The editorial of the month
by Rev. Peter John Cameron, O.P
Both before and after the death of the Lord, the wounds of Jesus play a crucial role in our salvation. Prayerful meditation on Christ’s wounds reminds us of the mystery of our own woundedness and helps us to make sense of it.
Our wounds: a help to others
In a way, the claim of the Letter to the Philippians, that Jesus came in human likeness and was found human in appearance (2:7), is brought to completion at the scourging of our Savior in the Passion. For then he resembles us with all our hurts.
When we look upon the wounded Jesus, we see ourselves. Perhaps it was the pitiful appearance of Christ hanging on the cross…beaten, lacerated, bleeding…that gave the Good Thief the gumption to make his outrageous request: Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom (Lk 23:42). Looking at Christ crucified was like looking into a mirror. The wounds marring the man nailed next to him moved the thief to true confidence. It enabled him to see past the wounds—to the love of One who dies to give his life to us. Grace always enters through our wounds.
For this reason, says Saint Thomas Aquinas, the wounds of Jesus “offer us a choice: either to be condemned with those who inflicted the wounds and pierced Christ’s side…or to repent and enter into the open side of Christ to dwell there, for it has become a haven of rest.”
Which means that we must have the courage to live our woundedness. Jean Vanier, the great guardian and champion of the developmentally disabled, wrote:
We are called to heal and to liberate. This healing power in us will not come from our capacities and our riches, but in and through our poverty. We are called to discover that God can bring peace, compassion, and love through our wounds.
Saint Gregory of Nyssa tells us that God wounds the soul: the Son is this wound, and by this wound we are opened up.
Wounds: a way of recognition
It is the wounds marking the man who passes through locked doors which assure cowering disciples that they are beholding Jesus Christ risen from the dead.
In 1874, Mark Twain wrote down a poignant true story he was told by Rachel, an African American slave from Virginia: a married woman with seven children. She recounts the day when “my little Henry tore his wrist awful, and most busted his head, right up at the top of his forehead.”
Some time after the accident, the entire family was put up for sale at a slave auction in Richmond. “And all the people come up there, and look at us, and squeeze our arm, and make us get up and walk.” She watched as first her husband was taken away, and then each one of her children. When it was little Henry’s turn to be sold, she became hysterical. But the little boy whispered to his mother, “I am going to run away, and then I’ll work and buy your freedom.” With that, Henry was gone—to slavery or to death or to escape up north, Rachel did not know.
The Civil War ends, twenty-two years pass, and one morning Rachel is at the stove making breakfast. A young black man suddenly appears in the kitchen, looking searchingly into the woman’s eyes. She grabs the man’s left hand and pulls up his sleeve, and then reaches for his forehead and pushes back his hair. And she cries: “If you are not my Henry, then what are you doing with this welt on your wrist and this scar on your forehead. The Lord God of heaven be praised. I’ve got my own again!”
By his wounds she was healed.
Wounds: memory of graces
Pope Francis says more about why the Risen Christ retains his wounds:
The wounds never pass away: they remain, for those wounds are the enduring sign of God’s love for us. They are essential for believing in God. Not for believing that God exists, but for believing that God is love, mercy, and faithfulness.
We need Christ’s wounds and our wounds in order to stay mindful of how much we are loved. As the novelist Chuck Palahniuk observes, it is hard to remember sweetness in our life because “we have no scar to show for happiness.”
Christ shares this glory with his saints. Saint Thomas explains this:
In heaven, we shall see on the bodies of the martyrs the wounds that they bore for Christ’s name as a dignity—not a deformity. A certain kind of beauty will radiate from them. And a special beauty will appear in the places scarred by his wounds. The scars belong to the greater increase of glory.