Scarred Beauty

Published on 16 Apr 2020

Saint Augustine speculated that in heaven the glorified bodies of the martyrs might bear some traces of their sufferings. ‘Such scars will not be blemishes’ he wrote, ‘but, rather, marks of honour. Although corporeal they will shine out with a truly spiritual beauty.[1]’  This speculation reminds us of something important about the wounds on the body of the risen Christ.  The marks of his suffering do not detract from his glory but, instead, are part of it.   He showed them his hands and his feet [2].  The traces of the nails and the spear have their own splendour.  Look at my hands and feet. Yes it is I indeed [3].  The wounds of Christ shine out not only to dazzle scepticism but to illuminate faith.  In the resurrection is the defeat of sin and death but not the abolition of suffering. Unless I can see the holes that the nails made…I refuse to believe [4].  Jesus rises bearing traces of his passion.  He is the wounded saviour of the many who suffer still.  A world in the grip of disease prays to a Lord who is scarred.   On the cross, he struggled to breathe.  Now he brings realistic comfort to his suffering brothers and sisters.  In Jesus’ active compassion there is both the glory of the resurrection and the solidarity of one who died in agony.  He brings hope to the grievously afflicted without concealing the evidence of his own pain.

He said to them ‘Peace be with you’ and showed them his hands and his side [5].  The peace of Christ comes to us stronger and more complete for its having its source in his painful sacrifice.  Jesus is always helping us to recognise him. Our tendency to forget or overlook him is not a consequence of elusiveness on his part.  He identifies himself to us without forcing our acknowledgement. That all may grasp and rightly understand….by whose Blood they have been redeemed [6].  Jesus shares himself with us in way which can never be spoiled or soiled and never fade away [7].  His precious wounds are marks of identity, which call out from us not only recognition but also love. You love him [8].  Realising that our saviour has risen from the grave after terrible suffering and death we acknowledge him by giving him glory. We allow him to shape our life, even when we are preoccupied with our efforts to avoid, heal and learn from infection.  Give me your hand, put it into my side [9].   Our way of being is forever marked by the wounds of Christ.  They are a proof of the presence in a crisis of a saviour who sends his followers to be of assistance.  The marks on the body of Christ are badges which declare a readiness to help.  His wounds are indelible reminders of our discipleship of a Lord who is all the time binding up injuries and helping the bruised.

Peace be with you [10] says the risen Lord to his friends, who had locked themselves down in fear.  After a full week of celebrating the resurrection, we hear again Jesus’ encouraging words addressed to us.  Peace be with you.  Christ, who suffered and died for us has come back scarred from the grave and offers us peace.  We are to be at peace in ourselves and in harmony with others. No longer fearful, the disciples were filled with joy [11].  The Lord’s rising from the dead secures for us peace and joy.  We recognise him and live peacefully and contentedly. The wounds of Jesus are an enduring sign of God’s love for us.  The resurrection continues to include suffering.  All trace of Calvary is not erased from the risen body of Christ. Confronted by other marks of pain, notably the present suffering of the world, we look for Jesus.  Where is the Lord in the pandemic?  We rightly expect to find him in the thick of it.  Through your faith God’s power will guard you [12]. The Jesus whom we find when we confront suffering is not floored by it.  However he understands despair and comes to the rescue.  I was thrust, thrust down and falling but the Lord was my helper [13]. Once defeated on the cross, he is now triumphant but not indifferent to what is being endured around him.

Thomas saw the marks on the Lord’s risen body and believed. My Lord and my God [14].   Not only was the apostle’s own faith strengthened by his contact with the marks of Jesus’ suffering but he was able to share that faith with many others.  The many miracles and signs worked through the apostles made a deep impression on everyone [15].  They were impressed into feeling an awe, almost a terror, before the power of God being shown them. Do we experience something of this wonder at the glory of the risen Lord still active in the world?   It is  permitted to ask in prayer for the gift of this reverential amazement . Like new-born infants, you must long for the pure spiritual milk that in him (the risen Christ) you may grow to salvation [16].   A component of this awe is anxiety about our own inevitable suffering. Another is a realisation of something of the sheer greatness of God.  Awestruck, but not fearful, we proceed along the path being mapped out for us providentially.    He breathed on them and said receive the Holy Spirit [17].  This Spirit enables the divine mercy of which the Lord has been so prodigal to benefit even more of those in need of it.  In a mission of mercy, the Spirit of God guides the bruised body of Christ, the Church, towards a more loving attention to the needs of the world.  A glorious offer of salvation has been made. As many as possible are to be helped to accept it.    

The splendour of the gifts which the Jesus promises includes the good lives lead by so many of his disciples through history. Saint Augustine was surely right that we should not think about their achievements of our predecessors in the faith without recalling also what they had suffered for the Lord.  The martyrs were enabled to imitate their master who died and rose again, marked by what he had endured.  Remembering the resurrection fills us with joy. Living in the body of Christ, risen but still marked by the passion, helps us to have for ourselves and to share with others, his peace. He brings it to our rescue when we are shut-up in our fear.  His peace has a spiritual beauty which contains no disdain for bodies and does not fail in compassion for bodily sufferings. The peace of the risen Christ is no escape into anaesthesia but is a heightened sensitivity to the difficulties of others. The wounds of Jesus, awe-inspiring and strangely beautiful, are both reassuring and challenging.  There is reassurance in the vast reservoir of mercy of which those holes are the guarantee.  There is a serious challenge, also, in how, with his help, we are respond to Christ’s giving of himself with some self-sacrificing love of our own?  ‘His love has no end’. Let those who fear the Lord say: ‘His love has no end.’[18]

Homily by Fr Peter Gallagher SJ

[1]       Augustine The City of God  22.19 Non enim deformitas in eis, sed dignitas erit, et quaedam, quamuis in

         corpore, non corporis, sed uirtutis pulchritudo fulgebit.

[2]       John 20.20

[3]       Luke 24.39

[4]       John 20.25

[5]       John 20.20

[6]       The Roman Missal, Collect of the Second Sunday of Easter

[7]       1 Peter 1.4

[8]       1 Peter 1.8

[9]       John 20.27

[10]      John 20.19

[11]      John 20.20

[12]       1 Peter 1.5

[13]       Psalm (118) 117.13

[14]       John 20.28

[15]       Acts 2.43

[16]       The Roman Missal, Introit of the Second Sunday of Easter

[17]       John 20.22

[18]       Psalm (118) 117.3-4