This is my April column for the Catholic Free Press.
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The gospel reading for the first Sunday after Easter features the doubting Thomas as depicted in John 20:24–29. I have always been moved by his story. In my book, River of Grace, I wrote the following:
“When the others told him that they had ‘seen the Lord,’ he refused to believe. He treated their story with skepticism that bordered on rejection. He was provocative in his declaration that he would not believe unless he placed his hand in the side of Jesus and probed the wounds with his fingers. Thomas deliberately pushed away any semblance of hope that Jesus was alive. He did not dare to believe. Reading that passage I understood the bitterness in his demands and the refusal to face his pain. When Jesus appeared to all the apostles several days later, he invited Thomas to do as the others had done: touch his wounds.”
Death is a traumatic experience. In the case of Jesus, it came as a total shock to the disciples despite the fact that Jesus had warned them many times of his impending death. He also promised them hope in the aftermath. Yet as we have witnessed in the readings following Easter, even when Jesus was right in front of them, they could not believe.
Thomas represents our humanity. Crushed by trauma, he is unable to imagine a hopeful outcome. He represents all of us. A personal encounter with Jesus (who, being man as well as God, understood these limits), ministered to Thomas and granted his request: to touch the wounds. By doing so Thomas was led away from his own wounds into those of Christ, and received healing.
While we may not be able to touch Jesus the way Thomas did, we can find healing in the wounds of Christ through the Eucharist. The bread (his body) is broken for us; the wine (his blood) available for us to drink.
We can also meditate on the cross, either by gazing at the crucifix or praying the Stations of the Cross at our parish. We can be changed like Thomas. Continuing from River of Grace,
“There was a beautiful homily delivered at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at the University of Notre Dame by Rev. Patrick Reidy, C.S.C. on this gospel passage. Newly ordained, it was Fr. Reidy’s first public celebration of the liturgy. He imagined Jesus ministering to Thomas in this way: “’Put your finger here and see my hands. Bring your hand and put it into my side. Hide yourself in me. Hide yourself from all that troubles you, from all you doubt, from all you fear. Hide yourself in a love more penetrating than a brush fire, more overwhelming than a deluge. Hide yourself in a love that will remake you entirely. Do not be afraid.’” (from the broadcast of the Sunday Mass at Notre Dame on CatholicTV, April 27, 2015; Rev. Patrick Reidy, C.S.C presiding)
Thomas was invited to “touch resurrection, to touch eternity.” He was transformed by the Lord’s lavish show of love causing a total change of heart in the man who then called Jesus “My Lord and My God” with an amazing confession of faith.”
I offer to you a simple meditation inviting you to hide yourself in the wounds of Christ. You need a crucifix and the prayer, “Lord have mercy.”
Gazing upon the crucifix, begin by reciting “Lord, have mercy” 5 times. Each time it is recited, focus on a wound on Christ’s body. For example, recite “Lord, have mercy” and meditate on Christ’s feet. Recite it again and focus on the left hand. Recite it a third time and meditate on the right hand. Recite it again and gaze on the wound in his side. Then recite it a fifth time and focus on the head. Repeat this cycle 8 times, thus reciting the prayer forty times in total.
I found, for example, that as I focused on the nail marks in His feet, I thought about where those feet had traveled. I studied the wounded hands and wondered whom they had healed. I thought about his heart, pierced and yet so full of love. I thought about the head and the emotional and mental agony he went through, and yet also marveled at all the wisdom and knowledge that resided in that head. I recalled his teachings, exhortations, and words of comfort.
These are just some of the places where this devotion can take you. May the Spirit of the Living Lord guide you as you gaze upon His wounds, hide yourself within them, and contemplate His love.
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