Today’s Resurrection scene reminded me of the 1962 movie, The Miracle Worker. It’s about how Anne Sullivan helped the young, blind, deaf, and mute Helen Keller connect to the world around her and—in that connection—to come alive! The sense of touch was key. Think about it: this poor isolated and scared girl could not hear or see; touch was one of the last three senses remaining for her to connect to the world. But, Anne first had to get Helen to recognize her and then bring her to trust her. When they began the long process, Anne had to force Helen to bring hands to her face, her eyes, her cheeks, her mouth: “It is me, Teacher. It is me, Anne.” Helen would feel Anne’s warm, moist breath on her own hand. Then, Anne would try and teach Helen the names of the things around her, for example, by having her touch the wetness of water again and again and having it signed out on her hand. One day, it finally clicked and little Helen “saw!” By touching and feeling and squeezing and petting, she came to know the world around her. She was finally able to communicate with her parents. This all happened because, through touch, she had come to know the face of a woman who loved her deeply.
Something similar happens in today’s Gospel. The Risen Lord appears, right there, in the middle of the room. He sees the disbelief on the faces of his friends, which seems to say, “Is it…is it really you? How do we know it is you?” He says, “Look at my hands and feet. Touch me.” We normally don’t go around touching people, unless we know them well or have been given permission. Jesus extends the invitation to intimacy. We can see the disciples hesitantly approaching him and poking him lightly as if he just might vaporize. But, while the verb that the Gospel uses (psēlapháō) can mean to touch lightly, it also means to feel after, to discover or personally investigate. Jesus is inviting the disciples to touch him like Anne let Helen touch her. Maybe he even grabbed Phillip’s hand and made him touch his wound: “Touch and know that it is I!” And it clicked!
Touch is perhaps the most intimate of the five senses. It puts us into close contact with whatever or whomever we are touching. But, why is this touch even revealing? Because the physical reveals something within it, something that transcends it. In John Paul II’s words, “The body reveals the person. The body, in fact, and only the body, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine” (TOB 19:4). Let us repeat: the body reveals the person. What is more, the pope continues, the body “has been created to transfer into the visible reality of the world the mystery hidden from eternity in God, and thus to be a sign of it” (TOB 19:4). The body is not inconsequential or superfluous. It makes visible the invisible. So, when the Risen Lord says see and touch, he wants to let us see and touch him, his glorified wounds, and reach that inner reality of his Person, a person who has loved us and given himself up for our sake.
There is more. Although we didn’t read this passage today, St. Paul writes that Christ “is the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15). Therefore, not only to we gain access to the innermost core of the person of Jesus when we touch him, he is also brings us to see and touch the Father of love.
Our God has become so close that we can touch him!
Now, you may be thinking, “Good for those in the Upper Room. But, what about me? I can’t see him or touch him.” Well, in response, it’s important to recall the first lines of today’s Gospel: “Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread” (Lk 24:35). The two disciples had just ran upwards of 7 miles from Emmaus. They had been walking with the same Risen Lord and hadn’t recognized him. The same person was manifest in the flesh, but they could not see. They arrive to the house and Jesus breaks the bread and then disappears. And yet, just then, they see him, in the bread. Do we not also have access to this same “bread,” this Blessed Sacrament?
John Paul II reminds us that “The sacrament is a visible and efficacious sign of grace. It is a means for accomplishing in man the mystery hidden from eternity in God…the mystery of God calling man to holiness in Christ and the mystery of man’s predestination to become an adoptive son. … [The sacramental] sign always ‘makes visible’ the supernatural mystery that is at work in man under its veil” (TOB 93:5).
There’s too much to unpack in that quote, but I only want underline that “the sacrament is a visible and efficacious sign of grace.” Thus, we can touch Christ, we can contemplate him. As John Paul II wrote later in his encyclical on the Eucharist, “To contemplate Christ involves being able to recognize him wherever he manifests himself, in his many forms of presence, but above all in the living sacrament of his body and his blood” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 6).
So, let the Risen Lord take your hands and mouth to touch him so as to know him. And in faith, know, in the sign, the one who laid down his life for us, the Church, his Bride. Today, let us all proclaim with greater awareness, “When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim your death Lord Jesus, until you come again.” And let us hear him say to us, “Do not be unbelieving but believe. Do not be unfaithful, but be faithful. Do not be dead, but come alive by connecting with me. Connect by touching and seeing my love made manifest.
To download a PDF version of this homily, click here: 3rd Sunday of Easter – Year B
Father Steven Costello was ordained a priest with the Legionaries of Christ on December 12, 2011. Prior to entering the seminary, he majored in Music Education at the University of Central Florida. His main instrument is trombone and he particularly enjoys Mahler’s Symphonies. He is currently in the revision process of his doctoral dissertation through the John Paul II Institute in Washington, DC. The topic is the human person in light of the heart of Christ. He has participated in both the TOB I: Head & Heart Immersion and TOB & Art: The Way of Beauty courses and served as chaplain for TOB I. In August 2017, he began his role as chaplain at Divine Mercy University in Arlington, VA.