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Suffering Together: Recognizing Our Common Woundedness

May 20, 2021


In my life as a priest, I meet with and minister to many people who are carrying ever-present wounds. These encounters occur in obvious places like hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, and, of course, in the confessional. But they also happen in surprising places and times, when people unexpectedly reveal the scars they bear. When I go to confession myself, it is a humbling but powerful moment of getting in touch with the wound of my aching desire for God and his mercy and the sores caused by my own sins. And then there are the wounds of the world. The divisions between people, the divide between faith and culture, the lives scarred by violence, betrayal, and abuse.

The authors of Scripture were not embarrassed by human woundedness. In fact, it is often a prelude to people coming to faith. In the book of Genesis, we see God wresting with Jacob, who is wounded in his hip during the struggle. But instead of this injury being a wedge that separated him from God, it resulted in Jacob being blessed, for he said, “I have seen God face to face” (Gen. 32:22–32). With striking honesty, the Psalmist admits: “My wounds grow foul and fester because of my foolishness” (Ps. 38:5). Yet the one who is scarred confesses his faith in the God who “heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds” (Ps. 147:3). The prophet Jeremiah announces hope to a people wounded not just by love but by exile and division: “For I will restore health to you, and your wounds I will heal” (Jer. 30:17).

In the New Testament, God’s work of healing wounds was continued and fulfilled by Jesus. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, many Fathers of the Church identified the Samaritan as Christ, who binds the wounds of injured humanity, pouring oil and wine on them (Luke 10:34). In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus heals the injured ear of the man who was struck with a sword by one of his followers (Luke 22:51). As he endured his Passion, Jesus went from being healer to being fatally wounded when he was “wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities” (Isa. 53:5). The one who heals our wounds is now wounded himself.

In the Resurrection accounts in the Gospels of Luke and John, the Lord approached the group of his disciples who were grieving after the events of the previous days. They were wounded by failure, fear, doubt, and shame. As he approached them, Jesus knew the hurts they bore. In both Gospel accounts, Jesus showed them his wounds and invited them to touch them. And in that intimate encounter of a wounded God with his wounded people, faith was born again. There is no better example of this than Thomas, who left us the greatest confession of faith, having moved from doubt to belief after touching the wounds of the Lord: “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).

This meeting of wounds as a conduit to faith was not lost on St. Augustine. In one of his sermons, he writes: “For he judged that this was advantageous for his disciples, that his scars should be kept, from where the wounds of the heart would be healed. What wounds? The wounds of unbelief” (Sermon 66, 1).

In the case of St. Paul, being wounded was an integral part of his conversion. On the road to Damascus, he tells us that he “fell to the ground” in a state of disorientation (Acts 9:4; cf. Acts 26:14). Later, he described a wound he bore as being a “thorn in the flesh,” which he begged God to take away. But then he realized that it was God who placed that thorn there, wounding him to heal his pride and bring him to a place of surrender. The Lord said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness”; commenting on this, Paul writes, “Whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:9–10).

Finally, even the Blessed Mother was wounded by love and as a result of her obedience to God’s will. Though she was sinless, Simeon’s prophesy to her at Jesus’ presentation at the temple was fulfilled in her life, especially at Calvary: “A sword will pierce your own soul” (Luke 2:35).

So what then can we learn from these episodes in Scripture that are not ashamed to highlight human woundedness?

Realize our commonality

The first thing to conclude is that all of us are wounded, somehow, someway. We are also part of a wounded humanity that needs healing. There are many things in our egos and prevailing culture that distract us from admitting this. It’s not something we talk about at parties. It takes courage to admit it. Yet when we are in touch with our scars, we become humble and more compassionate to the wounded humanity we are a part of.

Meet Christ there

Second, when we do examine our wounds, something powerful happens, for God’s love is waiting to meet us there. Like Thomas, Paul, and the other wounded disciples, Christ comes to meet us as the Good Samaritan who applies healing to our injuries in a way that gives birth to new faith. When we return to our wounds, we show the Lord our scars and he shows us his. And in his wounds, we meet a God who enters into our pain to heal our vulnerability. As St. Peter testifies: “By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Pet. 2:24).

For many of the saints, contemplating Christ’s wounds means contemplating his love, which leads to healing and to faith. In the words of St. Bonaventure: “Through the visible wounds we see the wounds of invisible love” (The Mind’s Journey to God, 3.5). St. Peter Chrysologus beautifully imagines Christ speaking to us in this way as he shows us his wounds: “These nails do not pierce me with pain; they pierce me more deeply with love of you. These wounds do not draw groans from me; rather they draw you into my heart” (Discourse 108).

Speak to our healing in Christ

Third, in our call to evangelize, Scripture teaches us that human woundedness is an important point of encounter and a route to faith. This is not about finding a new gap for God; rather, it is a recognition of human vulnerability and woundedness in every human life and in humanity as a whole.

This message has been at the fore of Pope Francis’ proclamation of evangelical mercy. He reminds the Church that before we set off in mission, we need to keep before us just how wounded humanity has become: “Wounds need to be treated. So many wounds! . . . Mercy first means treating the wounds.” To priests called to mission, he asks: “Do you know the wounds of your parishioners? Do you perceive them? Are you close to them? It’s the only question” (“Address to Parish Priests of Rome,” March 6, 2014). In a later homily, he again teaches priests that “the doors of mercy are the wounds of the Lord; if you do not enter into your ministry through the Lord’s wounds, you will not be good shepherds” (“Homily at Priestly Ordinations,” May 11, 2014). The warmth and light of Christ that we share passes through his wounds.

Despite our instinct to hide our wounds, God’s grace reaches the most vulnerable part of ourselves where it seeks to change us. And in that space, Jesus puts our wounds in touch with his own. In that meeting of wounds, faith is born anew. As we seek new and effective ways to evangelize our culture and connect to our audience, may we be ever more aware of the Gospel’s power to heal our wounds and unite a wounded people.