1. The power of touch. In Sweden, a lady was pinned beneath a streetcar. She was seriously injured and bleeding badly. A crowd collected. They tried to move the streetcar, but it was too heavy. There was nothing to do but wait for the heavy equipment to come. She was in great pain. She was losing blood rapidly. Suddenly a young man broke away from the crowd. He crawled under the street car. He took the woman’s hand and said: Hold my hand tightly until help comes. In holding
his hand, she grew calm. She avoided going into shock. The loss of blood was slowed. Finally, after she was freed, she said: I never knew the touch of a hand could mean so much.
There are many similar experiences. A former firefighter gave account of the experience he often had at the scenes of house fires. There were times when they would arrive on the scene to find people in serious shape and often in shock. But what they discovered was that if they quietly sat beside the victim and gently touched them as they spoke to them, the victim would suddenly calm down and be comforted by that simple touch.
Matthew’s version of today’s gospel says that Jesus came and touched them, saying: Rise, and have no fear. But we also remember Jesus touching the leper, or the woman with hemorrhages seeking to be touched by Jesus. And we share at the end of our weekly Ascetical-Mystical Examination the Charismatic Touch. What is the spiritual meaning of a touch? What is the touch of the grace?
Firstly, simplicity. We do not need words or arguments. We do not need to meditate or to urgently understand. But the feeling is clear: I am not the same; something happened in my life right now. When a work of art is praised for having simplicity, it is understood to organize wealth of meaning and form in an overall structure that clearly defines the place and function of every detail in the whole. Perhaps it is not easy to describe how after a while, my insight, my desires, my view and my intentions are not the same, but what is clear is the direction my life has to take now. And we have to put it in very precise terms, because we need to visualize it and verbalize it and we also need the help and the prayer of our brothers. It is very much like a boat following a new rhumb line.
Secondly, closeness. Essentially, it is the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise: Wherever two or more of you are gathered in my name, I will be there. This touch is not a vague psychological change, like “I feel encouraged” but a renewed awareness of His presence and His active involvement in our lives.
There is a story about a boy flying a kite. The kite was so high that it had disappeared into the clouds. A man came by and asked: Why are you holding on to that string? The boy said: I’ve got a kite up there. The man looked up and said: I don’t see it. The boy replied: Well, I know it’s there because I can feel the tug.
This is what the Spirit of God does for us. We may not always see the evidence that we are children of God but we will feel his tug in our hearts continually that reminds us that we belong to Him, at least, that we cannot walk alone.
Of course, these simplicity and closeness have the immediate effect of removing our fear, just as happened to Peter, James, and John in the mountain. We are ready to return to the valley, even though we cannot fully understand what rising from the dead meant.
We are afraid of death, suffering and rejection and therefore we are self-preservative and we do what we can to protect our interests. We are desperate for acceptance and recognition and so the sin of vanity and pride make us do things to gain praise. We are called to overcome the fear of death, which is the cause of all sins: All sins spring from the fear of death. The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law (1 Cor 15:56).
Here is the experience of Saint Paul today (2nd reading): Brothers and sisters: If God is for us, who can be against us? In the Transfiguration, Jesus not only tells his disciples that the cross is in his future and theirs, but he also shows them what lies on the other side of the cross: resurrection and new life.
Do we need more? Do we ask for some other sort of miracles, signs and wonders?
What does Jesus say on the cross to our Father? He does not ask for some explanation of how he is going to get through the horror of crucifixion. He simply says: Into your hands I place myself. These words are a prayer of touch. In fact, this form of self-denial is the culmination of prayer, as we can see in our ascetical examination, the last point of ascetical prayer is not recollection or quietness, but self-denial, abnegation. In a sense, abnegation also means not relying on my talents, my virtues or abilities, but in the Spirit of the Gospel, as our Founding Father taught us.
2. Obedience. Here is the much feared word by modern people, both believers and unbelievers. It is not easy to understand the value of obedience in a world that promotes a radical individualism and a shallow, disengaged tolerance. But we should remember that our Father Founder gave Poverty, Chastity and Obedience the name of three degrees of freedom.
I think this metaphor from the world of Physics is particularly appropriate, because the Evangelical Counsels represent a new dimension of our freedom, something that cannot be understood unless we embrace these Counsels without hesitation or condition, always and immediately. This is relevant, because as we all know, freedom is the most visible sign and the hallmark of a true state of prayer.
We are told in the first reading that Abraham will be tested. Notice when God calls Abraham’s name, Abraham responds: Here I am. He was willing to hear from God and be moved to action. God tests to confirm and strengthen. This test has nothing to do with temptation. Sometimes the supreme test of our faith will be a matter of putting obedience to God above something we have lived for all of our lives. Sometimes it will involve something that might to everyone else seem foolish and ridiculous.
However, the most important thing is not the fact of being able to obey, but the specific, genuine response of God: Abraham did what God required and he was blessed for his obedience.
When Abraham demonstrated that he was willing to go all the way in his obedience to God, the Lord provided a solution to his crisis; what you release to God, He replaces with something even more valuable: Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son. You and I have experience, albeit limited, of this divine response. Essentially, we ae granted a fertility, new fruits in our humble mission: all nations shall call thee blessed (Deut 28:1).
It may start with an unexpected small step that we are skeptical about, but seek God first and He will take us along unexpected pathways (the original phrase belongs to a beloved Marist Brother who was my teacher). He will grant desires of your heart that you did not even know you had and give you dreams bigger than anything you could ever come up with on your own.
To be obedient is to please the person we obey: Then a voice from heaven said, “This is my own dear Son, and I am pleased with him” (Mt 3:17). We simply cannot please God other than by obeying Him promptly and diligently in every detail. Let us be careful; do not judge the will of God, despising some little things He is asking me to do at any moment of the day: Do not make this phone call; greet that particular person; get up and serve in the table, even though it is not your turn…
We are not obedient to the laws of God because we have separated these laws from the person of God. Therefore, the laws become an existence unto its own, alienated from life, harsh, cold and burdensome.
Indeed, in front of the people, we appear to be serving them, but in truth, we are living exactly the opposite of what we preach. We speak about being obedient to God and to superiors, but we know no other authority except ourselves.
Jesus is in perfect unity with the Father. Such unity is established upon the basis of the perfect obedience of Jesus, whose meat and drink it is to obey the will of God and to do the things that are pleasing to His Father and Our Father. Yes, He lived out His filiation in obedience to His Father: Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him (Heb 5: 8-9).