Letters from a Pastor to His People- April 19, 2020
I brought up last week in my Virtual Easter Mass homily the concept of "social distancing." We are all familiar with this. A distance of six feet is to be maintained between individuals, and we are not to shake hands or do other activities that put us in physical contact with one another. We saw the first instance of "social distancing" with Mary Magdalene and Jesus outside the tomb on Easter Sunday. Mary, upon recognizing Jesus risen from the dead, embraces him. Jesus tells her, essentially, to let go and maintain social distancing. "Jesus said to her, 'Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father'" (John 20:17).
Our Lord did not want Mary to hold on to him so that he could ascend to the Father. Once in Heaven, then, Mary and everyone else could embrace Jesus any time they want and for all eternity. This was the only time in history Jesus enforced social distancing, and for good reason.
After appearing to Mary Magdalene on Easter morning, Jesus appeared to the disciples locked in the upper room later that day. He showed them his hands and side and then, violating another directive from the CDC, "breathed on them" (John 20:22). Just as God breathed into the formless void in the Book of Genesis and brought forth life, so too does Jesus breathe the Holy Spirit into the void of the apostles' souls and give them new life. The apostles are transformed and, following Jesus, will go forth and breathe on many others, giving them new life and bringing them into the Body of Christ, the Church.
Saint Thomas was not with the apostles in the upper room that Easter afternoon. He was like your friend or family member that practices social distancing to the extreme. But Thomas came to his senses and returned to the apostles, only to discover he has missed out on the Lord. Doing a "180", Thomas insisted on touching Jesus to prove the Resurrection. Forget social distancing! Thomas must have realized what his fear caused him to lose out on.
Jesus showed great mercy (the second Sunday of Easter is also referred to as "Divine Mercy Sunday") by reappearing to Thomas. Granted it was a week later, but Jesus could have chosen to not appear to Thomas and forever consign the apostle to his doubt. Thomas is able to touch the wounds of Christ and come to his belief.
But then Jesus says something interesting. He, in a way, affirms social distancing. "Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed" (John 20:29). We could also phrase it, 'blessed are those who have not touched and have believed.'
There are two types of social distancing. There is exterior social distancing and interior social distancing. Exterior would be physical touching. Other than the Eucharist, though even that has been taken away from us in this time, we are not called to physically touch the Lord. We have to maintain exterior social distancing. And in this exterior social distancing, we are called to believe and actually deeper our union with God. That is what Jesus is affirming in his last beatitude.
But all of us, regardless of the situation, are not called to practice interior social distancing. On the contrary, we are called to practice interior social approaching (or whatever the best antonym of 'distancing' is). Like Mary Magdalene, we are called to embrace Christ in our hearts. Let us do that during this Easter and COVID season.
Yours in Christ,