Open Wounds: His and Ours

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Jesus understands our weakness … He seeks us out, just as he did the disciples of Emmaus, whom he went out to meet. He sought Thomas, showed himself to him and made him touch with his fingers the open wounds in his hands and side. Jesus Christ is always waiting for us to return to him; he knows our weakness.
Christ is Passing By, no. 75

Everyone is wounded by original sin and by subsequent personal sins. Everyone has been wounded by the sins of others. What we do with these wounds, whether self-inflicted or suffered at the hands of others, largely decides the depth of our inner peace, the extent of our hope, and our confidence in receiving “mercy and grace to help in time of need” which comes from the heavenly throne (cf. Hebrews 4:16).

Jesus offers us the only true vantage point from which to see our sins and failings—especially on the evening of that “first day of the week,” when the Apostles were gathered together in fear behind locked doors. Everything had gone wrong for these men and they didn’t know what tomorrow would bring.

When Jesus shows Himself to them, they are startled—in large part because of their guilt. But He is quick to reassure them of His mercy. The Lord does not aggravate their guilt by shaming them, but He consoles them by the reality of His bodily presence. What convinces them most, and cuts them to the heart, is the sight and touch of His wounds.

What perspective does Jesus want us to have on our sins and His mercy? He asks us to view them in the light of His wounds. These are what mysteriously heal us:

He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)

After all, don’t we all have difficulty associating ourselves with our sins? Aren’t we all in some way like the Apostles who protested before the Lord, “Surely it is not I?” when He announced His betrayal?

In the face of our sins, a part of us always seems to react: I would never do such a thing! We don’t easily say: I did that. I hurt you. I stole. I lied. It’s hard to hang our nametag on a sin—as though we’re saying: “I don’t want it to be true that I have committed such and such a sin.”

The Lord died so that we might repent with hope. Sorrow and regret can kill if not buoyed up by the sense that there is something greater than even our greatest sins. Our sorrow over sin often partners too easily with practical despair over personal change. What can God do with me, after all, since I have knowingly betrayed Him? Why would He entrust His grace to me yet again? Why would He give me, I don’t say a second chance, but the umpteenth chance?

Why? Because Jesus knows the power of His own wounds to attract. Coming into contact with our wounded God, who keeps His wounds after the Resurrection for us to contemplate and probe, is the only way we can make sense of our betrayals and His forgiveness. The mercy about which we will sing for all eternity begins here, in this life, when I encounter Jesus lifted up, drawing all things to Himself—including me.

We can see our failures and other problems from any number of other perspectives: through hurt feelings, regret, despair, denial, etc. Often we’re not sure what to do with our sins—apart from regretting them. If this is our attitude, then what will we do with divine mercy? How can we receive this gift knowing full well that we have squandered the past gifts of the divine Giver?

The Gospels show us ruined people, having destroyed themselves by reckless living or weakness or infidelity, somehow finding confidence enough to turn around and receive pardon and encouragement. Jesus deliberately showcases such souls—from the prodigal son of the parable to real-life sinners such as Simon Peter, Mary Magdalene, and the woman caught in adultery. These are our ancestors and our role models.

The Saints of all ages, who embody the spirit of the gospel, know how to combine the declaration of their misery with absolute confidence in His mercy. For them, to proclaim their sinfulness is the same as demonstrating not only their need for mercy but how mercy has already been at work in their lives. They celebrate the one source of healing by exposing their wounds to those of the Savior.

The Saints seem to have no hesitation in revealing their sinfulness, following the encouragement of Scripture: “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16) St Gregory of Narek, the most recently named Doctor of the Church, declared that he had even discovered some new sins, unaccounted for since Adam:

For you, my miserable soul, have indulged with unsparing excess in the harvest of all the human evils from Adam till the end of the species, and even found some new ones…

You can’t say things like that unless you’ve got a radical hope in God that shines brighter than whatever darkness your sins have generated.

Or in Blessed John Henry Newman’s meditations for the Stations of the Cross, he has the sinful soul take ownership at the First Station for Jesus’ condemnation by frankly describing the attitude with which he sinned:

Those sins of mine were the voices which cried out, “Let Him be crucified.” That willingness and delight of heart with which I committed them was the consent which Pilate gave to this clamorous multitude. And the hardness of heart which followed upon them, my disgust, my despair, my proud impatience, my obstinate resolve to sin on, the love of sin which took possession of me…

But just when it seems we are headed downward in despair, the Psalms immediately catch our fall: “But your mercy, O Lord, lifts me up.” Because God “raises the poor from the dust,” and “lifts up those who are bowed down.”

On the evening of that first day of the week, as the Apostles cowered in fear and sorrow, the risen One passed freely into the locked room and made broken hearts whole again: “he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.”

We can do great honor to the Divine Mercy, to the Lord’s passion and death, to His resurrection, and to the wounds He bears for our sake, by doing something very simple: learning how to stand up again and again, when we are bowed low, sitting in the dust. That is our version of the resurrection during our own lifetime on earth. Allowing the Lord to lift us up when we are face down in misery shows the value we place on those glorious wounds of His.

If I believe that Jesus suffers all things for me and then rises again, then my response to His gift of mercy must be to stand up again. To rise up after repeated failures shows that we are headed toward a final rising, an ultimate resurrection of our own, after which there will be no further danger of falling, every tear will be wiped away, and every wound healed.

Rev. John Henry Hanson, O. Praem.
Father John Henry Hanson, O. Praem., is a Norbertine priest of St Michael’s Abbey in Silverado, California. He entered the community in 1995, earned his STB and Masters in Theology at the Pontifical University of St Thomas (Angelicum) in Rome, and was ordained to the priesthood in 2006. Currently, he teaches English at St Michael’s Preparatory School, the boarding school operated by the Norbertine Fathers. He also preaches retreats, is chaplain to the cloistered Norbertine Nuns in Tehachapi, California, and serves Armenian rite Catholics at the Cathedral of St Gregory the Illuminator in Glendale, California (Our Lady of Nareg Eparchy). He and his community are cooperators of Opus Dei.

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