One of my professors in Gonzaga University, Dr. Shann Ferch, did his doctoral dissertation on touch and forgiveness. He has spent much of his professional and personal life proclaiming the power of forgiveness in and through touch.
Today’s Gospel expresses the same graces exemplified in Christ’s encounter with the deaf and mute man.
During Christ’s time, an illness was closely associated with sin. It was not weird to think that an ailment was some form of demon possession. These people were ostracized from the community.
It is important to note that in the story, the man was brought to Christ by other people. The man, suffering from the ignominy of an illness that separated him from the community, was hoping for compassion and healing in the people who brought him to Christ, and in Christ himself.
In private, Christ touches, forgives and heals the man. Christ reconciles him with the community.
The man and the community are healed physically. The man is cured of his ailment. The community, likewise, is made more whole as one of its members, once separated, is reconnected and reintegrated to the community.
The healing and reintegration shown on a physical plane happens on a deeply spiritual realm. This is the main message of this Sunday’s Gospel, the healing and wholeness that is physical, yes, but more deeply psychological and spiritual. So it is with our world today, a world in need of healing on many levels.
Pope Francis’ latest encyclical, “Laudato Si,” makes a powerful case on how we need to heal nature, given the abuse and wounds we have inflicted on her. The Pope’s opening paragraph says: ‘‘Laudato Si,’ mi’ Signore (‘Praise be to you, my Lord’).”
In the words of this beautiful canticle, St. Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us.
“Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with colored flowers and herbs.”
The healing of God’s creation, with and through touch and forgiveness, invites us to work with creation with our hands out of love for that which is “charged with the grandeur of God.”
Guilt is a good start, but all reconciliation and action must flow from a genuine love.
As “shallow” as it sounds, working with our hands to heal creation in small ways—planting a tree, clearing and segregating trash, conserving water—and praying with and for nature will restore both nature and us.
St. Pope John Paul II beautifully expresses this: “Our very contact with nature has deep restorative power; contemplation of its magnificence imparts peace and serenity.”
Also in need of healing are the relationships among men and women of all races and nationalities, among different social, economic and ethnic groups within one society.
When Pope Francis visited Manila last January, I was telling people that if you reflect on his life and work, his pastoral sense and pronouncements which have been highlighted by media simply show the tip of the iceberg. The iceberg is social justice.
Healing human structures
I believe the Pope’s greatest mission is to help create a new world order not in a political manner, but with far greater influence and authority as it is rooted and grounded in social justice in a Christian sense, and thus one that is “rooted and grounded in love,” a love that “surpasses all knowledge.”
Not only nature or creation is to be healed by touch and forgiveness, but also human structures: social, economic, political, cultural. These are in need of healing wherever there are inequalities or gaps in these human institutions.
These inequalities result in impediments: “speech impediments” because many are voiceless, a situation that gives rise to “hearing impediments” because others can no longer “hear the cry of the poor.”
What to do
On a very personal level we need to ask ourselves: What can I touch and heal? What can I touch and forgive—in myself, in others, in the world?
It is possible only if we allow our self the solitary moment with Christ when he can touch, heal and forgive us. After all, one basic principle is we cannot give what we do not have.
In the Pope’s encyclical, he cites the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and his “namesake,” St. Francis of Assisi. Bartholomew points to the ethical and spiritual causes of the destruction of nature, which he says needs “solutions not only in technology but in a change of humanity; otherwise we would be dealing merely with symptoms. ”
He asks us to replace consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing, an asceticism which entails “learning to give, and not simply to give up.”
It is a way of loving, of moving gradually away from what we want to what God’s world needs. It is our humble conviction that the divine and the human meet in the slightest detail in the seamless garment of God’s creation, in the last speck of dust of our planet.
Then from Francis of Assisi, the Pope talks about the care for the vulnerable, and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically. St. Francis was particularly concerned for God’s creation and for the poor and outcast. He loved, and was deeply loved for his joy, his generous self-giving, his openheartedness.
He was a mystic and a pilgrim who lived in simplicity and in wonderful harmony with God, with others, with nature and with himself. He showed us just how inseparable the bond is among concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society and interior peace.
In “Brother Sun, Sister Moon,” the 1972 bio-film on St. Francis by renowned director Franco Zeffirelli, there is a scene where Francis stands naked with arms outstretched in praise of God and all of his creation. This was after he had given up all his earthly and material possessions. It remains an enduring image of my generation of one person who embraced the simplicity and depth of God’s creation and God himself.
If in today’s Gospel, in one solitary moment with one person, the deaf and mute man, Christ was able to heal, forgive and make whole with his touch not just the man but the people who brought the man to him and the community, we hope and pray this same grace can make whole again our life, and through us the lives of others and the whole of creation.