Fellas, let’s talk about touch. It is perhaps the most skeptical of the senses; we might even say it is the most human. We rely upon it as the final test of whether something is real- we might see or hear or smell or even taste something and be fooled, but we often reason that what we can reach out and touch must surely be real, must actually be there. “Pinch me,” we say when we are so astonished by an experience that we believe it might be a fantasy, because we trust the truth of a sharp touch of pain more than what our eyes and ears can observe.
Touch is important for more than verifying the truth of being; it is also important for verifying the truth of love. Some of us are less comfortable being touched than others, it is true, but the embrace of a loved one can often be a great comfort. Surely none of us spurned our mother’s arms when we were too small to stand on our own, and when we are old we hope that there will be those who will bear us to our place of rest. A human embrace, when given with earnest love, tells us “I will hold you when you cannot bear yourself”, something which all of us, mortals prone to material corruption that we are, long to hear, to be reassured of.
Our Lord knows this of us. He knows that we are tactile creatures, easily frightened and afraid of our own weakness, and that we need to know that someone is there for us. And so, though He is beyond all flesh and needs nothing for Himself, He has taken on a body so that He might come amongst us. Through the Incarnation, the Lord of Heaven came to hold us. He could have reassured us of His love via some other means, but He has chosen this way because He knows what sort of creatures we are; He has lowered Himself to meet our needs.
Indeed, we can see in St. Thomas’s incredulity our own hesitation. I will not believe until I can put my fingers in His wounds, until I can touch Him and see that He is not some hallucination! What a thing to demand of the God whose substance is Being itself! And yet Our Lord did not deny this to Thomas, because He loved Him. In fact He sought Thomas out, and invited Him directly, granting Him explicit permission to prod the Wounds by which our salvation was wrought. And Thomas knew at last that this was truly God, and fell down in fear and reverence of the Lord who stood before him.
And this was surely not the only time that God, who had become man, reassured His followers by His touch. He became a man, which meant that He had hands with which to pat shoulders, and arms to wrap around them. He had a brow to press against theirs, and a voice to laugh and let them know that there was no need to worry. How blessed were those who walked with Christ, that the King of Heaven and Earth, the One who had created all things, lived amongst them as their brother! How blessed they were, to touch the Body of Christ and know that He was with them and that He loved them.
How blessed we are, my brothers, for we too feel the reassuring touch of the Body of Christ. It is not without cause that we call the Church by this name, for whenever any of us reaches out to another, we reach out on behalf of the One who has given us that hand, and who, if we lose it in service to Him, shall be pleased to give us one anew in the life to come. In Christ, we have all become brothers with Him (for He has given us His Glorious Father and His Holy Mother as our own) and with one another, and so by embracing our brothers in love we embrace Him. Do you know what I mean? Let me show you a picture:
The man pictured reading is St. Pio of Pietrelcina, often referred to fondly as “Padre Pio”. He is wearing fingerless gloves because he bears the stigmata. He was a man of truly miraculous holiness, who received tremendous visions and worked great miracles, and whose life shocked the world, because the 20th century certainly did not think itself the time for a saint like Padre Pio.
And yet to the men gathered around him, he was also their brother friar. They stand shoulder to shoulder with him. They smile at him, and at the joy of being in a group photo with their brother. One friar even rests his head upon him, as John rested His head upon Christ. These men were not born brothers in the flesh, but they were united through Baptism in brotherhood with Padre Pio, with one another, and with Our Lord Jesus Christ. As am I, and as are you.
Perhaps you do not know any stigmatics; few of us in any age do. But you have me, and I have you, and we have those with us when we go to Mass or whenever we gather in Christian fellowship. When we embrace our brothers, we embrace the Brother we share. And as if that were not enough (we are such needy creatures, Oh Lord!) when we receive the Eucharist at Easter (or indeed throughout the year) God Himself comes down to us from Heaven yet again, and touches us with His Divine Body. He is here, and He is real, and He loves us even beyond death. Remember this.