended; we can in fact be once again made whole. Let us bring our woundedness, our brokenness then to him. 

“Let us touch his wounds, that in them we too may be healed”.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

BECAUSE CHRIST HAS RISEN, LIFE HAS MEANING, AND NONE OF THE GOOD WE DO IS EVER DONE IN VAIN.


St. Paul asks a very interesting question in one of his Letters:

What would it be like if Jesus did not rise from the dead?

In the last chapter of his book, “The Myth of Sysiphus”, the atheist philosopher, Albert Camus tells of the legend of Sisyphus who defied the gods and put Death in chains so that no human ever needed to die again. But when Death was finally liberated and it came time for Sisyphus himself to die, he came up with a scheme that would enable him to escape from the underworld.

He was captured by the gods, of course. For his punishment he was made to push a rock up a mountain; once on the top, however, the rock would roll down again and Sisyphus has to start over.

Sisyphus, Camus says, is like an absurd hero who tries to live life to fullest, is in fear of death, and is thus condemned to an eternal but meaningless task.

Perhaps Camus’ “Myth of Sisyphus” can give us a possible way of answering Paul’s question. If Christ did not rise from the dead nothing that we do, whether big or small, nothing of our accomplishments, however important, will mean anything. 

And we shall live, be born, grow up, become someone important perhaps, and then die, just like everyone else, everything we lived for erased and ultimately meaningless.

Like Sisyphus, the whole of our existence would be like pushing a rock up a hill only to have it roll back down, leaving us with no choice but to push it up again, and again, and again.

What would it be like if Jesus did not rise from the dead? 

St. Paul answers his own question: “If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then we have lived in vain, and we have believed in vain".

But Jesus did rise from the dead! He did leave the tomb. He did conquer death. And so our life is neither a staircase leading nowhere or a meaningless exercise like that of Sysiphus and his rock. 

Because of Easter, because of our hope in the resurrection, our lives find their ultimate purpose and destiny in God, in life eternal.

But also because of Easter, nothing that we do in this life is ever meaningless, however big or small, nothing we do is ever done in vain.

Because of Easter, every good deed we make, even the smallest act of kindness, becomes something of tremendous value.

The road of life, the road we all must travel, can often be up-hill; filled with pot-holes of suffering, sidetracked by suffering and failure, even detoured by moments of pain and defeat.

And yet we can endure the harshness of our journey because of the hope we celebrate today: Christ Risen, endless glory, lasting peace, eternal happiness.

Happy Easter!


"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)