Homily for the Twenty-Seventy Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
And people were bringing children to him that he might touch them,
but the disciples rebuked them.
When Jesus saw this he became indignant and said to them,
“Let the children come to me;
do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to
such as these.
Amen, I say to you,
whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child
will not enter it.”
Then he embraced them and blessed them,
placing his hands on them.
“That he might touch them.” “Then he embraced them…placing his hands on them.”
These beautiful words, so expressive of the simple, paternal love of the Savior, are also a source for us in these days of a certain sadness. Although there is nothing more natural and reasonable than to show affection to the young, today priests have to be a bit wary of physical expressions of affection. This is a terrible state of affairs, and we may hope that one day the present atmosphere of mistrust and fear may be overcome. Even so, the current crisis gives us an opportunity to consider the nature and importance of bodily touch in our spiritual lives, and so be able as well to see how terrible is its misuse and abuse.
All of our knowledge begins with our senses. Even our loftiest notions and reasonings and intuitions require a return to our senses and a continuity with their experience. This is the very nature of human knowing. We are not angels; we require information from outside of ourselves in order to know, and require also the use of our senses and bodily organs to express our knowledge and intentions.
Now, the most fundamental of our five senses is the sense of touch. To this sense all our other senses are reduced, since with seeing, hearing, smelling, and tasting there is a necessary measure of touch in order for these senses to function. True, the higher the sense power, as in the case of seeing, the less “tactile” the experience seems, but still all our senses require some sort of bodily touch. So true is this that even in the highest and deepest forms of mystical experience the language of the masters of prayer refers to mystical touches and embraces and even wounds.
To find this language, all we have to do is to examine the burning poetry of the Song of Songs, the great mystical hymn of Solomon so beloved of the masters of the interior life: “Let him kiss me with the kiss of his mouth.” “His left hand is under my head and his right hand embraces me.” “You have wounded my heart, my sister, my spouse, you have wounded my heart.”
It is very clear that the Savior who is true God and true man was not reluctant to express his affection through bodily touch. As we read today, he embraced the children presented to him. He welcomed the Beloved Disciple to rest on his breast. He invited St. Thomas to place his own hand in his wounded side. The sacraments instituted by him all include bodily touch in their administration, if only in the gesture of hands extended. Holy Orders and Holy Matrimony, the two sacraments that establish the Christian community absolutely require touch as part of their very nature. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit the apostle tells us. They are sacred. And they are sacred in touching and being touched.
With what reverence, then, should we honor our own bodies and those of others by our touches! St. Paul tells us, “If any man defile God’s temple, him will God destroy…and we are God’s temple.” We can understand well Our Lord’s vehemence about those who harm the innocence of his little ones, claiming that such as these deserve death.
The Christian is both affectionate and pure. He has a love for others that he expresses even in bodily gestures, but he also flees from unchastity and unjust violence. Our fallen nature requires us to be attentive to impure motions and feelings so as to avoid sin, but this very fallen nature is healed and strengthened and encouraged by the touches of the Savior. Even in the case of St. Mary Magdalene, when Our Lord told her not to cling to him, it was to teach her about his new, risen nature; and then when his teaching had had its effect on her, he allowed her to embrace his feet along with the other holy women.
What a great joy it will be in the kingdom of heaven when, after our bodily resurrection, we will be able to embrace and admire the beauty of our blessed friends, just as Jesus and Mary are able to do now in their glorified bodies. Then the sad tragedies of history will be over, and we will finally experience what the children of Galilee felt when the Savior’s loving touch welcomed them into his kingdom.