Fr Billy Swan
In my life as a priest, I meet with and minister to many people who carry wounds. These encounters take place in obvious places like hospitals, nursing homes, prisons and of course in the confessional. But they also can take place in unexpected places and times when people reveal the scars they bear. When I go to confession myself, it is a humbling but powerful moment of getting in touch with the wound of my aching desire for God and his mercy and the wounds caused by my own sins. And then there are the wounds of the world. The divisions between people, the divide between faith and culture, the lives scarred by violence, betrayal and abuse.
The authors of Scripture were not embarrassed by human woundedness. In fact, it is often a prelude to people coming to faith. In the Book of Genesis, we see God wresting with Jacob who is wounded in his hip during the struggle. But instead of this injury being a wedge that separated him from God, it resulted in Jacob being blessed for, in his own words, ‘I have seen God face to face’ (Gen. 32:23ff).
With striking honesty, the psalmist admits: ‘My wounds grow foul and fester because of my sin’ (Ps. 38:5). Yet the one who is scarred confesses his faith in the God ‘who heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds’ (Ps. 147:3). According to the Song of Songs, God has created us ‘wounded by love’ - created to love and be loved (Song of songs 2:5). The prophet Jeremiah announces hope to a people wounded not just by love but by exile and division: ‘For I shall restore you to health and heal your wounds’ (Jer. 30:17).
In the New Testament, God’s work of healing wounds was continued and fulfilled by Jesus. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, many Fathers of the Church identified Christ as the Samaritan who binds the wounds of injured humanity, pouring oil and wine on them (Luke 10:34). In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus heals the wounded ear of the man who was struck with a sword by one of his followers (Luke 22:51). As he endured his passion, Jesus went from being healer to being fatally wounded when he was ‘pierced through for our faults and crushed for our sins’ (Is. 53:5). The one who heals our wounds is now wounded himself.
In the resurrection accounts in the Gospels of Luke and John, the Lord approached the group of his disciples who were wounded after the events of the previous days. They were wounded by failure, fear, doubt and shame. As he approached them, Jesus knew the wounds they bore. In both Gospel accounts, Jesus showed them his wounds and invited them to touch them. And in that intimate encounter of a wounded God with his wounded people, faith was born again. There is no better example of this than Thomas who left us the greatest confession of faith having moved from doubt after touching the wounds of the Lord: ‘My Lord and my God!’ (John 20:28).
This meeting of wounds as a conduit to faith was not lost on St Augustine. In one of his sermons he writes: ‘For he judged that this was advantageous for his disciples, that his scars should be kept, from where the wounds of the heart would be healed. What wounds? The wounds of unbelief’ (Sermon 66, 1).
In the case of St Paul, being wounded was an integral part of his conversion. On the road to Damascus, he tells us that he ‘fell to the ground’ in a state of disorientation (Acts 9:4; 26:14). Later he described a wound he bore as being a ‘thorn in the flesh’ that he begged God to take away. But then he realized that it was God who placed that thorn there, wounding him to heal his pride and bringing him to a place of surrender: ‘My grace is enough for you. For my strength is made perfect in weakness…For it is when I am weak, I am strong’ (2 Cor. 12: 9-10).
Finally, even the Blessed Mother was wounded by love and because of her obedience to God’s will. Though she was sinless, Simeon’s prophesy to her at Jesus’ presentation was fulfilled in her life, especially at Calvary: ‘And a sword will pierce you soil too’ (Luke 3:35).
So, what then can we learn from these episodes in Scripture that are not embarrassed to highlight human woundedness? The first thing to conclude is that all of us are wounded, somehow, someway. We are also part of a wounded humanity that needs healing. There are many things in our egos and prevailing culture that distract us from admitting this. It’s not something we talk about at parties. It takes courage to admit it. Yet when we are in touch with our scars, we become humble and more compassionate to the wounded humanity we are part of.
Second, when we do return to our wounds, something powerful happens for God’s love is waiting to meet us there. Like Thomas, Paul and the other wounded disciples, Christ comes to meet us as the Good Samaritan who applies healing to our injuries in a way that gives birth to new faith. When we return to our wounds, we show the Lord our scars and he shows us his. And in his wounds, we meet a God who enters into our pain to heal our vulnerability. As St Peter testifies: ‘By his wounds we have been healed’ (1 Pet. 2:24).
For many of the saints, contemplating Christ’s wounds means contemplating his love which leads to healing and to faith. In the words of St Bonaventure: ‘Through the visible wounds we see the wounds of invisible love’ (The Mind’s Journey to God, 3, 5). By showing us his wounds, St Peter Chrysologus beautifully imagines Christ speaking to us in this way: ‘These nails do not pierce me with pain; they pierce me more deeply with love of you. These wounds do not draw groans from me; rather they draw you into my heart’ (Discourse 108).
Third, in our call to evangelize, Scripture teaches us that human woundedness is an important point of encounter and a route to faith. This is not about finding a new gap for God. Rather it is a recognition of human vulnerability and woundedness in every human life and in humanity as a whole.
This message has been to the fore of Pope Francis’ proclamation of evangelical mercy. He reminds the Church that before we set off in mission, we need to keep before us just how wounded humanity has become: ‘Wounds need to be treated. So many wounds!...Mercy first means treating the wounds’. To priests called to mission, he asks: ‘Do you know the wounds of your parishioners? Do you perceive them? Are you close to them? It’s the only question’ (Address to parish priests of Rome, 6th March 2014). In a later homily, he again teaches priests that ‘the doors of mercy are the wounds of the Lord; if you do not enter into your ministry through the Lord’s wounds, you will not be good shepherds’ (Homily at Priestly Ordinations, 11th May 2014). The warmth and light of Christ we share passes through his wounds.
Despite our instinct to hide our wounds, God’s grace reaches the most vulnerable part of ourselves where it seeks to change us. And in that space, Jesus puts our wounds in touch with his own. In that meeting of wounds, faith is born anew. As we seek new and effective ways to evangelize our culture and connect to our audience, may we be ever more aware of the Gospel’s power to heal our wounds and unite a wounded people.