What are your wounds?
I’ve been recently sampling some shows on Netflix and HBO and Amazon, and in many of them—even the comedies—there is such a cynical view of the world. Many of them have characters who are young adults, and they are often self-absorbed and cynical about life, and their issues are familiar to anyone who has friends or children in that stage of their lives. They remind me of many of the young people I have been teaching for the last 20 years.
Those young people—my students---were a blessing to me, and I loved being with them, getting to know them personally, learning about what mattered to them, what bothered them, what they dreamt about. Their youth was evident in their unlined faces, in their ignorance of history, in their awkwardness with adult responsibilities. They soared with infatuation, got wildly enthusiastic over their music, revealed a goodness and innocence in wanting to make the world a better place.
But they also came with so many doubts about their future, about the way the world works, about the underlying motivations of people. They didn’t believe too easily, and it often appeared that beneath the seemingly good circumstances of their lives, they had a hard time of it. It was evident in their negativity, their apathy, and their cynicism.
Most of my my students were raised as Catholics, but only 10% went to Mass and most found the church to be irrelevant. Part of that is normal for adolescents who are attempting to discover what they really believe. But the Church has failed to be an attractive or relevant force in their lives, and much worse.
The world that our children grow up in these days also plays a very big part. Everywhere you look—in politics, art, commerce, sports, church leaders---we are surrounded by a deep skepticism about the motivations of institutions, businesses, politicians, entertainers, athletes, and religious leaders.
People who practice altruism, who are deeply generous, merciful, compassionate and selfless, and who advocate for those qualities in our communities, are considered naïve or too accommodating or too trusting.
Let me ask you a question. How would you rate yourself? A hopeful person, an optimistic person, a person who is sometimes called naïve, or gullible, or a starry-eyed dreamer? Or are you a realist, or a pessimist, or someone who has difficulty trusting the world and the people around you? Here’s another question to ponder. When you entered into this room a few minutes ago, did you expect to see Jesus? Did you expect that you would encounter the Risen Lord in the next hour or so?
It is so easy to be doubtful about a lot of things. That was Thomas’s problem, too. When Jesus was alive, and giving life to everyone around him, it was easy to believe and easier to hope. It was a great time for those guys, because they had found the one they had been looking for all their lives, and he set their hearts on fire, and nothing was ever the same again for them. And then, he was disgraced and tortured and executed as a fraud and a criminal, and it was very very hard to hope anymore, or to believe in anything.
A few years ago I had a student who was a wonderful person. He was a boy with a big smile and an infectious laugh. He had many friends and was much loved by his teachers and his peers. But underneath it all he was struggling with lots of issues, some not so awful, some more central to his life. Among them, he was dealing with the fact that he was gay. It gave him a great deal of heartache and anxiety, and fear. And from some of the negative experiences he had relating to his identity, it hardened him.
But then he faced an even greater challenge. He was diagnosed with a terrible disease that ravaged his body. Throughout all the treatments and medical procedures, he smiled and carried on with hope. He believed in Jesus as his Savior. He believed that God loved him even though he was gay. His faith was inspiring, and infectious to me.
Then one day I visited him at Sloan Kettering, and I suddenly met Thomas, laying in the bed, filled with fear and doubt. Show me the wounds, he was saying. I’ll believe it when I see it. For the first time, with me at least, he wasn’t so sure of the saving part of Jesus, for him. He was probably at his lowest point in the illness. I tried hard to raise his spirits, to give him hope, but it got to me too, and I started to tear up.
Several months later, just before he died, he told me that he had seen Jesus, and believed. Where, I asked? He smiled. “I saw him in you, when you cried with me when I was so depressed.” I saw the tears in his own eyes as he looked at me.
I didn’t know what to say. It was humbling. I know how poor my faith is, I know how often I doubt. But I think I understood what he meant. I can’t prove to you that there is a God, or that Jesus is Him, and I find it scary since I’m betting my life that there is one. I can’t prove it, but I do catch of glimpse of him (or her), from time to time. I’m looking at him right now.
I mean right here in this Church, looking at your faces and seeing the pain and the burdens and the insecurities that they reveal. I also see the goodness of your hearts, and for me, that is a wonder-filled blessing.
I believe I will see God today, and tomorrow… Lose faith? I don’t know… it’s so easy to be Thomas, and maybe that’s the adventure! And that’s faith. If you’re looking for proofs, if you are looking to put your fingers in the actual wounds, well, maybe you’re in the wrong business.
But there are wounds to touch, and perhaps it is in touching them that your hope will be renewed. There are the wounds of an elderly relative afraid of being abandoned. There are the wounds of an adolescent, suffering his first rejection in love. There are the wounds of the co-worker, suffering under an unjust boss. There are the wounds of a little girl, who thinks she isn’t as loved as her brother. There are the wounds of your wife and your husband, your brother and your sister, your mother and your father. And there are your own wounds to touch.
What are your wounds? Were you not loved perfectly? Have you suffered loss? Do you feel like you don’t measure up? Are you addicted? Do you find it impossible to be as good as you’d like to be? Are you physically limited or in pain a lot? Are you lonely? Do you quake at not being able to solve social problems?
The wounds to touch may be our own, and in those wounds you may find what Thomas found. For it is in the wounds of Jesus, your wounds, our wounds together, that you will know the love that was shed for you, is shed for you right now.