Last summer I heard a Priest tell this story during his homily of a time he visited a sick man in the hospital. He went to the hospital multiple times and would sit and talk for an hour or so with the man to keep him company. In the room with this sick man was another man, a burn victim, who was severely disfigured from head to foot. Most of his face had been burned off. The Priest recounted how he tried to avoid looking at this burned man, because of how severely and grossly burned he was. One day, the sick man who the Priest was visiting asked the Priest if the burned man made him uncomfortable.
"You know," said the Priest, "I am ashamed to say it, but yes. I do not like looking at that man and his wounds are very disgusting."
"Would you like to know what happened to him?" asked the sick man. "Sure" replied the Priest.
"Him and his wife lived in a house nearby with their four children. One night the house caught fire and the whole family quickly ran outside to escape the fire. The father of the house gathered his family together in the front lawn, but noticed that their youngest daughter, only about two years old, was missing. Frantically, the father ran back into the burning house.
No one knew that the youngest daughter was in the house next door. When the fire started and everyone ran out the front door, the young girl went out the back door. The next door neighbor, wanting to protect the child and not seeing the rest of the family, brought the girl inside as she called 911.
The father, not finding the daughter, stayed in the house looking for her. And he stayed in there. And he stayed in there. And he stayed in there longer. Eventually the roof collapsed on top of him.
When the firefighters found him he was so badly burned they thought he was dead. The doctors said it was a miracle that he lived."
I Got a Picture of Jesus
The picture of Jesus above is also available as a poster, which hangs above my desk in my office. My office is in a middle school, so lots of kids pass by and see the image. I also use the image often with our high school youth group. The reactions it causes vary from a concerned "Wow" to straight up disgust. One day an adult came to meet me in my office and was causally talking until she noticed the image.
"So when are we going to get--OH! EW!"
There seems to have been a movement among Christians to remake Jesus as more human, accessible, and happy. The crucifixion, you could hear them say, is too ugly and inaccessible. It is too morbid and graphic and bloody and gross. Are they right?
Glorious Wounds of Love
I dare anyone to try to tell that young girl that her father's burn wounds are hideous and disgusting. After growing up and learning the significance of the scars, she will forever look upon her father and see not ugliness but the glory of a total and selfless love. The wounds have been incarnated into pure corporal love and self gift.
Why did Jesus' resurrected body still have the five wounds? Don't we receive a new, perfect body in the resurrection? Aren't wounds gross and disgusting, not worthy of a perfect, glorified, and heaven-bound body?
"The scars that remained in Christ’s body belong neither to corruption nor defect, but to the greater increase of glory, inasmuch as they are the trophies of His power; and a special comeliness will appear in the places scarred by the wounds... the greater beauty of glory compensates for all this, so that the body is not less entire, but more perfected." St. Thomas Aquinas (STh., III q.54 a.4)
Christ's crucifixion, and His wounds, might be disgusting on their own. But when you understand Jesus as a Father who runs into the burning house of our sin, and stays there until it attempts to destroy Him, the cross begins to look quite different. When I look at that poster of Jesus, I see this glorious love in those wounds. I see a God who felt the weight of my sins crash down on Him as He stayed there to save me.
Jesus' wounds and crucifixion are beautiful. In fact, they are the summit of all beauty; nothing could be more beautiful.
And maybe when we get to heaven God's martyrs will share in this transforming of wounds into glory and badges of love.
"Perhaps in that kingdom we shall see on the bodies of the Martyrs the traces of the wounds which they bore for Christ’s name: because it will not be a deformity, but a dignity in them; and a certain kind of beauty will shine in them, in the body, though not of the body." St. Augustine (De Civ. Dei XXII)
Photo at top by Sam Beebe