By your touch we are made whole.
When they get a chance, my sister and her three daughters love to treat themselves to a trip to ‘the spa’. I’ve never been to one, and I never know exactly what a ‘spa’ looks like or what goes on there. I have these images in my mind—I think from the movies---of hot tubs and steam rooms and people in lounge chairs with mud on their foreheads and cheeks, cucumber slices over their eyes. I also think of people lying on tables and getting massaged by some superbuilt guy or gorgeous woman.
Maybe it’s my Irish background, but being touched all over by someone you don’t know--even by a professional masseur or masseuse--well, that’s just a bit too intimate for me. I mean, good for you if you are into it, but I pass. Maybe if I were a dog, that would be ok. I was reading how dogs really love massages, and how therapeutic they can be for them.
Of all the five senses, the most intimate by far, is the sense of touch. Despite cultural differences—Irish vs Italian, for instance---it seems clear that having some physical contact with other people can help us psychologically and spiritually. It can even affect our health.
I was reading recently about a study of orphan children which showed that, while they had all of their basic needs met, the lack of physical touch caused them to have increased developmental problems, illness and behavioral problems. And for babies born premature, if they are allowed to rest on their mother's chest, that physical contact apparently increases their temperature stability and decreases problems they might have in maintaining blood sugar.
On the other end of the spectrum, senior citizens who are afforded opportunities for touch, even petting a cat or dog, have lower blood pressure and are mentally and physically healthier.
Still, I’m a little cautious about how much I want to be touched, or how much I should touch. Even if I was more of a ‘touchy-feely’ guy, you might imagine how much the scandals in the church has affected any priest’s on-the-spot decisions about how much they might communicate their care and concern through even ordinary hugging or touching of anyone. As Jesuits, we are now given bi-annual workshops on what are appropriate and inappropriate ways of expressing yourself through physical touch.
And of course it’s not just priests, but everyone, really, when you consider how we look upon physical harassment in our society today. We have learned much from the #MeToo movement, haven't we?
But…but. Recently I visited someone from the parish at his apartment. He’s 96 years old, and still living with his bride after 50 years. “She’s my gal, my beautiful queen,” he said of her as she came into the room with some Entenmann cake. I so enjoyed their stories about their first dates during World War II.
His legs don’t work so well anymore, and so as he got up to go to the bathroom, he asked me to lift the legs off a stool they were resting on. Of course I used my hands to pick up them up, but there was something about the intimacy of helping him that way that was, how would I put it…a grace.
It reminded me of the days when I was a Jesuit novice and worked an orderly in Calvary Hospital—the wonderful cancer hospital in the Bronx. I helped people there who had lost the ability to take care of even their most intimate physical needs, and at first I thought it would be difficult, but soon realized what a blessing it was for me to use my hands, to provide my physical touch, to make their suffering less difficult and more bearable.
The Gospel today is of course all about touch. It is about Jesus touching a young girl, and raising her from the dead with that touch.
It is also about a woman whom everyone had abandoned and who was ashamed of her own illness, who had the courage to reach out and touch Jesus as he passed by in a crowd. She was a woman who had suffered for twelve years.
Under Mosaic law, she was unclean all that time. Anyone who touched her was unclean. In fact, anyone who touched anything she sat on or slept on was unclean. So she was poor, outcast, and scared of being noticed. And now she had added this dreadful thing to all the others: she had made even Jesus unclean. She had touched him. No wonder she was trembling when she had to face Jesus. Shame such as hers makes a person desperate to be invisible.
But the Gospel says that when she touched him, she was healed of her affliction, and Jesus didn’t shame her, of course. He congratulated her because the courage of her faith cured her broken body.
What was this power that Jesus had? It didn’t come from himself. It came from his connection to the source of power that is underneath everything that is. And to connect to that power he had to let go of everything that he was: he had to let go of his fears, his desires, his loves, his very ego.
It was like he was plugged into a "God outlet" in the wall and powered by it. You know, if I were to stick my finger into a wall socket, I would be overcome with an electrical shock, losing even my life in the process. And if I grabbed you while at that very moment, it would take hold of you too. We would both be electrocuted.
I think that’s the way it was with Jesus. As he neared, people could feel the power of the Father surging in him, and if they were willing to let go of themselves, his touch—or their touch of him—would be a direct line to the Source.
That’s the great promise of our relationship with Jesus, you see. If you really let go into Jesus, I mean really let go, man, he will heal you, he will heal your broken body, heart and soul. And in that healing he will transform you to the person you were always meant to be, and you will be the channel of that incredibly, healing power.
Is there anyone here who needs to be touched by Jesus? Is there anyone here who needs to be healed?
I do, I do, I do.
You know, he will do that for you. He will heal you, this Jesus of ours. He will transform you to the person you were always meant to be.
And then you know what? You will become the bearer of healing power, you will become the one from whom the healing will flow, in Jesus.
There are lots of people all around us who are suffering, the walking dead who cross our lives every day, people with hemorrhages of heart and soul. Holding our hands, Jesus asks us to reach out and touch all of them in love, to help heal them, raise the dead in our homes, at our work, in our neighborhoods, in our country and in our world.
We are Christians, Christ is our power, and you've got to ask yourself, I ask you now, do you believe that you can raise the dead, heal the sick, free the imprisoned, give hope to the despairing, bring light to the darkness, make sun shine through the rain?
There is a song that I first learned when I was a baby priest. It has been an inspiration and a comfort to me throughout all the subsequent years. It speaks to the saving power of the touch and love of Jesus, the same gift that has been given to you and me.
By your touch we are made whole, by your love we are forgiven, by your spirit we are called to live forever.
Jesus will you hear me when I call upon your name for I am helpless and I am wounded in my heart
Standing in the darkness, I listen for your call, I am afraid to walk without you, afraid to start again.
In the weakness of temptation, and in the silence of despair, I have been broken, but I will rise to stand again
You give love without a turning point, life without an end, the courage to be faithful and the light that fills the soul