Archbishop's Message

SAFE STRONGHOLD IN THE WOUNDS OF THE SAVIOUR

The season of Lent sanctifies our environment with the two-in-one spiritual meme: repentance and healing. The call of this holy season is not so much the external practices of fasting, abstinence and almsgiving as ‘legal’ impositions of the Church but the ‘healing of the heart’ of which these practices are a sign. If we hold hatred, resentment, anger, unforgiveness, vengefulness and all kinds of grudges in our heart we are not yet healed. If our attitudes and relationships in life are still dominated by the baggage of religion, caste, class, race, language, culture, etc. we are not yet healed. Christ Our Lord called for a radical transformation of our whole being through ‘repentance’ in order for us to enter the Kingdom of God.
Some of the Lenten hymns in the Liturgy of the Hours touch on this theme. For instance
“Forgive us all the wrong we do,
And purify each sinful soul.
What we have darkened heal with light,
And what we have destroyed, make whole” (Stanbook Abbey Hymnal).
“Lord Jesus, think on me,
And purge away my sins;
From earth-born passions set me free,
And make me pure within.”
“Lord Jesus, think on me
Amid the battle’s strife;
In all my pain and misery
Be thou my health and life” (Bishop Synesius 375-430).
The call to ‘conversion of heart’ is fundamental to salvation. Our Christian life begins at Baptism with our ‘yes’ to this call from the Lord. In the words of St. Paul: “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his…For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:5-11). To be dead to sin in all its manifestations and to be alive to God in all its fullness is the identity of the Christian and the invitation to the whole of humanity.
The wounds that we carry in our heart cause us to sin and our sins cause further wounds in our psyche, thus vitiating our relationship with God, with ourselves and with our neighbour. It is not without reason, therefore, that the Sacrament of Reconciliation is called the Sacrament of Healing, for what we need preeminently in life is ‘Inner Healing’ i.e. the healing of our heart from where spring our thoughts, words, desires and actions. The roots have to be healed first if the tree is to remain healthy and give fruit. And we have to produce the fruits of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23).
In the Evening Prayer of Friday, Week 4 in Ordinary Time there is a beautiful prayer: “Lord, you healed the paralytic and forgave him his sins: - pardon all our guilt, and heal the wounds of our sins”. In the incident of the healing of the paralytic who was let down with his bed through the tiles of the roof (cf. Lk. 5: 17-26) Our Lord Jesus Christ heals him by forgiving his sins which clearly illustrates that our physical sicknesses are often related to our spiritual and emotional debilities and the three are interconnected. The Lord restores him to the right relationship with God, with himself, with society and he is also healed physically. Once again, it is St. Paul who presents this Christian anthropological vision: “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1Thess. 5:23).
If we have paid attention to the prayer the Priest recites before Communion we will realize that the Holy Eucharist is the sacrament par excellence of our holistic healing: “May the receiving of your Body and Blood, Lord Jesus Christ, not bring me to judgement and condemnation, but through your loving mercy be for me protection in mind and body and a healing remedy”.
The Gospels narrate the various healing miracles performed by Jesus and the thousands who thronged after him in order to listen to his word and be healed by him with the belief that they would be healed even if they touched the fringe of his garment (cf. Mt. 9:20 ); and indeed they were healed. It is so evident that healing was the primary focus of the ministry of Jesus, but it was not physical healing alone; it was above all spiritual healing i.e. the forgiveness of sins which was primary in the mission of Jesus. Through spiritual healing came the psychological and the physical. And the person healed followed Jesus by believing in him as the Messiah and Redeemer and becoming his disciple. Healing led to faith in Jesus and faith in Jesus led to salvation. Hence all healing miracles in the Gospels are ultimately pointers to the eternal healing of God’s Kingdom where there will be no more suffering, no more pain, no more sorrow, no more sin, no more death and God will be all in all (cf. 1Cor. 15:28).
The healing love of God that flowed from the heart of Our Lord Jesus Christ during his ministry did not end with his Passion and Death on the Cross but rather it reached its summit on Calvary in such a manner that forever his Cross would be the sign and source of God’s healing love to sinful and broken humanity. Looking at the Cross we know how much God has loved us and how much we can trust in his Love.
On Good Friday we will hear these words from the Book of Isaiah: “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone stray; we have turned – every one – to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Is. 53:5-6). St. Peter sees the fulfillment of this prophecy in the suffering and death of Christ when he says: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1Pet. 2: 24-25).
For those who believe, the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ is the unquenchable fountain of infinite healing love that restores to us the unity and harmony in our personalities lost due to our woundedness and consequent sinfulness. We regain the image of God in which we were created and return to the sheepfold from which we had strayed. All this happens because we are HEALED. We become new persons in Christ, vehicles of his grace within the Church and human society and indeed for the whole of nature as it happened with St. Francis of Assisi.
The immortal prayer “Soul of My Saviour” which we also sing as a hymn has these striking words which contain the essence of our relationship with the Lord in the imagery of ‘hiding in his wounds’: “Deep in Thy wounds Lord hide and shelter me so that I may never, never part from Thee”. Yes, there couldn’t be a better ‘shelter’ than the wounds of Our Lord which are the source of healing for our own wounds.
The great mystic St. Bernard of Clairvaux in his sermon on the “Song of Songs” presents profound insights on the wounds of the Saviour:
“Where is a safe stronghold for the weak to find rest, if not in the wounds of the Saviour? There safety is measured by his power to save. The world rages, the body weighs me down, the devil sets his snares, but I do not fall for I am founded on the solid rock. I have sinned grievously, my conscience will be troubled but not in despair for I will recall the wounds of the Lord. For indeed, ‘he was wounded for our transgressions’. What sin so deadly cannot be absolved by the death of Christ? If then I call to mind such a powerful and efficacious remedy I can no longer be terrified by any disease no matter how virulent”.
St. Bernard lays stress on the infinite mercy of God that flows from the compassionate heart of the Lord so that nobody can ever say, ‘my sin is too great to be forgiven’. If anyone ever thinks in this way he/she is in error. The pierced hands and feet of the Lord and his open side are the ‘outlets’ through which mercy flows. The nail that pierced him is the key that opened the ‘door’ to God’s will. And what is God’s will? Goodness and love. What do I see through the opening? ‘That truly God is in Christ reconciling the world to himself’. The wound in his side caused by the piercing of the lance lays bare the heart of Christ which carries the great mystery of God’s love for us. The wounds, therefore, reveal the tender mercy of our God which has dawned from high. The meekness and humility and abundant mercy of God shine out all the more in the wounds of Christ.
None of us can ever claim any merit of our own before God. Our merit is the mercy of the Lord, and as long as the Lord is merciful I am also meritorious. Looking at the Cross I need not worry about my many sins because “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Rom. 5:20). And so St. Bernard concludes his reflection with this prayer: “And if the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting, then I will sing of the steadfast love of the Lord forever.”
Let us sing of this Love and find in the open side of Christ our true Self, not two but ONE.


Yours sincerely in the Lord,
+ Anil J. T. Couto
  Archbishop of Delhi