Wounds that heal unchastity
In his April 12 message on Divine Mercy Sunday, after he officially announced the upcoming Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis gave the world a way out of “humanity’s evil.” The solution is simple but most effective: Jesus and his “wounds of mercy.”
In a surprising synthesis of Jesus’ life, the Pope said all of his mysteries “we can see in the wounds of Jesus, crucified and risen.”
Each era has its own evil, which humanity eventually resolves. There were centuries when the sociomoral issues were imperial subjugation, religious wars, racism and slavery, communist dictatorships and genocide. Now the evil is sexual promiscuity, in which some have even reached the point of advocating the legalization of sex with animals.
Our era’s problem has eternal stakes. Our Lady of Fatima already said a century ago, in 1917, that “more souls go to hell for sins of the flesh than for any other sin.”
A crucial solution is St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, which the Vatican brought down to the level of family education in “Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality,” and which I have outlined in my online one-pager, “Giving Real Love to Your Child.” Fr. Thomas Morrow also has brought it down to the practical, psychological level with his online booklet, “Achieving Chastity in a Pornographic World.”
Pope Francis’ emphasis on Jesus’ wounds brings much hope. The greatest Father of the Church, the towering intellect of early Christianity who famously struggled against unchastity and won, St. Augustine, claimed these to be the Church’s most powerful remedy against unchastity:
“There is no remedy so powerful against the heat of concupiscence as the remembrance of our Savior’s Passion. In all my difficulties I never found anything so efficacious as the wounds of Christ: In them I sleep secure; from them I derive new life.”
Why is remembering and touching Jesus’ wounds most efficacious against sins of unchastity? The Holy Spirit, through the Bible, replies: “He was wounded for our iniquities and bruised for our sins. On him fell the chastisement that brought us salvation, and by his wounds we have been healed.”
These words written by Isaiah 700 years before Christ were repeated by St. Peter as if to bolster their truth: “He himself bore our sins in his body, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”
When we face Jesus’ wounds, we come in contact with the pulsating body of the incarnate God. Salvation is not an idea, but a meeting with a man in the flesh. It is his undefiled flesh that purifies our impure flesh.
Jesus’ wounds send three messages. First, the cause of Christ’s vicious pain and death lies beyond the apparent. “Nor did demons crucify him,” said St. Francis. “It is you who have crucified him and crucify him still, when you delight in your vices and sins.” Second, the wounds are the source of the graces and the sacraments by which God heals us. Third, there is Jesus’ generous love and mercy.
Thus, this practice engenders three key attitudes: contrition, the decision to hate sins committed; gratitude, for the gift of forgiveness and divine life; and love: loving and allowing oneself to be loved. These attitudes produce a repulsion to sin again.
Pope Francis’ proposal interlaces with Pope Benedict XVI’s authoritative insights on the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church’s great address to the issues of the modern world.
Benedict said that above all, its essential idea is “the Paschal Mystery (Christ’s passion, death and resurrection) as the center of what it is to be Christian—and therefore of the Christian life, the Christian year, the Christian seasons.”
And this Paschal Mystery, says the Church, is “made present” in the Eucharist, confession and other sacraments. And so these are at the center of the Christian mind in so far as they bring us to an intimate contact with the fleshy reality of Christ’s torture, passing away and coming back to life. And the living wounds are the thread that run through these three central events!
In the New York Times bestseller “Heaven is for Real,” written by an evangelical pastor whose four-year-old son went through a near-death experience, the boy described Jesus in heaven. “Jesus had markers” was his matter-of-fact observation. Those “markers” were the wounds, in the color red, a familiar Catholic image found in stigmatics like St. Padre Pio, which no Protestant kid has in his imagination.
Jesus carries the wounds now, not in a remote place, but here beside us, especially in the liturgy and, as Jesus said, in every person in need—which is every “body” everywhere! Each human body is not an object to be lusted upon and used. Each one has his/her misery, where we touch, in the words of Pope Francis, “the suffering flesh” in which we find “the Lord’s wounds.”
Jesus’ wounds do not only heal. They are also the path to the Christian summit, for he did not die so we can be mediocre, merely avoiding sin. As Blessed Alvaro del Portillo wrote about a modern-day saint: “Enter into the wounds of Christ Crucified.” When Monsignor Josemaría Escriva proposed this way, he was pointing out the short cut he had been using throughout his life, and which led him to the highest peaks of spiritual life.
Thus, the hymn makes sense: Hide me in thy wounds, that I may never leave thy side.
So Pope Francis’ proposal is the synthesis of solutions. It is a most modern, powerful, biblical and patristic solution to our modern-day malady, and a quick path to the very goal for which Jesus died and rose: sanctity.
Dr. Raul Nidoy works at the Parents for Education Foundation and the University of Asia and the Pacific. He blogs at primacyofreason.blogspot.com.
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