by Father Mark Goldasich
Want to hear a touching story?
During a recent conflict in the Middle East, a missionary watched a shepherd caring for his flock near an area where guns are fired. Every time the shots rang out, the sheep scattered in fright. The shepherd would then touch each of them with his staff and speak calmly to them, and the sheep would settle down because they trusted the shepherd. When another shot sounded, the same routine happened. Each time, the sheep needed the shepherd to orient them again and to reassure them that they were safe.
The missionary observed, “We are like those sheep. When we are frightened, our Shepherd reaches out and touches us with his staff, speaking words of calm and comfort.” (Adapted from “1001 Illustrations That Connect,” by Craig Brian Larson and Phyllis Ten Elshof, eds.)
Never underestimate the power of touch. The Gospels are filled with stories of Jesus touching a leper, smearing clay on a blind man’s eyes, grasping the hand of a dead little girl and raising her to life, sticking his fingers in the ears of a deaf man to open them, and gathering little children around him. What a comfort that touch of Jesus had to have been. The attention that Jesus paid to those who were often on the edges of society had to have touched their hearts as well.
Perhaps one of the most moving touches of Jesus is one that we just celebrated on Holy Thursday evening: the washing of the disciples’ feet. Unlike the feet that priests today wash at the celebration — feet that have been carefully prewashed by the individuals themselves at home before Mass — the feet that Jesus touched were no doubt sweaty,“fragrant,” calloused, dusty and probably scarred or scabbed. But Jesus did not shrink from this menial task. Afterwards, he instructed his disciples to do as he had just done. Jesus knew how healing touch could be — not just to the body, but also to the soul.
What an example we have in Pope Francis. Not a week goes by without pictures of him kissing a baby, posing with pilgrims for “selfies,” or caressing the faces of those suffering from various physical illnesses. Pope Francis takes seriously the command of Jesus to go out and touch the lives of others with compassion, no matter who they are.
And that is Jesus’ call to us, especially through the seven weeks of this Easter season. The good news of the Resurrection, the new life that Jesus has won for us, is something that we are called to share with others. Each day of the Easter season, make a point to touch the life of someone — a family member, a neighbor, someone who is poor, a fellow parishioner, a stranger, an elderly person, a hospital patient, or one who is mourning. It can be as simple as an encouraging word or a prayer, a greeting card, some flowers, a visit or phone call, a monetary or material donation, or even a laugh. The important thing is not so much what we do, but that we take the time to be in touch with the people around us.
I’ll close with this story. A parish was operating in the red. The concerned pastor asked folks to please be more generous. As an incentive, he said that the person who donated the most money could choose three songs for the following Sunday.
When the collection was brought forward, the pastor was astounded to see a $500 bill in the basket. He was so excited that he asked, right at Mass, who made the donation.
A very quiet, saintly, elderly lady in the back of church slowly raised her hand. She was invited down to the altar. The pastor commended her generosity and asked her to please pick out three hymns for the next Sunday.
The lady’s eyes brightened as she looked over out the congregation. Pointing to three of the most handsome men in church, she said, “Father, I’ll take him, him, and him!”
In this Easter season, may the Lord touch your funny bone as well!