The Wounds of Christ

Photographed in the church of St James, Spanish Place, London by Fr Bryan Jerabek

Photographed in the church of St James, Spanish Place, London by Fr Bryan Jerabek

During this Easter Octave – this past Tuesday, in fact – we heard the gospel passage in which St. Mary Magdalene had an encounter with the Risen Lord, mistook him for the gardener, then came to realize that it was really he. It is the famous “noli me tangere” scene: “Do not touch me” – or as currently translated, “Stop holding onto me”. Mary had come to recognize Jesus after he spoke to her in a familiar way – a way that brought her back to before his passion and death. Overjoyed, she wanted to embrace him, but as we know, he did not allow it.

This Sunday, we hear the passage of the so-called “doubting Thomas”, who would not believe unless he saw and touched. Thomas does not seek to embrace Christ, as if to go back to old times, like Mary desired; rather, he wants to see and touch Christ’s wounds.  Jesus allows him, telling him, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe”. Thomas then makes his great act of faith, which confirms us in ours: “My Lord and my God!”

What can we learn from these two scenes? Mary is not allowed to touch Jesus, but Thomas is. Mary wanted to embrace him, hold on to him, keep him for her own, as if to go back to old times; Thomas is to touch his wounds.

The lesson for us is that our relationship with the Lord has to take into account his wounds, which he always has, even risen in glory. We cannot forget his passion and death; we cannot forget his crucifixion; we cannot forget how he suffered for us – or how our sufferings are meant to be united with his, a sharing in his.

It is a frequent temptation for us to engage in wishful thinking – “what if?” thinking, “would have/could have/should have” thinking – through which we imagine how life would be if our difficult past experiences never happened. But, as Pope Francis constantly reminds us, we cannot look back; we cannot pretend that our past did not happen. We have various wounds and with them, we need to go forward toward Christ and the great future that he has in store for us. There is no way to turn back the clock and make those wounds disappear. Sempre avanti!

As we meditate on this Sunday’s gospel, then, we can imagine ourselves, represented in St. Thomas the Apostle, there touching the Lord’s wounds as well. We do that precisely through our own share in his suffering, which we unite with Christ’s, as his call echoes in our hearts: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).

The Octave of Easter, and so the time of particular celebration, concludes today, but the season of Easter continues through the Feast of Pentecost! Today is the last day that we will hear the beautiful double-alleluia dismissal at Holy Mass – until Pentecost. But our observance of Easter continues. Happy Easter to all!

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