Malankara World

Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Church

The Healing Power of Touch

by Fr. Dr. George Palackapilly, sdb

Devotional Thoughts for New Sunday (First Sunday after Easter)

Gospel: John 20, 19-31

Introduction

Faith is a delicate thing. It is exposed to the harsh winds of doubt, cynicism, and despair, which frequently blow through the modern world. It is like a candle burning in an exposed place. Here on Sunday we ought to experience a great strengthening of our faith – our faith in each other, in ourselves, in life, in God, and especially in the presence of the risen Christ among us.

Today’s Gospel Reading (John, 20, 19-31) tells us that by touching the wounds of the risen Jesus, the Apostle Thomas’ doubt is turned into belief.

Touching plays a very important role in human life. Children get their first taste of life from the way they are touched. If they are handled gently, they begin to feel that they are worthwhile and that the world is a friendly place. But if they are handled roughly, they begin to feel bad about themselves and the world. When someone has won something we want to clap him on the back to show him we are happy for him. When someone has suffered bereavement we clasp his hand to show solidarity with him in his sorrow. When we feel love someone we want to touch that person to let him know how we feel about him.

When we are feeling good we are quite happy to let others come near us and touch us. But when we are in pain, especially if this pain has been caused by others, the opposite happens. We want to cut ourselves off from others. We want to hide away and cover up our wound, while at the same time continuing to brood over it. Mentally we put up a sign: “ Fragile: do not touch”. We just want to be left alone. Our wound is hurting so bad that we have difficulty looking at it ourselves. We do not let others touch it. Yet, while this is perfectly understandable, it is a mistake. Wounds are not things to be ashamed of. Anyway, how can healing happen if we will not allow our wounds to be seen and touched?

Example:

A priest was going from the United States to Latin America. He tells how on the plane he found himself sitting beside a woman from Peru. They got talking. The woman told him how she was returning home with her mother who had undergone three operations in the United States. “Is your mother feeling better now”? he asked. “Oh yes”, the woman replied. “She is completely cured. When we get home the whole family will be waiting at the airport to welcome her back”. Then the woman asked him why he was going south. He told her that he was a priest and that he was going there to do missionary work. On hearing that he was a priest her face changed dramatically. She leaned over, grabbed him by the arm, and whispered in an agonized voice: “Oh Father, mother has cancer and there is no hope for her”.

Why did she feel that she had to keep up the pretence that all was well? Why did she have to hide, not only the mortal physical wounds of her mother, but her own emotional wounds as well – the deep wounds of sorrow and anxiety? Surely they were not things to be ashamed of? Her own wounds were caused by love. These, like trophies, should be placed quietly on display. Only when she discovered that he was a priest, that is, someone from whom she might expect comfort, did she come out with the truth, allowing herself to touch and to be touched.

Thomas, the disciple

The disciple at the centre of today’s Gospel (Doubting Thomas) was a deeply wounded man. He was wounded by grief, loneliness, unbelief and despair. All this happened to him when Christ, his Master and Friend, was put to a cruel and unmerited death. In his pain Thomas wanted to be alone, so he fled from the company of the other apostles. Thus he missed the first appearance of the risen Lord. But someone must have got through to him for he was there for the next appearance.

It is interesting to see how Christ dealt with him. The first thing he did was to show him his own wounds. Christ felt no need to hide these for they were the proof of his love for his disciples. They were the mortal wounds the Good Shepherd suffered in defending his flock from the wolf. Then he invited Thomas to touch those wounds. Thus it was by touching and being touched that he was healed of his unbelief as well as of his other wounds.

It is by showing our wounds, by touching and being touched, that we are healed. However, only children and the mentally handicapped are good at letting themselves be touched. Little children want one thing about all others – they want to be touched, hugged, stroked and caressed. Many of us adults have the same need but we no longer have the innocence and spontaneity to allow it to happen to us. Many people are starving for affection, tenderness, care, love, acceptance, forgiveness, and gentleness. But often they are afraid to let people come near them, perhaps because someone has let them down or hurt them. Or it may be that the people who are close to them are totally unaware of their needs. Or it may be that they are indeed aware of their needs but are simply incapable of responding to them.

Application

The world today is full of Doubting Thomases. In fact a little of Thomas lurks in us all. Many today simply do not believe that Christ is risen and that he can be encountered. And they will not be converted and believe unless they can touch his wounds (those of love) and see the radiance of his face.

How can this happen? It can happen only if Christ is seen to be alive in us his followers. He must be seen to dwell in us and among us. For it is only in us, and through us, that others can see and touch him, and be touched by him and so healed of their unbelief.

Without the Church (that is, Christians), the risen Christ would remain invisible, untouchable, and faceless. He lives in his Church. There he can be encountered, that is, he can be touched and he can touch us, and healing can take place.

Prayer of the Faithful

Leader: Let us pray to God our Father in the spirit of today’s Gospel, so that his risen Son may touch our lives and heal in us the wounds of separation and of sin.

All: Lord, hear our prayer

Leader: For all who celebrate the Eucharist: that they may experience the presence of Christ among them as the apostles did on Easter Day. We pray to the Lord.

All: Lord, hear our prayer

Leader: Four our leaders: that Christ may touch their minds and hearts, and so enable them to build a human society based on love, justice and peace. We pray to the Lord

All: Lord, hear our prayer

Leader: For all those who are wounded emotionally or physically: that their wounds may be touched and healed by those who care for them. We pray to the Lord.

All: Lord, hear our prayer

Let us pray:

Leader: God our Father, you give strength to the weary, and new courage to those who have lost heart. Hear the prayers of all who call on you in any trouble, that they may have the joy of receiving your help in their need. Trusting in the words of Jesus who said: “not one sparrow falls to the ground without your heavenly Father knowing, and so, there is no need to be afraid of what might happen to you, for you are worth more than many sparrows”, we make bold to say:

All: Our Father…….

Reflection

Aristides, a non-Christian, when defending the Christians before the Emperor Hadrian made the following statement:

“Christians love one another.
They never fail to help widows.
They save orphans from those who would hurt them.
If a man has something,
he gives freely to the man who has nothing.

“ If they see a stranger,
Christians take him into their homes
and treat him as a brother.
Not that they consider themselves brothers
in the usual sense,
but brothers instead through the Spirit, in God.

“And if they hear that one of them is in jail,
or persecuted for professing the name of their Redeemer,
they all give him what he needs.
If possible, they bail him out.

“If one of them is poor
and there isn’t enough food to go around,
they fast several days to give him the food he needs.
We are dealing with a new kind of person.
There is something divine in them”.

See Also:

Devotional Thoughts on New Sunday (First Sunday after Easter)
by Rev. Fr. Dr. V Kurian Thomas, Valiyaparambil

Jesus' Appearance to St. Thomas
by Very Rev. Dr. Yohannan Sankarathil Cor-Episcopa

Devotional Thoughts for New Sunday
by Jose Kurian Puliyeril

Devotional Thoughts for New Sunday
by Jose Kurian Puliyeril

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