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 Today's Take:  NCR's daily Web column
Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news.  It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.

February 3, 2004
Vol. 1, No. 194




Pat Marrin The sacrament of touch

By Pat Marrin, editor of Celebration

Today's Gospel reading: "Who touched me?" Mark 5:32.
Twenty years ago this month, a 12-year-old boy named David died in Houston after a bone marrow transplant failed to provide his immune system with defenses enough to protect him from infection. What gave special poignancy to both his short life and his young death was that David had lived his entire life inside a sealed, sterile environment because he was born with Severe Combined Immune Deficiency Syndrome (SCIDS). It was only in the final days of his life that his parents and other medical personnel were able to touch David directly, intimately, for the first time.

David Vetter's story, extreme and tragic, reminds us that our identity is written in touch. "Who touched me?" might be the title of every autobiography. Our sense of self, our otherness and our capacity for intimacy with others, is first traced like circuitry by the hands that hold and touch us. If we emerge from childhood confident, integral, self-possessed, it is because we bear the deep blessing of having been touched well. We can enter the flow of life, the welter and crush of the crowd, find our way, give ourselves with grace and equanimity.

But what of those who do not bear this blessing? What of those who bear hidden wounds, because of the lack of touch or, for some, the experience of forced or inappropriate touch? These are imprinted with a confusion of pain and pleasure, fear and desire, and trust betrayed that deprives them of confidence, a sense of wholeness or equilibrium. Will those with hidden wounds heal?

The late Benedictine Godfrey Diekmann held that the primary sacramental sign was touch. Jesus, source of all our sacraments, was generous to a fault with touch. The mystery of his own wholeness was communicated to others through touch.

The woman who approached Jesus in the crowd in today's gospel reading knew that if she could reach even the edge of his cloak, she would be healed. Jesus, though caught in the press of the crowd, feels her faith draw life from him. "Who touched me?" he asks. The woman's touch made a vital connection, acknowledging Jesus as source of God's healing power.

Jesus' ministry seems almost defined by a deliberate urgency to search out and touch those who most needed to be reconnected to God. He stretches out his hand to touch lepers, the ritually unclean, the possessed, diseased and contaminated who were cast out of the community, excluded from worship, the common meal, the inner circle.

David Clohessy, executive director of SNAP (Survivor's Network of those Abused by Priests) and himself a victim of abuse, weeps when he gives interviews. His tears are his first ministry to other victims, because in this sign of vulnerability he acknowledges the reality of their shared pain and loss.

Other Today's Takes by Pat Marrin
Feb. 2, 2003 Leap year is an invitation
Dec. 5, 2003 We are expecting a baby
Dec. 4, 2003 Facing the storm head-on
Dec. 3, 2003 Just one pope away from ...
Dec. 2, 2003 'Hope is the thing with feathers'
Dec. 1, 2003 Peace: the minimum requirement
Oct. 31, 2003 Freely chosen reality
Oct. 30, 2003 The burden of servant leadership
Jesus' power to heal is inseparable from his personal suffering and death. His touch absorbed the wounds of others, but in some mysterious way he then carried those wounds in his own body toward the transfigured moment of the cross, where sin and suffering met God's unconditional love. There will be no healing of the church's wounds apart from this mystery. It will take the entire body of Christ, all those baptized into the death of Christ -- bishop, priest, laity, men and women, adults and children -- to absorb and transform bad touch into good touch, sin into grace.

Such words barely touch the surface. Today we have the witness of an untouchable woman whose life was bleeding away, who trusted enough to push through the crowds to touch the hem of Jesus' cloak. She was made whole. Holy touch restores life. Deeper than any hurt, the Hand that holds us traces into our identity the unconditional love of God. We are marked with this sign of faith.

Pat Marrin's e-mail addres is Celebration, NCR's sister publication, is an ecumenical worship resource. For a preview, follow this link: Celebration.
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