Thursday, April 4, 2013

Wounds of the Risen Christ

This Sunday, continuing the celebration of the Easter Season, is Divine Mercy Sunday. This Sunday we hear the Gospel account of how the Risen Jesus appeared to his Apostles, and also to Thomas, and showed them his wounds from the Cross. Thomas had insisted that he would only believe that Jesus was risen from the dead if he could actually touch Jesus’ wounds and hence earned the name "Doubting Thomas."

Certainly we can say that the Divine Mercy of Jesus is focused in his wounds which open to his Sacred Heart. In my spiritual journey these wounds of Jesus attract me very much with the sacrificial love they represent. These wounds, especially his Five Wounds (in his hands, feet and side), are marks of the Passion and Cross which he still carries in his glorified, risen body after his Resurrection.
The Resurrection means a new and glorified body, called a new creation, not a resuscitated mortal body brought back to mortal existence which can die again. In such a glorified body we would not expect to find wounds; we would expect to find perfection, which presumably excludes any defect which we associate with wounds, scars or other physical disfigurements.
Yet it is in that glorified, risen body that Jesus keeps showing his disciples his wounds taken from the Cross. One preacher said that the reasons for this are first that the wounds show the disciples that the one appearing to them as one who could pass through locked doors (they thought he was a ghost at first! See Luke 24:36-40), is the same Jesus who they knew had been crucified. Second, they are the proofs of his love for us which he demonstrated in his Sacrifice on the Cross. And, third, they tell us that we too will have wounds if we love as Christ loves, but also share his new life as a result. (C. H. Spurgeon Sermons Vol.5:254)
I think how some societies celebrated the scars of warriors as marks of valor and battle. Christ’s wounds are signs of his suffering for us and this out of love. The Catechism teaches: "By embracing in his human heart the Father's love for men [all], Jesus ‘loved them to the end’, for ‘greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.’(John 13:1; 15:13.) In suffering and death his humanity became the free and perfect instrument of his divine love which desires the salvation of men." (#609)

The Jerusalem Cross
depicts the Five Wounds of Christ

The Cross and the Wounds Christ received on the Cross are connected, then, with the love of God for us. They tell us that this love is sacrificial (giving) and also that this love is compassionate. Compassion literally means "to suffer with" another, to share another’s suffering, at least in heart and moral support, if not physically also.
I think about the wounds in my own life when I have suffered. I have come to know that whatever suffering I may have suffered in my life has helped make me a more compassionate priest, though I have a lot of room to grow in this compassion. For example, I went through a terrible time of depression and panic attacks during one period of my life, even as a priest. Before this, I remember when I was in the Seminary that one of my former College roommates who was in Medical School at the time told me that he had to take off a semester because he was experiencing panic attacks. I didn’t know what he was talking about and I couldn’t appreciate then what serious suffering he was going through. After I had my own experience of this suffering, I can sympathize with others who suffer this kind of affliction and be of help, especially to reassure that this affliction can be cured since I experienced healing of this woundedness.
Thank God we don’t have to experience every suffering imaginable to be compassionate! However, Christ Jesus did suffer every wound there is except sin, and I cannot imagine the enormity of such suffering. The result, however, is described by the author of the Letter to the Hebrews 4:14-16:
"Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."
And St. Bernard of Clairvaux says:
"He was thinking thoughts of peace, and I did not know it, for who knows the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? But the piercing nail has become a key to unlock the door, that I may see the good will of the Lord. And what can I see as I look through the hole? Both the nail and the wound cry out that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. The lance pierced His soul and came close to His heart, so that he might be able to feel compassion for me in my weaknesses.
"Through these sacred wounds we can see the secret of His heart, the great mystery of love, the sincerity of His mercy with which he visited us from on high. Where have Your love, Your mercy, Your compassion shone out more luminously than in Your wounds, sweet, gentle Lord of mercy? More mercy than this no one has than that he lay down his life for those who are doomed to death." (Homily on the Song of Songs)
The Wounds of Christ also remind us of the essential union of Christ’s Cross and Resurrection. There is not one without the other, so as I often say: "There is no Cross without the Resurrection but also there is no Resurrection without the Cross." This is the Paschal Mystery of Christ: his Dying and Rising, and it is the pattern of our lives.
I see in the wounds of Christ, as others have, the reminder also that the path of Christ’s love will inevitably involve a certain amount of wounding, of suffering for others. A story is told about people who didn’t get involved in helping others in life: "We will go before God to be judged, and God will ask us: 'Where are your wounds?' and we will say, 'We have no wounds.' And God will ask, 'Was nothing worth fighting for?'" It might also be asked: "Was there nothing worth suffering for, giving and loving enough to be vulnerable and wounded?"
Here is a favorite prayer which mentions the wounds of Christ:
Anima Christi (Soul of Christ)
Soul of Christ, sanctify me;
Body of Christ, save me;
Blood of Christ, inebriate me;
Water from the side of Christ, wash me;
Passion of Christ, strengthen me;
O good Jesus, hear me;
within Your wounds, hide me;
let me never be separated from You;
from the evil one, protect me;
at the hour of my death, call me;
and bid me come to You;
that with Your saints,
I may praise You forever and ever.