“If we are not afraid to show our wounds … maybe the other wounded will come back.”
Speaking to the Napa Institute recently on the topic of “Jesus and His Church: What God Has Joined, Man Must Not Divide,” New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan spoke to what he described as the greatest pastoral challenges of our day: those who have left the Church and stayed away, and those who have never really seen what Christ in His Church offers them.
The “wounds” he pointed to, primarily, are the glorified wounds of Christ. It is from these that the waters of mercy overflow in the Divine Mercy image, so central to the ongoing jubilee year of mercy and the Gospel entreaty to go to the Divine Physician for healing and forgiveness from our sins and fallen nature.
They point to an encouragement: to be aware and honest about our own wounds — including those in the Body of Christ, the Church.
The inseparability of the Christ from His Church was Dolan’s topic, and mercy was its soul. With a shepherd’s love for lost sheep, he proposed that the way to win souls for Christ may just be to present the world anew our identity as a Church that is family, a family full of flaws and sins — as all are — but also the one true and sure foundation for redemption and eternal hope.
The talk was pregnant with implications for not just individual souls but the renewal of the Church and a re-proposing of the plausibility of family life, even with its inevitable dysfunctions — to which the Church, Dolan said, is not immune.
Dolan referred to the mystical body of Christ as having “many warts,” admitting that at times it can be hard to love the Church because of her imperfections. He was frank about the obstacles people brush up against — why we encounter so many who describe themselves as raised Catholic or fallen away. Scandal and sin, a failure to be who we are called to be by Baptism rank high up there.
“To own up to the flaws, the sins, the failings in our spiritual family, the Church, can be a productive venture,” he said.
He talked about the commonly voiced desire many today have for spirituality without religion, Christ without the Church, a king for a kingdom of one. He quoted Pope Francis pushing back against this, making clear that “we cannot be in communion with God without being in communion with the Church.”
If we believe that Jesus and His Church are one, as he told us, to seek Him without the Church is contrary to what He wants for us.
His talk did not mention it, but the speech was hard to hear apart from Pope Francis’ recent airplane press conference comments about apologies. We need a penitential posture in our encounters with people because we Christians have not always been who we say we are – and in some grave and evil ways.
Dolan did this just a few days before returning to St. Patrick’s in New York for a Mass for Unity and Peace at a time of such violence and death in too many cities. On Fifth Avenue he again pointed to this brokenness that is in need of God’s grace.
“God is our creator; when His creatures are broken, we best listen to His instructions for repair!” he said. “Jesus, His Son, is our Savior. When we admit we need saving, we best listen to Him!”
At the Napa Institute, Dolan seemed to echo the witness of the lives of the displaced Christians he recently visited in Iraq, who had to flee the so-called Islamic state, refusing to renounce their faith in Jesus Christ, saying: “Our family the Church is all we’ve got. She is worth dying for. She is worth living for.”
And as Pope Francis heads to Krakow later this month for World Youth Day, in the homeland of Saint John Paul II, it is hard not to remember Pope Francis’ homily at the canonization Mass for him and John XXIII on Divine Mercy Sunday in 2015.
Francis said then:
The wounds of Jesus are a scandal, a stumbling block for faith, yet they are also the test of faith. That is why on the body of the risen Christ the wounds never pass away: they remain, for those wounds are the enduring sign of God’s love for us. They are essential for believing in God. Not for believing that God exists, but for believing that God is love, mercy and faithfulness. Saint Peter, quoting Isaiah, writes to Christians: “by his wounds you have been healed.”
Saints John XXIII and John Paul II were not afraid to look upon the wounds of Jesus, to touch his torn hands and his pierced side. They were not ashamed of the flesh of Christ, they were not scandalized by him, by his cross; they did not despise the flesh of their brother, because they saw Jesus in every person who suffers and struggles.
These were two men of courage, filled with the parrhesia of the Holy Spirit, and they bore witness before the Church and the world to God’s goodness and mercy.
Dolan’s Napa Institute message was for a renewal, in a humble and yet confident Church, bold in its transparency and trust in the Lord. Do not be afraid to remember who we are: Sinners in need of a savior. We’re brothers and sisters, here to get to Heaven together, to help one another along the way, to see and show Christ in and to one another.
As the world seems to be falling apart, as people are anxious and confused and triumphant in error, our wounds – mine, and yours, and ours, and His — may just be the starting point we’ve been bypassing for far too long.
We owe it to our brothers and sisters, our fellow created beings, to give it a try once and for all.